If there is something Wangari Maathai was wrong about, is the thinking that cremation is superior to burial. Wangari Maathai reasoned that since burial needed the use of trees in form of coffins, she’d be better off cremated. Actually if she cared for the environment, she ought to have opted for her traditional culture of leaving dead bodies outside to be eaten by lions and hynas. Below I tell you why cremation is the worst form of disposing dead bodies.
The death of Kibra MP Hon. Kenneth Okoth has brought controversy over a person’s will when the will goes against his cultural tradition. The Luo current tradition (it has not always been so), is for a dead body to be buried at his ancestral home in an expensive coffin and elaborate funeral procession. Mourners must be fed to their fill, and relatives must spend sleepless nights at the home eulogizing their dead son. The same is true for a dead married female body only that in her case, she is buried at her husband’s ancestral home. That explains why Joyce Laboso will be buried in Koru, Kisumu County and not Bomet where she was Governor. The death of Kenneth Okoth has however brought into crosshairs the Luo tradition vis a vis his desire to be cremated. That’s wy in this article I want to talk about cremation vs burial and how I would like to be treated at death.
Born in a Luo Christian background, I became so shocked when I learnt that there are those who actually get cremated at death. The big question in my mind was, “how will they be resurrected?” This same question bothered a Kenyan when he learnt of a woman who wanted to be buried in three different countries. These worries were however settled when I internalized the passage, “there is nothing impossible with God”. God, for instance, should be capable of calling anyone into existence – or rather summoning all the atoms that made him up at the point of death to reassemble to give that “soul” his/her physical body. It doesn’t matter that every living human today is made up of at least 1 billion atoms that were once atoms that made up Albert Einstein. If that is a problem, then God can opt to give the resurrected soul a physical body with completely different atoms but that perfectly resemble the previous atoms arranged in exact same manner as they were when that person was biologically alive here on earth. That is, cremation or being devoured by wild animals cannot prevent bodily resurrection.
Then came 2009 when I dropped beliefs in supernatural. In that year, I adopted the materialistic/natural world view where I contend that everything there is is a natural thing … nothing supernatural – and everything that is made up is made up of material matter. In this world view, I do not subscribe to notions of souls and spirits that have the ability to transcend the natural world. Concepts of resurrection through supernatural means are therefore wishful thinking. Once I took this worldview, I became open to cremation. What attracted me to cremation was the cost effectiveness of the process. With as little as shs 30,000, my dead body can be disposed off and forgotten. Bob Collymore’s cremation reminds us of this process where his entire funeral cost the family no more than Shs 50,000. The problem would be how to deal with immediate family who would never allow me to get cremated, particularly if I die before my mother. When it comes to honoring Luo tradition of opulence at death, she tops the list.
My naturalistic worldview however made me read wider and listen to some personalities with whom we share the same views. One of them happens to be Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. According to the renowned scientist, burial trumps cremation as cremation contributes to loss of vast amount of energy. Here is how he put it in an interview with celebrated journalist Larry King (see video below) – “everyone of your molecules has energy within it. If you get cremated, that energy gets released in the form of heat, and you heat the air, and that air radiates to space”. That is, a cremated person is a selfish person who doesn’t want to contribute to sustainability of the environment.
The alternative, that is burial is much better. DeGrasse Tyson explained it to Larry King in the same interview as follows, “you get buried, which I wanna my body to be disposed of, because I don’t want the energy content to be radiated out into space. That will be of no use to anybody. Put me in the ground. Let the warms, microbes, come in and out of my body, and the energy content of my body, that I had assembled over my lifetime, consuming the flora and fauna of this earth, my body then returns to them, and thus is the cycle of life”.
Scientifically therefore, burial is far superior to cremation. The only thing more superior to burial is throwing a dead body to wild animals to be consumed by them, so that the cycle of life is speeded up much faster. The idea of throwing dead bodies to be devoured by wild animals is not strange, as our own Kikuyus and Maasais practiced it. “The Kikuyu and Maasai never used to bury their dead. Maasai used to leave a dead body outside the homestead for lions or hyenas to devour. They could even slaughter a goat and leave it outside to attract wild animals,” said Archbishop Jackson ole Sapit as quoted in an article by Peter Muiruri in The Standard.
I am not sure if the Luo buried their dead in anyway before they were colonized, but if they did then it must have been without the use of a coffin, and probably within hours/days after the death. This is because morgues did not exist, and a dead body would start smelling in a day or two, and on the third day no one would bear the smell of a rotting corpse. If the Luos buried the dead therefore, then they did bury them the same day they died wrapped in leaves and twigs, and that’s how I would love to be buried.
To all my friends reading this, I am using this platform to state my wish clearly – that when I die, bury me the same day unless practically impossible. In the case it is not possible to bury me the same day, bury me the next day. Secondly, do not bury me below 4 feet deep. The shallower, the better. Thirdly, plant a tree on my grave site, no cementing. Lastly, I will not care whether I am buried in the ocean or in a foreign country. My dead body will remain dead no matter where you bury me. That is, it will be pointless spending thousands of shillings transporting my body from where I have died to my ancestral home. Use that money to better your lives instead.
Before I forget – If you can avoid offering food at my funeral, the better. Anyone attending funerals should learn how to eat at home instead of burdening the bereaved with unnecessary catering expenses. I was vexed when a few months ago a welfare group contributed shs 120,000 to bury their friend, money used to feed hundreds of strangers who came to feast at the funeral, but didn’t give a damn thought how his two children would continue with school. The two children have since dropped out of school.