Perception of cremation in Africa

Sunday August 6 2017

The preference in most African cultures is

The preference in most African cultures is burial. There is a common belief in many African cultures that when people die, they go to meet with their ancestors, and that the body of the deceased should be respected so that they arrive whole. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

By ROBERT MBARAGA
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Cremation has become a talking point in many African countries as public cemeteries are declared to have reached full capacity and population pressure on land making it difficult to dedicate more land for graveyards.

However, even as the scarcity of land pushes societies to consider the option of cremation, cultural and religious perceptions have painted the practise in a negative light and term it “unAfrican.”

In Kenya, the influence of the Hindu culture has seen some people accept cremation, but majority of the people still opt to bury their dead in their ancestral home, in order to perform ritual and religious burial rites.

In Tanzania, funeral service professionals offer cremation services but apart from Hindus, not many people choose to use these services mainly because of traditional and religious reasons. The country, whose two main religions are Islam and Christianity prefer burying their dead.

There is a common belief in many African cultures that when people die, they go to meet with their ancestors, and that the body of the deceased should be respected so that they arrive whole.
“Burundian culture says that when someone dies, people only talk about their good side even if the person was bad. This is a sign of respect for the dead and so cremation is difficult to embrace,” said Raymond Nzimana, a Burundian journalist.

Beyond East Africa, cremation remains a taboo in countries like Madagascar where they practise a ritual called “famadihana,” or “the turning of the bones.”

The ritual involves exhuming the remains of relatives after several years and rewrapping them in new cloths.

The Zulu people in South Africa grow up knowing that a dead relative joins other dead relatives and they watch over the family members who are still alive.

The dead relative can be consulted in times of need and can even mediate for them with God. This means that they would be unwilling to cremate a loved one.