It’s May 2015 at my step-mother’s home, I’m seated under a somehow shady palm tree that I have watched grow into a plant it is, just a few meters from the tents. It’s a sunny morning with a slight breeze. Would’ve passed for a beautiful day if not for the current circumstance.
I’m doing nothing else apart from staring at my muddy shoes and from time to time taking a glimpse of the various groups that are gathered in the compound. At one corner I can see a fire being made.
Jeffrey, my well-built cousin and some two other guys – probably some distant cousins – are rolling three boulders to use as hearth stones. Apondi my aunt and Imo –Iteso name — her step-daughter, the one I was introduced to yesterday are breaking down over the weight of this giant sufuria they are carrying that will be placed over the fire to boil the meat for lunch.
My extended family at the funeral, a day before Naomi’s burial
Another interesting group of family posing for the camera
Visitors from every corner of the country and beyond are already streaming in. Some coming in personal cars, hired school buses, motorbikes, bicycles and the majority are coming on foot. My uncle Silvio and his family from West Nile Uganda arrived yesterday. It’s going to be a very busy day for everyone.
In another corner, near the neighbour’s shamba where dad’s infamous cats used to deliver and he would send us to go and fetch the ugly and hairless little creatures after the neighbours raised an alarm, another group is skinning a cow. An angry group of men led by uncle Okumu. The women are standing by but at a safe distance with various paraphernalia they’ll use to carry their share of the meat they’ll need to prepare stew for their respective visitors. The poor animal is fighting, but it will eventually succumb.
At the gate there’s a scene. A young man is almost being beaten by my tall fierce cousins. I don’t know why but I can see dad himself and Opiyo my half-brother rushing over there to try to contain the situation before it escalates. I think he’s drunk, and now he’s being roughly led away from the gate. But I’m sure out of the prying eyes of the visitors, he will be given a beating he will never forget. He should pray they find out he is a relative.
At a distance I see mama in a black dress but covered from the waist by a yellow and green kanga talking to some fat lady in dark shades and head covered in a black veil. I try counting on my luck she doesn’t spot me, but unfortunately I’m too late. She’s already beckoning me. I hurry over to find out what next I was being sent to fetch or do. It has been that way since we arrived from the city the previous night.
“Hey, khuli nde avakeni ndenya okove ingo vekasie. Sawa?” (Hey, I have some visitors I want you to take home so they can freshen up. Okay? ). Speaking in my native Luhya.
I knew something of the sort was coming but since I myself needed a shower and a change of clean clothes too, I greed. “ Sawa mama. Vagame, lekha mbukule lijaket.” I ask mama to get the visitors as I go to get my jacket. It had helped me survive two chilly nights.
Gilbert, a family friend from Nairobi at the funeral
It’s my step-sister Naomi’s funeral. A very sad day! I’ve lost a dear sister and a best friend. I wish you knew how I’m feeling. If I had my way, I would just get a quite place, get a seat and cry all day or just seat still and stare into nothing like a zombie in Z nation. But unfortunately that’s a privilege I can’t afford.
Life has to go on. There are lots of family and friends that need to be shown hospitality; fed, talked to and accommodated in every possible way so that when they leave they go with only the best memory of Naomi’s family.
It’s of course a big sacrifice but it’s always worth it. You never know when you might need those people again. In our side of the world, any ritual – wedding, funeral et cetera – is always a community thing unlike in the western world where, “only family” is the norm. Here even the most evil person will have people streaming into his or her homestead. Maybe to witness, make sure Hitler is buried for sure.
Not just visitors though. There is always unending queue of folks you need to be introduced to. Folks you had absolutely no idea existed, and I think maybe this’s another place where the beauty about funerals comes in. Probably some of those guys you run into in the city without the slightest knowledge they are your blood.
Uncle Ajuma doing what he knows best, introducing folks
You will hear one of your learned uncles shouting out your name, so you go half running for fear of being rebuked. You get there only to hear, “Eeh, Masoni come over here boy! Do you know who this is?”
Of course you’ve never seen that face before in your life but just can’t admit to it immediately. She’s pretty so you go ahead and warmly shake the strangers extended hand while sheepishly smiling. You turn to the uncle and he’s there giving you a hard look.
“Do you know your late aunt, Iliana?”
He will continue immediately you let go of the stranger’s hand and you’ve moved a step back, scratching your head in anticipation to the coming questions. Nodding your head with this polite expression written all over your head, you’ll reply in the affirmative.
“Good! Now this one here is her granddaughter Lilian”. Turning to LIlian he would ask, “Mkhana ovolere Lilian daa?” Now you’ll be left wondering if it was old age catching up or it’s because he had just learnt of the girls existence himself.
You’ve just met Lilian and now as you’re just getting ready to sneak away, you will hear, “na oyo omumanyire?” (And do you know that one?) He will be pointing at this guy sweating with a load of split firewood. And the introduction will start all over again.
My sister Jentrix and my cousin Bridgit in a serious conversation
The most disappointing part of this whole process is when someone introduces you to a beautiful girl only to find out she’s your relative. But in these solemn ceremonies we meet great people too that are not relatives at all. Friends of relatives, friends of friends of relatives or even friends of friends of friends of relatives.
And the other day we just received the sad news of the passing on of Okou my uncle from the second house – of course I come from the third house, grandpa Madekesi’s third wife. Okou was an older uncle who still lived with his family back in the ancestral land, Khadoda, Life at Grandma’s Place and that means his funeral will be a huge event. Though not to the standard of that of the late Winnie Mandela. Of course I watched that state funeral live on TV!
Rest in peace uncle!
Me at the funeral. Told you guys I’m not quite a morning person
My primary school colleagues coming in numbers to show their support. Dont ask why I wasnt gender sensitive. Twisted world!
Maybe after we’ve given our uncle a deserving farewell, I will watch the famous isukuti dance and listen to the throbbing sound of the chingalave drums like I did once after the death of grandpa. I was just a kid then but I vividly remember the whole event like it was just yesterday.
And who will dare blame me for writing a post on a taboo topic! I don’t know what you think of funerals from your side of the world but now you have a picture of how it goes down in Madekesiworld.
As I finish I would also like to pass on my condolences to the family of the late Kenneth Matiba, the man who underwent torture in the hands of former president Moi’s regime for fighting for the mult-party. Passed on the other day. I’ve never met him in person but I’ve heard about his bravery.
Rest in Peace sir! And in the same breath I would love to call upon the government to treat the self-declared NRM (Nasa Revolution Movement) general with some dignity. He’s a Kenyan by birth — no one has the right to take that away from him — and hence all this humiliation is unwarranted.