Kenyan synod introduces new rules for cheaper funerals

Published September 1, 1999


An Anglican Church initiative is likely to revolutionize funerals across Kenya, a country in which elaborate and expensive customs are traditionally linked to burials.

Last month the synod of the Anglican Church of Kenya approved a program designed to reduce funeral expenses by curtailing certain cultural practices such as the forcible seizure, by the husband’s family, of household goods, livestock and other property from his widow after his death. These customs are still common in some communities.

“Widows normally suffer twice on the death of their spouse, the loss of the husband and [then] the loss of property,” David Gitari, Archbishop of Nairobi and Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya, told journalists after the synod decision.

The synod’s decision was in part prompted by events following the death of an outspoken Anglican leader, Bishop John Henry Okullu in March. Anglican officials refused to allow Kenyan “traditionalists” to hijack the bishop’s funeral in March. The traditionalists insisted that large-scale feasting be held, as required by tradition, but the bishop’s widow said her late husband had had a premonition of his death, and had asked that no feasting be allowed.

According to the new guidelines approved by the synod:

  • Bodies should not be kept for more than a week in mortuaries before burial;
  • The funeral service should not exceed two hours;
  • It is no longer necessary for everyone present at the funeral to view the body;
  • Clergy should firmly adhere to scheduled times to ensure an early burial, allowing mourners, many of them from distant villages, to make their way home in reasonable time.
In a recent radio interview, Archbishop David Gitari said funerals and related practices were sapping the meagre incomes of the average Kenyan family. Bodies were often kept in mortuaries for up to two weeks, and sometimes needed to be transported to the town or village of birth, at the other end of the country. People in Kenya also believed in dressing the body in new clothes and new shoes, the archbishop said.


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