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Mayowe Ndumbe: The Specialised Coffin Designer 

By Ernest Sumelong & *Divine Ngoh

Situated on the hilly stretch of road on Bunduma Street, Buea, Southwest Region, is a ghost-like structure nearing dilapidation. This is where 41-year-old Hans Mayowe Ndumbe and his apprentices (mostly teenagers) transform wood into works of art. Ndumbe, an Ombe trained cabinet maker, has over the years, earned a reputation for designing wood into just anything – cupboards that can be transformed into beds, and chairs that can be used for other furniture purposes.

Ndumbe & apprentices at workshop

In spite of his skill, Ndumbe would have remained unknown to many but for his special designs of coffins that caught the attention of people in many towns of the country recently. Ndumbe designs coffins shaped in various objects; cars, planes, animals and fruits etc. Yet, his creativity would not end there. The local community were recently stunned when he displayed a wooden helicopter whose engine came alive and the wings propelled but came short of flying.  In honouring his achievement, the local administration granted him the opportunity to exhibit his craft during National Day celebration in Buea.

The Post met Ndumbe at his workshop recently and enquired about him and his skill. "I am a simple carpenter who turns wood into special objects. In fact, I am a specialised designer; I make all kinds of furniture," he said. On what motivates him, he says: I always think of doing something new. To Ndumbe, as a trainer, he tries to create new things so that he can always be ahead of his trainees. Ndumbe said he ensures that every batch he trains learns a new thing.

Vehicle shaped coffin

The Post enquired on how he started designing the coffin. "There was a day I stood outside and saw a vehicle, I thought of making a coffin like it. But, I started by making a banana and people were stunned. The first command I had was a banana, then a fish. Two weeks later, someone came and ordered for an elephant. Commands kept coming for crocodile, bottle, car, plane etc," he recounted.

Ndumbe also disclosed that people usually place commands for coffins according to the professions of their deceased. "Clients come from many towns in the country demanding designed coffins.  When clients place commands, I use a week or more to finish a specially designed coffin. Ndumbe disclosed that he settled more on designing coffins because they sell faster than chairs and other furniture.

Besides his passion for creativity, Ndumbe said his wish is to train youths to be self-employed. That is why; he and eight other friends started a common initiative group, Sustainable Initiative for Furniture and Constructive Organisation, SIFCO, in 2004. Through this initiative, he stated, youth have been receiving free training. "I have trained 79 youth, presently, 11 others are undergoing a two-year course in masonry and carpentry. We are still to consider the application of many others. This is our way of helping orphans and other less privileged children, and curbing diseases. When the youth are engaged in learning a trade, the risk of idling and contracting diseases through unrestricted sexual activities is minimised."

In spite of his skill and vision, his initiative is facing some challenges. "We lack infrastructure; we are renting the place we are using. The roofing of our workshop is not completed. Another challenge we face is the lack of funds. We are unable to provide the necessary security tools for our apprentices. For example, they don’t have safety masks, boots and other things needed at work. We also find it difficult to get them something doing at the end of their drill." Ndumbe said.
He said he has received help from the National Employment Fund and the Buea Police Credit Union.

Crocodile shaped coffin

Despite the challenges, Ndumbe said he has dreams for his initiative. "We have already dispatched people to carry out feasibility studies where we intend to establish our branches. If SIFCO has the necessary funds, we will establish branches all over the nation within a few years and also vote funds to establish those we have trained."

Ndumbe’s Beginning

Ndumbe nurtured love for furniture-making as a kid, under the auspices of his father who was also a carpenter. Upon completion of his primary education, Ndumbe enrolled into the Government Technical High School, GTHS Ombe where he earned a City and Guilds Certificate in carpentry. He would later start off, working with a popular Buea-based carpenter fondly called "Pa Short Nicka". Besides doing casual jobs in Kumba and other towns of the country, Ndumbe worked with the National Oil Refinery Company, SONARA, and taught at the Cameroon Opportunities Industrialisation Centre, OIC, before starting up on his own. Mayowe Ndumbe is married and father of six.

*(UB Journalism Student On Internship)

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