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The Luo buried kin same day, so what changed?

By Olivia Odhiambo | Jan 18th 2022 | 3 min read

Professional mourners during a past procession. [Courtesy] 

Sons who worked away from the villages have contributed to the erosion of Luo funeral rites, elders believe. This has been complicated by changing religious beliefs. 

Some elders from Ugenya in Siaya County claimed sons who worked for the government as warriors in the past played a role in the changes. 

They said the sons would come home days after the death of their kin, especially their parents, making it difficult to observe traditional practices.

“This made the funeral celebrations drag for days. These sons would come with their food, including a cow and flour, and people would follow them for the funeral celebrations. These are the things that made our traditions disappear,” said John Omiya, 70, from Udira Kamrembo village.

According to him, in the past, when an old man died and his eldest son was not around, he would be buried the same day by his fellow men.

After his burial, a hen would be slaughtered and roasted over an open fire by his fellow men or elders and then they would eat it but a bone would be kept for the son. He was expected to eat after returning home.

“In the past, the clan would not wait for the eldest son to arrive before the burial could take place. This started recently and that is how our culture has been eroded.

“A body would not stay more than two days before being buried. For example, if someone died in the morning, he would be buried latest in the afternoon.

“Only the bodies of those who died in the evening were kept until the following day. Bodies were not taken to the mortuaries. There were no mortuaries then,” added Omiya.

In-laws would come later with a cow. This would be a celebration where people would sing and dance. 

Peter Opondo, 80, also from Udira Kamrembo village, notes that religion has also played a role in erosion of burial rites. He said that in the past, a burial lasted a maximum of three days.

“On the last day, there was a ceremony for celebrating the dead person. This celebration was done when the head of the home had died. It was known as tero buru. Cows with big bells hanging around their necks would be used, as people danced from his home to a nearby centre. A hen would be slaughtered and roasted over an open fire without cutting it into pieces and people would eat it,” he added.

Tero buru was done with the brothers of the deceased. After the celebrations, all members of the family would shave their hair. The daughters would be shaved by an aunt.

According to elders, daughters arrived when the man died and would sit in a group led by the eldest. They would eat together as instructed by the eldest. Chickens would be slaughtered and they would eat only the wings.

This applied to relatives of the wife who also would eat specific parts of the chicken. This applied when a cow was slaughtered.

The old men would eat the cow’s tongue and liver as they drank a local brew known as busaa.

Neighbours brought food, including milk, and maize to the bereaved family. 

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