When his body was found hanging by the ceiling of an abandoned house, they caned him with guava branches before taking him down. Well, yes, they thoroughly wacked a dead man. Probably to confirm whether there was still any residue of life lingering between the abyss of his being and death. What you will read next is what most contemporary people and infact millennials would call crazy. Actually, “Crazy sh*t!” Just to be accurate. They slaughtered a chicken and let the ground beneath him drink its blood. Then they took him down.
I’m glad to announce mjango, there’s more!
Last Sunday I left the comfort of our digs for my cousin’s place. Okay they are distant cousins and good friends too. The younger girl just turned 18 and the best birthday gift is not to miss the birthday party. It is through them that I met Saji. Him and my elder cousin are two in one. Amen? He’s a good man. First time I met him I was intimidated by how able-bodied he looks. You might understand why considering that the heaviest thing I have lifted for months is a bale of baking flour today actually, when I’m writing this. All I do is carry heavy ideas and thoughts.
Anyway, after the party while the birthday girl and her peers went on a birthday baptism spree outside, the older boys sat on the couch while Athletico Madrid playing against Athletico something on the screen. The conversation caught fire by the tail when it steered towards how his cousin took away his own life. He was a young surgeon in Pwani Hospital. He scored an A in his secondary education that earned him a ticket to pursue a medical course.
He was a hard drugs addict. Money wasn’t a problem for him. Nothing really was. If at all there was anyway, nobody really knew because he kept things to himself. He was the kind of guy you’d spend time with, story tell and laugh with from alveoli to alveoli but you’d never tell that he was troubled.
“If you’d go to him and tell him that you’re thinking of taking away your own life, he’d tell you you’re foolish.” He said.
“He always talked like he was above his problems. That he could handle anything that came his way. Like a god. His family looked up to him so much. He was highly esteemed in their community back at home.”
His elder sister had a hand in dragging him into drugs. Call them birds of the same feather who injected together. At times he’d end up very intolerant and temperamental. Not once and not twice had he been shown the door in his place of work for being violent. Anyone who he felt was forcing their way into him would be sent back with a dismantled face. Ask his fellow surgeon back in Pwani.
“Towards the end of last year, he once went out with his friends and told them, “We will see each other soon when God wills.” A few days before his exit, he partied with friends, spending a shit tonne of money on buying them buckets of drinks. On the day before his exit, some women who have their small local businesses around the place he was found said that he had been pacing to and fro the place. I think he knew that they’d realise something was off with him. So he must have called it off and came back when the coast was clear.”
Two days after he was last seen, his sister set out to look for him. Everyone had assumed that he was at his house peeling off the hangovers. The abandoned house was along the way to his house. The bodaboda guy who gave her a ride had clear instructions about where to go and stop eventually. Now here is where the ghost takes the wheel mjango.
When they were passing the abandoned house, she just asked the bodaboda guy to stop for a moment. Nothing physically peculiar made her ask him to stop but she just did. She, I’d say innocently matched towards the abandoned house. What met her eyes answered why she was drawn to that place that would have been the last place anyone would go out looking for him.
The wire that was the only thing holding him against gravity was neatly made. A stone that he used to elevate himself was beneath him. Probably the only witness of the tragedy but it cannot speak of shit. Shock and dismay presided over her. The bodaboda guy was the next person on the scene. He complained asking why she had contracted him to bring her to that horrific site. She said she didn’t know.
“The fact that they were partners in crime must have been what led her there. Because how do you explain how she’d opt to go in there with no physical cause?”
The police came and before taking him down, they beat him up and slaughtered a chicken. They believe that those are mandatory things to do before touching the body lest the same ‘spirit of suicide’ hops on to you. His body spent a night in the mortuary before he was brought back home for burial. A burial, they believe he doesn’t deserve.
