Why the body of retrieved Siaya miner won’t be buried yet

Rescuers carry the body of Tom Okwach, a miner who had been trapped for close to seven months at a mining site at Abimbo village in Sakwa Bondo in Siaya County on June 26, 2022.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

The family of Tom Okwach, a miner whose body was retrieved from under the rubble at the Abimbo mines in Bondo after over six months, is grappling with a burial budget of Sh200,000.

Speaking to the Nation, his father Martin Sikuku said the family plans to bury Okwach on July 20 but inadequate resources stand in their way.

“The family sat and agreed on a burial date. However, we have nothing,” he lamented.

“As the patriarch, the family expects me to contribute a bull, which costs at least Sh20,000, and a sack of maize for the burial, because according to Luo cultural practices, people who attend the burial must eat.”

He said he expects several guests. “This burial will be a unique one and we have to give the late Okwach a befitting sendoff,” he said.

He said the family had spent everything they had to retrieve their son’s body from the mines.

“We received help when the news went out that there were miners trapped in the mines, but we were left alone months later after all well-wishers withdrew their help. We sold all that we could in order to [retrieve the body],” he said.

The family also borrowed money from individuals and banks, leaving them financially crippled, he said.

Deeply immersed in debt

“We have the body and we can now have closure, but we are so deeply immersed in debt that we still don’t know how we will recover from them. We owe people thousands of money, and we still need help in the burial process,” Mr Sikuku added.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr Fred Ogunde, who said the family had no money and would need help from well-wishers to bury their relative.

A shaft at the Abimbo mines collapsed on December 2, 2021, trapping eight people. Six were rescued six days later but two died.

The body of Enos Ongong’a was retrieved immediately after the accident, but Okwach’s remains stayed underground until June 26, six months and 24 days later.

The family gave deaf ears to calls from community elders to bury a banana sucker in place of their missing relative, saying they would struggle until they retrieved the body.

The body will be buried like any other, said Daniel Okuku, a Luo elder.

“It would have been a different scenario if the family had buried a banana sucker or performed any cultural rite to bring closure. If they had buried the sucker, they would have been forced to uproot it and cleanse the body before burying it,” he said.

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