A funeral can be a time for sombre reflection for family and friends but in this era of social media, when the deceased may have shared intimate details about their life to a large following, fans who feel they somehow know them may have different ideas.

In Kenya, a normal burial for a 23-year old orphaned man would probably be attended by those who had been close to him. 

But this was not the case for TikToker Brian Chira who died two weeks ago in a road accident, near the capital, Nairobi.

He had amassed a following of more than 400,000 in little over a year. His candid, witty videos, addressing social and relationship issues, delivered straight to camera, amused, and sometimes shocked, many people.

His fans – known as the “Chira Clan” – also wanted to pay tribute after his life was tragically cut short. They helped contribute to a funeral fund, which raised over $60,000 (£48,000) for the burial, leaving the organisers stunned.

But Chira’s family and neighbours are still reeling after thousands of them deluged his burial in a rather sleepy and remote village, Gitei, in central Kenya. 

Tuesday’s event was initially planned for 500 people but the number of attendees swelled to more than 5,000.

Massive and unruly

“These were just random TikTokers, no-one really mobilised them. We actually thought they were attending another burial in the neighbourhood,” one of the event organisers, Chira’s friend Faustine Lukale told the BBC. Lukale is also known as Baba Talisha on social media, where he, himself, has a big following for his photography.

He said they had to quickly organise more tents and seats for the swelling crowd of mourners.

Though the youths had been praised for making the funeral possible, some of them appeared to misbehave.

Villagers said they had never seen such a massive and unruly crowd of young people, some of whom were drunk. 

Religious figures could not even get an opportunity to lead the burial service as some seemed to shove other mourners out of the way to live stream, or record videos and take selfies around Chira’s gravesite, local media reported. 

Videos and photos of the burial flooded social media.

Chira was still a trending topic in Kenya with over 7,000 posts on X , days after his burial. 

The TikToker shot to fame in December 2022 when he was interviewed by a local TV station as a road accident witness. In the viral interview, Chira’s eloquence in English and his engaging personality captured the attention of viewers.

He capitalised on the sudden exposure to build a huge online presence.

Orphaned in childhood, Chira had to drop out of university due to a lack of fees. His grandmother Esther Njeri said that Chira was left in her care at the age of eight after his mother’s death.

Arrested & charged

Chira would later reveal in a radio interview that he was HIV positive, which drove him to alcohol abuse and led him to fall into depression.

His life struggles partly made him thrive as a content creator as he used his platform to share his personal experiences with an engaging honesty. 

But as an ambitious TikToker, Chira was no stranger to controversy and his online outbursts often landed him in trouble. In August last year, he was arrested and charged for cyber-harassment against a fellow TikToker.

He also wore women’s clothes in some videos, which enraged some people.

On the night of 16 March, his body was found on a road after he was hit by a lorry that then sped away in Kiambu county – about 16 km (10 miles) from Nairobi. 

Police said they were still looking for the driver.

Following his death, his TikTok community rallied together and on the day of the funeral they arrived in hired buses, some in commemorative T-shirts and hoodies.

But the crowd denied the family and villagers an opportunity to bury Chira with dignity, according to the organisers.

“We didn’t like the way they dressed, smoked and drank alcohol in front of us. They didn’t even respect the clergy,” a villager told Nation news website. 

Another villager said she was saddened by the use of offensive words during the burial.

Chira was buried next to his great-grandfather, and the villagers watched as the content creators stepped on the graves, contrary to the local Kikuyu community’s traditions. 

A few police officers who were deployed to control the crowd appeared overwhelmed and watched from a distance as some jostled to take selfies at the gravesite. 

“I had to whisk away Chira’s grandmother even before the end of the burial,” Lukale said.

“Even after the burial no TikToker came to the family to say sorry for the loss, Chira’s grandmother was really disappointed,” he added. 

After the burial, some were seen watering the flowers laid at Chira’s gravesite with alcohol, further shocking religious leaders and villagers.

About $6,000 was used for the burial expenses and another unspecified amount went to pay for repairs and damages caused by the TikTokers during the event. 

The remaining money was to be handed over to the family – some of it to construct or buy a house for Chira’s grandmother. 

But critics say the TikTokers abandoned Chira when he battled his life struggles only to celebrate his death.