Haitians go into lifetime of debt to fund funerals

April 08, 2017
The remains of an exhumed corpse leans against its grave before being taking away to a mass grave in the national cemetery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


Aspasie Tanis lives hand to mouth on the edge of eviction in the best of times, scraping out a living selling packets of spaghetti and cookies outside her low-slung concrete shack in Haiti's capital. Now, the death of her father by stroke threatens to send her into a lifetime of debt.

The distraught single mother is frantically seeking loans from friends and pastors to pay for the cheapest funeral on offer. Hospital morgue officials say her father's body will be dumped in a pauper's grave unless her struggling family forks over a relative fortune of just over US$1,000 (J$128,721).

"I'll never be at peace if he isn't buried properly," Tanis said quietly after transferring her father's corpse to a cut-rate private morgue.




Her anxiety is shared by many in Haiti, where two out of three people live on less than US$2 per day and burying the dead is a predatory business.

While funerals are costly in a number of countries, Haitian undertakers get away with charging rates that exceed what most citizens earn in a year.

Teams of entrepreneurs, including videographers and brass bands who lead street processions, stand ready to rack up funeral bills with families who are frequently ill-equipped to pay for any of it. There are even mourners-for-hire for those who want the social prestige of a big send-off.

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