Recently, I was added to a WhatsApp group made up of a committee planning the burial of a friend’s relative.
From the chats, I gathered that the person they were mourning, an elderly man, had complained, that during his brother’s burial a couple of years ago, chicken was missing from his plate.
To appease his disgruntled spirit, one of the committee members suggested that they serve only chicken at his burial.
This suggestion was debated upon at length, the whole day in fact, though it was eventually decided that besides chicken, they would serve beef, mutton and fish as well.
Just when I thought we had settled food matters, the church that was going to conduct the burial tabled its preferred menu, much to my shock.
I, of course, need not tell you that the lion’s share of the eye-popping budget went towards buying the food. It is only when all matters pertaining to the food were concluded that attention was turned to the cost of the coffin, tents to shelter the mourners from the scorching sun, transport and other “fringe” details.
I must say that I was fascinated by the entire discussion, and thought to myself that if this group were to attend a burial where I come from, they would go back to their homes a disappointed lot. I say this because, being an insider, food that is served mourners is not given that much weight and attention, even though, to be fair to my kinsmen, we’ve began to put some effort in recent years.
I mean, there was a time when we served only Githeri during funerals, a mixture of beans and hard maize. At least now one comes across a piece or two of meat in their plate.
Anyway, the discussion in that group over the next few days opened up my eyes to how fascinating our collective cultures are and what a treat it would be to experience each one of them. Unfortunately, I foresee the death of our rich cultures, thanks to modernisation, which has already begun to kill our mother tongues, slowly but surely.
I was talking to a young colleague the other day and she told me that though she can understand bits of her mother tongue, she is unable to speak it. She is 23. Her two elder sisters have five children between them but none knows a word in their vernacular because the only language spoken at home is either English or Kiswahili.
Since this piece is mainly touching on food and burials, allow me to tell you a story I heard.
Apparently, there is a man who died of starvation in Nyahururu, Laikipia County. The family went ahead to prepare a feast fit for a king, and mourners turned up in large numbers to mourn him. The priest presiding over the burial knew what had killed man.
After the burial ceremony was concluded, he waited until the people had washed their hands and lined up with plates in their hands eagerly waiting to be served. It is then that he announced, addressing the man’s family, “No food will be eaten here today. If you could not feed this man, you have no business feeding those who came to mourn him.”
Stunned, everyone filed out of the homestead, heads bowed in shame, though the bigger and longer lasting shame was on the man’s relatives, who were left with sufurias and sufurias of food which could have fed this poor man for years, thereby saving his life.