In search of a final resting place
How would you want to be buried? This is the question I put to a friend. Despite his outspokenness on many issues, a question on death and burial triggered a gaunt look on his face like he was contemplating the end of the world. He paced to and fro, then in circles. “I honestly have never given it serious thought, I am not planning to die anytime soon,” was the brazen response.
The issue of death has been plaguing throughout the history of mankind; death has indeed been one of the sources of awe, despair and controversy.
To many, it is difficult to accept it as a necessary part of life. Stewart Alsop, a writer says: “A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist. Death inevitably brings burial in the already complex equation. These are two sometimes highly emotive issues.
They are issues that tackle the very core of human existence. I remember one Saturday after the monthly community work (Umuganda) we gathered as village members to discuss challenges affecting our community. One grey haired old man shot up and raised an issue that aroused a spontaneous unanimous decision to act. I have never seen our village more united.
It was about the state of the local cemetery. “Our loved ones are buried there, that is our final resting place, it is just a matter of time,” he said before resuming his seat. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the cemetery, clearing the bushes that had swallowed it up.
Early this week, this paper reported about a bill from by the Ministry of Local Government, and debated in the Parliamentary Social Committee, reviewing the law on cemeteries. One of the articles in the draft law that has raised serious debate is the incineration of dead bodies and burial of ashes.
While incineration is not new, especially in Jewish and Asian cultures, it is foreign to Rwanda. For a sustainable use of the limited resources like land, more of such ‘strange’ things will have to be explored despite their sensitivities. Rwanda has over 340 public cemeteries strewn across the country.
Early this year, the biggest public cemetery in Gasabo (Iwabo wa Twese) was closed down by district authorities because it far exceeded its capacity after about 20 years in operation. A new cemetery on 12 hectares of land was opened up in Rusororo. There is no doubt soon, it will soon be full and the search for the next burial ground will begin.
Although it is provided for in the law, incineration has not been done in Rwanda. This is partly blamed on tradition but it should also be said that little efforts were made to raise public awareness about the matter.
Incineration would be a more sustainable way of using the available limited land but given the emotions that come with it, it will take a rigorous campaign to sell this option to the public.
Considering that this is alien to our culture and the varied religious beliefs, it will be a tough battle. But it is worth the fight. The public should be informed of the availability of this environmentally friendly option and the necessary paraphernalia put in place. This should be one of the long-term solutions to the country’s land question.
Contact email: burkepal[at]gmail.com