It is a haunting image, one that calls to mind the story of Ham, the mannerless son of Noah who mocked his naked father....
Lighting would strike if Lunjes mourned the dead without dancing and feasting
My people know how to celebrate death. You know, the relentlessly remarkable people of Western Kenya.
People who, if I may mention in passing, have been extremely hard-done by this ‘twendy twendy’. First of all, disrespectful teens started calling gossip ‘tea’; an unfortunate situation which resulted in countless misunderstandings I cannot even begin to quantify.
Imagine being promised ‘tea’ just to find out it was Sharon going back to her broke boyfriend for the sixth time. And then everyone started asking us what ‘senje’ means. Before we could settle down, government officials started telling us not to shake hands, receive flour from shags or hold kongamanos of more than five people. It was like someone in Vihiga refused to let the Israelites go.
But I have digressed. I apologise, I’m out of tea.
My people have always known how to celebrate life in death. We are often the butt of cheap jokes because of it, but we have a rich culture around what is otherwise a devastating thing. I still remember the first time I was in a funeral procession, in the back of a school bus which had been hired to chaperone the mourning party back to the compound. Well, I say mourning party, but there was much joy, music, laughter, tea and tea in that bus as we cruised around town.
Until we got to within screaming distance of the compound, then all hell broke loose. ‘Professional mourner’ is an offensive stereotype we take great exception to, but I saw how fast one of my cousins went from slapping a knee in laughter to slapping that same knee in anguish, and all I can say is that I get it.
I have witnessed my fair share of funeral traditions. Some of them continue to fascinate me. The sheer amount of food available, for example, is usually stunning, and it makes it all the more shocking when, five minutes after midday, there is no food available anywhere within 3km. Excluding the 200 mothers and their swollen, fragrant handbags, that is.
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Other traditions I think are beautiful. One of the MC’s biggest jobs is calling out relatives to speak; he is supposed to ensure the right order is followed, and that rambirambis are kept to a minimum. But my people don’t care about society’s strict definitions of family. Friends step up when they call for brothers and sisters. Cousins say a few words along with the illegitimate kids everyone is meeting for the first time. Nobody waits for their designation.
Then there is the dancing afterwards. Beautiful. Chaotic.
I’m not taking shots at other cultures and how they mourn, of course. There’s no wrong way to say goodbye. Regardless of religious beliefs or upbringing, we all share the same reverence for life, and therefore the desire to venerate the departed, no matter their flaws or shortcomings.
As with every other facet of life, though, the ease and convenience of Western culture has been seeping into our process of mourning. Its inherent narcissism means we can centre ourselves into someone’s demise from the comfort of a bedroom or couch. A quick trip through gallery to find the one photo we took with them, followed by an obligatory R.I.P message, shared on our social media. A day or two of internalising and sharing faux-deep philosophical takes. And then we move on. Back to regularly scheduled programming. Back to memes and trading jabs with United fans.
It all just feels so fleeting, so perfunctory.
The flipside is that we’re in the midst of a strange, strange year. With everything going on, I cannot in good faith hold anything against anyone. Including how they choose to deal with loss. Some people wail and beat their chests. Others nod grimly and say a few words, then go out and drink to forget. At the end of the day, the grief is the same.
Whenever someone dies, it inevitably makes one confront their own mortality. Makes you think about your own behaviour and how it affects others, how it will continue to do so after you’re gone. Or not. And it makes you pause, even if just for a second. It’s never a pleasant line of thought. You think about such things as arranging for someone to clear your browser history, because you were just curious and don’t want to be remembered like that. Or you wonder if maybe this marriage thing isn’t such a bad idea.
We have lost a lot of beautiful, amazing people this year. The list has grown so fast and so shockingly that it sometimes feels unreal. It has been disquieting, every single time. I just can’t help but think that we would be doing them, and ourselves, a disservice if we don’t celebrate their lives in more meaningful ways than a passing message of condolence.