Elimu Asilia

Kenya's Indigenous Knowledge

The body was washed and hair shaved by old women past child bearing age in the village. Formerly, the corpse was always placed in the grave (kina) in an upright position. The head was covered about one foot to the earth, stones marked its position so as to enable the descendants  to exhume the skulls after about a year and take it to the local shrine.

This style of burial is hardly practiced and skulls are seldom exhumed. When medicine men died, wailing was not allowed, until after a sheep had been sacrificed. If death was caused by a certain epidemic, themourners were first cleansed by medicine men before mourning.

Members of the community regarded as important and famous were accorded special burial ceremonies. The body would be buried in a hut or in a special burial place (Vinenyi) usually in the grooves near the settlement. After the burial, close relatives of the deceased were ceremonially washed at the doorway of the hut. The men then harvested a lot of sugarcane to make a brew known as Lambo for the following day. On the first day after burial, a goat was slaughtered and the contents of the stomach put aside for sacrificial purposes. Later, it was roasted in the doorway using grass from above the door and beams from the left side of the house to make fire. The meat was eaten with porridge. The first seven mouthfuls were spewed on the ground. Chief mourners were shaved and wailing continued for four days, after which friend would return to their homes. Close relatives would continue for a further three days. On the seventh day, women would go to fetch firewood, and men went to the plains to hunt and shoot game meat as a break and then come back to mourn until a complete lunar month had passed.

Closing the period of mourning was known as kuchumbuamaridia. This event was marked by scattering the contents of the sacrificial goat over crops. On the very last day, friends returned to take part in the last night of wailing, shaving themselves again. The women oiling themselves on the doorway of the hut. Those who had helped dig the grave were paid by slaughtering a cow for the occasion. If the deceased had been widowed (lost a husband or wife) to death before, the hut would be sold for a goat or sheep and then dismantled and the poles and the thatching used elsewhere by the purchaser. Otherwise, the husband or wife would continue to occupy it.

Story Contributed by Brian Nyamu
Presented by Malindi Museum Librarians.
Rose Mwandotto& Doris Kamuye

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