Debate:Does cremation go against our culture?

Culture is not static! Culture involves the shared beliefs, customs, practices, and social actions of a particular nation or people which portray their identity.
Doreen Umutesi & Rachel Garuka
Doreen Umutesi & Rachel Garuka

Culture is not static!

Culture involves the shared beliefs, customs, practices, and social actions of a particular nation or people which portray their identity. However some beliefs or customs are bound to change as a result of several factors such as development or technological advancement. For example, history tells us there was the Stone Age era. If you practiced the traditions of those times today; you would be portrayed as mentally ill.

Cremation is the incineration of a corpse, in other words, it is the burning of the corpse until only ashes are left.

Culture is not static but rather it evolves with time. Currently, most Rwandan families bury their loved ones in a cemetery and some who still have ancestral homes, bury in their backyards.

With the matters at hand, such as shortage of land since Rwanda is densely populated, cremation is not in any way bruising our culture because traditions are bound to change with generations. Take for instance the former Remera Cemetery, there was no more space for burial, and the government had to take the initiative to look for another big chunk of land for burial rites. But if we had adopted the cremation culture earlier on, with just one facility for the cremation process, then the Rusororo land would be used for other commercial purposes.

I recently overheard a group of youth saying that the cremation process is like sending our loved ones directly to hell because the Biblical description of hell is a lake of fire that burns for eternity.

I don’t want to be portrayed as a sadist but the reality of the matter is that some people claim they bury their loved ones in cemeteries or in their backyards to feel closer to them but if a survey was carried out to find out the number of people who take flowers to the graves of these family members, annually, shocking results would be attained.

My father died in 2004 and was buried in Remera Cemetery. But in 2009, something strange happened – an uncle of mine who was fully involved in the burial rites failed to recognise my father‘s grave because he had taken a year without going there.  The grave is just a symbolic sign that someone’s body was laid in this particular spot, but we always carry the memories of them in our hearts.

Has anyone ever thought of where our forefathers were buried 10,000 years ago? Probably it could be the same spot I’m sitting on while writing this debate.  Therefore cremation is not different from burying a loved in the cemetery or in a backyard because at the end of the day, we will never see them again...maybe in Heaven.


Let tradition be tradition

I once asked a friend to choose between cremation and traditional burial and she responded, ‘Fried, boiled, baked... or even scrambled, it doesn’t matter how I go, what matters is where I go.’

I have to admit, I am not really against cremation - at least not where I am concerned. I can’t stand the thought of maggots crawling out of my rotting corpse (please excuse me if you are chewing on something right about now). I don’t want people to pass my coffin and confirm why I’m dead because I look – strange!

No, I’d rather be burned and get the whole ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ thing over with. I really like the idea of my ashes scattered in a special place – my favourite hangout maybe! I’m just joking; I have no intentions of lurking around long after I am fired from life!

However, true Africans respect tradition and the whole putting people in coffins, six feet under, leaving them to rot away, is tradition. Plus, a burial makes more sense when faced with the difficult task of explaining death to children. 

You see, when a person is laying in a box, a child can be told that the person is in a deep sleep and won’t be waking up anytime soon. What do you say to a child when they are faced with the ashes of a dear one, that they got burned, turned to ash and then what?

If you think about it, cremation seems evil and violent – you know...the whole fire thing? Burial seems like a much more peaceful way to be sent off. I know the body can’t feel anything but I don’t think some souls take it kindly when they watch their bodies burning away to dust! I’d be mad too, regardless of whether it is what I wanted.

Also, when you bury people, you always have their grave to talk to and let them know they are still in your heart. If someone has their ashes scattered across the hills somewhere, where exactly do you face when talking to them? Since I don’t believe in ghosts, the idea that they are hanging around listening is ludicrous.

Our forefathers would not be pleased with burning humans, not even in death – they can do that to cows when they want beef! They were not mad when they chose to bury their people. If they wanted fire, I’m pretty sure they knew how to start one. So let us not try to be smart and do things the way they are supposed to be done – the good old fashioned way.


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