The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda Adopts Cremation

Parliament has passed an amendment to the law on organisation and operation of cemeteries in Rwanda making cremation an accepted form of interment.

"The law grants permission to those who wish to cremate," said Social Affairs Committee chairperson, Esperance Mwiza, while presenting the bill to the House chaired by Speaker Rose Mukantabana on Tuesday.

She added that once the law is implemented, all cemeteries in the country shall be expected to put up crematoriums.

Cremation or incineration is a common method of burial among the Hindu community in India and around the world. In Rwanda, it has been a special preserve of communities traditionally practising it. The Hindus believe that cremation is not just a disposal of the dead body but the union of Atma (Soul) with the Paramatma (The Holy Spirit).

According to the amended law, district councils may identify sites for cremation of bodies.

Under the new law, consent to cremate is sought by the person responsible for the burial of the deceased indicating details of how the cremation will be carried out - indicating the time and place.

The request is accompanied by a medical certificate issued by a practicing medical officer that specifies the cause of death.

MP Juliana Kantengwa made a call for allocating more land for other developments other than cemeteries.

Cremation is considered a solution to the increasing pressure put on land.

Rwanda is among the most densely populated country in Africa. It is only 26,338 square kilometres and it's population is over 11 million.

Mwiza warned of the cultural barrier to the new method of deposing the dead.

"When my committee was working on this bill, people would say 'those are the MPs working on the law to 'burn' dead persons."

In an interview with The New Times yesterday, A.S. Natarajan, a member of the Hindu Mandal Community resident in Rwanda, gave an account of cremation process.

"Traditionally, about 100 kgs of wood and 10 kgs of ghee are used when a dead body is confined to fire.

Normal wood-fire temperature does not heat up beyond 300 c but when the ghee is added the temperature increases to 700 c which has been proved scientifically to be the optimum temperature required for cremation of a human body."

He explained that cow dung is also added to act as a strong anti-pollution burning agent. He added that this increases the intensity of the resulting in total destruction of germs and worms.

"It generally takes about two hours for a body to be completely reduced to ashes. The ashes are then collected and packed by the dear ones to be immersed in the sea or river."

In Rwanda, article 32 of the new law says an order of the Minister of Culture shall determine the methods for cremation and disposal of ashes.

The Hindu community acquired a cremation site in Bugesera in 2005 and only three dead bodies have been cremated there since then.

"It's an open ground with a shelter...a dead body is elevated and covered with cow dung and kerosene is applied. In two hours, the body is completely burnt. As a token of respect, the following day, we collect a little ash and we send to relatives of the deceased in India to take to the river or sea..," Natarajan narrated.

He added that incinerators are the best option to handle big numbers of dead bodies at municipal cemeteries.

"One of our members died last year and we wanted to cremate him but REMA (Rwanda Environment Management Agency) could not approve over environment concerns," another Hindu member, who preferred not to be named told The New Times in an interview.

Mixed reactions

Jean Pierre Habimana, 28, who operates a stationery shop in Kigali city centre, says that as much as he has no problem with being cremated, he cannot witness the cremation of the deceased as he believes it can bring bad omen.

Janvier Kamuhanda, 39, a taxi driver based in Kigali posed, "This whole thing signals the end of the world. How can one 'burn' dead people?"

"Cremation is okay. We have limited land in this country. We cannot afford to allocate hectares to dead persons," Mathias Mpunga, an economics student at the National University of Rwanda observed.

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