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?

Burying Okoth, reflections

I am using Okoth here to stand for the African. This, therefore, is a reflection on African customs around death and burial with specific reference to the Luo of Central Kenya. In the last post, I did ask who owns the dead and if it is possible for one individual to lay exclusive claim of the dead. These questions, I think, we will continue to grapple with for a long time to come.

In this reflection, I want to do the reader some justice by introducing Ken Okoth and Luo customs regarding death. I will then look at some scholarly articles on the conception of death in Africa and the associated rituals, the meanings attached to them and so on.

I want also at this point to correct some form of disinformation that has been repeated ad nauseum on twitter by unread Kenyans that burial rites was introduced to Africa by the colonizers that we all left the dead to die in the forests. While this is true for certain nationalities like the Kikuyu, the Nandi, there were elaborate funerary practices in many places in Africa depending on the social status of the dead.

It is necessary that we have a working definition of culture before we can proceed. It has been defined as that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society or as the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively or the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It should be noted also that culture has these basic characteristics

  • learned
  • shared
  • based on symbols
  • integrated
  • dynamic

With definitions behind us, we can briefly look at how the Luos dealt with issues surrounding death. But first, a cautionary note. Paul Mboya wrote about Luo Customs in 1938, that is half a century after the colonialist first set foot in Western Kenya. I mention all this because it will be evident in a short while how culture is dynamic. And this is an important point.

When an old man died, Mboya tells us, the first wife stripped her clothes followed by all others in the homestead to signify the death of he that clothed them home. If however, the man did not respect his first wife, she would refuse to strip and had to be persuaded but the cat was already outta the bag. A pre-burial (buru) ceremony was conducted in the wilderness where the enemy was fought. The grave was dug in the centre of the house of the first wife, or if she had died, a small hut was built. Burial took place on the fourth day for a man and third day for a woman after which there were several days of plays, tugo, to celebrate the dead. There was a public dress for the widow(s) of the dead. During the mourning, if any of the widows had bracelets, these were to remain covered until on the day of tero mon (when a widow got a guardian).

After several days of celebration and cleansing, bulls were slaughtered for elders, brothers in- law, and if the deceased was a wealthy man, a he-goat or ram was slaughtered for people from the homeland of his mother. If he had been a village elder, an elder was chosen on this day.

From the moment the family gathered in the house of the first wife following the death of the man, no one had sex. Nobody was allowed to go back to their houses until all the conditions set by custom were met. Then and only then did the bereaved members have sex.  At this point, I would just add that mourning period lasted from several months to a year and different ceremonies were performed in this period.

It is evident from the foregoing that among the Luo, there were elaborate ceremonies surrounding death. In a manner of speaking, there were no private funerals. The question of whether you had lived with your villagers or whether you had been estranged does not arise in death.

In Funerals in Africa, Jinra and Noret write

These events continue to provide crucial insights into the state of society, as they are integral to social, economic, religious, and political life. For Westerners, among whom death is normally a private and family affair, this is sometimes hard to fathom, but in the African context, funerary rites are oft en the communal event sans pareil, with ramifications going well beyond the events themselves.

The contestation of Okoth’s body and his cremation, can be understood, in the words of Jinra and Noret as representing social breakdowns brought about by religious changes, colonialism, urbanization, economic and others. Funerary practices should be seen as a link between the living and the living dead. We are told death is a crisis, it shakes the society and requires ritual treatment.

In The African Conception of Death: A Cultural Implication, Baloyi argues that the misunderstanding and conflict that
often arise in multicultural context especially the workplace, is due to the different conceptions of experiences
such as death, its cultural implications and meanings of the rituals performed during and after death. He notes, to the African, death is conceived not as discrete event but as part of the life cycle. The dead continue to exist among the living dead or ancestors. The dead live in community with the dead.

He writes

The mourning or grieving process cannot therefore be linked or limited to some time span in a discrete sense. It is for this reason that Africans take time off from work when their loved ones are dead, to perform rituals that eternally connect them to the deceased. Therefore from an indigenous African ontological viewpoint, death does not imply an end to life, instead, it marks the beginning of another phase of being.

In this sense therefore, death rituals become very integral parts of society living. They perform important functions of linking the two worlds; that of the living and the living dead (those recently departed and are still remembered) and are seen as important in maintaining balance and harmony between the living and the living dead. These rituals include, but are not limited to, bereaved family members shaving their hair, and the slaughtering of a domestic animal.

