Which is better for your soul?
Six feet under or ashes? Take your pick! This has become food for thought in every Kenyan’s mind since the recent cremation of two high profile individuals who chose the latter over the good old-fashioned way: burial. The late Bob Collymore and Ken Okoth preferred this method in the event of their demise.
The most interesting bit, however, is the culture clash cremation is involved in. Most Kenyans see this as a western practice and do not get why a typical African would choose to go against the old traditional burial rites.
Do the Deceased’s Final Wishes Count?
Citing the Luo culture, the death of a person marks the end of his time on earth, and therefore the person deserves a laid-out celebration of a life well-lived. During an interview, Mr. Oger, a Luo elder, said cremation seemed like a rushed way to throw your loved one into the beyond as if he/she were a thief. To him, burying the departed six feet below the earth’s surface is how the ancestors set it to be, and nobody should interfere with traditional practices.
So then, who decides what happens to the body of the departed and what happens when the deceased had a final wish on the issue? There are cases of extended family clashing with the close family members on whether to cremate or bury their loved one. The late Ken Okoth’s death is a clear example of the same.
Cremation Versus Burial
Cremation is slowly gaining popularity in Kenya, but cultural rejection is present. Some people say the cremation process is like sending a loved one straight to Hell because the Bible describes Hell as a lake of fire which burns for eternity. Burial to them is a more respectful way of sending off the dead. Some argue it is easy to envision your loved one when you can visit their graves, feel close to them, and even have a conversation.
Furthermore, it becomes easier to explain death to a child. For example, when a child sees his/her relative lying in a box, it is easy to explain to them that the person is in ‘a deep sleep’ and will not be waking up anytime soon. How then do you explain to a child why you have the ashes of a loved one and why the person was incinerated? Well, that is for you to ponder about.
There are several reasons why people choose to cremate their loved ones: some do it because of their long-term beliefs, to fulfill the wishes of the departed, and some just find it convenient. There is a belief that burning a dead body helps the soul move on to the after-life, basing on the assumption that souls get attached to the bodies they have served and the attachment will keep them clinging to the buried body, hence trapping them as ghosts roaming the earth. Another point to note is that cremation is cheaper and convenient. The family of the deceased might move on faster after the loss due to the reduced time with the burial procedures, while also spending less in terms of finances. Others also believe that burning a dead body is taking care of the environment, as whatever caused the death would not pass on to any other living organism. Lastly, if we continue burying people, we shall soon run out of space and end up using commercial-potential land.
The book of Genesis 3:19 in the Holy Bible (ESV) says ‘For you are dust, and to dust, you shall return,’ meaning every dead body returns to dust, or rather to the ground. However, how we get to dust differs. It may be through cremation or burial-decay. Do you believe everybody has the right to decide what happens to their bodies when they die? Should culture bar anyone from practicing what they believe in? Moreover, is going against your cultural practices a good thing? And is cremation a sign of an evolving world? That is for you to decide.
By: Linzer Kibebe