Written by Nandemu Barasa
Read 2088 Times
In 2005, President Mwai Kibaki attended a funeral service of a relative to the then minister for Local Government Musikari Kombo at Mabanga in Bungoma County. Many people who accompanied the President were very astonished after they found out that the deceased was to be buried in a sitting position according to Balunda clan of Bukusu sub tribe, Luhya Community`s customs.
The body had already been put in a special coffin in a sitting position something that frightened many dignitaries who in fact avoided viewing the body.
How the culture of burying people in a sitting position began among the Balunda of Bukusu sub tribe is what we are going to focus on in this article.
According to Mzee Kisika of the Balunda clan born in Bukembe Village, Bungoma County, long time ago when clans used to stay in one big homestead, Lukoba, war erupted and therefore people had to run away so as to escape from being killed.
However, there was an old man who could not even walk and therefore a way was to be found of hiding him as other people ran away. They hid him in a big pot, Enjikha and covered it with a traditional tray, Lutelu. The old man was placed in that pot in a sitting position and then his clansmen escaped for fear of being killed.
They stayed away for several days until the situation started cooling down. They decided to come and check on the old man but unfortunately they found him dead in the pot they had hid him. There was a period of mourning and then thereafter, they held consultations and unanimously decided to burry the body of the old man the way they found it. They also agreed to bury his body in his house and therefore a grave was dug in the house and the old man buried there.
Later, Balunda people argue that the deceased started appearing in dreams urging people who were just about to pass on to insist on being buried in a sitting position so that they could be received well in the world of spirits.
The clan therefore started to burry all the dead in a sitting position.
However there is another school of thought among other members of Balunda clan who argue that one old man among their clan went out to look after cattle but surprisingly he did not come back and instead his wives and children started seeing cattle come home on their own.
They decided to go out and look for the old man and after several days they found him dead but still in a sitting position on the traditional stool he used to sit on while looking after his animals. They took his body home and buried it in a straight and sleeping position. Later, people started dying mysteriously until the clan sensed that there was something wrong. Elders appeased the gods and offered prayers. Certain clan elders then started experiencing the dead old man in dreams who commanded them to re burry him in a sitting position the way they found him or risk dying all. The clan obeyed and from there all the members from that clan who passed on were buried in a sitting position up to now. The two origins of burying the dead in a sitting position leaves many guessing on how exactly did that culture start. On their part Mzee Situma Manyasi `Ekhutu` and Wafula Sipengi `Omuchuuma` side with the first explanation of the origin adding that it is surprising that even many people from Balunda clan themselves cannot explain anything concerning the practice. Note that despite Christianity fighting the traditional way of burying the dead in a sitting position, Balunda people still burry there clansmen and women who got married in that clan in a sitting position.
TOP: The side and front view of a special coffin for burrying the dead in a sitting position. ABOVE: Bungoma inmates demonstrating how to fold the coffin to position a corpse into a sitting position. [Photos|Trix Ingado|West Fm]
One might wonder what happens to have the dead body be buried in a sitting position arguing that when a person is dead; his body is straight and therefore cannot be forced to be in a sitting position. Before burial Balunda people especially the elders would talk to the deceased until he accepts to sit on his own. This also happens among the Bukusu sub tribe when a pregnant woman passes on. Tradition dictates that a pregnant woman must be operated then the unborn child be buried on his own. The person who operates the deceased woman does it when the body has reached the grave and after the exercise, he will place the unborn child outside the grave and leave without mingling with people. His payment was normally a sheep and a cow.
On the other hand, Bukusu women would just talk to the woman and urge her to give birth which she will do and then go back to bed. It is a frightening thing but I witnessed it personally in 2007.
This also explains why it is believed that the dead listen, see, act and talk the way the late Mzee Hudson Waswa Wasikhuyu put it.
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