The undertaker who brings song to life

Subisiso Enos Chebii

25-year-old Subisiso Enos Chebii is an undertaker and a budding musician. CAROLINE NYANGA visited Chiromo Funeral Parlor and got insight into a profession many consider to be haunting.

Generation Next: Why did you choose to become a mortician?

Enos Chebii: I am well aware that my career choice attracts sneers, but it is one that I am proud passionate about. Embalming and beautifying the departed has been my passion all through. It gives me great satisfaction when a cadaver under my care is well preserved and is decent awaiting burial.

GN: Tell us about your jouney?

EC: My late grandfather Elias Ng’weno inspired and mentored me. A graduate of Makerere University, Mzee Ng’weno worked as an embalmer-cum-veterinary doctor in his village located in Busia district after he declined to be employed by the Government.

I would accompany him whenever he went to attend to his ‘clients’ and soon became familiar with embalming using both traditional and modern methods. There were no freezers in the village, so we embarked on a six-point method which involved injecting with formalin the parts of the stiffs prone to decomposition.

GN: Was it easy adjusting to the job?

EC: It took me about six months to become conversant. There was a time when my grandpa locked me in a room with a cadaver for hours to see if I had mastered the skills well.

Pleased with my interest and ability to master the skills fast, he introduced me to the village as his protégé. When I went eventually joined University, it only took me a few weeks to adjust to the modern methods.

GN: Was that all it took to get you started in the journey?

EC: You might find this odd but I recall visiting City Mortuary severally when I was about eight-years-old just to familiarise myself with its activities. During each visit, the mortuary attendant took me inside the morgue with stiffs placed in the cold rooms, on embalming tables, and on the floor.

I also remember visiting black spots and making sure to catch a glimpse of the victims. This I did with the aim of seeing how the mangled cadavers would later be restored in preparation for burial.

GN: Tell us about your education?

EC: With the little money I made as a village embalmer-cum-veterinary doctor, I decided to go back to Kangandole Secondary School before proceeding to pursuing diploma in Livestock Health from Butere Institute of Livestock Health.

I later joined Butula Mission Hospital for two years as a private embalmer. In 2012, I joined Chiromo Funeral Parlor after a three month course in Mortuary Science at the University of Nairobi’s Human Anatomy department.

GN: Is your family supportive of your career choice?

EC: Yes, my parents Mr and Mrs Edward Ng’weno, and my seven siblings support me.

GN: Let us in on embalming?

EC: It is a very invasive process which involves removing blood from the circulatory system through a vein and then replacing it with chemicals that include formaldehyde. It also involves injecting the internal organs with preservatives as well.

GN: What does your job entail?

EC: My duty involves carefully undressing the cadaver, 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.

Others involve encoffing (putting final touches on the cadaver by dressing and stuffing it in the coffin) before performing the final presentation popularly known as cosmetology. The latter is beautification of the body which is done according to the family’s specifications.

GN: Tell us the difference between a mortician and a mortuary attendant?

EC: The two are completely different professions. While a mortuary attendant looks after, washes, dresses bodies, and guides relatives in identifying their loved ones; a mortician treats bodies follows the above mentioned process to ensure that it is well preserved and decent for burial.

GN: How many cadavers can you handle in a day?

EC: There is no limit to the number of bodies I can handle since I have a passion for my job.

GN: How long have you been in this profession?

EC: It’s been close to six years now. Prior my current posting, I worked at the Butula Mission Hospital, PCEA Kikuyu Hospital, and Montezuma Monalisa morgues.

GN: What are some of the challenges you face?

EC: Reconstructing damaged cadavers is a huge challenge. I am humbled to have mastered the art such that I can now look at person’s picture before death and reconstruct the damaged part to its former appearance.

GN: What keeps you going?

EC: I strongly believe that it is God who protects us. After all, it is easier to be infected by a living person than the dead.

GN: What are some of the misconceptions associated with your job?

EC: People wrongly assume that morticians take drugs to do their jobs.

GN: Are you dating?

EC: I like to keep my private life private.

GN: Have you ever treated a body of a family member?

EC: No.

GN: Tell us about the emotional impact of working with bodies?

EC: You, in a way, get used to it. Truth is we are all mortal hence the need to look past fear associated with death and really see it as an occupational hazard.

GN: Message to fellow youth?

EC: It is important for youth to have a positive attitude towards work. Mortuary industry is work like any other and besides, death is inevitable, hence the need to have professionals who will ensue befitting send-offs for our loved ones.

GN: You also sing?

EC: I recently released my debut album dubbed Talanta Karanga produced by Kenny Rush of First Class Music. Sang in English and Swahili and styled in hip hop, Genge, pop, Kapuka and Bongo styles. I am humbled that one of the songs titled Iso Certfified is doing very well earning me shows locally and in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam where I recently performed.