Baloye continues to argue that Ubuntu and Umuntu are ways of life of the African, that is, being-with- and- for-others. This being transcends death. He writes

Providing food to the masses of people who come to the funeral including slaughtering an animal is an Ubuntu philosophy imperative. The process of burying the dead, the accompanying rituals and the veneration of the living dead constitute performances and conversations as authentic.

It’s been argued elsewhere that nearly all African communities believed in burying the dead in their ancestral
land, where the spirit of the dead would join with the spirit world. Among Ghana’s Ashanti, families,
relatives, and members of the community would mourn at the homestead of the deceased (Owino, Bereavement and Mourning in Africa). He says the Luo usually buried the fruit of the yago (Kigelia africana) tree in a grave in the dead soldier’s homestead in the same manner they would have buried his body.

It appears to me, then, that the decision by Okoth and those close to him to consider cremation and a private funeral is an anathema to the people of Luo Nyanza and goes contrary to beliefs held by many Africans, however, since we can agree on culture being dynamic, a time may come when cremation will become part of culture. Maybe we will have public cremations, I don’t know.

Maybe, a new set of questions arise

  1. How do we reconcile the African philosophy of Ubuntu/ Umuntu with the individualized culture of the west?
  2. What compromises should be made between an individual’s wishes for after death and those of the community?
  3. Can the rituals around death be separated from the contestations around property inheritance to allow a public burial for a private individual?

 

Practical atheism?

That’s not what one gets when they read this post by Fr. Jerry. It is like he has created straw men against whom he has argued almost successfully against, where almost is the keyword.

Whereas the problem of evil is a serious challenge to the being of an all loving and powerful god, I don’t often hear, as the priest claims, of people who say they no longer believe in god because there’s so much evil and suffering. That, I think, is a creation of the good priest. It’s true the crucifixion has little appeal but that is not reason enough to be atheistic.

The priest says, and I haven’t seen the memo

As a rule, atheists invoke the supremacy of science.

which is not supported by fact. Atheism, being limited to lack of belief in deities, does not need any scientific claims to buttress it. There have been atheists throughout the ages when science was not advanced as it is today. I could argue, on the contrary that atheism really is about rationality. You do not need to invoke any scientific principle to question the lack of evidence for deities.

He goes ahead to say

True atheists view science as a means by which to solve certain technical problems, to make life easier, or to reduce suffering.

which may mean only true atheists resort to science. The not true atheists don’t rely on science or they don’t exist.

The good priest tells us the christians know it is god teasing them with mystery. This is a claim made without any supporting evidence. We must take the priest’s word for it.

The priest, having told himself the universe must have a creator, throws a swipe at the atheists and tells us

Atheists typically explain creation with the purported science of the big bang theory. Matter was contained in a capsule the size of a walnut, and Bang! the universe began to expand.

which is interesting given, first, that the idea of a big bang has its origins in the works of a catholic monk and two that several scientists have explained the term big bang was used as a place holder. The atheist can have no opinion on the big bang or origins of the universe without contradiction.

The good priest, however doesn’t stop at the big bang. He tells us

After eons of evolution, an amoeba became a fish, a fish became a lizard—and down the line—finally, a monkey gave birth: not to a monkey, but to the first potential atheist.

and one is made to ask who taught him evolution. Was his teacher this bad?

He tells us, the christian believes, god created the universe ex nihilo. But he doesn’t stop there. He lies. He says

But Adam and Eve wanted to play the part of God, to tell God what good and evil is.

The good book doesn’t at any point claim the two ignoramuses wanted to tell god what is good and evil. This is not possible since they only came to know of good through eating of  the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a tree which, if it was planted in the garden is all god’s fault. There was always the option of keeping the seeds in god’s pocket or not mentioning it altogether. But the priest is not interested in reason, no, he tells us

Original Sin, therefore, is the choice to become a practical atheist—to claim the authority of God on our own.

Let’s not forget that the idea of original sin is a creation of the church of Rome. And nowhere do we read in the bible Adam and Eve claiming the authority of god anywhere. To call them practical atheists for eating a fruit, is to me an insult to human intelligence. Adam and Eve, if they existed, did not need persuasion to know there was a god. It was impossible for them to be atheists. I mean, for fucks sake, they lived next door to god.

The priest to bring Jesus into the picture, tells us

Without a Savior to overcome evil, all of us would be condemned to the fires of Hell

which is  ridiculous. God creates hell so it can punish humans for small infractions that it made it possible for them to commit? If we believe the priest, without eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge, there would be no death. One must ask the good priest why then, does god send the two hapless fellows from the garden before they eat of the tree of life? Or are we to assume, the gods would have left them feast on the tree of life and become like them?

