Undertakers: Like other merchants, they too pray that they make a profit

English playwright, William Shakespeare is not only known for his many works of arts, but also for various quotes. One of them is “a wise man should always think of death”. The issue is, we often pretend that we will live forever.
Rwanda Funeral Services'James Jingo displays some of his macabre wares.The funeral hearse at the entrance to King Faisal Hospital
Rwanda Funeral Services'James Jingo displays some of his macabre wares.The funeral hearse at the entrance to King Faisal Hospital

English playwright, William Shakespeare is not only known for his many works of arts, but also for various quotes. One of them is “a wise man should always think of death”. The issue is, we often pretend that we will live forever.

 More often than not, we shy away from discussing issues concerning death but not everyone is as queasy as we are. Enter funeral directors, undertakers and coffin makers.

But how do they cope with dealing with the business of death? What are the challenges they face? What are their places in our society? How did they enter the business? Do they wake up in the morning, thinking, “I hope I get a lot of customers today”?

To answer these questions Society visited Rwanda Funeral Services, a company situated merely meters away from King Faisal Hospital, to chat with Undertaker, James Jingo.

Jingo and his business partners opened their business in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, fourteen years ago with one stated intention. To offer services which ensure our loved ones a decent send off.

After the initial teething pains that he suffered, which almost forced him to give up, he got used to the job.

As the Ugandan side of the business stabalised, Jingo brought the business home, registering Rwanda Funeral Services in 2008. However, it began operations in 2009.

Over the years, his business has grown and he even intends to buy a piece of land to build a proper funeral home. Although we found the business moving at a snail’s pace, Jingo could not be happier. “Although I make money when people die, I’m actually happy that less people are dying”, he says.

So what inspired him into this business and does he regret the choices he’s made? These are the questions Society posed to him, trying to understand why he chose to make this ghoulish business his own. “Death is inevitable,” he states. “If you have ever lost a loved one then you will understand.”

“I began the business with the intention of helping society in a unique way and I don’t regret it,” he says confidently.

As for how the community reacts to his choice of employment, Jingo smiles and says he has plenty of family and friends. “They understand the nature of the work that I do and it is a job just like any other,” he states, leaning back on his armchair.

The funeral business faces the same kind of challenges other businesses face, especially trained personnel. Jingo complains that there aren’t enough trained morgue attendants with the skills required to handle bodies and keep them well preserved. “This is the reason I am struggling to open my own funeral home so as to keep the country up to speed with the more developed countries,” he says.

His company offers a broad range of services that his clients need such as embalmment, cremation, pallbearers, spiritual and professional counselling, outside catering and V.I.P wreaths.

All these services naturally come at a cost. Coffins go between Rwf 70,000 to as much as a whopping Rwf 1.5 million.

An undertaker for the great and good, Jingo has offered his funeral services to the late Col. John Garang, former president of the Republic of Southern Sudan. Most recently, he rendered his services to the Ugandan soldiers who tragically passed away in a helicopter crash on the slopes of Mount Kenya as they headed to Somalia for an AMISOM mission.

Before leaving his office, we asked whether he would let his children follow in his footsteps. With a twinkle in his eye he asked “why not”? Why not indeed?

 

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