Funeral service providers in Rwanda have shied away from investing in cremation services, despite a law legalising the practice.
The undertakers say cremation is yet to become a viable business due to lack of acceptance by Rwandans who see it as being at odds with their traditions and norms.
“Since the law was passed we have not received a single client requesting cremation services, and if we ask around we are always told that this is not something that can be easily embraced because of the Rwandan culture,” said Anselme Nkusi, of Gasabo Funeral services.
The company manages Rusororo cemetery, which is the biggest graveyard in Kigali.
In a law adopted in 2012, cremation was proposed as one way of reducing pressure on increasingly scarce land in the country. The practice was however made optional, and operators don’t expect it to be embraced soon.
“We have never thought of offering cremation services and we are not planning to do so in the near future, because we know that it will take time for people to embrace it,” said Languida Nyirababeruka who operates Kigali Funeral Services.
The law prohibits burying a dead body in a place other than a cemetery unless given special authorisation by district authorities. This has reduced the number of people burying relatives on family land.
The price of a burial plot varies between Rwf150,000 ($178) and Rwf750,000 ($892) depending on their categories. The law distinguishes two categories of graves, from an average one to more elaborate ones that have tomb constructions.
“When we are burying our loved ones we do it for ourselves. This is why we would pay any amount instead of incinerating our people. If we incinerate them we will suffer the consequences,” said Aimable Bucyana, a resident of Kigali.
The law also offers the possibility of burying more than one body in a tomb, by stacking the coffins on top of each other provided that the top coffin is at least at two metres from the surface.
However, people still see this as going against their cultural values.
The law also permits burial of a new dead body in an already occupied ordinary tomb, ten years from the date of the last burial and twenty years for special tombs.
The law specifies that anyone wishing to bury their loved one in a special tomb has to sign a contract with the state, which shall be valid for only twenty years. This means that after the specified time period, the tomb can be reused or relocated.
Analysts say cremation was adopted without involving majority of the citizens or carrying out enough research. They predict that its implementation will remain problematic unless citizens are gradually convinced to change their cultural beliefs and mindsets.
According to experts, people who have lost their loved ones need to go through a grieving process. This involves separating themselves from the dead and differs from culture to culture.