How you wondered how much or how little respect for the dead that you have? I have, I have touched a dead body, I have carried a dead body and I have spoken to an individual who was dying and had to say, “let us leave all things in God’s hands.” Several years back, I went back and forth to Uganda (over a two year period) to learn what it takes to take care of individuals who are dying and their families.
According to the Hon John Tembo who was interviewed following the death of legislator Ishmael Chafukira, “death is death.” The finality of death cannot be denied. It is often painful to the people watching although very little is known as to how the dead feel, and whether they feel at all. Some people are told that when a person dies, they feel extremely cold. That is why we hear of stories of hikers lost in wild deserts wondering “whether they had died or not” until they are rescued.
In 1901, Dr Duncan MacDougall in the United States wanted to know how much a soul weighs. He weighed six patients who were “in the process of dying from tuberculosis” in an old age home. You thought this was hard? No it was not. What the doctor needed to do was just to determine whether death was eminent. Then at this point the entire patient’s bed was placed on an industrial sized scale. He measured the weight of the patient and the bed. Later, when the patient had just died, he also took measurements, suggested that the loss of any mass was what the soul weighed. He got an answer close to 21 grams based on the loss of mass. Hence the usual thinking now that the soul weighs 21 grams! By the way, they do not teach this in medical school.
One of the things that we used to do when I grew up in Ndirande was to join the cemetery (call it graveyard) gang to dig up grave at Malabada. I have seen it all. I have spoken once and cried at the same time at a funeral when I spoke ngati akubanja. I have sat or stood hundred meters from the grave at a burial ceremony. I led wreaths on the grave of a relative. I have shoveled earth on a coffin having lowered someone in 6 feet deep. I have also dug graves and received the all usual half-hearted thank you that akubanja say to the grave diggers. They do not know you, they don’t want to know you, they will not remember you at all if you met them and they are wondering how come you are not so smart? The only thank you that you cared as a grave digger was the meal that came to the grave. No meal, no burial. What I learnt in these morbid tasks was that no one person goes to buy a coffin alone. By the way, the dead are referred to as mfumu yathu (our Lord and King). Barefooted, uneducated, pauper, vagrant, they are respected.