Many things in our traditions may die out but this thing with death just won’t die. Not now. We may be phasing out various practices in the way we cook our food or greet our elders, we may be wearing bitenge and calling it African print and cleverly letting it replace our true Ugandan cultural wear or speaking our languages less and less or whatever else that comes with modernization and globalization. But when someone dies the whole clan is going to gather and travel to the village and wail in a truly African fashion. A million little rituals are carried out. The deceased’s family ends up the hosts of a mammoth crowd. People show up. Your enemies. Your friends. Close relatives you like. Distant relatives you don’t really remember. Phony relatives you hate. Everyone. And they’ll be there, they’ll stay the night (or three nights), they’ll contribute condolence money for the funeral and somehow, one of them will cook nice thick porridge to keep everyone warm and satisfied as they sob. Because there’s a lot of crying. Some other relative will even make chai and katogo so everyone won’t miss their lunch and supper for the day (or three days).
We still bury at our ancestral homes. Over a month ago I lost a relative and there was a decision to make about where to bury them, due to some complications in the deceased’s ancestry. Someone then asked why we haven’t yet adopted the graveyard thing (or is the proper name ‘cemetery’?), like more developed countries instead of always having to sort out family land issues at burial time.
I almost jumped out of my seat. Suddenly I’m all like Nooo. No. No. Don’t do this to me. This is the one part of our culture we still uphold the most and yes I used to hate all the family stuff but now I’m begging it please don’t die. We need this. This sort of family unity and expression of culture that comes with death, we need it. Somehow, when there’s so many people each trying to help out somewhere, even if it’s only help with the crying and eating, the pain is easier borne. You can lose yourself in the crowd and mourn as one, you can look around and let the support strengthen you. The force of family and tradition keeps you going. I know the day will come when the demands on land won’t let us bury the way we do anymore; when people will no longer abandon their busy schedules and jobs to travel so far into villages and mourn together; when we will need to designate places for the dead while no longer bothered about their particular ancestries. Yes it will, we already see the signs. But please, not yet. Not now.