Swag At A Funeral

There were surreal pictures doing the rounds on a social media of a man who was buried in a Hummer SUV. The authenticity of the story could not be verified but it was bizarre to see money splashed over a car, submerged in large grave as testament to the deceased wealthy status. A little digging revealed that it was a scene from an old Nollywood flick. I hit a blank wall after that.

Given the escalating price of high status wooden caskets, burying a man in car might actually be considered an eco-friendly option in the near future. As absurd as a Hummer burial would seem, there are only a few degrees of separation between a Hummer casket and flamboyant funeral services that have become the norm in Kenya. If you think living large is expensive, try dying. The death industry is growing exponentially as the demand for discerning service rises.

To be buried in style has now become a valid social aspiration. At the rate things are going, most Kenyans will find dying simply too costly. I have attended my fair share of funerals to note how highly we regard the dead. The more prominent the individual the more extravagant it gets. A funeral is a major social event that is rarely skipped and graded by service and attention to detail by the mourners. Kenyans who never find time to vote once every five years, will somehow find time out of their busy schedules for a funeral. The bereaved use the mourning period to focus solely on impressing their guests and funeral planning can get ridiculously detailed. Some funeral planners go to the lengths of customizing labels on water bottles to commemorate the occasion. Fish, chicken or beef is now standard offering at any funeral menu worthy of note.

The irony, is that it is virtually impossible to get a fundraiser going when a man needs it the most, at the brink of death in hospital. The family’s earnest pleas will be ignored and if the sickness is prolonged, the public expectation will be for one to bear their suffering bravely and desist from drawing too much attention to their plight. Prayers will delivered in bulk but for hard cash, one would have to escalate the situation by dying first.  As soon as the ailing individual dies, the generosity will be overwhelming and kindness touching. You have to die to realize just how worthy you are.  We love the dead to bits. The living not as much. We cry uncontrollably at the loss of man we avoided all year because he was a genuine pain-in-the-butt. The woman who conned everyone out of money, will have her past sanitized in a eulogy and extolled as a heroine because the dead love flattery.

The vanity display that is witnessed in our death rituals mirrors the masquerade of our waking lives. Living has been reduced to show business. There is a lot of pressure on people especially in the city to live it up. To be seen to be doing well, is a highly valued aspiration. What you drive, what you own, what you consume and all those gadgets that elevate one’s image is what counts. There is little patience for the slow stages of progress towards material prosperity. Even at a funeral, the hard up family will fake prosperity by taking a loan for the sole purpose of pampering the dead and making an impression on the living . ‘Tis vanity that makes the world go round. The man who dies with the most toys, wins.

It should not be too long before we start seeing seriously pimped up hearses. After all, in these vain times, it is not good karma to offend the dead with a cheap funeral. If only we treated the living as graciously as we treat the dead.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.

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