Odd VIP funerals stun Kenyans used to dramatic burials

Coffin [Photo: Shutterstock]

When Safaricom boss Bob Collymore died last week, many expected a big funeral, only to be disappointed after his family insisted on a small, invite-only ceremony for his cremation. Contrary to expectations, people were not allowed to flock to his home, as happens in many cases, to mourn or condole with his family.

This came against the backdrop of yet another odd high-profile funeral of business mogul Wilfred Murungi.

Wambui Kamiru (centre),widow to Safaricom long-time executive Bob Collymore with family members outside the Lee funeral home [Photo:Edward Kiplimo]

Villagers and relatives were left in shock after the Mastermind billionaire was buried at an invite-only ceremony. Oddly, some of his relatives were turned away, with security insisting that they were unwelcome.

Due to their immense wealth and influence, many had expected both Bob Collymore and Wilfred Murugi’s funerals to be not just colourful, but also big.

Mastermind Tobacco Limited boss Wilfred Murungi was buried at his home in Tharaka Nithi cunty in a low key ceremony [Photo: Dickson Mwiti]

Unfortunately, this was not the case, prompting Kenyans to express disappointment, with many offering all manner of criticism and descriptions of what a real African funeral should be like.

Expressing his disappointment with the growing trend of odd VIP funerals devoid of pomp and colour, where only a handful are invited, Emmanuel Weche called them unAfrican.

 Comedy of Kenyan funerals

“What a boring funeral!” Weche wrote on social media, as if he expected an entertaining one after it was announced that Collymore was to be cremated in a private ceremony.

“A proper African funeral must give people an opportunity to wail and get the pain off their chests. This was a big man and because we are part of the big Safaricom family, why can’t his kin allow us to view his remains and mourn,” asked Weche.

That some people, especially in Western Kenya and Nyanza, even hire mourners to give their funerals pomp and colour, explains how much premium is placed on such ceremonies.

Besides a few people supporting these invites-only funerals, many feel it’s a trend that must be discouraged.

For a stranger from the West, a typical Kenyan funeral can pass for a great source of entertainment, a comedy of sorts.

 Lies we tell about the dead

This is where mourners congregate to show off the latest fashion and designs, gossip and drink through bombastic eulogies.

Some pitch week-long tents at funerals for breakfast, lunch and supper, all in the name of mourning.

“Besides those who attend funerals for food or drinks, this is the best place to show off your latest hairstyle, three-piece black suits and bow ties, gigantic black goggles. It’s also a motor show for who drives the best car,” says John Njenga, a city resident.

Coffin [Photo: Shutterstock]

Njenga adds that it is at Kenyan funerals where glowing eulogies about schools people never attended are manufactured and ‘big companies’ people never worked for are mentioned.

“In death, Kenyans always turn the deceased into angels. Rapists, bandits, murders and all manner of miscreants are always mourned as great people, with speakers avoiding the dark pasts at all costs,” says Njenga.

We lie a lot at burials. It is common to hear someone who, for instance, died of a deadly or embarrassing disease or at a hospital procuring an abortion or at a witchdoctors’ dungeon undergoing impotence abracadabra, being claimed to have died a ‘natural death’.

“A few years back in Kiambu County, a salonist who had lied that she owns a chain of salons in Nairobi passed on, only for her boss; a well-fed woman, to come wailing loudly how a great employee the deceased was,” says Alice Ng’anga.

“Wuuu…wi…ngai…ngai! Why did God take you Njoki, my best worker? Ngai, you were the best at doing con rows and braiding weaves…” she reportedly wailed dramatically, much to the shock of many who thought the deceased was a big businesswoman in Nairobi.

Embarrassing moments have also been reported at many funerals where men with secret families or out of wedlock children are exposed.

On many occasions, microphones have been snatched from speakers who say the wrong things, disparaging the deceased.

“I have attended some funerals where eulogies are so fake or outrageous, you can’t help giggling or looking down in embarrassment,” laughs Robert Indimuli, who hails from Western Kenya, where most funerals are characterised with drama.

Urn [Photo: Shutterstock]

 Neglected parents buried in suits, designer shoes

Indimuli wonders why some Nairobi-based scoundrels neglect their parents in the village for decades but when the old folks die, they come home and bury them in expensive coffins, designer suits and shoes.

In one strange incident, a political activist from Nyanza kept the remains of his dad at a city morgue for close to a whole month.

It later turned out that he needed time to give his rural home a facelift, to save him embarrassment since his friends and associates from Nairobi were to attend the burial.

“Ever wondered why we have this trend where some mourners, especially from Nairobi, prefer donning huge black goggles or shades at funerals, making them look like gangsters in an Italian movie? They are not for hiding tears, but hangovers,” laughs Indimuli, adding that for some strange reasons, some Kenyans can’t bury a friend or relative when sober.

Politicians who nose for ‘big funerals’

But it gets crazier. Local politicians are in the habit of checking obituary pages of the dailies for high profile funerals in their regions, where they can go and politic.

This writer’s friend once overheard a politician from Nyanza loudly whispering to a personal assistant on a plane, asking which of two funerals in their region was bigger than the other and worth attending.

At funerals is where some Kenyans go to look for girlfriends and boyfriends.

Tales have been told of slay queens who are particularly keen on well off men who lose their wives.

The vultures hover around, masquerading as friends to the deceased and make themselves busy condoling with the widower. They extend the condolence for a while before seducing the man.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

Gossip corner where mourners badmouth bereaved

In many funerals, we have the gossip corner, where mourners discuss the bereaved family.

Besides mourning, they talk about who got married to an alcoholic, whose daughter went through a nasty divorce, which of the deceased’s daughters is barren and which of his sons is an alcoholic who can’t keep a wife.

Some even push the joke further by speculating who has a terminal illness and is living on borrowed time.

If one of the members of the family dropped out of school, he or she will be discussed at length.

If you are too proud to speak mother tongue and keep responding in English each time villagers speak to you in the local dialect, they will not spare you in their gossip.

“In the villages, pastors are among the greatest beneficiaries of funerals. They are treated as VIPs and eat choice meats and drinks. What’s more, they collect offerings and are paid to pray for the deceased and their family,” says Amos Otieno.

He adds that in parts of his rural home, while mourning is going on if the departed is a man, his closest male cousins and friends are silently eyeing his widow.

“In my village, where wife-inheritance is still being practised, the husband’s brothers are always eyeing the widow, wondering at what point they will exploit her loneliness and crawl into her bed,” says Otieno.