Death in Ancient Meru

We have no graveyards in Meru

I cannot begin to describe death to you. Not because I don’t want to, it’s because there is nothing about death to describe, there is a darkness that surrounds it and something always shifts when we lose someone. We are never the same.

On a call with my mother two days ago I asked her how our ancestors handled dead bodies. What rituals did we have if any? I couldn’t believe her answer so I called my father.Well, I got the same story.

We used to throw away bodies to be devoured by wild animals. I was shook people! There was no ceremony around death where our ancestors were concerned. When the grim reaper hit there were designated “undertakers” who would carry your dead body into the bush for animals to devour. There were many forests – we were rich people – then so all they had to do was carry the dead bodies to the dense forests and leave them there. After my initial shock, I weighed their thought process and this is very peaceful coexistence. There would be no pungent smells from a rotting body. Animals would have a meal hence wouldn’t attack villages. And whatever remained would decompose into the soil and there would be no need for expensive funeral rituals. I mean it’s a dead body after all right? No, it doesn’t feel right for you? Okay, let’s go back to shock together.

I also asked what else happened during this time because I mean after a death you do not move on like nothing has happened. Well, when someone dies in your household you were not allowed to visit anyone or be visited by anyone. Even if you run out of salt or needed to borrow a few pieces of lit charcoal to ignite a fire you couldn’t. This applied to all the family members, husband and wife including the children. No women groups or kamweretho, no nyumba ya wazee, no hide and seek, nothing you were just alienated from the community for one season. By a season I mean you plant, weed and harvest. That’s roughly five or six months. After a season had passed then everyone comes asking how you are doing, how the loss of your loved one has been taking you? How lonely have you been? If you have been eating well? How long you cried? Not really no, no one asked you those questions, life would just snap back to normal after your lonely mourn.

One other major thing you were not allowed to do is SHAVING! For that season you would not be allowed to cut off any hair on your body. That’s for all family members. You would be drowning in your sadness and walking around like BIGFOOT. When people visited you they would help you shave or you would just shave. Even if a child died the same would be followed. That explains the lack of burial sites or cemeteries in Meru. Then the man with the white skin came and told us we were barbaric in our ways and the modern funeral rituals were born.

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