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PHOTO ESSAY: My Husband Made Me Sell Coffins

Rebecca Nansubuga, 38, sold coffins for 10 years along Kubiri road side, which is a stone’s throw away from Mulago Hospital city mortuary.

Nansubuga ventured into the coffin business due to continuous demand from her husband who wanted her to quit food vending.

Joining the business

Mulago being the largest health facility in the country, Nansubuga envisioned it as a potential business place.

Coffins on display along Kubiri Bombo road side opposite Haruna tower (This used to be Nansubuga’s coffin shop)

She sold so wonderful coffins that left passersby wondering what kind of wood they were made from.

“There is no special wood for making Coffins, though there are a variety of different designs and sizes like Kagongo, Twamalayo and Mujawange,” she clarifies.

Kubiri though good for business, the competition was ruthlessly stiff, which meant business was about real hustling.

How best one performed, entirely depended on the choice of words to woo customers while marketing.

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Nansubuga always had 35 coffins on hand at any given time, though she could sell about 1-3 coffins per day.

Playing the marketing games

As buyers, in this case bereaved families – approached, the vendors would surround them while yelling prices.

“The moment we saw a customer arriving, we would begin discouraging off our competitors,” she said.

Some of the lines were really heartless, but it was business anyway, for instance telling the buyer that the competitors’ coffins were already used.

Another strategy Nansubuga used was to confuse clients by misrepresenting competitors.

She would loudly shout lunch orders at her neighboring salespeople, hoping to confuse possible customers about who is actually selling coffins.

Sometimes she would mock overzealous competitors by asking them to say why they were happy yet people had lost someone.

Nansubuga also added extra accessories like gold coated crosses on her coffins to stand out from the rest

Nansubuga says the tactics were necessary to keep sales up because she needed to get money in order to look after her four children.

“I sent my children to school with money earned from coffin selling and also built a house,” she said.

Her daughter Sarah, 18, wants to study Law, the second wants to be an engineer and the third hopes to work in a bank.

Lessons learnt in business

With her experience of 10 years, she had learnt to offer extra services to her clients to even earn extra money by singing on burials.

“Up to now by the way I sing all tones except bass. Call me when you lose somebody, I will sing,” she firmly asserts.

Nansubuga also managed to stand out from the rest of the vendors by providing finishing touches to her coffins.

This included vanishing the wood and adding accessories, such as cushion ribbons, sheets and crosses.

Nansubuga used to vanish her coffins to add value to them in order to stay competitive in the market

Depending on the finishing, the coffins could be sold for as much as Shs700,000, sometimes up to Shs2m.

Turn of events

Things turned around early this year when Nansubuga and other dealers were asked to vacate the land after it was sold to Prophet Samuel Kakande.

The event consequently led to a strike opposing letters from the church that demanded them to vacate the place, but all in vain.

Whenever she passes where her shop used to be, she recalls how fast things turned around

Some of the coffin dealers were arrested.Releasing them was after apologizing to the church.

Nansubuga standing in front of what used to be her shop but now a parking space for the church

Thinking outside the box

After the incident Nansubuga vacated the Land leaving the church to construct a parking lot and a drainage system.

Left with no option, she sold off her coffins to friends; bought pigs and started raring them on her small piece of land she had bought from her savings.

Nansubuga climbing one of her pigstys which she focused on after leaving the coffin business

Today she has over 30 pigs on her farm in Kawempe and she is also back at her coffin business slowly because there was a small place reserved for the coffin sellers.

Together with her family Nansubuga is managing her pig project well her daughter is helping her fetch water from the well to feed the pigs
Piglets trying to eat my shoes as I documented their owner
Nansubuga Pouring water on the pigs to cool their bodies
Nansubuga leaving her farm to go to church.
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