“The elders were saying that he should be thrown into the bushes since the taking away of his own life is a disgrace. The whole village was heartbroken and angered at the same time. But his father just said that he should just be buried. Only the family was aware of his demise. I doubt even his colleagues know. He had friends in very high places. He is the kind of man whose funeral would and should be attended by masses of people. But that shameful way to die ripped him off his last respects.
Now we were summoned quickly to go and bury him. We were asked to stand at a distance as they caned his body once again before ‘throwing’ him six feet under. No casket! Like a dog. The elders then held rituals to cleanse themselves afterwards.”
Just like you might be shocked to your intestines right now, I was too.
But don’t let yourself be shocked to discouragement. Life is a beautiful thing. It only depends on whether you choose to open your eyes and see it. Set your attention on the good reasons to live. You, for starters are already a good reason to live for yourself. The things that weigh you down are temporary. Imagine there is no other way around the ill strikes of life but by reminding yourself that it will all pass and the secret is just one day at a time. It’s good to also normalize surrounding yourself with people who can listen to you when you’re down. In fact, make it just one person. Because life mjango? Life is a blessing.
We are Africans. Part of being African means that we have indigenous beliefs that form basis of our backgrounds and even day to day actions. But the contemporary sweep across our continent over the past century upto today has washed off some of these beliefs and backgrounds. Many millennials have been born in an age and brought up in an environment that is free from the African Traditional terrain of beliefs. As a result, some of us don’t believe in ‘ghosts’, the spiritual world, the beliefs and customs associated with them. Others have absolutely no idea about what their community of origin believe and do. Which is very okay. No one is asking you to.
Now do realise that these is not all about some mambojambo. It’s basically about what different communities believe and do. Why they do so is nothing we want to get into details. I don’t know about you, but I found it pretty interesting to explore what other communities do in the name of tradition especially in regards to the late. I also find it worth writing about because they are things that have happened or say, are present realities. This is a way to explore our diversity as Africans and know that there’s more to the world than we think we know. I must say however, some of these things are paranormal. The normal language cannot explain them. They just happen. And the fact that they do is enough a tale to tell. And at the end of this, we will wash our hands either in amusement or amazement or shock or even all of the above as we say, “This is Africa for us. Believe it, or not!” You can even add, it is what it is. So gather your wits.
I asked a few friends and my cousins about what they have heard, seen and think of traditional beliefs and things done. And probably to also slightly unravel where these beliefs and the undeniable reality meet. As you continue to read, please note that I am not endorsing the practice of any belief. We are only stating the things we have seen from and around our communities.
Shave Your Hair My People.
In some communities, upon the death of a husband, a widow is supposed to shave her hair as a symbol of the beginning of a new life. Barber or no barber, as long as the hair goes down anyway. No barber can accept to shave people during a burial, can they? In fact, the family members themselves turn into barbers. When a family man passes away, some family members will be shaved and in some cases, the boy child is the first to experience the razor on the head. My cousins tell me that after my grandpa’s exit, those who were around shove their hair. My being surprised means I wasn’t around at the time to either witness or be the one to get an unplanned for haircut.
Hali Ya Anger
Someone can either die happy or angry. As some people believe, you don’t want it to be the latter.
How do you know someone is angry when they are dead? They’ll say, “It’s simple. Just look at their fingers.” “Fingers?” “Yes. Fingers.” “They turn into fish fingers?” “No you idiot! The fingers form a fist!” Dropped jaw. “But how is that unique?” “Nye nye nye nye nye? Can a dead person hold a tight fist?” Silence. “By the way. It’s not possible.” “Well, it is. When they are angry.”
During my quest, a friend of mine told me that her cousin committed suicide at 17 because of hard clashes with the mother. The girl had a baby who was barely a year old. Her quick way out of the land of the living was through ingesting pills that are used to burst clogged pipes. The grandfather is a plumber. Had he known the tools of his work would soon be the tool of his grandchild’s death, he probably would have left every pipe to clog.
She had a hole in her heart. You can imagine the rest. As she lay lifeless, she had folded three fingers.