The Epicurean principle of “seek pleasure and avoid suffering” is seen by the priest as not good enough for a moral life. He says it can be argued that is how the atheist lives their lives. Sometimes one can withstand suffering, if it is for a short duration and the gains are greater, for example, the pain of having a tooth removed or a surgery to remove a growth. It is suffering for which no benefit can be accrued that we must question as rational beings, such as, what good comes out of the rape of a child?

One would think, if you listened to the priest only, that only atheists have abortions or are pro-choice. The good priest, not tired of attacking straw men, writes

To avoid personal suffering, antiseptic and murderous violence—where the screams are unseen, silent, and without legal repercussions—is permissible as a matter of “choice.”

I don’t know about you, but I am yet to hear of any moral absolutes set up by the atheists anywhere in the world. I was not around when there was a sexual revolution in the 60s in the US? Was it atheists who led it? But then again what is wrong with sexual freedom?

One wonders whether the priest is arguing for sexual misconduct, like the priests have been found to have been guilty of in several places around the world when he says

The practical atheist insists on the supreme value of choice and consent as the only proper boundaries for his sexual pursuits.

Are we to read this as an argument against consent?

I do not, for the life of me, know which atheist the priest has in mind. Maybe it his own creation. He writes

 [..]He may appeal to science—except when science interferes with his lifestyle.Then the moral principles of the atheist allow for the distortion of authentic science in pursuit of his pleasures.

How, tell me, is this statement by Justice Kennedy

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

the true definition of original sin? Does it exclude the christian from defining his or her life as having meaning only in the belief and obedience to gods? Or does it stop the Muslim from deriving meaning from his belief in the supremacy of the Koran and hadiths? Is the priest trying to be a thought cop? He wants a situation where the church defines the concept of existence, meaning and any contrary opinion is heresy and ripe for the stake, as in the days of old.

One would think all the conflicts in the world are because people have been atheistic. The good priest not to be outdone in creating straw-men writes

Of course, the cumulative result of such uncompromising selfishness is what a comfortable atheist detests: injustice, conflict, hatred, murder. An honest atheist is unable to justify selfless acts of virtue. Without God, the chaos of an atheistic world would be normative.

Anyone who has read a little bit of history is aware of the many injustices committed in the name of god. The Catholic killing the protestant, both of them killing the Jews and finally, the Muslim killing all of them. To then pretend this is all because there are atheists is to tell a bold faced lie.

There is no paradox between there being no god and people being just, kind or loving. These traits are important for life in community. Societal life would be impossible if all we did was kill each other. We would be extinct. You need no gods to explain this. Common sense, which the priest seems to have quit its use, is enough to give insights into this.

The sacrifice of a soldier in battle is for most times stupid. Most often, soldiers go to war to fight people who have done them no wrong on the behest of some functionary who is having a beer or wine at their expense. That said, the soldier is trained to do just that. It would be thought of them as cowards if they didn’t make sacrifices here and there. It is expected that a father should rescue their child from danger. To say we only do this because of a god is to reduce all human feeling and response to belief in chimeras.

The story of the crucifixion is not one of love but of depravity. It is to make a virtue of violence. Besides, in the story, the fellow comes back. And if Jesus is a god as the catholic wants us to believe, then how does a god dying affect humanity?

While I agree we should reflect on our individualism, but it shouldn’t be replaced by belief in chimeras. It is must be about practicalities of life. We should see ourselves as members of a community with different beliefs and cultures and work towards living in harmony with one another.

7 Deadly Worldviews That Threaten Christianity

Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.
― Elbert Hubbard

Dear friends, I know you  have been wondering what these worldviews are, wonder no more, because Don McCullen has the answers.

If you are Gnostic, which, wait for it is

he rejection of God’s Word as not sufficient for us to know our true purpose or for life to have its ultimate meaning

it is important to remember though, that Gnosticism is

a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit.

The second worldview is rather confusing. Don calls it legalism but in all of it he is blaming Eve. He writes

This too comes from the Garden. While Gnosticism comes from the Devil, you can blame Eve for laying the ground work for legalism

You would think Don would have no problems with Dualism since it allows him to have a soul separate from body, but no. He tells us

 Overall Dualism views good and evil as part of the same framework, and not as separate concepts.

We need not say anything on his 4th worldview. Darwinism is well covered by The Sensuous Curmudgeon.

