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Death rituals among the Luhya with particular reference to Bukusu

By Nandemu Barasa, Jan 11 2011
The larger Bamasaaba community is yet to come to terms with the demise of one of its elders Mzee Hudson Waswa Wasikhuyu Okhwa Nabai who was laid to rest over the weekend at his Kisawayi home in Misikhu, Bungoma County. The burial ceremony was attended by hundreds of mourners among them West Media Limited staff led by the Board Chairman Dr George Masafu and Mr. Cyprian Wekesa, one of the directors and thousands of mourners from across Western Kenya and as far as Uganda. The late Wasikhuyu died on January 3, 2011 while undergoing treatment at Lugulu Mission Hospital after developing a stroke in early December. However, despite an earlier warning by the deceased that his body should not be taken to the mortuary after his death, his body was taken to Nabwana mortuary before his burial. Nonetheless, even at the mortuary, tradition and culture was not abandoned as the body was accorded high respect, as elderly persons from his lineage talked and pleaded to the corpse to humble itself as it is taken for burial.

On the material day of picking the body from the mortuary, family members, as tradition dictates, divided amongst themselves the belongings of the deceased but did not touch any of his clothes. Similarly, the family did not allow anybody outside the family to buy any new clothes for the deceased explaining that doing so could prompt him to haunt them claiming he was buried naked. According to Bukusu culture an elderly man should be brought home from the morgue in the afternoon probably at 3PM to signify the time when he used to come home after toiling for long hours. It is in that same belief that when an aged person dies in the morning, the clan will hold on the information of his death until after noon before they release it. At the mortuary, traditional prayers are said asking the late to make the journey home easy, We have come to take you home for a very good burial, those of us who are here, love you and that is why we have left everything to come here to ensure we take you home, please make our journey back home easy because you were well known for good when you lived with us, we shall continue loving you even in your death, the dead was told before taking his body home. More...

Part TWO: Post burial funeral rites - Kumuse, lufu

Part THREE: End of 40 days of mourning rituals

olovego hairshaving
Under Luhya funreal customs, bereaved family members must be shaved on teh third day after burial to rid themselves of ritual danger known as bukhutsakhali (breath of death) caused by their association with the deceased.
Eshiremba cattle drive
If the deceased was a respectable elder, a cattle drive known as eshiremba is hald in recognition of his status as a cattle owner. Cattle holds cultural value for the Luhya. It through cattle that the community is able to sustain itself eg. through dowry as well drinking of its milk.
Luhya death rituals
Mourners gather at the graveside after burial for the 'Dance of death' in which the widow dances on the grave. However, to do so, she must have been faithful to her late husband throughout the marriage as otherwise, she will strike her dead.

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