The Kipsigis community ritual took centre stage during the exhumation of the body of 88-year-old Kipkoros Mutai from Kebeneti village in Kipkelion West.
The body had been mistakenly buried in Kiboyet village in Belgut constituency instead of the late 94-year-old Joel Kipngeny Chumo.
The unusual body swap occurred at Siloam Hospital, where the bodies of both elderly men, who shared some similarities, had been taken by their respective families for preservation.
The late Chumo’s family, in their haste to conduct the burial of their bachelor kin, mistakenly identified the body of the late Mutai and buried it last week.
The mistake only became apparent when the late Mutai’s family visited the mortuary and discovered that Chumo’s family had removed his body and buried it.
While the six gravediggers laboured to excavate Mutai’s coffin from the six-foot grave, 70-year-old Ruben Kipsiele Langat explained that local customs dictate the burial of a rock following the exhumation of a body.
According to the ritual, placing a rock on the freshly dug grave serves the purpose of refilling the hole, warding off potential bad omen that could lead to the sudden and unexplained death of another family member.
Langat added: “Mursik is then poured on top of the newly filled hole to appease the spirits of the deceased person who has been disturbed from what was meant to be their final resting place.”
He also said grass is scattered over the site.
“The significance of the grass is to symbolise a fresh start, as the grass will grow and cover the hole,” Langat added. He further clarified that the ritual is carried out by elderly men who have been anointed to perform traditional ceremonies.
“Not everyone is qualified to conduct the ceremony; the knowledge and skills are passed down through generations from our forefathers,” Langat said.
In contrast to other communities that plant bananas in the hole where a body has been exhumed, the Kipsigis community does not follow this practice.
“It is considered taboo for members of the local community to consume bananas grown on the very ground where a body was exhumed or even from a gravesite,” Langat said.
Additionally, he mentioned that planting a tree on a gravesite is also prohibited, as the tree may eventually be harvested for construction purposes, such as building a house, which could result in the house becoming haunted.
In the case of the late Chumo, Langat said the family of the deceased would need to excavate a new grave to bury him. “He cannot be interred in the same grave from which the body of the late Mutai was exhumed.”
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
Julius Ruto, the nephew of the late Chumo, apologised to Mutai’s family for burying their relative.
“We sincerely apologise. Our current focus is on securing the necessary funds to organise another burial, this time for our actual relative,” he said.
Grace, a member of the Chumo family, said the deceased had only returned to his home 10 years ago.
“Some of the individuals who went to collect his body were not well-acquainted with him and picked the wrong body,” she said.