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LETS QUIT SHOWING OFF WHEN BURRYING OUR DEAD

Author:
Lovely Sweet Molly
Date:
2002-08-10 17:33:45


LETS QUIT SHOWING OFF WHEN BURRYING OUR DEAD

By J. L. Okello Okello

As an admirer of African cultures, I cherish the way most tribes give maximum respect and decent burial to their departed beloved ones. Oftentimes, this is done spontaneously; irrespective of what good things the deceased did or did not do during his/her lifetime.

Among the Acholi people details of burial, such as which direction the head should point or which side of the door to bury a man or a woman varies from clan to clan. But the main features such as cleaning or washing the body, making sure that there is no rubbish in the waiting grave, and so on, remain common to all clans.

Before the White man came with his ?civilisation,? the best animal skin was longitudinally cut in equal halves. One half was put at the bottom of the grave and the dead body laid on it, while the other half was put on the top of the dead body before soil was poured to fill up the grave. With the advent of the blankets and bed-sheets, the dead body today is wrapped in a blanket, which must not contain any red colour, and then laid on and covered with pieces of skins as before.

The way we bury our dead has undergone tremendous transformation. Burial has now become just another industry, effectively competing with the building and furniture industries for scarce resources such as timber, cement, iron bars, iron sheets, aggregate, sand and so on. Very expensive hardwood timber such as Mahogany, Mivule, Elgon Olive, Musizi, Nkoba etc. is now used for making the best coffins available on the market.

The size and type of the coffin used for burial is now a status symbol. By the look of it, a coffin today tells the mourners, loudly and clearly, how rich the deceased was or how rich his surviving relatives are. It is no longer something functional, but a kind of showing off After the burial of a very important person (VIP) his/her coffin provides a hot topic of discussion among the mourners, but especially among the women.

As a professional in the building industry, the uncontrolled utilisation of our meagre resources is of great concern to me. In the early 1980?s I attended a conference in New Delhi, India, and from one of the papers presented, I learned that cement was among the protected minerals in India. The law forbids anybody from using cement for making concrete blocks, for example. It can only be used for surface and finishing works such as rendering, plastering, and screeding the floor. I wonder whether it is too early for Uganda to consider putting in place such a protection, given the prohibitive cost of cement and foreign exchange expenditure on its importation.

Another harmful effect of the current burial trends, which may become more manifest in the near future, is a change of climate. The massive cement, iron bars, iron sheets, and huge hardwood coffins etc. deny the soils in that particular area of their capacity to retain water. Given the rate we are dying, the microclimate in a number of localities will certainly change -- for the worse. In the long run these micro-climatic changes will aggregate to turn our country into semi-arid part of the world.

As the way forward, I would like to make the following suggestions: Being a resource-poor country, government should consider putting statutory restriction on the use of some scarce resources such as cement, hardwood timber, iron bars, iron sheets etc. to ensure sustainable use and guarantee availability of the same resources to future generations.

Making coffins should be restricted to the use of shuttering timber (Kirundu), which can easily be eaten up by termites or decomposed, in order to protect our climate and environment. While expensive coffins are good for the mental comfort of the surviving relatives, it should be realised that the dead bodies inside have no time to appreciate the beauty of the same.

While this may not be our culture, it is not too early for Uganda as a country to start thinking about cremation, as a way of disposing of the dead. This will become even more imperative given the pressure that our current style of sending off the dead puts on the small land available.

Christians should seriously consider emulating the good example of our Moslem brothers of ?returning the soil to soil, and dust to dust,? as they do in burying the remains of their dead directly in the soil without any pretensions.

Lest I?m misunderstood, I want to make it clear that I am not in any way opposed to decent burial of our departed ones. On the contrary, it is my wish that when I do take my last breathe, as I certainly will one day, my unknowing and unfeeling frame should also be hidden six feet under in a modest coffin of Kirundu. We should not add insult to injury by squandering our meager natural resources and destroying our environment after losing our human resources.

lll The author is the Member of Parliament for Chwa Constituency in Kitgum district.

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