The Coffin Trade.

Photograph © Jeremy Wade Shockley 2010. All Rights Reserved.

The Coffin Trade, or so it seems. All across Lesotho woodworkers had a surplus spilling out of doorways. It was reminiscent of the wild west, only the population was no longer dying as a result of gunfights, but rather disease. Tuberculosis has closer ties to the frontier, and many of the fatalities caused by HIV/AIDS take that form. But with the immune system weakened, the final blow might be as inconspicuous as the common flu.

The business surrounding funeral arrangements become one of the only growth sectors of the economy, in the small Kingdom of Lesotho, at the time of my Peace Corps service. Large tents were rented and erected throughout the country side each weekend in preparation for individual funerals. In long standing Basotho tradition, the blood of a cow was spilled for feasting, often an expensive, even ornate coffin would be purchased to honor the deceased . The income of a family was easily depleted by the large and often unexpected funeral procession.

Is it even possible that there could be an upside for the Basotho who are suffering such a devastating pandemic? If so, perhaps it is the livelihoods that are created at a grass roots level in the wake of such misery. These woodworkers had turned their skills to the coffin trade in the market town of Mafeteng, where I photographed them in the spring of 2007. In a country where trades are few, most opportunities are welcome.