I Can’t Hear You, But I Can Listen To You.
Her grandmother came to speak to her and plead with her to release the anger she has on her mother. Yes mjango, the dead cannot hear you. But just because they cannot send back emojis doesn’t mean they totally don’t, as it appears. She brought in the late’s baby and immediately the baby began to cry. There and then, the girl began to shed tears too. I kid you not mjango. I’m told as a result, she released two fingers. The grandmother pleaded further and soon, she gave up the remaining finger. That showed that a truce had between struck and now they were ready to release her to her new home six feet under.
My cousins say that the folding of a fist is ‘true’. One man in our village was run over by a motorbike. He held a fist while he lay lifeless. The uncles had to talk to him to release the anger and guess what, he did.
One more fist to unfold then we move on. Another friend who is an intellect I admire tells me that his uncle got married to a woman from another tribe. They begot a child who later died before he was a year old. The burial was to be held at Langata Cemetery. She and her mum went to the cemetery early in the morning in advance. First it was to oversee the booking of the space, the digging of the grave and to buy backup acid. Acid you say? Yes,we will talk about the acid later.
They later went to her mum’s best friend who lives in Langata to have some tea as they waited for the other team coming from the mortuary. The wait took longer than expected. She later learnt from her grandfather that they took time in the mortuary because the baby had held a fist. People from both sides of the family took turns to talk to the baby. The father’s family (which is the family my friend telling me this comes from) began. Still no fist was released. The mother’s family took their turn. Still no fist was released. The only person who was remaining was the mother. After she spoke to her baby, the fist was released and they were free to proceed to the cemetery.
So They Can Listen To Us? We Can As Well Bury Them With A Radio.
Is the question I asked my cousin, Debby. She said that fact is, human beings are spiritual beings living in bodies. When we die, our bodies are void of life but it doesn’t mean we have disappeared forever to non-existence. As much as these things sound crazy and infact hard to believe, they are facts of life that do exist. And among them is that the dead need to be respected, failure to which we will be cultivating our own doom. They listen because they are spiritual beings.
Not just anyone can speak to the dead and they’d hear them out like sir yes sir. It has to be someone with a soul tie and a form of authority.
Soul Tie You Say?
Yes. A mother and a child have a soul tie. Basically people who are bound by blood have a soul tie. People who have a special connection that is inexplicable right now have a tie of some sort.
During the time of his passing, everyone in the family had gone to church. My grandfather had said that on the day of his exit, everyone would go to church. My cousins tell me even those in our family who don’t regularly go to church did go to church on that day.
I was in Nairobi at the time. Just after I had left church, I felt a form of disturbance within me for like an hour or two. Like something is freaking wrong kind of a feeling but I don’t know what and why. Right about the same time, Debby tells me she was in church too and she was crying for no apparent reason. Our stories connected and fact was, that was the time of the day on that Sunday that grandpa was exiting. It doesn’t stop there. All of my cousins attested that all the daughters in law fell sick on that day.
If Wishes Were Horses, The Dead Do Ride
The wishes of someone who has a form of authority still hold a form of power until the time of its fulfilment. He had wished to die for damn, the man was old and tired. While he was being rushed to hospital in my uncle’s car, the car that had been in perfect condition broke down on the way. Every effort to revive the engine failed. And you can guess that after they discovered that he was gone, the car came back to life.
Unburying The Buried
She was either in class one, two or three when the following happened. She cannot recall well. My intellectual friend narrated this one saying that was the only period in her life that she went to her upcountry for the longest time. And that period had it that it will not go unremembered.
The step brother to her grandfather had a wife who passed on at the time. She was buried within the homestead. After her burial ceremony was the beginning of an unburying ceremony for others. No this is not some John Kibera stealing of coffins kind of thing. These ones were after the body.
