4 July 2012

Kenya: Bukusu Burial Ritual Splits Clans and Catholic Church

The burial of the dead in a sitting position has divided the church and traditionalists in Bungoma.

The Catholic church in Kimatuni wants the Bukusu community to stop their traditional way of burying the dead. But two clans of the Bukusu - the Balunda and the Batura Bakhibi - have insisted they will continue with the practice.

The Bukusu sub-tribe of the Luhyia community have for many years buried the dead in a sitting position as a sign of respect to mostly, prominent people. Some have abandoned the practice because after joining new religions, but traditionalists have kept it. Yesterday, the head priest of the Catholic Church in Kimatuni parish said he will not conduct any burial mass unless the two clans stop the practice. "How on earth can you expect the church to participate in such an archaic practice in the 21st century?" Fr. Sebastian Mang'oli posed.

In response, the chairmen of the two clans - Martin Wanyonyi of the Balunda and Patrick Wabala of the Batura Bakhibi - said they are not ready to let go of their "culture that has been in existence for over 100 years". "It is our fathers who introduced the Catholic Church in the region in the 1920s and subsequently donated pieces of land to put up the churches. We don't want any conflict with the church, but our argument is that our culture must be respected," Wabala said. "The clergy should concentrate on matters of the soul and show us in the Bible where the practice of burying people while in a sitting position is discouraged."

The two clan elders addressed journalists in Bungoma town after presenting their grievances to Bishop Norman Kiong'o Wambua, the head of the Bungoma diocese. Bishop Wambua promised to resolve the differences between the clans and the Kimatuni parish. The two clans called on Bishop Wambua to transfer Fr. Mang'oli to another parish. They warned that they will not allow him to conduct any mass in Kimatuni unless he is moved. The two clans believe a curse may befall the community if they stop the practice.

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