Funerals: Where Lies Bind Us Together
Before the advent of colonialism in Africa, big and elaborate funerals were never heard of. In some customs like the Kikuyu, when one was one a death bed, it was fashionable to take such to the bushes to die, or miraculously recover in case of a grave illness and come back to the community, only after a special ceremony to ‘welcome the dead’ was done. And in case one died in one’s own hut like at the night, the standard practice of the time was to drill a hole at the back of the said hut for the hyenas and other scavenging animals to drag the dead body out and carry it to wherever. Touching a dead body was considered a taboo and a special cleansing ceremony was conducted to the ‘offender’.
Fast forward. Death is a big business minting millions for those in the industry. Be it that nondescript village carpenter or the morgue owner, the hearse operators or paid professional mourners, the buying of burial places or seeking crematorium services, the dead ‘blesses’ several along the process.
And funerals are where politics and embellished lies that can give saints in heaven a fit rule the rostrum.
And it is where a paid up clergyman froths at mouth ends sanctifying and canonizing known thieves, pedophiles and the irredeemably corrupt with grandiose words that would make old Saint Peter mutter an oath or two figuring who the souls before him trying to get through the pearly gates are.
Strangely enough, funerals are where hitherto sworn enemies in families unite for the sake of interring their departed relation.
But there are sideshows that are as dramatic or shocking whenever a person of means takes their final bow and exit the worldly stage.
No dead body other than that of a male will see all kind of women crawling from woodworks to claim a piece of the dead, if not the entire body, on grounds they were secret liaisons or concubines of the departed with an offspring or two to support the claims.
A poor dead can be buried like a dog….but any man of means, that boda boda (motorbike taxi) rider or the village tycoon is likely to be dogged by extramarital controversies if not secret relationships that comes to the fore the moment they breath their last. Given that the African man is polygamous in nature, it is not a shock to many but something to be proud of, as the late lived to the biblical command of filling and replenishing the earth.
And here is where the catch is; many are married by names only. Aptly living like brothers and sisters than married couples is the appropriate way to describe their marital relationships.
Many a married man cannot put up with their wives, and increasingly looks to finding love outside the domain of their marriages, to the extent that some makes no secret of their parallel families. Unfortunately, the two families will come for one’s jugular in name of getting a share of a man’s estate the moment he’s pronounced past tense.
And it is interesting to see how the dead are mourned. Many funerals are not complete without colour printed booklets that highlights a deceased’s lifetime. In fine but captivating print, the departed life’s milestones are captured in exaggerated facts that can make the soul being eulogized wince in the hereafter. Hearing how many belabour themselves in delivering fabricated eulogies is at times entertaining if not appalling.
Death announcements have spawned a literary genre of their own. Nowadays people do not die. They are either promoted to glory (regardless of how vile sinners they were), celebrated for a life well lived (though a reckless and questionable one), accorded a ‘time to rest’ or simply mentioned as ‘gone too soon’. And looking at the written tributes or listening to the laudatory speeches given, it is clear the deceased’s are not identified by their life sized colour photos but by the accompanying stories.
Once, I attended the funeral of a known petty thief and the glowing tribute paid him left one with sour taste in the mouth. In my recollections, part of his eulogy read thus, ‘his wisdom, insight and philosophical approach to life will be greatly missed. He was an inspiration to us and others and set a good precedent we who are alive will find hard to emulate.’
Perhaps, what outdid his eulogy was the epitaph during the unveiling of the cross marking the first anniversary of his demise. The poetic inscription on the tombstone went on like this;
Like a candle in the wind, your life was suddenly snuffed
With highs and lows of ocean tides, you were puffed
Though in our midst, you still lives
Like an eternal flame, that brilliant light gives
Yet from the hereafter, flows your wisdom
That at each dawn, makes our spirits blossom
When a renowned barmaid close to my area of residence died under mysterious circumstances, with claims she may have been poisoned by a rival over a man, curiosity drew many to her funeral like moth to a light. In her heydays, she lived to the full meaning of the word immoral and its attendant nuances. Her regular clients, both patrons and innumerable sex partners, took a day off in according this ‘great woman’ final funeral rites.
Her glowing tribute read in part, ‘suddenly plucked from our midst and the course of our family history altered forever. No human words can console us. We mourn her departure. She loved us much… the warmth of her heart radiated towards all who knew her. She taught us what love is. Her spirit lives on. She has found perfect peace in the Lord. Amen!’
The only words that registered to me were, ‘she taught us what real love is’. Including yours truly!