Suitcases: Cheap and dramatic ways Kenyans transport their dead


  • Kenyans are known to be very ingenious and enterprising people and can do anything humanly possible for a quick buck
  • Some are transporting corpses via inappropriate means to cut transport costs
  • As the case of one Juma, someone unknowingly stole his suitcase bearing the remains of his son

Strange tales have been told about the dead. The most common ones are those about ‘stubborn’ corpses that refuse to go home for burial, till certain rituals are performed.

Like the case of a certain Kipkoech who mysteriously stalled the otherwise mechanically sound vehicle which was transporting him, and only agreed to proceed with the journey to his final destination in Eldoret after he was thoroughly caned by elders. Or the case of suicide victims in Western Kenya who get clobbered and caned in exorcising rituals to rid villagers of bad omens.

But if you thought that was as crazy as it gets, think again.

As it turns out, Kenyans have been transporting the dead using not just shocking but inappropriate methods, all in the name of cutting transport costs. Take for instance the case of a certain Juma (whose second name we chose not to reveal, lest we scandalise him; an endeavour this magazine never pursues) whose attempts to cheaply transport his dead son’s corpse turned dramatic.

Having carefully and neatly wrapped his dead son’s body in a suitcase and placed it in the boot of a bus that he and his family members were travelling in from Nairobi to Migori County, Juma did not expect what befell him.

When the bus was about to reach its destination, some passengers began disembarking at their respective stages. Unfortunately for Juma, when he reached his destination, he went to the boot ready to collect the suitcase in which he had stored the remains of his son, only to discover it missing. Just imagine!

Someone had stolen it as people disembarked at the various bus stops, just before Migori town. Perplexed, he went home without the corpse. He explained the ordeal to his folks who followed up the matter the following day.

Luckily enough, early the following day, rumours were rife all over the locale about a boda boda rider who had stolen a suitcase, which turned out to contain a corpse. He had stolen it from a bus at a nearby shopping centre, as he helped a conductor offload luggage from the boot.

Luckily for Juma, the body had been surrendered to the police from where he went to claim it. Apart from being charged, he learnt several other painful lessons.

Can’t afford mortuary fee

Similar cases have been reported before. Take the case of John and Joan. In their desperate attempts to cut costs, the two whose two-year-old daughter died in Mombasa after choking on food, transported her to their rural home in Webuye in a bag stuffed with clothes.

The couple claimed they could neither afford mortuary nor transport costs.

Just like the other passengers, John and his wife placed the bag on the rack above the seats in the bus, and off they went. No one suspected anything all through the journey. Nobody was suspicious of the couple’s mission, despite Joan crying and sobbing hysterically throughout the journey.

Upon their arrival in Webuye, John carried the remains of his daughter into his compound where it was received with wails from other relatives who had been waiting. The dead child had a warm send off the next day.

Ever wondered why some people transfer their critically ill kin from well-equipped hospitals (where chances of recovering are very high) to sub-standard hospitals, which are close to their rural homes?

Well, majority of Kenyans cannot afford mortuary fees or even to transport a corpse, say, from Nairobi to a far flung locality. Thus, when the grim reaper comes calling, many Kenyans smuggle their dead to their rural homes disguised as goods with the authorities being none the wiser; a scandal that has been going on for the longest time.

One Collins whose brother was terminally ill in Mombasa decided to discharge him from hospital and take him back to their rural home in Homa Bay. Reason? He was dying and he (Collins) was not financially stable enough to cater for the transport costs in case he died in Mombasa. Peter who was too weak to walk or sit upright could not board public means of transport such as a bus.

Great fix

Smart Collins bundled him into his friend’s truck, which was transporting goods from Mombasa to Kisumu, and they hit the road. Unfortunately, Collin’s brother did not make it. He went to be with the Lord just when they reached Emali in Machakos County.

Had they risked travelling in a public bus, they would have been in a fix at that point because if the passengers discovered that he was dead, they would have been forced to disembark and allow Collins to take his dead brother to the nearest mortuary.

Since they were in a truck, only Collins and the driver were aware, and as long as they were not discovered, it was going to be a smooth ride all the way to Kisumu where the dead brother was checked into a mortuary.

Medical check-ups

Unlike Collins, a certain Joseph was not so lucky. He had the same experience but it all happened in a public service vehicle, a shuttle to be precise. Scandalous! His uncle had been sick on and off back home in Kitale. Because he was not critically ill, he was expected to travel to Nairobi for further medical check-ups.

Although he was still strong and could travel on his own, Joseph who had just done his KCSE exams, was asked to escort his uncle to the city. Together they boarded a shuttle because it was faster. They sat together and talked once in a while although his uncle kept falling asleep.

One time he slept and did not wake up even as the shuttle hit serious potholes making the passengers complain. As they neared Nakuru, Joseph tried waking his uncle up, asking him to sit upright and stop leaning on him.

To his shock, his uncle was dead. Unlike you or this writer, who faced with such a situation, would have begun wailing at the top of your lungs, Joseph, being the smart kid he is, took a baseball cap and put it on his dead uncle’s head to avoid raising suspicion.

Loved ones

Joseph remained calm and without raising an eyebrow, carefully pushed his uncle towards the window and leaned on him to keep him upright. After ensuring he was seated upright once more, he started sending distress texts to relatives in Nairobi telling them of the new development.

Unlike the other passengers, when they stopped Nakuru for a 15 minute stop over, he did not disembark, but stayed put and started making calls when everyone else was outside. He knew very well that if caught, he would be left in Nakuru with a corpse and he knew no one in that town.

After all, no one wants the body of their loved one lying in a town they know nothing about. Luckily for Joseph, by the time they got to Nairobi, his relatives were waiting for them with an ambulance.

After everyone else got off the bus, the driver was told what had happened and the body removed from the shuttle, put into the ambulance and taken to Kenyatta Hospital for doctors to confirm that he was indeed dead.

Post-mortem results later showed that he had suffered a heart attack in his sleep. The shocked driver told Joseph that had he realised, he would have left them in Nakuru.

Talk of the dead going home in ‘style’.