Family feudIn Kenya, methods such as cremation (the burning of dead bodies), though increasingly becoming the preferred choice for some prominent politicians and business people, is still considered bizarre and unacceptable. Okoth’s nephew, Evans Oluoch, lifted the lid on the family feud over the decision to cremate the MP’s body when he publicly expressed shock over the matter on Saturday morning. “We woke up to news that Okoth had been cremated. The mother was totally opposed to cremation and wanted him buried next to her house in rural Homa Bay,” he said at Lee Funeral Home. Cremation as a final rite first became the subject of intense public debate in Kenya following the 1996 death of Peter Okondo – a prominent Busia politician who had served as a Cabinet minister in then President Daniel arap Moi’s government. Like Okoth, Okondo was married to a white woman who oversaw the cremation of his body sparking a bitter family feud and sent shock waves in his native Busia village. Mrs Okondo’s plea that she had only acted to fulfill her husband’s wish fell on deaf ears, especially among his Samia clan who had known burial as the only method of internment. Similar controversy also rocked former Kenya National Sports Council chairman Joshua Okuthe’s family following his death and subsequent cremation in 2009. Okuthe’s sister Deborah Odhiambo and a woman, who claimed to be his second wife, Ms Zawadi Hadija Issa, went to court to stop the planned cremation of his body. Instead, the duo wanted Okuthe buried at his Tamu farm in Muhoroni. Ms Odhiambo actually did get court orders stopping the cremation, only to find that Okuthe’s first wife Ruth Florence and close family members had earlier picked the body from the morgue for cremation. Deborah had argued that Okuthe was born and brought up in Luo land making the internment of his body subject to Luo customary law. In April last year, multi-party struggle hero Kenneth Matiba’s body was cremated at Nairobi’s Lang’ata crematorium in a rare non-controversial ceremony. The family said it had acted to fulfill a wish Matiba had made 26 years earlier. Matiba had in a 1994 interview said he made his wish known to his family and that he wanted to set a precedent for Kenyans to follow. The politician argued that burials were colonial, and asked Kenyans to be realistic as there was no more land available to bury the dead. Matiba also argued that he did not wish to subject mourners to endless fundraisers to meet his burial expenses. “After all, the Kikuyu traditionally never buried their dead. They used to take the bodies to 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 had posed. The majority of those who have opted for cremation — mainly through their wills or verbal communication to their families — are wealthy Kenyans with large swathes of land and whose families can easily afford the huge cost of funerals. Earlier in 2002, Anglican Church faithful were treated to confusion after the former head of the church in Kenya, Archbishop Manasses Kuria decided to cremate his wife in a low key ceremony attended by close family members. The body of Mary Nyambura Kuria was cremated at the Langata Crematorium only two days after she passed away. The brief ceremony was attended by Archbishop Kuria, his two sons, two daughters, the former church leader’s elder sister and a few other relatives. Archnishop David Gitari, who succeeded Kuria in 1997, was reported to have pleaded with him in vain to have his wife buried. When asked why he had chosen cremation, Kuria simply retorted that “the Bible says ashes shall return to ashes, dust to dust when human beings die.” Kuria would also be cremated in 2005 in a ceremony that split the church. Bishop Joseph Wasonga, the long serving Bishop of ACK Meseno West, who retired last month, would later talk about a 1975 conference he attended with Kuria in Kajiado where they studied cremation. “Together we did a study on cremation, which led to his decision to cremate his wife a few years ago and the church has nothing against it. We want people to break from the traditional way of having graves in homesteads because of lack of land, poverty and the high death rates,” Bishop Wesonga said. The list of prominent Kenyans who have been cremated include 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. 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. Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore and former Head of Civil Service Jeremiah Kiereini are some of the notable figures whose remains were cremated this year. Last year, John Macharia, the son of Royal Media Services chairman SK Macharia, was cremated at the Nairobi Lang’ata crematorium after he died in an accident on the Southern by-pass. Cremation usually involves subjecting the body to intense heat, reducing it to bone fragments. From a fuel tank on the roof of the crematorium, the body is sprayed with diesel and ignited. The wooden coffin further aids the process. A smaller machine then crushes the remains. Relatives have the option of collecting the ashes, either storing them in an urn or disposing of them in any other way they deem necessary.