There was nothing wrong, repugnant or taboo in the Siaya burial and Governor Rasanga should be congratulated for it. But first, my condolences to the deceased’s family.
The case of the Siaya man must be discoursed within the context of an “emergency burial”. Any burial arising from a suspected COVID case – real or imagined – is an emergency burial and the objective is to dispose off the body as quick as possible.
I have attended two Siaya burials. I attended the burial of the late Chairman of Moi University Students Organization Florence Doghana. His burial was not as elaborate as another burial I attended, that of a kin of my friend Eliud Owalo.
I’m a South Nyanza Luo who is Adventist so much of the burial rites in the South are church rituals. There’s very little in Luo tradition that I witnessed in the burials of my relatives growing up. But Siaya was a different ball game. For instance, it shocked me to the core, to see the coffin being moved up and down the homestead, sometimes even going as far as beyond the homestead.
In the South there’s no getting into someone’s grave, a practice very much common in Siaya. There are numerous other burial rituals in Siaya that boggles the minds. And by Siaya I mean the whole physical and anthropological landscape along River Yala, from Kadimu to Ng’iya, Bulungo to Nyang’oma. I also mean the Siaya diaspora living in flower farms of Naivasha, the Karen of Nairobi or anywhere in Mombasa, Berlin or New Jersey. Once back in Siaya, the grim reaper equalizes their immortality. But I digress…
I support Rasanga for two reasons. First is the nature of the Luo. If the deceased was a real COVID case, the whole village would have been at risk because the Luo would have forced themselves to the funeral, to mourn a kin. Luo burials are not a one family affair. The whole clan would have showed up. And that would still not have been enough. A complex kinship that stretches the whole Luo Nation would have arrived, some from South Nyanza, some from Tarime, others from Pubung’ Pakwach! Therein lies the risk. That’s a fact and we all know it.
As we speak, some fifteen people – members of the same deceased family – are in quarantine. They include everyone, young and old. Then there are healthcare professionals who treated the man, also quarantined.
It means anyone who would have handled the body would have been quarantined. This is precisely why burial must be quick. To save everyone from being quarantined.
The second reason is to dismiss the insinuation that a burial is only complete if it is laced in elaborate Luo burial rituals that we seem to believe have any bearing to the eventuality of the dead.
Luo funerals must evolve. It’s become too expensive to die as a Luo. There’s now a whole commercial industry around death. Hired chairs, hired kitchen, hired PA system, hired ‘machine’ that lowers the body in the grave, cemented graves, roofed graves, etc. Add to the cost of coffin, of suits or dresses to wear, etc. Add to the burden of having to ‘see off’ relatives who came to mourn you. Poor uncles and aunties from around the globe.
Funerals in Luo Nyanza have become another platform to show off wealth, education, career, connections etc, all which are unnecessary. And because we want to show off, mortuary bills pile up for weeks.
In post-corona Luo world I do hope there will be two acceptable ways to bury one’s kin. One, a quick funeral/burial with no burden to family, friends and relatives. With Ksh50,000 one should be able to send off their kin. That’s almost impossible now. The second would be to go back to our usual economically depleting burial rituals where we compete with death itself.
Once again, my condolences to the deceased family but these are no ordinary times. The world has changed. Someone ate oliktiga. We have to change that’s why you now wash your hands even when you are not about to eat!
Mos uru jo Siaya