Until pretty recently, it was unheard of for a dead Luo man to be buried anywhere apart from his ancestral home. Such an occurrence was considered a taboo which would, allegedly, make the deceased haunt his folks because they “abandoned him”. If it took folks all year to raise funds to transport the body back home, so be it.
But times are changing. I recently spoke to some Luo men who told me they are seriously considering cremation. They have seen the extreme financial and emotional toll that transition puts on bereaved families. These men are adamant that they won’t put their loved ones through that intolerable stress.
“Have you shared this wish with your family members?” I asked.
“No, but I’ve put it in my will. I’ve paid for cremation and left all the instructions. I will be cremated 24 hours after I die.”
All the men I spoke with said they wanted a quick and fuss-free funeral and burial. Luos have more death rites than the laws in our penal code.
Some rites are occasionally concocted with ill-intention, by malicious folks who want to see the bereaved suffer. They will throw a curveball of a tradition at you. And, because you grew up in an environment with scant to zero knowledge of such edicts, you cannot argue. Why, you will be warned, forgoing this rite has the dire consequence of a mysterious curse – knowns as, chira – which only befalls Luos. Talk about selective anathema.
It is this crabs in a bucket mentality that curtails development in some parts of our boondocks; although we have tracts of fertile land, pristine weather and sharp brains. The uncomfortable truth is that development can’t happen in an atmosphere that’s riddled with suspicion.
The guys I spoke with alluded to certain travails that befall a dead Luo man. They think cremation is one way to make some traditions go up in smoke.
I feel them. Because?
The most indebted person is a dead Luo man. He never rests in peace until he pays all his debts; real and imaginary. Many times, he is forced to posthumously settle the debts of predecessors who died before fulfilling certain obligations.
The heaviest person is a dead Luo man. It takes hundreds of thousands of pallbearers to carry him. In his casket are tons of responsibilities; such as making sure all the mourners are well-fed and taken care of. Or else his send-off will be ridiculed.
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The most judged person is a dead Luo man. Mourners expect his corpse to be dressed to kill. They expect his compound to look like a million bucks, and his send-off to rival a monarch’s. If all boxes aren’t ticked, the dead Luo man will be the scorn of town. Although a burial is meant to be an event that’s full of tolerance, where I come from it’s not unusual for it to take judgmental connotations.
The most expensive person to bury is a Luo man. Even in death, he has to fulfil countless obscure traditions before his body is interred. If he didn’t pay dowry, he must fulfil this duty. If he didn’t build a house, that must be taken care of lest he brings shame to his family. “Well-meaning” folks will come up with all sorts of must-do pre-burial traditions, yet desert the bereaved when it comes to bearing the weighty financial cost.
Folks, tradition is not static. It evolves with changing times. The evolutionary process often involves discarding practices that are fruitless and futile, for ones that will cause us to make great leaps forward and catch up with others.
The only tradition that will stand the test of time is love. As my dad’s favourite hymn extols: “Hera ema duong’.” Love is the greatest.