By Caroline Nyanga
April 12th 2016
When we think of a mortician, we often think of a
strange old man with peculiar habits and with very few friends. It’s a
career very few men would dare into leave alone women.
But 22-year-old Hannah Wambui Muthana and 30-year-old Sarah
Nyambura Wangui have defied all societal norms to venture into the world
of the dead. In the course of their work they are surrounded by the
dead more than the the living.The two are morticians attached to the Chiromo Funeral Parlour in
Nairobi. Unlike Hanna who ventured into the profession as a second
option and out of curiosity, Sarah says embalming and beautifying the
dead was her career choice “from day one”.
Inspired into the profession by a friend at the age of 25, Sarah
often frequented Nyeri Provincial General Hospital and Tumutumu in
Karatina, Mathera, just to familiarise herself with the activities that
went on there.
“I recall going there more than 20 times. During each visit, the
mortuary attendant would take me inside the morgue, which was filled
with bodies placed in the cold rooms, on embalming tables and the
floor,” she says.
Hannah, on the other hand, says that misconceptions about the profession and the dead is what inspired her to be a mortician.
“At first, I wanted to pursue a degree in journalism, but owing
to lack of fees, I opted for a diploma in Information Technology at
Nairobi Institute of Business Studies for six months. But I soon quit to
do a certificate course in Mortuary Science at Chiromo Campus,
University of Nairobi,” says Hannah.The two have been embalming and beautifying bodies at Chiromo for two
years. They say making sure a body looks decent before burial is their
“Although we are well aware that our career choice are sneered by
many, it is something we are proud of, cherish and have a great passion
for,” they say, adding that a world without morticians would be messy.
Sarah and Hannah, who have been on training at Chiromo for two
years say that contrary to the belief that a mortician and a mortuary
attendant are the same, the two are completely different professions.
“Unlike a mortuary attendant who looks after, washes, dresses
bodies and guides relatives in identifying their loved ones, a mortician
treats bodies to ensure that they are well-preserved and decent for
burial,” they explain.
The two say their work involves undressing the corpse,
disinfecting, embalming, evisceration (removal of internal organs for
diagnosis), draining of the fluids and blood, assisting in postmortem
and stitching before the body is finally stored in the freezer.
Other procedures involve encoffing (putting final touches on the body
by dressing and stuffing it in the coffin) before doing the final
presentation popularly known as cosmetology. The latter is
beautification of the body which is done only according to the family’s
Despite immense support from their families and friends, they say there is still a lot of misconception about the profession.Sarah says: “We all know that talking about death is difficult. It is
high time we changed how we think about the death of our loved ones as
we equally prepare for our own.”
Asked about the emotional impact of working on bodies, they say they are used to it.
“I don’t mean to be callous, but it becomes a reality of your
workplace, knowing that you are dealing with a corpse. We are all
mortal,” says Sarah.
“I strongly believe that it is God who protects us. The only
difference between the living and the dead is that the latter are
lifeless,” Sarah adds.
“After all it is easier to be infected by a living person than the dead,” adds Hanna who share they hardly have nightmares.
The most challenging part of their work is reconstructing damaged
bodies. But despite this they say they can look at a person’s picture
before death and reconstruct the damaged part to its former appearance.“Some families request that we remove braids or weaves. In such cases
we must do so before the body is taken for embalming,” says Sarah.
They say that there are occasions when make-up is applied on the dead upon request by the family members.
“We do this after the body has been dressed and put in the coffin so as to maintain the make-up,” says Sarah.
There is no minimum number of bodies in a day. On a busy day they
can work on even more than 20 bodies in a day. For example, last April,
they handled more than 40 decomposed bodies from Garissa University
College, Garissa, which were transported in late and successfully
managed to complete the entire process on all bodies in less than 12
hours – taking into consideration that they were only four morticians.
Their last advice is for people to strive to live in harmony with one another besides thanking God for a new day.
“Death is an inevitable transition that we all fear but we can’t help
but talk about it openly besides preparing ourselves for it,” they say.
Both of them were trained by Chebi Enos Subisiso, a 26-year-old
mortician who has been working at the Chiromo Funeral Parlour for four
years.He says young people are beginning to embrace the profession since it is marketable and not a crowded field.
He says he has trained more than 70 morticians since 2013.