Islam or Christian: Which burial rites for Keziah Obama?
After her death in the United Kingdom on April 13th 2021, Keziah Obama’s body is expected back in Kenya any time from today. Without giving much details, her eldest son Malik, confirmed the family intends to bury their mother at her home in Kogelo, Alego Siaya County.
Critics and admirers will keenly follow the ceremonies to be carried out in Keziah’s honour. Many religious, cultural and casual observers want to see how her burial will be conducted.
Will the Muslims conduct the rites or will it be led by the local Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) church in a predominantly Muslim following homestead? Or will the ceremony be inter-denominational?
Of interest will be to know who will be picked to serve as the family spokesperson between Malik (elder son) and Auma, who was responsible for relocating her mother to the UK in the first place.
The Obama family is a mixture of many facets. They are both urban oriented and rural based at the same time. One doesn’t really know whether to position them as an upper class, middle or lower end family. They embrace a rich cultural diversity in a sometimes harmonious way. This is the background Keziah Obama, the family matriarch, shall be laid to rest.
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In his youth, Barack Obama Senior married or had a relationship with four women, all Christians — Keziah, Stanley Anne-Dunham, Ruth Baker and Jael Otieno. Was Barack Senior fulfilling the Muslim allowance of ‘upto four wives’ permitted by the holy Quran?
When Barack Obama senior died in 1982, he was buried next to his father Hussein Onyango Obama. Their marble tiled graves lie next to each other in their homestead in Kogelo. Those who know him, can confess that his social life, complete with his tipple and ‘mozo’, was way off what Muslim adherent is expected of. Again, Obama senior’s burial was not conducted according to muslim rites because his body stayed in a morgue in Nairobi after the fatal car accident as controversy raged between Alego and Karachuonyo representatives over who had the right to bury him.
Muslims were not part of the stalemate.
During his tenure serving as U.S President, Barack Obama rarely used his middle name ‘Hussein’ unless on official records. Michelle and him were practicing Christians, who brought up their children and taught them the church doctrines and went to celebrate mass every Sunday.
When Mama Sarah Ogwel Obama, a born and staunch Muslim passed on last month, her burial was conducted according to Muslim rites. She was actually buried barely 48 hours after her death. Earlier, Mama Sarah Obama’s daughter, Zeituni Obama, was interred at the Kisumu Muslim Cemetery in accordance with the same rites.
Auma Obama, also known as Ritah Auma Obama has never declared publicly or shown her preference to either Islam or Christianity. Her elder brother Malik, is a confessed muslim and is constantly seen donning his tarbush going to the mosque for prayers. He even dropped his first name ‘Roy’.
If you enter the Obama home, where Sarah lived until recently, the houses are built according to the Luo architectural rules and homestead planning policies. Sarah’s house sits at the center of the homestead facing the main gate and Barack Obama’s ‘simba’ was located on the left side of the main gate. Malik has also set up his home on the right side of the main home.
Indeed, the Obama family interesting to follow. Collectively, they represent a diverse cultural entity that would interest anybody keen on studying how to harmonise different ways of life. Their historical background is a pointer that their destiny was bound to be big and diverse.
After their great grandfathers migrated from Alego in Siaya County to Karachuonyo in Homa Bay County, it took almost a century for the president’s grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama to migrate back to Alego. He abandoned everything, went back alone leaving his siblings, cousins and other relatives in Kanyadhiang’ near Kendu Bay.
It is believed Hussein Onyango Obama had personal differences with Paul Mbuya, a senior community leader, who kept on referring to him as a ‘Jadak’ or immigrant whenever he claimed his rightful share to property or society pecking order. It required boldness and courage to go back to a home, which they had moved away from many years ago and claim what was left of their share of inheritance.
He embraced freedom of worship in his homestead and that is why in the Obama home in Kogelo, you will find both Christians and Muslims living harmoniously side by side. Like Mumias in Kakamega County, Kendu Bay is where you find villagers interacting in fluent Kiswahili, Dholuo and English.
Islam was brought to the lakeshore town of Kendu Bay by Nassor Bin Ali an Arab trader, who landed there in a makeshift vessel around 1912. That is how the town got its local name Ka-Nyasoro (home of Nassor). However, by the time of his arrival, the Seventh Day Adventist Church had already pitched camp for a few years.
Today, muslims are found near the old town (Kendu Mjini) and the SDA’s took up Gendia Hills as their headquarters where they put up a Nursing School, Church, Printing Press and Hospital.
Onyango Obama, was born in 1895 before any of the two religions had set base in Karachuonyo. That means he was born an atheist but he later opted to become a Muslim and adopted the name Huseein.
Very little is known about Barack Obama Snr and his closeness to either Islam or the predominant SDA church. When Hussein Obama relocated back to Kogelo, Obama Senior was sent to Ng’iya Primary School, an Anglican sponsored institution. He proceeded on to Maseno School before going to the University of Hawaii then Havard in the USA.