I would like to be buried same way the Siaya man was buried

A story is told about my grandfather. It is said that when he heard of a death in the village, he would get up from his seat, fetch for his jembe, and walk to the homestead where the death had occurred. He would then pay homage to the dead, then immediately start digging the grave. In one or two hours the grave would be ready. He would then demand for the dead to be wrapped in sheets, then buried immediately. You died today, you were buried today – unless the death happened late in the night. No coffins, no ceremonies, no rituals. Not so different from how the health officers buried the Siaya man who succumbed to Covid-19 over the weekend.

Yesterday Twitter and Facebook were filled with posts of Kenyans condemning the method chosen by the health officers to hurriedly bury the Siaya man. I attempted to defend the officers but that only got me to be called stupid – an idiot who knows not what he is talking about.

Back in my village there is a committee setup for raising funds. The funds are not meant for investments, nor for taking care of the sick, nor for feeding hungry villagers. No, it is meant for providing decent burial to the dead. A decent burial in this case includes taking the dead to a mortuary for at least 7 days, doesn’t matter whether someone dies at his/he burial ground; putting the dead body in an expensive coffin, hiring a number of vehicles for transporting villagers to the mortuary and back home on the burial day, and hiring tents and catering services for mourners.

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The cost of burying a typical man or woman in my village is usually over shs 100,000. Of that cash nothing is usually left to the bereaved family. A friend told me of a story of a sacco that contributed shs 200,000 shillings towards the burial of a husband and a wife who died in a road accident. The contributions were spent to ensure the two had an elaborate funeral procession, despite the husband and wife having three children all in primary school. No one, none of the contributors, was concerned on how the children would continue with their education.

In Nakuru there is the story of a young upcoming musician who died at the age of 21 in a road accident. During her struggles to become a musician, she called for an event where she could sell her music album. Very few people showed up so she only raised shs 3,000 from the event. A year or so later she died – and it is at that time that everyone was able to show up, raised over shs 600,000 for her funeral; a funeral procession that saw her ferried all over Nakuru township before they finally buried her like a Queen that she was not.

The obsession with decent burials make us forget that what’s important in this life is this life. As the good old book says, a dead rat and a dead dog are equal – and so is a dead man equal to them. That’s why in some African cultures the dead used to be thrown deep in the forest to be devoured by lions and hyenas, and there isn’t any better way to dispose of a dead body than to let the wild animals feast on its flesh. We take from nature, and at death we should give back to nature.

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However, given the reality that no one is going to toss a dead body to hungry lions any time soon, the best we can do is to bury our dead in the same fashion my grandfather did – similar to what Muslims practice, but in a manner similar to how the health officers from Kisumu buried the Siaya man. Quick, zero fancy, done. In this way, we will be allowed to focus on what matters – this life.

Once everyone realises that at death you are no better than a rotting rat or a fossilized lizard, we will be able to give this life more prominence, more care, and more love. Coronavirus is giving us this opportunity to rethink what we value, what matters – what’s essential. Shall we take the advantage of the situation to redirect our focus to those things we truly should value? Like staying indoors most of the time giving nature ample time to heal? Always?

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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