Village that lives with the dead cries for help

Residents of Kamugoi village in Embu East Sub-county who have been living in squalid conditions in a cemetery. Inset: A toilet in the village. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

Up to 600 poor families in Embu East County who have been living on a decommissioned cemetery for more than five decades now have appealed to the government to resettle them.

The entire Kamugoi village sits on a graveyard once owned by the defunct Embu Municipal Council.

Now packed to the brim, remnants of landless squatters on the cemetery land in Runyenjes say they have nowhere to farm, and that they do not even have space to bury their dead.

"We are competing for space with the dead. It is scary,” says Grace Nyawira, staring at a fresh grave a few metres from her ramshackle hut.

According to the villagers, local politicians in the defunct municipal council settled a few families on the two-acre land in the 1960s.

Each family was allocated a 30 by 30 foot piece of land  to build their houses, not knowing that the land belonged to the dead.

In the process of building their houses, they discovered that it was a cemetery after they stumbled on a number of graves.

The families have since expanded, and the villagers now find themselves sharing the confined space with the dead, hoping that one day they would be relocated to a more decent location.

That day has never come, and the villagers are still competing for space with the dead more than five decades later, as families continue to expand.

The entire village is littered with destroyed graves giving it an air of a sad, haunted graveyard. In some cases, mud houses have been put up on top of levelled graves. 

"There are about 600 families living here. Most of them have built their houses on top of graves," said Godfrey Nthiga, a village elder.

“We appeal to the government to get a permanent solution for them. These people are really suffering,” he said.

With the dead beneath them, the villagers do not know what to do with the dead among them. There is simply no space left among both the living and the dead to bury more.

"The other day we delayed the burial of a woman because there was no space to bury her," said Alice Wanjiru.

Out of the fear for the dead, the village goes to bed early and wakes up late.

“This place belongs to the dead. You cannot wake up at night to go for long or short call because you fear what you will find outside,” said Wanjiru.

Leaders in the area have joined calls to relocate the villagers.

Speaking while presenting foodstuff donated by well-wishers to the village, Embu nominated ward rep Margret Kariuki called on leaders from the area to address the plight of Kamugoi village.

She also called on the national government to ensure that the villagers receive the Sh1,000 stipend meant for vulnerable families during Covid-19 pandemic.

Tatatisio Kawe, a community leader, said it was inhuman for hundreds of people to share such a tiny space with the dead.

“They have been deprived of their privacy. They cannot even build decent houses because the land is not theirs,” said Kawe.

"The entire village has no water and residents have no place to farm. They depend on God," he said.