The Ghanaian carpenter Paa Joe is a master coffin carver. Which sounds sort of boring, until you see his coffins, which are shaped and painted like awesome stuff: cars, jets, fish, eagles. Cocoa pods. No, really! Check them out.

Paa Joe is currently showing some of his work in London at the Jack Bell gallery, which was kind enough to send us some photos of the coffins.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS


According to Bell, the first airplane coffin was made in 1951 by two carpenters, Kane Quaye and his brother Ajetey, for their grandmother. Unsurprisingly, it was popular, and Kane developed it further (with, among others, his apprentice Paa Joe), soon becoming known as the father of the figurative coffin tradition. Not a bad thing to be known as the father of. Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Teshie, the Ghanian city where Kane Quaye's carpentry workshop is located, is a fishing community. So: A fish. Quaye's workshop, by the way, is still active, and still steeped in the traditions of southeastern Ghana's Ga people, known for their elaborate funeral processions—and now, thanks to masters like Paa Joe, their completely awesome coffins. Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Coffins are generally commissioned by families to correspond to aspects of the deceased's life, work, or personality. A photographer might have a coffin carved into a camera; a taxi driver might have a coffin shaped like a car. (Don't make the urologist joke, please.) Some people prepare designs or make their wishes known during their lives, so, for the record: I want a coffin carved like Darth Vader's helmet. Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

The eagle coffins are generally allocated to chiefs. This one is lined with silk and red textiles and stands on a green platform with carrying handles in each corner; the deceased's body is washed, dressed, adorned and laid out with the coffin open during the wake. The coffin is then closed and carried to the burial ground. Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

A cocoa pod. This one is my favorite—I love the amazing out-of-scale branch it's attached to. Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Paa Joe himself. Joe was born near Accra, the capital of Ghana, in 1945. Since his apprenticeship with the late Kane Quaye, Joe has become one of Ghana's best-known carvers, and has shown work all over the world. Photograph by Guy Lowndes, courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Wooden maquettes carved by Paa Joe. Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Outside Paa Joe's studio. Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.

The Awesome Animal-Shaped Coffins of Ghana's Paa JoeS

Photo courtesy Jack Bell gallery.