The Sunday Mail
Tendai Chara —
HAVE you ever fancied being laid to rest in an elegant, gold-plated casket, which is complete with a copper-plated headrest and a soft, fine luxurious interior?
Or have you ever entertained thoughts of being driven to your final resting place in a fancy, elegant funeral hearse? Although a section of society would dismiss such thoughts as hallucinations, a visit to a local funeral parlour revealed that an increasing number of Zimbabweans are now going out of their way to bury their dear departed in expensive, finely crafted caskets.
These caskets are, however, not for everybody. They come at a huge cost. Many people see the caskets as a status symbol, depicting the character and kind of life lived by the deceased.
Mr Ishmael Mutema, the Doves Holdings General Services Manager said the growing demand for elegant, customised caskets has resulted in his company setting up a manufacturing arm that specifically produces expensive caskets.
Mr Mutema explained why friends and relatives of deceased persons would fork out thousands of dollars to bury their dear departed in expensive and often unique caskets.
“The choice of a casket has everything to do with emotions. People choose expensive and elegant caskets for different reasons. A casket often portrays the character and type of life the deceased lived,” Mr Mutema said.
He said more and more wealthy people are now preferring colourful, expensive caskets to the traditional wooden coffins.
“I have been closely following the trend. Those with cash don’t just buy a casket. Instead, they might want caskets that are tailor-made to reflect the characters, tastes and achievements of their loved ones,” Mr Mutema said.
An array of beautifully crafted but expensive caskets, depicting different tastes and characters, were on display.
“If the deceased was a flamboyant character and often wore shiny suits, that person’s relatives may go for this shiny monarch steel casket. We have caskets that are customarily made for people of different totems,” added Mr Mutema.
Our team could not help but admire a glittering steel casket on which heavenly bodies were engraved.
“This one is called the Last Supper Casket. The engraving depicts the biblical scene in which Jesus was bidding farewell to his disciples. As you know, most Zimbabweans are Christians and most of our high-end caskets depict the life of Christians,” he explained.
Plated in gold with fine interior trimmings, the “Last Supper Casket” costs a cool US$5 500.
“Like I said before, caskets are not for the deceased but for the grieving family members and friends. It is a way of saying final goodbyes,” added Mr Mutema.
Also on display was a shiny, white monarch steel casket in which our country’s national heroes are interred in. Like most of the high-end caskets, this particular one protects the corpse from foreign elements like moisture.
It even has a secret compartment in which relatives and friends can place their written farewell messages, maybe for the deceased to read in the afterlife.
Like the “Last Supper Casket”, this one also costs US$5 500. Costing a whooping US$25 000, a fashionable, shiny solid copper casket, complete with a soft white velvet interior, was the most expensive casket on display. Ordinary coffins can also be acquired for as little as US$50.
But why are people pumping such large sums of money into caskets that will be lowered into the earth anyway?
“The choice of caskets is never about the money. By buying a nice casket, this is a way in which the living honour the dead. It is a chance to say goodbye and pay tribute to someone you cared about,” said one of the customers who was “window shopping” for high-end caskets.
Although most people interviewed by this publication said buying coffins is a way of honouring the dead, they were, however, against the idea of buying expensive caskets.
Pastor Emmerson Fundira of the Jehovah Sharma Ministries said burying the dead is the only remaining means of physical contact with the deceased and that burial has a sacred meaning to most people. He, however, said burying people in expensive caskets is “a waste of resources.”
“We must take care of our loved ones whilst they are still alive. It doesn’t make sense to buy an expensive casket when the deceased was living in misery.”
“The majority of the people who buy expensive caskets do it to show off. It has nothing to do with the dead. They take burial as an opportunity to flaunt off their wealth,” Pastor Fundira said.
He quoted Ecclesiastes 1 which reads, “Vanity. All is vanity.”
Online sources indicate that the word coffin comes from the Old French coffin and from the Latin cophinus, which translates into basket. The word was first used in the English language in 1380. A coffin is defined as a box or chest for the display or burial of a corpse.
When used to transport the deceased, a coffin may also be referred to as a pall. Coffins have been used since ancient Egypt when a body was mummified and placed in a sarcophagus before being buried in pyramids.
In Europe, around 700, the Celts began fashioning burial boxes with flat stones. The majority of people throughout time have been buried wrapped in a shroud, or in wooden boxes. An online source defines a casket as a fancy coffin.
The word casket is used mainly in North America. A casket has four sides, a top and bottom, (rectangular shaped.) A coffin has six sides, with a top and bottom, (hexagonal shaped.)
Coffins or caskets have been made from wood, cast iron, steel, fibreglass, glass, bamboo, wicker, wool and even gold. Ornamental trim can be carved from whalebone, elephant ivory or precious metals. Hardwood caskets are made of solid wood.
Selected woods include mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, birch, oak, pine, poplar, willow, ash, elm, cedar, and redwood. A veneer-finished casket is less expensive than one of solid wood.
Interestingly, coffins and caskets can now be found in a variety of shapes, including musical instruments, cars, and wine corks. Some are designed to look like a box of chocolates, flowers, even a bottle of cognac.