If you are a pragmatist, your worldview is a threat to Christianity. You wanna know why?

Pragmatism is “the first-born child of child of Darwinism.” It conflates situational ethics with situational shrewdness.

And how does pragmatism do this?

It allows people to change from what is truth and absolute to a truth they feel is right for themselves.

If ever you have the idea to combine two systems to come up with a better one or a different one, you are a threat to Christianity. Don tells us

However, Christians should never embrace syncretism as a way to get along. Syncretism is basically your “Co-exist” motto (with all of the religious symbols). Truth of the matter is that syncretism is at the heart of the matter, the very essence of intolerance while claiming to be otherwise.

And finally, all you secular humanists, we knew you wouldn’t be spared. So what does he say SH is,

A belief system that rejects virtually every single principle of God’s Word.

He tells us

 Secular humanism truly does bring the worst out of human beings, but yet they claim to be good

and why should this worry us? Well secular humanism will lead to collapse of society and when that happens, wait for it,

Right now, that big threat that will take over a society once Secular Humanism does it damage is Islam.

I don’t know about you, but I find this

That being large and centralized government. It has to be for them, but the problem with big government, it loves to impose itself on the infidels that oppose it, especially Christians.

quite confusing. In the US of A, the evangelicals are trying to take over government. I mean, Pence and his supporters believe he is there because that is what god wants. Methinks Don should choose a struggle.

But there is a solution to all these worldviews. Don suggests

If your able to take out a subscription to CRTV.com, please do it so that you can watch these seven programs. The audio podcasts are free but it is very important to watch and listen to both versions for they complement each other. It is not impossible go with one form without the other however.

And if you are a christian

Now more than ever, we need to move forward with our faith and be bold about it.

How will we you do this?

we really need to understand the Christian faith and show our neighbor that Christianity just does not work for certain people nor should it. It is a way of life, a way that promotes life and gives life not only in this world but the world to come.

Well, as for me and myself, we tell Don, get a life.

African origin of civilization

Myth or reality

After the brief interlude, we are back to Africa. There are still some commenters who have stuck to the line Africans as a whole are not intelligent. They insist this deficiency explains the problems facing Africa. As far as I can tell the source of this information is Rushton, a guy a friend of mine would do well to dip himself in a barrel full of acid. Enough of that for the moment.

I am on a journey. A journey through time. My interest is the history of the Luo/ Lwoo. I will look at what has been written on the contribution of Africans to civilization. I don’t think I will post a lot in between. 

I will be reading Dr. Diop about whom it was written by Immanuel Wallenstein thus

Perhaps the most ambitious attempt to reconstruct African history has been the numerous writings of Cheik Anta Diop. Diop has a theory that there is a basic global division of peoples into two kinds: the southerners(or negro-Africans) and the Aryans(a category covering all Caucasians, including Semites, Mongoloids, and American Indians). Each grouping has a cultural outlook based on response to climate, the difference between them being that the Aryans have had a harsher climate.

The Aryans have developed patriarchal systems characterized by the suppression of women and a propensity for war. Also associated with such societies are materialist religion, sin and guilt, xenophobia, the tragic drama, the city state, individualism, and pessimism. Southerners on the other hand are matriarchal. The women are free and the people peaceful; there is a Dionysian approach to life, religious idealism, and no concept of sin. With a matriarchal society come xenophilia, the tale as a literary form, the territorial state, social collectivism and optimism.

According to Diop’s theory, the ancient Egyptians, who were negroes, are the ancestors of the southerners. This bold hypothesis, which is not presented without supporting data, has the interesting effect of inverting Western cultural assumptions. For, Diop argues, if the ancient Egyptians were negroes, then European civilization is but a derivation of African achievement.

I think it will be an interesting read. Keep it here, don’t touch that button 🎼

Men vs the man

In his last letter to La Monte, on the question of Socialism against Individualism, he writes

I am not a religious man, but I cannot think upon my own good fortune in life without a feeling that my thanks should go forth, somewhere and to someone. Wealth and eminence and power are beyond my poor strength and skill but on the side of sheer chance I am favoured beyond all computation. My day’s work is not an affliction but a pleasure; my labour selling in the open market, brings me the comforts that I desire; I am assured against all but a remote danger of starvation in my old age. Outside my window, in the street, a man labours in the rain with pick and shovel, and his reward is merely a roof for to-night and tomorrow’s three meals. Contemplating the difference between his luck and mine, I cannot fail to wonder at the eternal meaninglessness of life. I wonder thus and pity his lot, and then, after a while, perhaps, I begin to reflect that in many ways he is probably luckier than I.

