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Dan Okwiri: Luo Community Spends Ksh20B Yearly On Funerals

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Its 2 am as I pen 🖊 my Journal memoirs. Drumming, screaming, horn blowing & wailing all going on is incessantly across the ridge (the noise is freakish but it looks like am the only one who thinks so?), I hope that the deceased could be laid to rest today, it’s two weeks running of insomnia & by now he too must be tIred as I am now.

Can anyone tell me why my community the Luo play non stop music boogies all night long during funeral wakes? For some reason they hardly play it during the day. It’s driving me nuts… Are Luo spirits only nocturnal.? Funerals here is business & it has gone a notch higher in sophistication to solicit cash. The new trend now is youths are barricading roads and extorting cash from motorists for funerals boogies. Have seen this mode of collecting funeral fundings in Tanzania but it has now caught on here. By the way I must say Luos” don’t just have funerals they have “funeral events”.

Most of the guys dying are the bodas operators. There main death mode is either accidents or suicide. Yes suicide. A social worker told me that Migori County is experiencing an average of 9 suicides every month, and in most cases male youth & they all seem to be boda operators. In my neighborhood I have lost 2 neighbors in the last 2 months who are both boda operators. The ironically thing is the harassment to raise funds for these funerals. The community demands you to chip in.
Let’s take a dig into the Luo funeral event economy, a subject area that really deserves empirical PHd study. Let’s delve into some figures, Luos have a population of approx 5 million. Averagely, each extended family conservatively has at least 200 members. This works out to at least 25,000 luo family units. Assuming each year at least two members in a family unit dies (usually it’s much more) you have at least two funerals. You can put that in every yearly budget of a Luo family, so you might as well save for it.

A mid to low end luo funeral will set a family unit back a minimum kes 400,000 (funerals for the Luo elite “Jatelos” are at least five times + that figure).
To work out quantitatively the luo community funeral spend for the 25,000 family units X 2 deaths X costs kes 400,000 per funeral = Kes 20,000,000,000. Believe it or not we spend a whooping kes 20 billion a year on funerals and am conservative, I am assuming the death of only two persons a year in a family unit of 200 people. I have not factored funerals of friends. If I did the figure will definitely take off!

Whatsup groups and mpesa (mobile money) have made it easier to fund raise for funeral events. You don’t have a choice whether or not to join a whatsup group. You are just incorporated. Exiting a group is almost criminal. The WhatsApp group application ironically announces exits. I find this absurd. Exit & you face excommunication. We are pressured to be extremely generous in contributing to funerals & not development projects.

On another note have you ever wondered why you hardly see any wedding events or fund raising for weddings in Luo Nyanza? My guess is that since we marry many wives, it gets expensive for a man to do a equitable wedding for each wife, anyway nobody needs the chaos of the rivalry that ensues. Luo women are not cheap, they will demand the best attire. My advice for a Luo man is flee from weddings. Not to mention that one looks cheap calling a wedding fundraiser, if you can’t afford to wed you might as well stay a bachelor. I don’t know when I last saw a wedding in Migori? In Central Kenya weddings are norm.

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The government county budgets of each of the four luo Nyanza counties is roughly kes 8 billion a year. For the whole of Luo Nyanza the total counties combined budget is kes 32 billion.
Ask me how as a community we can raise kes 20 billion yearly for funerals yet our total Nyanza counties budget is 32 billion yearly? This is food for thought?

Funerall events have a world of economic activity taking place. When you attend most funeral events you must buy a portrait badge of the deceased. T-shirt’s of the deceased are made for the occasion. Tailors generate cash stitching suits and outfits for the event. Don’t attend a Luo funeral event if your are not elegantly dressed or you will be thoroughly embarrassed and relegated to a back seat or you might be left standing for the whole event.

Catering has ripple effects on the local economy, butchers, poultry farmers etc all benefit. So do not be critical of the economic spillover of Luo funerals.. Local brewers do good business too, you need to ensure high spirits. Anyway how can the mourners wail if not fired for the event. Chairs and tents are hired, schools make great incomes from this. Sound systems, disc jockeys, performers engaged to entertain mourners. Water bowsers hired to provide water. Mobile toilets are also now a common feature. Not everybody has put a permanent house so you cant expect the urban mourners to go to the bush to answer nature’s call. Photographers take your snapshots without soliciting your permission and the pictures are now produced with digital printers & displayed to everyone on site. These pics are available for sale before the end of the burial. The downside is if you attended the funeral with a girlfriend, your spouse ends up having evidence that can cause marital troubles. This camera paparazzi just keep snapping everyone. If you don’t buy your snaps they sell them to anyone.

The fund raisers for burial events usually takes a month and morgues generate lots of revenue in morgue fees. By the way we still do have a shortage of good morgues in Luo Nyanza and this is a great investment opportunity, business is guaranteed. Funerals are getting more advanced as we now have lowering automated gearing system to lower coffins into the burial grave. There are not enough though and that’s another investment opportunity!

