As much as death is inevitable, many are naturally scared and worried about anything that has to do with death or the dead. To some, the mere sight of a corpse can send them into a fit. However, there are some fearless people who have commercialized activities organized for the dead, and are smiling to the banks through them.
In spite of the fear for the dead, there are people who make a living from activities related to death and the dead. Pall bearing and funeral undertaking business are some of the jobs a lot of people are quitting their regular jobs for.
These days, people stop at nothing in giving their departed loved ones a ‘befitting’ burial. Apart from expensive caskets, mausoleums, organizing burial parties etc, the presence of pall bearers seems to lighten up the atmosphere, help ease tension and brighten the faces of relatives of the dead, friends and visitors in attendance.
Before the dead is finally committed to mother earth, these people, whose job is to carry coffin, play and even dance with it to the admiration of people around.
In western cultures, the pallbearers are usually male family members, close friends, or colleagues of the deceased while in some Asian cultures, pallbearers are not to be members of the family but outsiders, given a tip to perform the services.
Initially in Nigeria, pall bearers were family members, close friends or colleagues but today, the trend is to acquire the services of professional pall bearers (for those who can afford it). Those who can’t afford it stick with family members or close friends of the deceased.
While a pall-bearer in the USA will carry a casket by the handles and at around waist height, in the United Kingdom, the casket is carried on the shoulders, and the handles are for the most part decorative. Pall bearers in Nigeria mostly carry the casket on their shoulders and sometimes at waist level.
In Nigeria, pall bearers are making brisk business as there seem to be an increasing demand for services rendered by them.
Mr. Akinbode Saheed Adeoye, the Director of Calvary Funeral Undertaker in Lagos who has been into the pall bearing business since 1999, described pall bearers as people in uniform who carry casket and dance with it while the band boys perform.
People tend to mistake pall bearers for undertakers but Adeoye clarified that funeral undertakers are people who sell casket, render ambulance services and other services needed for a funeral while pall bearers work under undertakers.
To stand out at funerals, Adeoye explained that they wear uniform so that they can appear different from the relations of the deceased.
On how he came about the business, he said, “My brother introduced me to the business and I see it as a very good business, so I decided to remain in it since 1999. I am very happy with the business because it is highly rewarding. I am also a funeral undertaker and I have many pall bearers working under me.”
Testifying to how highly rewarding the business is, Adeoye, who before now was a builder having studied Building Construction at the Lagos State Manpower Technical School Epe, had to quit being a builder since he delved into funeral undertaking and pall bearing business.
“I had initially just wanted to try the business out but when I went deep into it, I saw that it was a very good business that one can rely on,” he stressed.
On what it takes to be a pall bearer, Adeoye noted that it doesn’t take more than courage, honesty, good manners and looking good because of the various clients you will be working for.
The ‘courage’ needed to succeed in the business brings to mind a Yoruba adage that says ‘Money (wealth) resides right in the lion’s mouth’, which means fortune favours the bold, and willingness to take risks is crucial to success.
Just as nothing comes easy, pall bearers too face a few challenges in the course of their work. “One of the challenges we face sometimes is carrying a fat dead body with an extra-large casket, but in the end, we always overcome. Pall bearing requires physical strength, power, courage and the understanding that you are dealing with a dead body.”
Many would think that pall bearers feel inferior because of the job they do or that they would suffer stigmatization in the society. Adeoye said he is very proud of his work, adding that he feels super excited by the sound of the drums and trumpets. He also noted that he does not suffer any form of rejection or stigmatization in the society.
“For me, I do not suffer any form of stigma; in fact, we are very neat and we even woo girls of our choice,” he said.
Contrary to the belief that the spirit of dead people can turn back to haunt the living, Adeoye said he has never been attacked by any spirit and that he lives freely like every other sane and normal human being.
Another pall bearer, Mr. Adekunle Mogba, who has been in the business since 1998, said he was a trumpeter and played for MIC and Ebony funeral homes before he developed interest and decided to venture into his own business. Today, he is the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of All Saints Undertakers at Akintan Street off LUTH Road, Mushin.
Mogba, who described himself as a professional undertaker, said there is no difference between an undertaker and a pall bearer. To him, the compound name is ‘Undertaker’ for those who handle activities organized for the dead while the pall bearers carry the casket. So, pall bearing is just a department among others.
Operating since 1998, he described the business as an all season one as people die on a daily basis. While he says his job is highly rewarding, he noted that they charge for funeral services based on what the children or relatives of the deceased want.
“We have different kinds of caskets and motor hearses. I have my own Band boys, flower girls and pall bearers that are working with me while I am also a pall bearer.”
Commenting on what it takes to be a pall bearer, Mogba said, “If you want to become an undertaker, you have to come to us and we teach you because we have different departments. We have people who preserve and dress the body, we have those who construct the casket; we have the pall bearers who dance with the coffin while band boys play music for them. We do our rehearsals every Tuesday to know the number of people going for an outing, which usually ranges from 10 to 15 and sometimes more.
Mogba started his undertaking business with just N50,000. He was however quick to note that irrespective of the money involved, they opt for seeing death certificate before carrying out any activity on the dead, especially in the wake of COVID-19.
“Due to COVID-19, before we go for any burial, we make it mandatory to see the death certificate of the deceased so as to ascertain the cause of the death.”
Unlike many others, Mogba and his workers are never afraid of handling the dead while they also don’t feel pain because their bodies are already accustomed with carrying and dancing with coffins. “It is something we have been doing for years, so, it is just as though we are playing. In fact, we don’t take any drug for energy. Constant practice makes perfect.”
On their dress code at various funerals, he said clients choose dress code for them, which could be corporate, native, casual wear or even prayer gown among others, depending on what clients want to see at their event.
Our reporter gathered that the cost of funerals varies depending on the number of services that would be rendered during the ceremony such as provision of casket, ambulance, pall bearers, flower girls, band boys among others. While there are expensive funeral services, there are also low-cost funeral services.
To streamline and steer the operation of undertakers in Lagos State, Mogba said they have an association named Lagos State Association of Funeral Directors registered by the Lagos State Government.
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