The cries of anguish can be heard miles away, accompanied by antics and revving of motorbikes. These ‘mourners’ are grown men who would cry a river for money and are the new breed of people who are paid to mourn the dead.
In Western region when one dies, the families hire mourners to express sorrow for their loved ones for a fee. In the past, the mourners were mainly women, today the trade has taken a new dimension.
The boda boda operators have perfected the business to the extent that they are more preferred than women ‘mourners’.
They are seen hovering around hospital mortuaries with their motorbikes, not to provide transport, but to be hired as mourners.
When hired, they step up to the task by crying at the top of their voices while engaging in funny antics and dangerous manoeuvres on their motorbikes, without taking a care in the world. In the end, they are assured of a handsome reward.
Richard Ananda from Maseno says he is a beneficiary of the ‘wailing’ business. Together with his friends, he camps at mortuaries every Thursday and Friday in the hope of getting hired when bodies leave the mortuary for the burial.
Getting hired as a mourner pays better than ferrying passengers, he says. They are paid at least Sh500, but richer families are willing to fork out more money.
“Thursdays and Fridays are good days for me. How many passengers will you carry in a day to make Sh500? When hired as mourners, we get the amount in less than an hour,” says Ananda.
Ananda says the family of the deceased hires mourners as a way of proving to the world that their relative was loved by many people and was an important person in the society. “The families also feel that having a huge crowd at a funeral, accompanied by pitiful wails from ‘proffessional mourners’ gives the deceased a decent send off to the other world,” says Ananda.
Luanda Traffic Base Commander Hannington Mwazonga differs with these sentiments and dismissings the mourners-for-hire as hooligans, whose only mission is mischief.
He also blames the bereaved families for wasting money that could be used to help the family of the deceased.
Mwazonga says those hired as mourners, especially the youth on motorbikes engage in bad behaviour with some using the money they are paid to buy illicit brews and drugs such as bhang.
Many flout traffic rules by hanging on motor vehicles while others ride recklessly, causing accidents. He has witnessed hired mourners die in road accidents because they are usually under the influence of drugs or alcohol and don’t take necessary precautions, such as wearing helmets.
“The mourners -for-hire has is big business in many parts of Western and Nyanza. It mostly involves boda boda operators. This behaviour must be fought to the end because those hired engage in acts that endanger their lives and others. The way they behave is not consistent with people who are in a legal business,” says Mwazonga.
Mwazonga tried to stop the busineses in Luanda and Emuhuya, but failed because it is a deeply-entrenched business in the area.
“I tried to stop the youth from making noise, hanging dangerously on the vehicles and motorbikes, but I failed because it has become a culture,” says Mwazonga.
Pastor Charles Apati says mourning is not something that should be taken lightly. “Mourning should be genuine where people cry for their loved one who has left them and those who commercialise grief are demeaning the act of mourning,” he says. He cautions those hired as mourners-for-pay saying they are inviting a curse on their families.