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We need to change how funerals are conducted

 A graveyard. We should consider planning for and using public cemeteries. We must rethink how we bury our dead. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Let me confess, this article was inspired by Ken Okoth’s cremation. In our recent history, many deaths have been marred by controversy.

S.M Otieno’s committal was deferred as Virginia E. Wambui and her husband’s clan disputed who had burial rights.

Martin Shikuku’s premature act of preparing his own grave was considered by many as abominable.

Following the Ethiopian Airlines crash in which all bodies were scorched, relatives retrieved soil from the accident scene for symbolic burial.

Even some of Ken Okoth’s relatives advocated the burying of a banana stem in lieu of their son’s body.

Further, exhumation of a corpse for police investigations or re-burial is usually termed as reproachable.

Upon death, the nucleus family is the first to be tactfully informed of the sad news. The kith and kin are ordinarily visited at their home.

They tend to value such commiseration more than eventual attendance of the burial. Such personalised comfort helps to begin the healing process.


Among the minority of Kenyan communities, family is usually responsible for the funeral expenses of the deceased.

However, most of our communities believe that neighbours and friends of the deceased should be responsible for the burial, hence the formation of funeral associations and burial committees for fundraising and burial logistics.

If the deceased is an elected politician, those who wish to contest in the by-election or their proxies will jostle to become burial committee members.

There is widespread belief that association with the deceased’s interment raises the profile of an aspiring candidate.

Many relatives of a deceased will expect to give their departed a befitting farewell. Funerals are increasingly being conducted in a manner to recognise the class status of the bereaved.

An ordinary funeral costs about Sh100,000 while that of a middle or upper class deceased will cost over Sh500,000.

Funeral budgets can be drastically reduced, thereby availing any extra funds to help the bereaved, especially school-going children.


We invest in actual burials more than on the regular investments of a funeral association such as medical and funeral insurance, loans to members, hearse business or any other profitable venture.

Some of the profits accruing from such business can be used to defray burial expenses.

Where funeral associations exist, it is taboo not to belong to one. The association must pay part of the departed members’ funeral expenses.

A family will be solely responsible for burying their non-member deceased. We must develop a robust strategy for reducing funeral expenses for all classes of people.

Burial ceremonies tend to be divided into three main parts: eulogising in honour of the deceased, homily and final burial rites.

Usually, a horde of mourners seek an opportunity to convey their condolences during the ceremony.

However, the bereaved prefer short and truthful speeches.


When speeches precede the Word of God, they tend to consume most burial time. Even the family is not allowed adequate time to eulogise.

Politicians have a tendency to dominate the burial event. They usually will introduce potentially inflammatory matters.

For a while, the funeral becomes a political rally. Also, politicians tend to speak and leave to attend other funerals or business.

Under normal circumstances, one should only attend one funeral a day so as to accord the departed due respect.

Because when speeches are delivered first, some mourners tend to leave; some faiths have decided the religious part should come first with eulogising to follow.

It would be good to standardise this practice so that the religious service takes precedence over brief speeches.

Due to the high death rate today, a community can lose considerable time in burying its own.


Even groups that used to bury on Friday or Saturday are currently burying during other weekdays.

If burial time is shortened, then even where communities have multiple bereavements, they can squeeze their burials into one or two day(s) by having a morning and an afternoon burial schedule.

We must avoid spending many working days on funerals.

Religious functionaries conduct most funerals. God’s intercession during this last journey is deemed essential.

Even the relatives of deceased people who did not subscribe to any faith will try to have clergy officiate in their funerals. Some churches will not accept to do so and may provide a lay leader for the occasion.

Among some of our country’s coastal communities, alcohol is sold during the funeral. Traders are allowed to ply their goods adjacent to the burial site.

Young people usually play secular music during the mourning period, on the funeral day and post the funeral period.


Christian funerals tend to target the living more than the dead. The sermon is directed to those who have attended the “funeral church” because they usually are unchurched.

Many clergy take this opportunity to evangelise and make an altar call.

Muslim burials and Hindu cremation are usually done immediately after death in the simplest and cost effective manner.

In some instances, dead bodies are being detained for long periods by hospitals due to non-payment of bills.

Many people don’t have medical insurance, be it NHIF or any other.

Even for those who have, they can exhaust their health insurance benefits. A national solution is needed for this category of indigent citizens.


The majority bury in ancestral land or any other family land instead of in public cemeteries because a grave is considered to be a “title deed”.

We should consider planning for and using public cemeteries. We must rethink how we bury our dead.

We must do so in a manner to bestow real dignity to the memory and remains of the dead.

It should be a solemn event in which we respect and truly empathise with relatives, neighbours and friends of the dead.

Funerals should not be converted into political gatherings; they must be depoliticised. Henceforth, the clergy should take full control of the sacred funeral service.

The writer Prof Kivutha Kibwana is the Governor of Makueni County

Source: NMG

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