Death is often shocking, mysterious and feared by many. For years, humanity has struggled to understand just why death strikes indefinitely when least expected but no conclusive answer has ever been arrived at. We all know for sure that it is not guaranteed for one to be born but it is a must for every living human being to die at one time.
But among the Kalenjin people mostly found in the expansive Rift Valley, death, in itself, does not really exist. According to a narration by Kireger Arap Kisorion who is a resource person at Gotab Gaa in Mosoriot, Nandi County, death is merely a transition to another world.
Among the Kalenjin, he told TUKO.co.ke, the dead are assumed to be residing underground where their movements are felt through tremors and earthquakes which the locals call girgirenet. As per Kalenjin beliefs, an earthquake or a tremor is caused by the movement of the dead as it is assumed they are migrating to another place even though the reason behind this movement is not yet known to the living. What is known, he said, is that the earthquakes are a sign that the ancestors are angry. He revealed the dead always fight back viciously through earthquakes whenever members of the community engage in immorality, warning it could be destructive. Interestingly, if one does not feel a tremor, it is a sign that his ancestors were not among those moving underground.
As proof that the departed never die, 80-year-old Elizabeth Koibei from Kisabei village explained that the living used to drop food on the floor or ground before any meal for the deceased to eat. This practice, she said, was to appease the spirits of the dead as they (the dead) came first and need to be given priority. She lamented that with the advent of Christianity and the adoption of western culture, this practice has been abandoned and thus angered the ancestors.
“Our children no longer have respect for them and they have been offended, no wonder we have misfortunes most times,” she lamented.
To support her assertions, she said nowadays, farmers do not harvest good yields and animals die mysteriously.
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Koibei dismissed those who explain to her that the reason behind poor yield and deaths of animals is due to diseases terming such assertions lies as she wondered why all these never happened during her childhood days.
“Why now…hmmm, why now my child?” she posed.
To her, this is clear manifestation that the dead are angry at the living and have sent calamity in form of mysterious diseases. And more calamity is coming, Koibei warned. Scary, isn’t it? We asked why and with a gaze that went past the horizon and beyond vision ability, she said it was because the current generation had abandoned what she termed ‘memory naming.’ And she blamed Christianity.
“When someone dies and a baby is born in the family, it is supposed to be named after the deceased. It keeps the memory of the dead and shows they are still living among us,” she said.
Dire consequences await the current generation for refusing to name their newborns after their departed kin and adopting the Christian way of life and modernization, she warned. She claimed to know of a family that was forced to name their child after a departed relative after being visited by hardships. According to her, the child fell ill and no doctor was able to establish what the problem was. Only an old woman who called the child by the name of a late relative managed to restore the baby’s health, recalled Koibei.
Among some Kalenjin communities, a person who dies without getting married is despised for they will never be named after anyone as they did not participate in procreation. This applies even to babies. The Kalenjin also knew their departed relatives were still living among them when a child sneezed or cried after a name was called out. This showed the dead had accepted to be renamed. And when someone dies, some rituals have to be followed. For instance, the Kipsigis do not allow the body of a bachelor or spinster to spend the night at the home. They keep the body at the mortuary and its only removed on the burial day or in the past years, it was buried as early as possible. The Nandis, however, have a different way of handling their unmarried kin who die. They allow the bodies in the home and are treated the same with those who are married. It is through such traditional practices among others that makes the beautiful Kalenjin people come to terms with the mysterious reality of death and life after death. The Kalenjin people treat the bodies of their dead with high respect despite knowing that it feels no pain but believe they are in spirit and can retaliate badly if offended.
Story by Slizer Elizabeth, TUKO Correspondent.