BURIAL RITES OF THE LUO TRIBE IN KENYA
Kenya has 42 tribes, each with its own culture and language. These tribes are divided into three classifications; the Bantus, the Cushites and the Nilotes. The Bantus are mainly farmers; the Cushites are nomadic pastoralists while the Nilotes are mostly river lake folk who are extremely dependant on fishing for their livelihood. The Luo tribe falls under the Nilotes category. They live in the shores of Lake Victoria in the Western part of Kenya.
The Luo community has many traditions which are unique to its origins. And one of the most seriously practiced traditions till to-date is their burial rituals. Certain rituals and feasts are performed when a person dies and this is driven by the potent fear and respect for the dead. The Luo people can perform up to ten or more varying rituals for the deceased. Normally, this will depend on the age, sex and marital status of the deceased.
In this instance we shall review the rituals performed when a Luo family man dies. The first thing is that the death is normally announced and this is usually accompanied by the sound of drums and the wails and cries of women. The announcement is either done very early in the morning or in the evening. Close relatives must remain in the deceased’s compound throughout the entire process. That is, until the deceased is buried. Inside the home of the deceased, a lamp must be lit and all relatives must gather together in the home. Songs are sung throughout the night, this can either be Christian songs, war songs or lamentations. Crying and wailing will also continue for most of the night. Collectively this goes on from the day following the death until the burial day.
Relatives normally prepare for the funeral service by building a shade, preparing the coffin and the clothing for the deceased. Since visitors frequent everyday the relatives have to prepare meals to feed a sizeable number of people. The mourning period goes on for hours in a day and all relatives must remain within the compound of the deceased during the entire time, after which, they are free to leave.
The grave is normally dug at night this is because during the day the sun is too hot and it is exhausting to dig in such hot weather. Relatives also join in the digging of the grave. Once everything has been prepared and burial day arrives, normally the deceased adult male’s burial ritual begins in the afternoon. Commonly, the brother or father of the deceased will preside over the ritual process. Usually, speeches and donations are made and then the burial follows. After the burial, a mourning period of about two weeks ensues.
One of the more faithfully practiced traditions when a family man dies in the Lou community is widow inheritance. This is when a widow must sleep with another man to cleanse the death of her husband and bring ritual renewal and regeneration. A widow who refuses to be taken in by her new husband is ritually considered unclean and stained by death. In other words, they believe that the widow is still bound to her deceased husband and she threatens to bring misfortune and even death to all her family including the children.