Her grandfather told her it was the work of witches. There are some things they sort of apply or implant on the body secretly before burial. It grants them a ‘highway’ to unbury the body in the wee hours of the night.
If You Think That’s Crazy, You Haven’t Tasted Crazy!
They unbury the body, take it to the nearest river, wash it, boil it and peel the skin like chicken and they divide the body parts. I wish to leave it at that just to spare your appetite for the next few hours or so.
But I will not have done justice to the story if I don’t mention that she said a hand was seen in one of the neighbors houses. The whole village was alarmed and the rest, is history but definitely not appetizing.
Let’s Talk Acid. Actually Acid And A Pin.
So for the people in that community, they came up with a practice to curb happenings like those or should I say, to curb the appetites of dark workers. They’d pour acid on the body of the late before burial. You and I both know meat with acid cannot taste nice. Anyway. A pin is injected on the body since it is believed that with the pin in place, the dark workers cannot ‘pull’ the body from underground. It stands in the way of their ‘highway.’ So it’s safe to say that in that community, what a pin can do, no other thing can do.
I Am Not Going!
Implied the coffin when they tried to pass it through a door. She later told me that her grandmother was to be buried in the homeland where she had been married to after she passed on in January 13th 2018. The husband, her grandfather, had a semi permanent house in up country. He had not completed the building of the permanent house.
As custom has it in their community, the late wife should spend the night in the bedroom of her husband’s house. Now picture this. The unfinished house does not have doors nor doorframes. Meaning the doorway was wider than normal doorways. Yet, for some reason they couldn’t get the casket past the door. Even I was like, “How now?”
But that’s not the first time we have heard the late ‘refusing’ to go somewhere. That abnormal things would happen to bar them from going to the designated place.
“Rumour had it and it was later found out that the dark workers had planted things in that room that would later enable them to extract her body after she has been buried.” She said.
So the casket had to spend the night in the sitting room of the unfinished house.
Wailers, Meet The Silencers. Silencers, Meet The Wailers.
I come from one of the communities, no, let me take two. I come from the community that is said to have professional wailers. These guys can wail mjango! Moaners start to wail from a kilometers before reaching the bereaved house. It’s like the gear five of our community. Gear four is eating just so you know. I am told that the wailing is ritualistic. And before you ask, I can’t wail. Neither do I want to find out whether I can.
On the contrary, my friend Dapash says that in her community, death is feared. They go silent when someone passes on and it is a crime to even say a word. So I guess my people are not welcome in her people’s funerals. Also because our people love to have Disco Matanga.
What Do We Say?
We say nothing. Like we heard nothing. Life goes on. But at least let it not go on when we are ignorant about the realities surrounding our communities and death is among them. The realities surrounding traditional African beliefs that are still alive in some parts of our communities and backgrounds. No don’t pursue them if you were not born into them. Just be on the know so you may not be caught by surprise someday and most importantly, so that you may know where and when to give respect to who and what.
For example. I used to think that viewing the body of the late is a matter of choice as some millennials like me would say. But that’s not what some communities we come from or may visit during their bereavement – think. Out of respect for their beliefs, mjango, just do the necessary. Or at least slowly learn how to.
Some of us may not believe in the things we have read here and others that we have heard around. You’re alright. But the point is, that doesn’t mean you have to wander around and speak recklessly in the event you’re in a place that requires you to respect people’s customs and beliefs. Not that you should do what you don’t believe in, but surely there can be a way to respect them when it comes to it.
Like when you’re told to stay at a distance as they wack a dead body in your community. It doesn’t hurt to just do so silently. Maybe you’d like to wack him too because he didn’t pay you back your money or you realised he slept with your girlfriend. But just stay at a distance and let them wack him for you.
And by the way, you might also want to make peace with people while they are still around. You might make a poor bereaved family stressed over a mere fist and the entire village will have to wait abit longer to eat at that funeral because of you. I’m just saying.
At the end of the day, in Africa, whether you believe it or not, it is what it is mjango.