A Funeral

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


The saga of injustice towards a young mother. This is the first part of three.

Submitted: January 14, 2018

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Submitted: January 14, 2018

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We hadn’t been residents in Sanawari for more than three months when Big E, my boss asked me to attend the funeral of his nephew. I had no idea of the tie-up at the time, but there was a young woman who regularly came to see Mama Baraka and sometimes the pair visited us for tea or coffee. Mama Baraka seemed to be taking this young woman under her wing and showing her every kindness. Usually the young woman had a handsome, well-mannered little boy called James with her, and Mama Baraka introduced her us to as Mama James. Mama James was the wife of Big E’s nephew and part of the reason Mama Baraka was being nice to her was because Mama James’ husband was dying from complications associated with HIV.  It’s important to understand that Mama James was of the Chugga tribe, from the Kilimanjaro region, and she had married into a Maasai family.

If all that’s difficult to figure out, maybe this will help: Big E and Mama Baraka are husband and wife. The deceased is Big E’s nephew and his wife/widow is Mama James. James is their son.

The funeral was held in the open air at the deceased’s home place and luckily Mags had Missy, our American co-worker, with her because the men sat apart, from the women. There was nothing to sit on, just the bare ground. As a spectacle, the women looked beautiful in their multi-coloured kangas, from casual observation, there were no two kangas the same. Big E thoughtfully assigned a young man to me who could speak English, he was to sit with me and explain what was going on. Mags and Missy had no such luxury so they just followed the lead of the other women. There were more than two hundred attending the funeral.

The crowd was sitting down and I could see the casket sitting there in the near distance. A man dressed in a western suit stood up and suggested to the congregation that we sing a hymn, and I was surprised that many people carried hymn books with them. My guide was one of them and he shared it with me, which was nice, but I couldn’t speak Swahili let alone read and sing at the same time! My guide whispered to me that the pastor hadn’t arrived to perform the ceremony. We sat and sang intermittently for two hours, during which time my guide told me that he was an evangelist and could actually perform the service.

I suggested that he offer his services, but he shied away from the idea, he was hesitant and didn’t feel he should interfere. I was still in NZ mode, not used to just sitting around, but waiting was something I had to learn to cope with and as time went on I learned the value of patience. After two hours and a little of my coxing, my guide prepared himself and stood up to approach the deceased’s family, but right then, the pastor arrived! Apparently he had forgotten all about the funeral! It was a long service, none of which I understood with any certainty but I picked up the word ‘historia’ when several people spoke about the deceased’s history and the eulogies were lengthy. I wasn’t alone in getting a sore bum!

The service complete, it was time to pay our respects by filing past the casket. The women went first and many of them wailed as they did so, which gave me goosebumps. It was a new experience for me. There was no undertaker, a local carpenter had built the casket and women family members had prepared and dressed the body. Cotton wool was packed in his mouth, probably to keep his jaw in place, and cotton wool was also in his nostrils. There was a jar of perfume sitting at the head of the casket, balanced on the corner to mitigate the smell from inside the casket. After everyone had passed by, four young men sealed the casket and several others helped carry it the short distance to the prepared grave. After a short interment ceremony, the casket was lowered and several youths took turns in filling the grave. Some women decorated it with purple bougainvillea flowers.

Some days later, Mama James came to us wanting to give me a zawadi, a gift. Her husband had been a safari driver and he had two books, one on East African mammal identification and the other on bird identification. She told us that she needed money and had brought the books along to sell. I knew the books, had looked at them many times in Kase Bookshop in Arusha, and I wanted them. I bought the books from her and paid the shop price because I felt sorry for her circumstances. She wrote inside the cover of each book that it was a zawadi from her, even though I had paid for them, but actually, I did consider them a zawadi because she had parted with something special that had belonged to her late husband!

Mama Baraka told me later that day, Big E’s sister, had thrown Mama James out of her house! The house belonged to Mama James’ husband, bought and paid for, but because she was a Chugga, her mother-in-law insisted she had no claim to it! Mama Baraka was angry about the situation but Big E was siding with his sister, despite promising the dead man on his deathbed that he would look after the interests of Mama James! Clearly, he wasn’t keeping his promise!

The Chugga people are recognised by other tribes as being shrewd, good with money and expert business people. Mama James was no different. There was a tiny triangle of land where the road forked, not one hundred yards from where we lived. She squatted on this land and scalped half a meter of clay from the surface to make mud bricks. She used the money from the books she gave me to pay a builder, and she scrounged second-hand materials, a window, a door and some used sheets of roofing iron. I helped her with the last five sheets of roofing iron to finish her single-room house.

But she wasn’t at all secretive about her challenge to her mother-in-law and her desire to have her house returned! Big E banned her from visiting Mama Baraka!

 


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