Professional Mourners

May 5, 2020

We have professional mourners in Kenya who depend on deaths in families to earn an income. Bizarre as this sounds, the mourners are not ashamed of their profession; rather, they have come out publicly to complain about their work being affected by Covid 19. The professional mourners are based in Migori County where burials are a big deal. Mourning can go on for weeks combined with ceremonial eating and dancing. The professional mourners make a living from the dead, literally.

They are not happy with the government directive to limit the number of mourners at funerals. They say theirs is a profession that needs to be recognized. They have been previously laughing all the way to the bank, but with the current situation they are neither laughing nor crying. The restriction of gatherings at funerals has seen their services suffer; the mourners cannot congregate as they did before the pandemic. The amount the mourners charge for their services depends on the status of the departed person. If the departed was well off, they come in large numbers, yelling and screaming to attract as much attention as possible, and to make more money. The mourners contend their work evokes emotions; they are there to console the bereaved. They say they enjoy what they do and claim their business is growing day by day as customers request their services from all over the country.

The mourners assert that professional mourning is a talent like singing, acting, etc. They cry until the bereaved are led to believe that the departed one was deeply loved and will be greatly missed, whether that is the case or not. They charge around kshs 15,000 ($150) per funeral and can generally attend at least 4 funerals per week. The mourners say their business does not have competition, and they would like to be registered by the government. They boast that their skills bring prestige to the burials of those who were actually despised in the community, where, otherwise, these would be buried without much ceremony. In Kenya, there are 5 types of mourners:

Hired mourners 

These are mourners who are paid to mourn. They act as if they are closer to the dead than the family. They scream all over the compound while outlining the good deeds of the deceased. They will cry even when everyone else is quiet.

Absolute mourners 

The absolute mourners carry their entire families to the funeral. They cry, eat, drink and even carry food back to their homes without concern for the family of the deceased. These mourners are very common in funerals of powerful personalities.

Silent mourners 

These mourners show deep sympathy to the family of the deceased. They do not speak anything while at the funeral. In addition, they do not ask for anything, but they do not refuse offers.

Demanding mourners

These are the most annoying mourners. They continuously ask for food, alcohol, money and other things while at the funeral. No matter how much they receive, these mourners are never satisfied.



Genuine mourners 

These mourners are emphatic and caring. They understand the pain of losing a loved one. They will help by way of contributions and small chores to be undertaken at the funeral. These mourners are in attendance at all funerals.

Professional mourners claim to be incurring financial loses at this time; they are demanding that the numbers allowed at funerals be reconsidered. They claim that death is a basic/essential need. The mourners allege to be incurring losses on a daily basis, adding that although they are receiving calls from their customers across the country, the lockdown and curfews are seriously hindering their business.

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