Former Head of Civil Service Jeremiah Kiereini will be cremated today at a private family function. He joins a growing list of prominent Kenyans who have opted for cremation over burial.
Although details of the interment remained scanty, with the family remaining tight-lipped, a family friend confidentially revealed to The Standard that it was Kiereini's desire that he be cremated.
“It will be a very, very private affair and I am told the media is not allowed to attend. Apart from the close family members, I'm told only a few friends have been invited,” said the source.
Kiereini left the civil service in 1984 after retiring as the Head of Public Service and Secretary to the Cabinet under retired President Daniel Moi’s government, and plunged into the private sector, where he made a name heading several corporate organisations.
He died on Monday night aged 90 at his home in Nairobi.
Contacted yesterday, his daughter Nemaisa Kiereini, who is the CEO of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, reiterated the statement the family had issued on Tuesday, saying that the tycoon would be interred today. She did not indicate the mode of interment.
“We will communicate to you in case of anything. But as it is, the function tomorrow is a strict family affair. The funeral service will be communicated at a later date,” she said.
Kiereini’s cremation comes amid the escalation of the debate on this mode of disposing of the dead, which is slowly gaining root over the traditionally known burials that have of late been described as very costly.
Interestingly, a majority of those who have opted for cremation – mainly by so stating in their wills or verbal communication to their families – are wealthy Kenyans who own large swathes of land and whose families can easily afford the huge costs of their burials.
In April last year, multi-party struggle hero Kenneth Matiba was cremated at Lang’ata Crematorium, with the family choosing to fulfill the wish he had made 26 years ago. This is despite many Kenyans, and especially those from his Murang’a backyard, expressing their wish for his burial locally.
His cremation dashed the hopes of many of his supporters who had wished for a State burial for the second liberation hero.
Unknown to them, Matiba had in 1994 expressed his wish to be cremated, rubbishing the pompous burials preceded by “dancing parties and harambees."
He said he did not wish for mourners to be subjected to endless fundraisers to meet his burial expenses.
“After all, the Kikuyu traditionally never buried their dead. They used to take the bodies into the forest to be devoured by hyenas. Was that not wisdom?”
“If a man was not assisted while he was alive, why should people raise funds for him after he dies?” Matiba, then Ford-Asili leader, was quoted as saying.
Before Matiba, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai had been cremated at the Kariokor Crematorium, also according to her wishes.
The famed conservationist, who became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her "contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace", did not wish for trees – that she had spent years protecting – to be felled to make a coffin for her burial.
The ashes of her remains were interred at the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, in accordance with her wishes.
Former Anglican Church Archbishop Manasses Kuria and his wife Mary Kuria were also cremated, sparking a major debate within the church on this ritual and its place in Christianity.
The Anglican head was cremated in 2005, three years after his wife had undergone the same ritual.
Last year, John Macharia, the son of Royal Media Services chairman SK Macharia, was cremated at Lang'ata after he died following an accident on the Southern by-pass.
Kanu-era assistant Minister Peter Okondo was cremated in Kariokor in 1996, while former Kenya National Sports Council Chairman Joshua Okuthe underwent the same rite in 2009.
The debate over cremation has continued to be a divisive one, even as it continues gaining acceptance among a conservative society that is still deeply rooted in the much-accepted burial.
According to the Provost of the All Saints Cathedral, Very Rev Canon Sammy Wainaina, the decision to cremate is personal.
“It is more of a cultural and philosophical issue rather than a biblical one. However, it must be done with sensitivity to the family. The Bible does not give specific directions for the disposal of the body following death,” says the Anglican senior cleric.
He adds: “Christian church rejects cremation, partly because of its association with Pagan societies of Greece and Rome. Christians buried their dead in graves or in catacombs (underground vaults). Traditionally, Christians will want to show respect for the body.”