Funeral Homes: Taking Over the Services of Iddirs

Recording videos and taking photographs of a wedding ceremony is quite common, as passing time watching these videos and studying these pictures will give one the chance to remember the good times. Nowadays, people attach such videos and pictures on their facebook pages for others to see, giving those who did not attend a chance to view the festivities.  

What would you think of recording or watching the funeral ceremony of your loved ones? It seems strange, but recording videos and taking photographs of funeral ceremonies is now one of the services given by modern funereal homes in the country, particularly in Addis Ababa. These funeral homes, established as businesses entities, are delivering funeral services with a variety of additional services most of us do not usually associate with burials.

Aster Woldemicheal, who lives around “Hayat Homes” in Eastern Addis Ababa, in a house her brother bought for the family, lost her mother a couple of months ago. Her only brother, who lives in the United States could not make it to the funeral. Relatives advised her to video record the ceremony in order for him to watch. “With the help of the video, my brother has mourned the death of our mother from where he lives, with his friends and relatives around” she told EBR. “Though it can not replace attending it, I think it has helped him to share his grief with the rest of the family” she adds.

Funeral homes are now giving these services and the demand has grown in the past few years according to some funeral homes on the Churchill Avenue, in Addis Ababa that EBR talked to. Bet-El Funeral Services is one of those institutions, which provides an array of services from washing and wrapping the body properly to putting it in the coffin and transporting it. “The services funeral homes are rendering have changed dramatically in the past decade” says Yared Moges, general manager of Bet-El, a family business which has been operational for the last 20 years.  “Some 15 years ago, since the municipality and Iddirs [a community based local welfare associations] provided cars for funeral services, we used to sell caskets and flowers, but now we provide full funeral services which include catering and recording the ceremonies for those who request” he said.

In the past seven years, the request for these new services has increased dramatically, according to Yared. A funeral service with trained practitioners is provided with the supply of coffin, car and flowers with a total cost of ETB10,000 - 15,000. Whereas a “complete funeral service” with catering and videography and photography services will cost up to ETB30,000, depending on the number of people attending  and other requests, according to Yared.

This phenomenon did not happen unexpectedly. “We have been predicting the arrival of such changes by looking at the changes in the ways of life in cities like Addis Ababa” says Yeraswork Admasie (PhD), associate professor of Sociology at Addis Ababa University. “With the expansion of relatively affluent middle and upper middle class professionals settling in the outskirts of the city, [Addis Ababa] I do not even think there are Iddirs to take care of events like funerals” adds the Sociologist.

In Ethiopia, the establishment and consistent growth of modern cities started 125 years ago during the reign of Emperor Minilik II. At this time, cities were used as camps for the army, and as administrative and justice centers. The social cohesion and cultural practices in these cities used to be no different from rural Ethiopia. However, with the victory at Adowa in 1996, Ethiopia’s diplomatic and economic ties with the western world started to strengthen. The introduction of the Ethio-Djibout railway line and the arrival of foreigners as diplomats, missionaries and business people, as well as the  expansion of different infrastructure contributed to the transformation of Addis Ababa into a modern city. “Still, even though the growing presence of the international community has contributed to the changing lifestyle of the city’s residents, it has not brought a significant change in the traditions of mourning and funerals” says Yeraswork.

During and after the Italian invasion, a significant number of Ethiopians started to migrate from rural areas to cities; Iddirs which are voluntary associations of communities then began to be established. Although it is worth noting that there had been similar institutions in existence in parts of the country, such as “Kire” in Wollo.

Funeral services have shown gradual changes over the years. “In the past 10-15 years, funeral homes which had been selling coffins and flowers have started services such as washing corpse, wrapping and putting it into a casket as well as transporting it to its final burial destination” the sociologist said. In the recent past, these services were handled by Iddirs.” The actual burial ceremony is still conducted by churches. According to Yeraswork, the move from using Iddirs to funeral homes can be explained by two reasons. The first reason is that the middle class who are doctors, engineers and other white collar professionals moved to the outskirts of the city, constructing or buying houses in new suburbs. These people do not have the time to be part of the Iddir, where as they are able to pay other institutions for any services Iddirs would have provided. 

In the city-center too, people who used to serve in the Iddirs (in most cases people receiving pensions and the unemployed) used to render the services with minimal benefits. Now, with skyrocketing prices and high cost of living, people struggle to survive, and work other jobs. This leaves an inadequate amount of people to help the Iddirs complete their responsibilities. Thus, the funeral homes are taking on part of the activities of Iddirs, where the social institution is not there, or the individual is not a member.

“With the introduction of the new services and the increase in payments, competition in the business has become tough” the manager of one of funeral homes, who would like to stay anonymous, told EBR. “We compete mainly by providing better products such as better coffins and flowers as well as by delivering better services in catering, video and photography services.” The funeral homes edit the videos by adding instrumental music and other cinematic effects. Photographs are also taken through the whole process and edited, adding quotes from the Bible.

The service provided by funeral homes is a positive social phenomenon according to the associate professor, and it will grow exponentially in the coming years  and influence many urban areas of the country in the short run, and even rural areas in the long run.

2nd Year . November 2013 . No.9

Addisu Deresse

EBR Special Contributor


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