Burying Okoth, the politics of individualism vs communalism

In this earlier post, we were reflecting on the 1986/7 saga pitting the Kager clan vs Wamboi Otieno over who should have control of the body of the deceased. In that particular case, the Court of Appeal granted the prayers of the clan, allowing them to inter the body of SM against the wishes of the bereaved wife.

We again find ourselves in almost a similar situation, albeit, with minor variations. The body of the late MP Kibra has already been cremated and so there is no contest on where it will lie. But there are certain similarities; like SM, Okoth was married to a non-Luo. Both were successful at their trades. Both lived their lives mainly in Nairobi.

The issue we have at hand is whether our bodies belong to us in death, and by extension to our nuclear family or whether the clan has a claim to the dead. Are we right, the urbane African, in demanding as part of dying wishes that we be granted private funeral, when like in the case of Ken OKoth, he led a public life? Do those who birthed us have a say in how we are disposed of? Since when we are dead we can’t do nothing, should we be the ones to determine how we will be sent off, who will be present or should this question be left to those who we have left behind to determine?

On a related matter, during nuptials, those who go to church say “until death do us part”, as part of their vows. What does this imply in the face of death? Should it not mean that death frees us of the obligations to the other? Can the society, in a sense, lay claim to this person who was yours by law, but is no longer?

Or is this, in a sense, the logical conclusion of the individualized lives we live today where Ubuntu- I am because we are- as was eloquently put by Cannon Mbiti?

So I think, I can ask these questions again?

 

  • Who owns the dead?
  • Can any person claim to exclusively own the dead?
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