Buried or cremated, you end up as dust or ash, so let’s save the space for the living

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Buried or cremated, you end up as dust or ash, so let’s save the space for the living

Saturday May 5 2018


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Nairobi City Council cemetery in Langata. Those who do cremation are not in any way less respectful to their dear departed. They are just being practical. FILE PHOTO | NATION

In Summary
  • Down is bad, and up is good. After a few days, the bodies will decompose, but we comfort ourselves and each other that that decomposition will be healed the day we resurrect.
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By JENERALI ULIMWENGU
THE EAST AFRICAN


Humankind has for long had to grapple with how to deal with mortality, the state in which the once-living become negated and are no longer with us.

The terrifying thought that one who was here but a while ago, vibrant and boisterous now lies immobile and speechless, puzzled tribes people all over the world, and they had to come up with something to lessen the mystery of death. Where do those who leave us go?

A great part of religion has to do with this. Societies have had to invent beliefs that can give us some assurance that when we die we do not actually die, not for ever at least.

The afterlife was — and still is — the main refuge. We die for now, but only our bodies becoming corrupted while our spirits and souls hover around somewhere until the great trumpet sounds and we are summoned for the final judgment.

The terror associated with the negation of life by death is such that whole philosophies have been erected around the eventual negation of death by life.

Though we die in body we shall still live in spirit, we love to tell our children and the little minds are thrilled to know that grandma, who passed the other day, is watching over us beyond the valley.

In our own neck of the woods, this has taught us to deny the basic laws of physics, burying our loved ones in the ground at the same time as we promise that we shall meet with them among the clouds.

Down is bad, and up is good. After a few days, the bodies will decompose, but we comfort ourselves and each other that that decomposition will be healed the day we resurrect.

The Egyptians thought about this long and hard and invented mummification, a scientific way to preserve the body in such a way it beats corruption and lives on forever surrounded by the luxury befitting the subject while they were on this side of the tomb.

In this way the pharaohs are still with us at Giza, that is if you do not believe in their reincarnation in the form of a Nasser, a Sadat, a Mubarak or a Sisi.

Yes, reincarnation is another way to beat mortality, because you got to come back, as a frog, if you were bad in the earlier life or as a princess, if you were good. The great Hellenic mathematician, Pythagoras, was an unflinching believer.

But humanity has known more practical tribes in Asia who simply refuse to do away with their dead. They simply preserve the body in a state that keeps their living features as complete as can be and prepare them a place in the attic (or somewhere) so that if you visit them they may ask you whether you want to see their great grandfather, and if you say yes, grandfather would be brought down for you to admire. From time to time they organise street festivals where the ancestors are paraded.

Kosher

So, when Kenneth Matiba, the Kenyan doyen of opposition politics died last month and his body was cremated, as per his wish, a number of people were surprised.

Wasn’t he a Christian, and wasn’t he supposed to be buried a la “earth-to-earth?” Somehow the “earth-to-earth” philosophy still expects the body to be whole at resurrection more than if your body is cremated. But there is also an “ash-to-ash” addition in some formulations, which makes cremation kosher.


We are running out of land for cemeteries as acre upon acre has been dug up to make space for people who cannot cultivate the land they are allotted.

We notice that in some cultures, small scale mansions are built on top of the interred bodies, but these are mere dollhouses, not meant for any potential renter. It is a waste of invaluable real estate which the living could put to good use.

The Japanese, Chinese, Hindu and thousands of Westerners who do cremation are not in any way less respectful to their dear departed. They are just being practical.

The land mass available for our use is not infinite, and it is shrinking on a daily basis as our populations balloon. In our cemeteries, we know, bodies are being buried over other bodies, which is a form of desecration.

Uncle Ken, forever the pioneer, has shown the way once again.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com
 

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