The late Kibra Member of Parliament Ken Okoth’s imminent cremation has raised a lot of eyebrows especially in Luo Community which has its own customs and traditions on how they bury their dead. But cremation seems to be something that more and more people are considering especially prominent people in society.
If Ken Okoth’s body receives treatment at the kiln, he will enter a long list of other famous individuals who have also taken that route. The pinnacle of it all is Professor Wangari Maathai’s cremation in 2011. The world-renowned passionate environmentalist and Nobel Prize winner is believed to have made a special request to be cremated as she did not want any tree to go down just because of her coffin.
Many commentators have had their say on the question of cremation versus traditional burial. While the two methods of bidding goodbye to the deceased are in every sense different and have their own significances, there is a sense in which cremation is starting to look like it makes more sense.
A combination of factors ranging from the cost involved to memorization and from the time involved to the obligation to conform to the rigours of modern times has seen an increase in the preference of cremation over traditional burial.
For memorization purposes, cremation is more useful as the ashes can be stored in special enclosures for very many years. This is a better way to preserve the dead and also remember them rather than burying them the traditional way and having them erased from your memories after some time. The ashes can be preserved for many years without rotting.
The cost of cremation is one of the things that has made people consider it. If you examine the whole process of cremation, which is basically incinerating the body of the deceased in a kiln to ashes, there is a sense in which the costs involved are considerably low. For instance, most funeral homes charge in the range of around Ksh. 6,000 to 14,000. The total cost for cremating an adult is in the region of Ksh. 13,000 while that of a child is in the region of Ksh. 6,000. In this sense, the cost of traditional burial rises to beyond 60% of the cost incurred in cremation under very normal circumstances. This has therefore translated to some people leaning towards cremation despite the fact that it is sometimes seen as an insult to social order and cultural legitimacy.
Cremation also has multiple options in which you can remember the deceased. Instead of having to practically present the body for mourners to view, photographs taken during their lifetime can be used instead. In this sense, the deceased is ‘brought back to life’ in a more respectable and probably lighter mood than having to display the body. After cremation, as happened with Guyana-born British businessman and Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore, friends and family can organize a gathering to celebrate the life of the deceased. This will in many ways dispel the frantic and sometimes chaotic scenes that are characteristic of most traditional burials. Less tradition is involved in the otherwise respectful send-off of the deceased. This saves on time and helps, in many ways to preserve the dignity of the deceased among the living.
The deceased can also be honored by way of turning the ashes into works of art as well as making jewellery. For instance, the ashes can be inked onto portraits which are then well kept to preserve the memory of the dead. This has mostly been done in European societies where the ashes of the cremated are incorporated into artwork and put in portraits. Some of the portraits also appear in museums and places of retreat.
Besides that, other ways to keep alive the memories of the deceased would be to use the ash in drawing goal lines. This is mainly done by sporting teams who want to honour their dead fans or team legends. This helps enhance the general morale and the team spirit while on the playground.
Moreover, trees can also be planted to preserve the memory of the deceased. For instance, a tree can be planted at the exact place the ashes of the deceased were scattered. This keeps the memory alive while also going a long way in preserving the environment. For as long as the tree is alive, the life of the deceased is, in many ways, exemplified within the leaves, branches and the entire tree.
In 2002, Mary Nyambura Kuria was cremated in a move that is still remotely controversial among the Anglican Churches of Kenya hopefuls. Her husband, Archbishop Manasses Kuria was also cremated 2 years later. While the family held firm that all was done out of goodwill and that they meant well for all the involved, there is a sense in which the ACK church could not come to terms with the act of cremation. While the cremation saved them time, we can also see that there are those who simply cannot cope with having their dear ones turned to ashes. It may be the best thing to do but still many still prefer the traditional way of burying.
Many communities disapprove of cremation because it is seen as a complete violation of religious beliefs. Over the years, African communities have had the worship of deities as an important part of daily livelihood. There is a sense in which one is not complete without the belief and true devotion to deities. The deities are the de facto givers and takers of life. At death, one is thought to have travelled back in time for a reunion with the deities and this is why the dead are treated as sacred by some facets of the population and also around the continent. They are also handled as such. Cremation, as seen by many of them, is a way to upset all these cultural rules.
The downside of cremation is that there is pollution because the burning of the body releases among other components; Carbon, smoke and hydrogen components- all of which are grade one and two air pollutants.
As society changes with the times, and we run out of space to bury the dead, there may come a time when cremation becomes the norm.
Would you want to be cremated?