Somaliland: Under Communal Discrimination, Hargeisa Grave-Diggers Cry for Help

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“If my relatives ever came to know what I do for a living am 100% sure that I shall be disowned” says gravedigger Mawlid

A member of the Mawlid team of Nasa Hablood cemetery Grave diggers at work

By: Yusuf M Hasan

Somalilandsun – “Though I have been married for four years and fathered two children, to date my spouse does not know my real job”

So narrated Mawlid Eid a grave digger at the Nasa Hablood public cemetery in the Somaliland capital where Somalilandsun caught up with the 38 years old man who is part of an almost team of fifty members in his trade.

(Following request for anonymity Names used in this article are not real)

“To my wife’s knowledge am a unskilled construction worker “said Mawlid as he revealed that this deception is as a result of the stigma associated with his grave digging job at the city’s public cemetery where an average day, might earn him between $15-$25.

While Hargeisa has a number of cemeteries, the Nasa Hablood one in the east of the city and named after the adjacent breast shaped twin hills from which it derives its name, is the main one utilized freely by the public.

So if the cemetery is public owned thence free of charge, how does Mawlid and his colleagues earn legally?

Though they reside in a shanty adjacent to the Nasa Habvlood cemetery their spouses are unaware of dutiesSaid he, “since we do not sell graves our services revolving around charging fees for digging of which we charge between slshs 350,000-450,000 ($1=7000shs) per grave” adding that the earnings are shared with his crew of four partners.

The Mawlid gang who informed that that a good day for them but sad for bereaved families concludes with earnings from six graves which mostly occurs once or twice a week, though a grave or two is the regularly assured source of earnings while some days they return home empty handed.

While the earnings are sufficient for covering basic needs of life as well as shelving a few coins for a rainy day, the stigma associated with the chores makes it impossible for these men who provide a vita service to stand tall.

“If ever my relatives ever came to know what I do for a living am 100% sure that I shall be disowned” said Hasan a 23 years old member of the Mawlid pack who said he was driven to grave digging for lack of alternate employment.

For these men who have placed upon themselves the onerous task of preparing the final resting place for those among us who succumb to death, negotiating with their clients is vested on a non-resident of Hargeisa.

“One of my colleagues is person whose responsibility is negotiating with clients has no relatives within Hargeisa because we recruited him from a faraway region of Somaliland” said Mawlid who has never met a client in the 15 years he has functioned as a gravedigger at the Nasa Hablood cemetery.

Mawlid group gravediggers rest at the cemetery after a days workIn unionism these service providers at the Nasa Hablood public cemetery a despite awareness of the vital service they provide to the public say they would at the snap of a finger change jobs even if it entails a lower income due stigmatization by the very community they serve.

On the other hand they are willing as a result of having got used to their work, to continue serving if some helpful person/s or organization could facilitate an awareness campaign demystifying grave digging “the most appropriate route towards ending stigmatization” says Mawlid

At the same time the intervention of Government through providing formal employment as Cemetery caretakers would be the very best avenue of putting pride in their work say the gravedigger gang, a fact that will also enable proper state supervision and subsequent maintenance.

Currently and owing to lack of supervision the graves a dug in a haphazard manner thus wasting a lot of space between one final resting place to the next a situation that if remains unchecked will shortly result in exhaustion to the public graveyard thence an alternate site that will entail utilization of a large tract of public land not to mention the extra cost in transportation for bereaved families.

And if perchance suggested supervision either from the local or central governments is availed the shoddy planning of grave sites currently practiced by the self-appointed service providers resulting in the waste of usable land for related purposes shall not only cease but extend the life of Nasa Hablood as a public cemetery as well.

Government intervention will avail organized services and maintainance for Nasa Hablood and other cemetries in somalilandWhile thanks to the authorities and some philanthropic individuals for availing tracts of land used as public cemeteries not only in the capital Hargeisa but all over Somaliland the final resting places of our beloved require the urgent attention from the ministry of Religious affairs.

Since this ministry has the mandate to oversee burial grounds in the country it should get involved in day to day administrative issues in a manner similar to the one given the state cemetery near army headquarters in Hargeisa, where graves are organized in an orderly fashion and upkeep is apt courtesy of groundkeepers who are civil servants.

In the meantime lets each one of us change the way we perceive gravediggers some of whom might be our close relatives for they are engaged in a noble duty for both the living and dead.

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