2 July 2018

Uganda: Music Icon Oryema's Remains Cremated Amid Protests

Photo: The Observer
Geoffrey Oryema.

Gulu — After several days of what family members described as a long and heart-wrenching legal process, the late music star Geoffrey Oryema's remains were cremated in France on Saturday afternoon.

The cremation followed a midmorning funeral service at Saint Pierre De Ploemeur Church 56, Morbinhan, France.

Sources within Oryema family said they were traumatised by the final decision, but his French spouse had the final say.

The decision to cremate the remains had days earlier caused a split between the musician's immediate family, his siblings, father's family and Ker Kwaro' Acholi, the Acholi cultural institution.

Oryema, one of Uganda's best known music export, died on June 22 in Paris where he had lived since 1977.

In a June 26 letter to the musician's family, the cultural institution had condemned the cremation as alien and unacceptable in Acholi culture.

The family had earlier said Oryema's remains would be cremated and the ashes flown to Uganda and dispersed at his ancestral family home in Purongo, Nwoya District, and some portions dispersed in Soroti, his town of birth.

But a delegation from the wider Oryema's family from Nwoya District quickly met Acholi Paramount chief David Onen Acana II to consult him over the proposed cremation, which the family claimed was spelt out in his Will.

In a follow up June 28 letter to the late Oryema's family, Rwot Acana warned that human cremation is an abomination in Acholi custom and would not be tolerated.

"As an Acholi, late Oryema is bound by the inherent values of the Acholi people because at no one time did he renounce being an Acholi. On the contrary he strived to promote his heritage. Human cremation is an abominable act to us; the Acholi people, which has serious cultural consequences and is not acceptable in our culture," the letter reads in part.

Rwot Acana warned that the intended separation of the remains of late Oryema whether in human form or ash constitutes the desecration of a person which is not allowed in Acholi since Acholi people believe in life after death considering the crucial roles the dead play in the society.

When asked whether a compromise had been struck with the family after Rwot Onen Acana's letter, Mr Ambrose Olaa, Acholi cultural institution prime minister, said they had not yet received feedback.

"The letter was only advisory to them to drop the idea since it will serve a big dishonour to Acholi customs but because the deceased willed to have it that way, it was upon the family to come with a final decision," Mr Olaa said.

The decision to cremate Oryema's remains also drew mixed reactions in Gulu Town.

On Friday, Northern Uganda Diocese Bishop Johnson Gakumba said: "Whether a dead body is cremated or buried like commonly done, in Christianity it makes no difference because at the end, ash will return to ash and dust will equally return to dust, but the spirit goes back to the possession of the Creator."

Mr Henry Komakeck Kilama, a lawyer, said the decision could only be challenged if the Will was made in Uganda.

It was not clear when the music icon's ashes would be flown to Uganda.

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