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A day with Kano coffin makers

Coffin making (Makara or Tukurwa in Hausa) is a business/craft that lots of people decline to go into but, unknown to many, it is lucrative…

Coffin making (Makara or Tukurwa in Hausa) is a business/craft that lots of people decline to go into but, unknown to many, it is lucrative and one of the crafts five generations in the ancient city of Kano have engaged in for close to two centuries, reports Daily Trust Saturd.

It’s a sunny day in the sprawling commercial city of Kano, and despite the tough economic conditions and sweltering weather, people are obstinate, tirelessly trying to make ends meet. As usual, businesses are ongoing in every corner with people engaged in all manner of crafts.

Somewhere around Tudun Nufawa quarters on the road adjoining the famous Kurmi Market in the municipality, a group of vibrant men are also busy going about their duties. They carve, arrange, and tie the log with fresh animal skin onto the plank – they simply make coffins.

Interestingly, a glance at the working atmosphere clears every doubt that coffin making is for the hapless and disappointed, as widely held.

Alhaji Sani Hussaini, 65, holds a Diploma in Arabic, Hausa and Islamic Studies. A retired school teacher and pensioner, he feels very happy about the job which he has been into since childhood.

Coffin makers in this part of the world are stereotyped by the people around. From being labelled as people who rejoice in the death of others to being tagged as insensitive humans; one must have a thick skin to be able to thrive in such a field. 

“This is a family business,” he says, revealing that he grew up in a family that embraces coffin making. “You could say I inherited it because I come from a family that took coffin-making as a business.”

“It is passed from one generation to the other. Our fore fathers started it nearly 200 years ago. It is our wish that we will also pass it to the upcoming generation,” he said, as his face beams with smile, revealing his silver coated teeth.

When Daily Trust Saturday visited what could be described as the ‘coffin workshop’ in front of the residence of Sarkin Tukurwa or Makara, literally meaning the Emir of Coffin, the men seem to enjoy what they do; they look happy, chatting and cracking jokes in unison as they try to shape the logs into the preferred coffin size, which suggests a contrary view to the perception the public holds about this vilified business.

In a profession very few would want to venture into, Hussaini believes people must begin to realize that coffin making is also carpentry. To him, the profession falls within the category of artistry, and must rightly be given its place in the society without any prejudicial sentiment.

The coffin makers use bamboo wood referred to as Tukurwa or Kwangwala in Hausa which they shape using local working tools to produce the coffin or Makara. The coffin is crafted in different sizes: for hefty ones, the skinny, tall and short and the young ones. 

Patronage of the products is mostly for local consumption, but Hussaini said people from the Republic of Niger, Chad and Cameroon also come for the coffin which they buy and transport to their respective countries in numbers. 

Attempts were made by goldsmiths to replicate the coffin using iron which initially got accepted in the society. However, people realised that the Bamboo coffin has come to stay because it serves no other purpose than carrying the dead body. 

“Men of the underworld would visit the mosque in the wee hours of the night and steal the iron coffin which they break into pieces and sell to iron dealers. That was how that initiative died,” he said.

Apart from the coffin, they also make cupboard, ladder, house utensils and a special chair or Karaga for the Emir, the well-to-do and the learned in the society. Every year, the Sarkin Tukurwa produces two of such chairs which are presented to the Emir of Kano as a mark of respect. In return, the Emir presents a gift of traditional attire to the Sarkin Tukurwa in appreciation of the gesture.

Malam Tasiu Hassan, who is the present Sarkin Tukurwa and the sixth in the lineage, says they enjoy a very special relationship with Kano Emirate which is recognized as an institution with its leadership selected and approved by the Kano Emirate.

To him and the family, coffin making is a full-time job, further explaining that he caters for his family through the money he makes from this business.

“I have taken coffin making as a professional job. I enjoy the work I do and it’s paying off. My family has been sustained over the years through the business. I’m married with six children, and I look after all of them well.”

Like in every business, there are the good, not so good and the bad days. According to Hussaini, there are times when there are quick sales and there are also times when sales drop drastically.

Hussaini is however worried that even though there has been a dramatic rise in the number of new mosques in towns and villages nowadays, you hardly find a coffin in many of the new mosques. The mosque’s caretakers only rush to older mosques to collect a coffin to convey the dead.

“Coffin is something that is bought only when there is the need for it. If you buy one, it can last for 50 years depending on its durability,” he added.

Hussaini is afraid that many of today’s youth would not want to even conceive the idea of taking to coffin making, let alone make it a point to learn the trade. “They prefer to go for other businesses in the market or a job where they earn a salary. I see a bleak future for the trade,” he lamented.

The father of six wants the government and the well-to-do in the society to come in by ensuring that they buy the coffin for free distribution to all daily prayer and Jumu’at Mosques in the state and beyond. “That patronage,” he says, could guarantee the participation of many youths in the trade as it means more money coming their way. 

He told Daily Trust Saturday that government intervention could also come in form of provision of a permanent site for the business.

“We used to have a plot of land where the present Sani Abacha Indoor Stadium is located but we lost it to the expansion of Kano city. We also had another one in the present location of Khalifa Isyaka Rabi’u Jumu’at Mosque, Goron Dutse in Dala Local Government Area of Kano city, with approval from the Kano Emirate. Unfortunately, that one is also no more,” he added. 

According to him, having a permanent site guarantees the expansion of the business venture as it opens them more to the world.

 

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