Hundreds of frenzied mourners yesterday stopped the burial of Ohangla musician Abenny Jachiga in a day-long battle with police that left scores injured.
Police had to shoot in the air and lob teargas canisters to disperse defiant mourners who had hijacked the ceremony at the musician’s home in Chiga on the outskirts of Kisumu town.
The mourners even filled up the empty grave with boulders to stop the burial, claiming it was too hurried.
Armed with stones, clubs, spades and hoes, they shrieked and demanded that the funeral be delayed for at least two days to enable Jachiga’s fans and relatives give him a dignified send-off since he did not die of Covid-19.
In what Luo elders yesterday described as an abomination that could bring a curse to the late Jachiga’s family, mourners, most of them women and boda boda riders, blocked family members from taking the body to the grave.
Mourners who covered the musician’s grave with soil camped at the graveside chanting while police held his body at the nearby school where viewing took place.
However, the mourners accused police of hiding the musician’s body.
“They’ve hidden the body, but we will stand here until they return with it,” one of the mourners said.
Elder Agalo Onyango said, “What has happened may bring a curse to the family. A grave once dug, cannot be covered with soil without the body in it. It is unheard of.”
Later at around 3pm, police tried to have the body buried after using teargas to disperse the mourners. The officers wanted to bury the body themselves and even came with a pastor.
But the crowd pelted them with stones and they fled together with the pastor. The mourners then carried the body to St Elizabeth Hospital mortuary in Chiga, on foot.
“They have dispersed us. They have tried to remove the soil from the grave and bury the body but we have refused. There will be no burial today,” said a relative of the musician.
The police officers in five vehicles, reportedly under instructions not to use force, retreated after the mourners took away the body.
“The mourners have taken possession of the body. They have insisted the burial will not take place,” said a resident, James Obonyo.
Kisumu County Commander Ranson Lelmodon described the chaos as unfortunate, saying the police were only deployed to ensure the body reached home and the mourners obeyed the public health rules. “It became difficult to enforce social distancing of about 5,000 people who have refused to move,” said Lelmodon.
Jachiga’s mother, Monica Auma, pleaded with the authorities to give her more time to mourn her son.
“I request to be given even two or three more days to mourn my son. I have many guests and relatives who cannot reach here today,” she told the Saturday Standard.
Trouble had started in the morning at the Port Florence Hospital when hundreds of mourners defied the social distancing rules and insisted to be allowed to view the body.
When the funeral procession approached Chiga Hospital, the mourners demanded that the body be kept at the facility’s mortuary to give room for more preparation, a demand the police rejected and ordered that it be interred, immediately.
As tension escalated, police allowed the body to be taken to nearby Kadiju Primary School for viewing, attracting thousands of mourners who formed long queues.
By this time, the grave had been covered with soil by some of mourners opposed to the burial.
But in the afternoon, more police officers were called to the scene and they tried to use force to have the body taken from the school, but the defiant mourners refused to give way.
Luckily, nobody was hurt as the police shot in the air in an attempt to hasten the burial, which initially was to be conducted by 11am to meet the county governments’ Covid-19 guidelines.
In what further angered elders, the coffin was discovered to have been damaged during the fracas, exposing part of Jachiga’s body.
Attempts to have the damaged casket repaired with the body inside it failed.
According to Covid-19 guidelines, a burial is supposed to be attended by close family members and relatives whose number should not exceed 15.
Jachiga -- his real name Bernard Onyango -- died at dawn on Wednesday at St Jairus Hospital where he was rushed after falling ill.
Known for his provocative Ohangla love songs, Jachiga, 33, succumbed to pneumonia, according to his family.
Health officials yesterday launched investigations into the cause of death and had taken samples from the body, but sources said the samples tested negative for Covid-19.
One of Jachiga’s most popular songs, Kasinde attacks unfaithful women who refer to all their lovers as “my cousin”.
The musician who lived at East Kolwa-Chiga location, Kisumu East Sub-county started his music career at the age of 21 as an instrumentalist.
He released his hit song Kasinde in mid-2018 and is also known for other songs like Usidharau mwenzio, Penzi ni kama mayai and Simba manyo wendo.
He is survived by a widow and five children.