Funeral Businesses on Roatan are Looking at a Bright Future
For a-century-and-a-half, Roatan’s caskets were made to order by local carpenters. Even today some people still choose to have a carpenter make their casket.
In 2023 there are three places to purchase your caskets on Roatan. The first one opened by Samuel Alexander Ebanks, 79 and his wife Patricia Elaine Bennett, 78, on the main street of Coxen Hole. Their forty-year-old business, Islander’s Funeral Home, is the oldest such one in the Bay Islands.
Mr. Samuel remembers a voice speaking to him: “When you stay home you got to sell caskets”
When he retired from his sea fearing career, Mr. Samuel remembers a voice speaking to him: “When you stay home you got to sell caskets.” It was 1983 and Roatan had no casket stores. When someone died a carpenter would have to make a simple casket right there and then. The island custom until them was that men would build the casket at night during the wake and bury the deceased the next day.
He had an employee making caskets, another man painting the caskets and then another man would fix the inside. If the family wished a viewing glass, it was installed on the top of the casket.
Eventually Mr. Sam began buying caskets in San Pedro, in Copán, in Tegucigalpa, in Olanchito and in La Ceiba. Islanders from Utila and even Guanaja would travel to their funeral home to purchase a casket for their deceased family member.
In 1980s and 1990s mahogany was still inexpensive and majority of caskets then were made on the island used this hardwood as the main material. “The first casket I made was a mahogany casket,” remembers Mr. Samuel.
Samuel remembers the best cabinet maker he ever had. Edmundo Ponce was from the coast, and he could make the finest casket even if all he had was scrap wood. He once made a Copa de France design casket using throw away pieces of wood. “The foot is round, and the head is round,” says Mr. Patrick. “DV Woods bought that casket for his daddy.”
Not every deceased is shaped the same and Mr. Patrick has to be ready to make caskets for smaller and bigger deceased. “Sometime I have to make a big casket.… I had to buy one inch plywood and had to make 36 inch wide casket. She was big,” remembering one such client Mr. Patrick says “It took 10 men to put her in that house.”
His caskets range from Lps. 25,000 to Lps. 35,000, but he has some economical models for Lps. 12,000. While on a typical month his funeral home would sell one, or two caskets, they sold 15 caskets in one month. “When the Covid 19 came to the island, it was the most we sell,” says Mr. Patrick. He has a network of casket makers.
In 2012 a second Roatan based funeral home opened its doors just 200 meters down the road from Islander’s Funeral Home. Divino Paraíso is one of 12 funeral homes opened in Honduras by Salvador Laro from La Ceiba. Laro opened his first store in 2009 and the Roatan operation in La Punta in Coxen Hole begun two years later.
The funeral home serves the entire spectrum of caskets, from Lps. 8,000 to Lps. 38,000. The Wood composite caskets are the most economical option, while the painted and varnished wood caskets at Lps. 38,000 are the ultimate luxury.
Osiris Zambrano and her husband Ronald Rojas have been managing Divino Paraíso for 11 years. They are the biggest vendor of caskets on Roatan and typically have about twenty caskets on hand.
According to Zambrano there was a spike of caskets purchases in 2020 when the funeral home was selling 15-20 caskets a month. Now they are back to pre 2020 levels with sales of two to three caskets a month.
Funeral traditions on the island are different then of those on the mainland.
One reason allowing the funeral home to grow is funebre, a contractual payment option where clients are contacted to begin paying off their caskets in monthly installments. “It is an option for the most humble families,” says Zambrano. These monthly payment vary from Lps. 300 up to Lps. 2,000 and the family has up to eight months to pay off the casket after the death of the client.
Mrs. Zambrano says that the island’s security companies are one of the Divino Paraíso’s best clients. “They pay up front in any of their employees dies,” says Zambrano.
The funeral home can move the body in a vehicle and have 25 chairs, casket stretcher, candelabras, altar that can be used during funeral services.
The funeral home also offers Embalming services. The Embalming is an option taken by all, but the most modest of their clients. The embalming costs Lps. 2,000 and Lps. 4,000. The service is more expensive if the person was overweight or if there was disfigurement at time of the death as with “people who died in motorcycle accidents,” for example.
The funeral traditions on the island are different then of those on the mainland. “I don’t think the islanders would want a funeral room like the store has in La Ceiba,” says Zambrano. “There are hundreds of people that show to funerals here, and there just wouldn’t be enough space.”
The funeral home works with importing of human remains to the island form abroad. The remains are typically flown in to San Pedro Sula and then transported by road to La Ceiba and to the island via Galaxy Ferry.
Cemetery burial is one of several options for the deceased on the island. Jardines del Recuerdo in San Pedro Sula offers cremation services in Honduras. According to Zambrano this option is typically taken by foreigners. Burial at sea, usually three miles out to sea, is sometimes an option taken by foreigners with few economic means.