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Why Misumbas endure painful death on their journey to next life

Dennis Avokoywa

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Funerals in western Kenya are not only an occasion to mourn. They are also an opportunity to celebrate the life of the dearly departed.

In this locals have various ways of celebrating the life of the departed. Several factors influence the sending off of an individual in an African set up.

Among them societal status, level of education, age, gender and marital status. While everyone would wish for a perfect sendoff for their kin, among the Luhya the unmarried lot popularly known as Misumba endure a ‘painful journey after death.

From thorns being injected on their buttocks and legs to burying them outside the compound, few people attend the ceremony, no meat slaughtered to guests on such occasions and sometimes guests leaving on empty stomachs are just but some of the ‘hurting experiences for the dead on their journey to next life.

According to Antony Tella Mwaka,a 78 year old elder from Indangalasia village in Lurambi constituency, Kakamega who says that dying before marriage is a curse.

“It is like a taboo, the essence of life is procreation, young people these days want to make marriage optional, this is very wrong, in our tradition those who die unmarried are not given any special treatment, these people had nothing to show and cannot be celebrated,” said Mwaka.

According to him during the burial ceremony for the Misumbas, mourners will keep quite on several occasions since they have very little to talk about the departed.

“Young people these days adopt the western culture that they do not regard marriage as important, that must change as our forefathers had a good reason for advocating for marriage,I advise people not to associate with those who have attained the adult age but are yet to marry,” added Mwaka.

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He also warns young people in the Luhya community not to be involved in the funeral of a person who died without children.

Secondly, Musumbas who die inside the house during viewing of the body, the coffin is passed through the window.

According to Antony Tella Mwaka, this is usually done to avoid the dead from using the same door that will be used by his living brother.

“Ordinarily people enter the house through the door, but misumbas’ case is a different one, since they failed to complete to be real men their coffins must be passed through the window, this is to ensure that his brothers who remain behind do not inherit the curse of being unmarried.”

Secondly, these groups of people are thorned on their right buttocks, these thorns were known as Likunga, several thorns were injected on their body until they bled. It was believed through this, the “curse” that he died of not having a family was removed and he would go to the ancestors without any curse.

The blood shed from the dead is also seen as a way of trying to appease the gods who are irritated that the departed didn’t marry in his life on earth.

Additionally, a skin is also tied on his head and another one rapped at the waist when in the coffin which signifies that the departed failed to accomplish his mission on earth.

According to Josephat Shitzanga,a 42 year old from Ikholomani whose grandfather would perform rituals for the departed misumbas,the tying of the skin is to ensure that relatives are protected against diabolic spirits associated with the departed.

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“On several occasions I watched my grandfather perform some rituals for them(unmarried dead persons),these groups are an outcast and not many want to associate with them, they might also bring bad luck ,”said Shitzanga.

He adds that it’s only the elderly who surround their grave, and young people without families also prohibited from attending such funerals.

“It was believed that if they attended the ogre would come from the deceased and follow them too and they would die with no child,” added Shitzanga.

Consequently, the luhya traditions also dictate that these unique groups of people be buried during the setting of the sun with their memorial services held short not more than two hours. The short time to them signifies that the departed was less important.

It was believed that during sunrise, there are morning blessings from a superior being hence they do not want such blessings to interact with the curse of misumba.

“In the evening hours that the sun has set, elder’s conduct their ceremonies before such people are laid to rest, this is to ensure blessings are not mixed with curses.” said Shitzanga.

They believed that if misumbas are to be buried during sun rise, the whole community would be subjected to a serious curse.

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