But I wouldn’t change places with him.

The series of letters between La Monte and Mencken are quite interesting and both sides are persuasive. For a brief moment, La Monte almost persuaded me to socialism, but I think at the end, I have to agree with Mencken that socialism attempts to fight the laws of nature.

The charge of racism on Mencken, I think is justified. His view of the Aframerican, the Russian peasant and Jew doesn’t leave any doubts as to his low opinion of them.

In general, it is a good read.

How do we know anything: A response

Our friend Debilis in a recent post created a strawman of materialists arguments against whom he obviously would come victorious. He starts by writing

The idea is that, if we can’t measure it, there’s no reason to think it exists.

I don’t know if materialists, whoever they are, make such a claim. I am interested in knowing how he could know something exists unless given by experience or by his senses. I have to say here, that the human mind can conceive of concepts, or ideas that exist nowhere else except in his imagination but given by things in nature. I can conceive of an animal with the legs of a leopard, a camel’s face and a sheep’s tail, and finger nails of a human. This abstract animal doesn’t exist but one immediately sees that it is formed of those things that man draws from nature.

Our friend goes on to write

It is simply false, factually incorrect, to say that all evidence is physical–and demonstrably so.

but offers no evidence to support his claim that this is false. He assumes that by making the assertion he has proved its falsity. No you have barely scratched the surface. Please, show me, if you can, how materialism is false.

He continues in the same manner,

But this is so far off the mental maps of most non-theists that it is difficult even to explain to them the concept that not all evidence is physical. They often respond with “Show it to me so that I can test it scientifically.” or “But without evidence, how can you know things?”. The point is completely missed.

where one on reading for the first time thinks he has read something profound but is just a strawman. It is not every time that you will be asked for scientific test. For example, when I see a painting and like it, a scientific test is not needed to verify that I like it and  two all this purely physical.

Whereas it is true that

We each have a basic experience of reality: a sense of the truths of logic, a sense of one’s self as a thinking person, a sense of right and wrong, and, of course, a sense of the physical world around us. This experience is the basis for everything we know. It isn’t perfect, of course, but we accept it as valid until we have a reason to think otherwise.

I don’t see how this is an argument against materialism or better still how it supports anything out of our sense perception. In fact, this statement supports the claim of materialism that experience is the basis of everything we know. To claim it is not perfect, is to miss the point. Our senses do not make judgements, that is done by the understanding or mind if you want to call it that.

It is at this point I get lost

No one believes in the mind because of what they saw in a brain scan (there’s no evidence for the mind to be found there, anyway). We believe in the mind because we experience our own thoughts. Nor do we believe in the moral, or even the physical, for any other reason than that we experience these things. This is almost tediously obvious.

Does he sincerely believe in mind/brain dualism? That the mind is not a brain state. That our thoughts are brain states triggered by sensations reaching the brain or recall from memory?

When a person makes a claim such as this

That is, unless one has imbibed the materialist dogma that all evidence is physical. In that case, one doesn’t want to start with basic experience, but with that dogma. And this is entirely arbitrary. No one has ever been able to give a reason to believe it, and there is a rather long list of reasons why it is false.

but fails to give a single piece of evidence to support this claim, it is time to ask them to come back to reality.  It is contemplation of chimeras that led man to create phantoms, ghosts, gods, demons and genii. It is a failure to consult nature, to try to understand her that one makes a claim that starting with experience is a dogma that is fallacious. Man learns, but by experience and it is only by turning to nature does he truly learn about his surrounding and himself. To claim it is arbitrary and false is to base ones knowledge on what the priests tell him.

He then writes in conclusion

 I agree that we shouldn’t accept an idea without a reason to do so, but that would mean rejecting this arbitrary claim that all evidence is physical.

which then leaves me wondering what was his point in the very first place? Was it to show that we shouldn’t believe those things for which we have no evidence or is it to make a contrary claim that we should believe in chimeras because we can think them? But if we reject the claim that we should not believe things we don’t have evidence for, where will we stop? Do we start believing in winged horses, talking donkeys, fishes for public transport and people rising from the dead to name but a few?

In attacking materialism, Debilis wants us to accept chimeras as having the same probability of existence as those things we have experienced through our sense organs. He wants us to have for our teachers priests, monks and imams who when they had the reins of power, the world was in darkness. It is by consulting nature, only, that we can learn about it. If we stray from it and start believing in chimeras, we lose our grounding and end up believing in phantoms we have created in our minds.