TOP
Friday,December 04,2020 21:12 PM

He made giant Ofwono’s coffin

By Vision Reporter

Added 26th August 2003 03:00 AM

Like any other businessman, I pray that God blesses my business. I need to prosper. Dying is a fact. Why should people pretend? I don’t wish people to die, but I also pray that I earn a living from my business. Period,” Musoke, a coffin maker in Katwe says.

Like any other businessman, I pray that God blesses my business. I need to prosper. Dying is a fact. Why should people pretend? I don’t wish people to die, but I also pray that I earn a living from my business. Period,” Musoke, a coffin maker in Katwe says.

By Arthur Baguma

Like any other businessman, I pray that God blesses my business. I need to prosper. Dying is a fact. Why should people pretend? I don’t wish people to die, but I also pray that I earn a living from my business. Period,” Musoke, a coffin maker in Katwe says.

“People die whether we pray that they do or not. Death was not invented by coffin makers,” Gerald Kanyike, one of the few living pioneers of the coffin-making business in Uganda says. A few weeks ago, he designed the longest coffin ever in the history of Uganda and probably the world over. The coffin was for our fallen John Ofwono –– the man believed to have been one of the tallest men in the world.

“Ofwono’s coffin was nine by two-and-a-half feet. It took us six hours to finish. The other coffin close to that was seven by 3.5ft which I made for a prisons officer in October last year,” Kanyike reveals.

Though it is a business where many dread to venture into, let alone talk about, coffin making is a hobby to Kanyike. His father is doing it back home in Masaka and so are nine of his young brothers and his wife.

Kanyike, a graduate in carpentry, started his own coffin-making business in 1982 at the age of 22. Today, he employs over 20 people, including his wife and nine of his young brothers at his workshop in Wandegeya.

Few people appreciate the
services of coffin makers. There is nothing unique! A wooden makeshift with a dark interior, and coffins paraded on the road side is all that characterises the business.

In 1982, Kanyike with Fred Mweru started a carpentry workshop at Kubiri on Bombo road. Before the inception of commercial coffin making, people were using backcloths and blankets for the dead.

At first, Kanyike dealt in all types of furniture, but not coffins until the demand of coffins shot up due to the HIV/AIDS scourge, which hit the country in the early 1980s. “Before coffins were manufactured by Uganda prisons and a few people but on a non-commercial basis. Being near a hospital (Mulago), people would come to my workshop demanding for coffins. I eventually decided to start making coffins,” Kanyike reveals. He says initially, the coffins were made on order.

“Relatives of the deceased placed orders and it would take us three to four hours to work on one, but with time we started stocking them,” Mweru says. He says they have regular customers whom they give coffins on credit. “There are families which have lost many of their loved ones, and have bought coffins here. When they keep coming, we give them coffins on credit.”

Kanyike was born in Bukoto, Masaka district in 1960 to Kibuka Kalisti Bumbale and Elimerida Nasaali.

He started school at Kikungwe primary school and later joined Butare primary school where he completed his junior leaving exams in 1977.

In 1978, he joined Kitovu technical school where he graduated with a certificate in carpentry in 1980.

He started working in 1981 in his father’s carpentry workshop in Kinoni Masaka.

He established a workshop in 1982 with an initial capital of sh100,000. Today, he boasts of working capital of over sh30m.

Kanyike has built a house, bought a car and pays fees for his 10 children. His wife Nambalirwa says she is not at all ashamed of doing the business. “We do it like any other business. It’s our source of livelihood,” she says with a shy smile. Dressed in a striped blue shirt, a grey pair of trousers, black shoes and a cap, Kanyike says that big organisations like the Police and the UPDF should give him tenders to supply coffins.

He says his worst moment is seeing people buying coffins every other day. “Every day is sad for me.

When people come to purchase my coffins, they think that I am happy because they are buying but actually, it is one of those moments that make me feel like death never existed,” he says in a low tone.

Mweru, Kanyike’s business associate is full of praises for the coffin business. “I have bought a motor cycle, built a house and pay fees for my brothers and sisters,” Mweru, 35 from a family of 40 says.

Katwe coffin makers say the business started around 1983. One Kasozi, who passed away years ago together with one Musoke, based at Mulago mortuary, are believed to be the brains behind the business of coffins in the area.

The ease with which Kanyike goes about his work is scary.

After showing me around his workshop, with a smiling face, he invites me to have a sit on a coffin, but I decline and prefer to stand.

He later treats himself to a cup of coffee, seated on one coffin as another coffin serves as his table where he safely rests a plate of roasted groundnuts.

Amidst dust, the scorching sun and noise from passing cars, every one is busy. Seven women do final touches –– putting white cloth inside the finished coffins. “Put the backcloth first and then the white cloth next,” mama boy, one of the coffin makers advises her juniors. Bang bang! heavy breathing, another man hits the last nail in yet another coffin as he grits his teeth. After 1:00pm, the activity is faster around the busy workshop. A woman brings plates of food and puts them on the dinning table –– a coffin. Men, boys and women each pick a plate, but surprisingly work continues, with a fork in hand and hammer in the other.

Suddenly, all eyes turn to one direction, “Eyo ya prison, customer aze (that is a prison’s car. A customer has come),” a boy says pointing to a Double cabin pick-up pulling up.

A man alights Kanyike greets him and straight away the dynamics of business take centre stage.“But that is expensive, Okay, how much are you giving me?” the two haggle before reaching a consensus. the man pays a smiling Kanyike. Two boys carry the coffin to the waiting car. Kanyike does not know where the coffin is going but one thing is for sure, he knows its use for the dead.

Later, I see two other coffins being taken. “Three people are gone. I say to myself, before leaving the place.

He made giant Ofwono’s coffin

Related articles

More From The Author

More From The Author