14 November 2012

Rwanda: Cultural Barriers to Change Can Be Overcome Logically


Change, however insignificant, is most likely to encounter resistance, especially when it comes to imbedded cultural beliefs. African societies have deep respect for the dead.

Highly valued burial ceremonies are usually part and parcel of the African way of sending off the dead to the afterlife. In most African traditional cultures, people believe that even after dying, the dead still hold a significant spiritual value in communities and any treatment of the dead outside the cultural norms is a taboo.

The recent decision by parliament to introduce cremation, as an alternative to traditional burials where graves are used, is most likely to meet stiff resistance from many in Rwandan society. They will regard it as an invasion by a foreign culture and it will take a drastic mindset change to have the practice embraced by the majority of the Rwandan people.

Fear of the unknown is often associated with lack of sufficient information. It is, therefore, up to local authorities to painstakingly educate the traditionalists on the merits of cremation in a small land-starved country like Rwanda.

It is a luxury to have a large chunk of the city's territory reserved for cemeteries when there is dire need of housing and other priority infrastructure. The pros and cons of crematoriums should be explained to avert and help lay to rest the fears of cultural profanation.

Cultural barriers can only be overcome by adopting a patient approach infused with pragmatic sensitization drawing examples from other parts of the world where cremation has helped to address land shortage challenges. Definitely this is a tall order that will have to brave the storms of cultural conservatism. But change, as they say, is not static, it is inevitable.

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