COVID-19 has terrorized the world more than Al Qaeda. Most Kenyans are glued to their radios and TVs every afternoon waiting for Mutahi Kagwe, the Cabinet Secretary for Health to break down the numbers, "…in the last 24 hours, we tested over X number of samples, but during that period out of the x number of samples Y people have tested positive bringing to Z, the number of confirmed cases…" which is normally the most important part of his speech.
Even children know him, they listen to him. COVID-19 has, however, affected our social life as well as our culture. Africa is defined by its culture, big weddings, burials, church gatherings, etc. In fact, the greatness of a person is measured in terms of how many people attend your ceremonies- be it initiation, wedding, or burials.
COVID-19 has led to a paradigm shift in the way people live and carry out their ceremonies and practices. The way the virus spreads has made it imperative for people not to shake hands, mingle freely, and not to congregate at a place for any ceremony. In particular, death and funeral preparation are no longer the community, friends, neighbours, and colleagues' affairs. Before the pandemic, it could take up to two weeks for preparation. In some communities, there are specific procedures on the way a person is buried, where to face in the grave, the specific site a grave will be dug, and a specific way to lie or sit in the grave, the specific time the body arrives in the compound among others. This is not the case anymore; COVID-19 has brought in some cracks and gaps. How do we reduce the gatherings more so how do we learn to bury someone in less than 24 hours? How will the relatives get closure? Not to mention the victims of coronavirus may not even the buried in their homes, and their families may not be involved.
Wedding ceremonies and even church services are now conducted differently. Physical presence is discouraged, and people are now embracing technology. Miracles in the churches are no longer happening. This is likely to alter many peoples' beliefs on supernatural healings that have been happening and making people do certain things.
Ubuntu-togetherness has diminished. Social fabric will also diminish, and people are likely to become egocentric and not socio-centric. Young people are likely not to learn community values and ethos. People can perform certain things on their own. It is now possible for a single family to carry out a burial or initiation ceremony. A person can be buried anywhere in the world.
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It is, therefore, paramount to consider the social and cultural impact of this pandemic, and the stigmatization that is emerging as rapidly as the virus. Our Cultural disruption might not just be a negative consequence, but if not well handled might become both a major factor that contributes to the outbreak.
The COVID-19 is a call to us Kenyans to interrogate our culture and find out whether it is taking us forward or not. We need to have a conversation on whether we need certain aspects of our culture or to discard them. A decision has to be made.
The writer works at Zizi Afrique Foundation as a research Manager