If you were not a common feature & nobody knew at your rural home before your death you need not worry. Professional mourners are also available for hire and they do a good job. Your body can also be escorted home by a convoy of a 100 boda (motorcycles) who don branches and wail all at a cost. This will set you back kes 500 per boda and it totals a Kes 50,000 for a great funeral but believed me you surely will be buried in style in a great convoy. Not to mention a boda escort by all means spurs the local economy for the boys. Professional mourners on hire are available too…

To make the deceased look important many funerals organizers also do hire the police ostensibly to take care of security. Never understood this? Who will steal,a corpse anyway? They main purpose in my opinion is to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you arrive in a pro box the police will direct you to park outside the compound of the deceased.
Many coffin makers in Migori are located around hospitals it’s called strategic positioning & the business guaranteed. I dread to be admitted to a hospitals here…

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Hotels, taxis and matatus do benefit as the city folk come home. Business is great especially if a VIP passes on. Most hotel marketeers peruse the obituaries to scout the opportunities to market their facilities for an upcoming funeral event. The call girls spruce themselves too as business will boom. Plenty bereaved men will be in town and they too can “console” them all at a fee.

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Even the aviation industry in Kisumu & Homabay Airports benefits . Kisumu Airport is the third busiest airport in Kenya with a throughput of 345,000 passenger a year and its traffic rapidly growing ( Eldoret Airport does a paltry 150,000 paxs). In my estimation funeral related travel contributes to at least a third of the Kisumu’s airports passenger statistics (wouldn’t be surprised if its actually 50%). This works out to at least 120,000 paxs a year. Indeed no other community in Kenya commutes on planes like Luos. If you convert the luo spend on funeral related air fares it works out to Kes 1000,000,000 (a billion) a year. It’s difficult to get a plane seat (or a hotel bed to Kisumu) on weekends as it’s when most funerals take place.

There are many car hire companies in Kisumu airport who cater specifically for funeral related traffic so you won’t get stranded if the funeral is a little interior. They offer the latest four wheel cars so you can arrive in style! If you arrive in a Probox car you will definitely a place in the VIP tent and will watch the event from a backseat should you be lucky to get one. Also be forewarned you won’t be served food in the VIP food tent. Yes it’s going to be Ugali and sukuma. Also note that your name will not be mentioned as person to be honored by the master of ceremonies as you make entry to the burial event. This can be a disgrace.

Imagine I have not factored in the business of aircraft & helicopter charter to bring in human remains. The politicians have to arrive in style and landing in a helicopter at the burial event is a sure way of getting your name announced by the master of ceremonies. Not to mention you will get a slot to fo greet & spew your gab to the audience. So if you intend to go into politics it’s prudent to charter a helicopter and be seen in at least 3 funerals in a day. That’s why Luo politicians don’t spend more 30 mins in a funeral. By the way never arrive at a funeral on time, you must be late if you want a dramatic entry that makes a statement.

Often the deceased may not have a rural house and the community will quickly build a house within a month to avoid embarrassment to the family. Of course hardware outlets will benefit.
I must say the funeral events have a positive effect in renewing family ties, bonds and promoting cultural history and song. This perhaps is priceless.
By the way the best Luo funeral events are actually in Alego, nowhere will you get such amazing nyatiti music and dance. This is the origin of “ohangla”.

The gyrations are amazing watch as the dancers perform at the funerals all night. Never miss any funeral in Alego, its a great revel. The brew there in Alego is in a different league am told for those who imbibe. Ugenya, Karachuonyo and Nyatike also do a pretty good job (you may lucky once in a while to get to see and enjoy tero buru in Ndhiwa) but I forewarn you that funerals in Gem and Kisumu are pretty boring. If you are into politics attend funerals in Migori. Politics there is amazing and a must go. In fact we have folk who attend funerals here on professional basis.

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The night life in Migori is pretty good with at least five live bands every-night in town, it will be an occasion to remember as you attend the burial. Don’t miss out.

Many other communities have adopted Luo style funeral events standards and I have seen the same being adopted amongst the Kuria, Kisii and now the Gema communities are joining in. The Kuria our neighboring community who hereto had no funeral/ burial ceremonies have caught on & now spot the largest convoys that are beginning to make the Luo ones like a joke. Anything below 30 cars is now a shame. They have now begun to erect big tents, and serve food at funerals too. Caterers have moved in to cash on the funeral binge.

Funerals events are a must attend during election time. Politicians contribute lots of cash. Journalists never miss out on funerals as this is where the political action happens.
A study of obituaries in the Thursday dailies (that’s the reason people here by Thursday papers) plus listening to the radio is a must to know which local personalities has passed on. Funerals are also venues to identify future possible spouses and many who come to mourn and comfort the bereaved have a different intent especially if the bereaved is wealthy. You never know where you will ”fish” your next soulmate, do make sure you arrive smartly geared.

Whatever one’s take on the funeral events industry is huge, then weddings business a pale shadow. No wonder insurance companies have come with death insurance policies to help cover funerals. This is crucial as some families are sometimes forced to sell assets to fund funerals. This is one of the big negatives of the luo funeral economy.

All said and done I think Luo funerals are great spectacle and I often wonder, how mine will be? After all have contributed to many (ssssh am thinking of cremation but don’t say, it’s sacrilege).
Banks have been left behind in developing funeral event funding products. Please wake up and smell the coffee!, It’s an amazing world. After all we will all die one day and what the heck how about a good funeral.

If you have a funeral coming up soon you can always accommodate the mourners at Migori Country Lodge. We have special packages for these events, great catering & you can block book the whole hotel for your funeral delegates. We offer special catering too. We all will die once, life cannot be rehearsed. What the heck? They say being Luo is a lifestyle & it all comes at a cost. Don’t brow beat me as you read my post, am only spewing the truth…

#okwiri 🖊 My Journal, My thoughts, My Walk….


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Kenya West is a trained investigative independent journalist and a socio-political commentator on matters Kenya and Africa. Do you have a story, Scandal you want me to write on? Send me tips to [in.kenyawest@protonmail.com]

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