Malawi has a severe problem of pressure on land. In fact, it is one of the most densely populated countries around. So why dig graves when cremation could offer a way out of the land troubles haunting the country? That is the question BRIGHT MHANGO addresses.
Mr Banda dies in England. He weighs 80kg. The family needs the body back home, so they arrange transport which costs them a whopping K3 million.
Mr Singh dies in England, the family burns the body and retrieves the ashes which are put in a bag and posted to India to be spread into the Ganges as custom demands.
It costs less than the rate of mailing a laptop.
Listening to radio programmes such as Kuzigulira Malo and reading that Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, it draws one towards thinking of cremation as a panacea to the problem.
So the question is: Should Malawi adopt cremation?
Panji Mwandira of Lirangwe, Blantyre, said: “Cremation is the solution; otherwise we are misusing land which could have been used economically. To some people, it might sound inhuman, but ferrying the whole dead body from UK to Malawi just to bury it home doesn’t make sense.
“Death separates us from the living and why should distance matter after death when it has already done the big job? If cremation was legalised, trust me, rent and plots for sale would be cheap. The land occupied by these graveyards can easily accommodate a city bigger than our capital.”
Edith Amin, who lives in Blantyre, agreed with Mwandira. He said Christians are only scared that when the Lord comes, as it is said in Corinthians, he will resurrect those that died and give them back their bodies; hence, the need for bodies to be intact.
Since cremation destroys the body, it is likely not to have fans.
“However, I am very sure that burying the dead also destroys the body; thus the Lord would also raise someone who was cremated,” said Amin.
He, however, fell short of fully rooting for cremation, saying burying the whole is cleaner and culturally acceptable.
Amin also doubted whether a significant amount of land would be rescued if cremation took over.
During the process of cremation, human remains are placed in a wooden box, then into a crematorium or furnace. They are heated to temperatures between 870-980°C or 1600-2000°F until the body is reduced to bone fragments and ashes. The bone fragments are then processed in a machine until they resemble coarse sand which is grey.
Blantyre-based Prince Majiga summed up the debate, saying cremation can only appeal to the rich and urban people because they are influenced by Western ideals and are likely to feel the effects of land shortage.
“There is a chance people in the village might still have problems having charred remains of their relations. In rural areas, people have a spiritual connection with the dead and graveyards and some might be tempted to think that this will be taken away if they cremate their dead,” he said.
The Bible does not explicitly say that cremation is bad, but inductive theologians have made their decision by drawing parallels with tales in the Bible.
In Joshua 7, Joshua proclaimed that whoever was found with the dedicated items stolen from Jericho “shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him” (7:15). When it was discerned that a man named Achan was the guilty party, the Israelites stoned and cremated his entire household, including his animal livestock (verse 25).
Leviticus 20:14 calls for the burning of a man who marries a woman and her mother. The same was true for any priest’s daughter who became a prostitute (Lev. 21:9). There are other examples, but these few set the picture.
Burning of human remains spoke of judgment on sin, which also will be, the Bible says, by fire.
In the period just after Christianity took centre stage and became the national religion, cremation was outlawed as pagan. It started becoming popular again in the West in the 1960s. Some scholars say it is a signal that atheism is on the rise.
Reverend Richard Philips, writing on his blog, www.tenth.org , argues that what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4 is enough reason not to cremate and bury the whole body.
“Everything about that description tells us to honour, to preserve, yes, even to dedicate real estate to the bodies of those our beloved who having died are with Christ in the spirit, and awaiting the resurrection of their bodies in the morning of the new creation,” writes Phillips.