The decision to cremate Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai was reached after a high level meeting agreed to honour her wishes.
Prof Maathai had made it clear that she did not want to be buried in a wooden coffin because it would result in the felling of a tree — just what she had spent her life fighting against.
The high level meeting, attended by family members, nine permanent secretaries and two PCs at the Office of the President, decided to honour her wish to be cremated at Kariokor Crematorium. (READ: Maathai to be cremated as per will, family says)
The cremation will be a private affair that will be preceded by a funeral service which begins at Lee Funeral Home and proceeds to Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park for a tree planting ceremony and official rites by the Kenya Defence Forces.
Prof Maathai’s wish to be cremated came as a surprise to many in a country where funeral rites involve interring the remains in the ground in a show of last respect to the deceased.
Because Prof Maathai advocated the preservation of forests, she will be cremated in an electric kiln to avoid the use of wood.
Two years ago, the cremation of well-known sports personality Joshua Okuthe, at the Langata Crematorium raised a lot of heat among his family and his Umira- kager clan.
Mr Okuthe’s first wife insisted on cremation, arguing that was his wish. But his second wife and his clan sought to bury him at his home.
However, the first wife had him cremated in Nairobi against the clan’s wishes and before a court injunction could take effect.
The clan then conducted a symbolic burial with an empty coffin at Mr Okuthe’s rural home in Muhoroni.
According to Wikipedia, cremation is the process of reducing bodies to basic chemical compounds in the form of gases and bone fragments.
This is accomplished through burning at high temperatures, vaporisation and oxidation. Cremation may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite that is an alternative to the interment of an intact body in a casket.
Cremated remains, which are not a health risk, may be buried or immured in memorial sites or cemeteries, or they may be legally retained by relatives or dispersed in a variety of ways and locations.
Prof Maathai’s family plans to have the remains of the Nobel Laureate interred in the compound of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environment Studies at the University of Nairobi.
In Kenya and many other countries, cremation is usually done in a crematorium, but others may prefer different methods.
In India and Nepal, open-air cremation is the common practice.
Bishop Mark Kariuki of Deliverance Church said the scriptures were silent on the way one needed to be interred and do not say anything for or against cremation.
“It does not matter whether you were eaten by animals, cremated, or swept away by water never to be found, what mattered most is the relationship with God, because God was the author of creation and our being,” said Bishop Kariuki.
Islam categorically disapproves of cremation. Muslims have specific rites for the treatment of the body after death.
Mohamed Swalihu Mohamed, Sheikh at Jamia Mosque in Nairobi, said Islam was completely against and abhorred the burning of a body.
Sheikh Mohamed said burning the body showed lack of respect to the person who had died and an embarrassment to them.
He said Islam did not support the mutilation or burning in any way of a body because the religion respected human beings, whether dead or alive.
“We are very surprised by the decision of an honourable person like Prof Maathai. If she was a Muslim, she would have been buried according the religions rites, regardless of her wishes or will,” said Sheikh Mohamed.