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Bizarre funeral as kin fulfils man’s wish not to be buried in a coffin

By By LEONARD KULEI | Dec 25th 2013 | 4 min read


KENYA: As the sun’s rays split through the beautiful canopy atop Menengai Crater hills, residents of Ngachura Estate Bahati in Nakuru County were left in shock following an unusual funeral service.

The family of the late Mzee Joel Njoroge, a former resident,  read out bizarre contents in his will warning anyone against mourning or singing dirges during his funeral.

Njoroge, 85, bowed out three days ago after a long battle with diabetes in his rural home in Ngachura farm where he retired to years ago after a long career as an engine driver in the defunct Kenya Railways.

Before his death

Three days before he died, the father of 12 who had been confined to bed for a year told his family that unlike other funerals, his should be done without spending any money on a casket, suit, or money collected for purposes of holding any ceremony.

He is also allegedly said to have warned anyone against reading his eulogy, beating drums, making noise or singing during the funeral.

All these were observed without fail.

We drove quietly into his compound where the funeral service was taking place as dreary eyes of men and women kept us at bay. We could sense something was amiss.

We parked a distance away and two young men, as if they were aware of our mission, came straight to us demanding to know what we were doing there.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, their message was bold.

“Mzee alisema hataki picha ama kelele yoyote kwa mazishi yake. Alikuwa akimanisha kila alichosema. Lazima tumweshimu akiwa ameenda. Sasa nyinyi mrudi. (The old man said he didn’t want pictures taken or noise during his funeral. He meant what he said. We must respect him now that he’s gone. You people can go back to where you came from),” one person told us.

For a man who swore to die for an ideal, perhaps his soul watching from a distance, a pastor and an interpreter for those who have difficulties understanding Kiswahili was enough to give him a perfect send-off.

Bible stories

The man of God who heavily alluded from Bible stories of great men like Jesus, King Solomon and Lazarus reminded the terrified crowd that they too were comfortably placed inside a tomb ostensibly without new world caskets just like Njoroge.

“Just like those who went before us as the Holy Bible says, Njoroge’s will is also taken with the seriousness it deserves and no one will forever question it,” asserted Pastor Reuben Wanyona of Amazing Grace Church.

The sermon, which was bereft of any Christmas messages, greeted the awed mourners with horror.

Gloomy women sat under the shade of green banana suckers, some evidently lost in thoughts held their chin with eyes firmed fixed in the air.

And to stay true to his will, his body covered with a blanket rested inside an open six-feet tomb dug three metres away from his main house.

Five mean-looking men armed with jembes (hoes), axes and pangas (machetes) guarded the graveyard.

Muddy hands

Their muddy hands and lines of sweat formed on their hardened cheeks told of the energy they put into digging the old man’s grave.

Speaker after speaker pledged to honour the old man’s bizarre wish lest they see curses follow their kin up to the third generation.

“I will not go against what you said. You left us but we believe you are still in our midst. We shall bury you without a coffin. This is because going against the will of an elderly person in our community attracts a curse,” observed John Ngunjiri, a neighbour.

As the funeral service continued, residents who wanted to catch a glimpse of the rare send-off milled in large numbers.

Some who missed a perfect place to view the open grave sat on the fence.

At exactly midday, the congregation, in keeping with Njoroge’s word stood and headed to the graveside where the pastor made a short prayer and soon, everyone bowed down to scoop some soil with their hands and the man was finally buried.

The tradition of burying an elderly man when the shadow is at its shortest, according to African wisdom as I was later told by an elderly tribesman, kept away spirits associated with the dead from haunting the living.

Call him philosophical, principled, and economical or even a village sage, but Njoroge’s word was law that could not be broken.

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