Death and Funeral rites in Bunyoro Kitara

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The Banyoro fear death very much that they usually attributed to sorcerers, ghosts and other malevolent non-human agents. In some contexts, death was thought to be caused by the actions of bad neighbors. People were believed to be affected or harmed by gossip and slander. The Banyoro provide a vast range of magical and semi –magical means of injuring and even killing others. Indeed, many deaths were attributed to the act of sorcery by ill-wishers.

The Banyoro viewed death as a real being, like a person. Whenever a person died, old women of the household would close his eyes, shave his hair and beard, trim the fingernails and clean and wash the whole corpse. The body was left to remain in the house for a day or two with its face uncovered. The women and children were allowed to weep loudly but the men were not supposed to do so.

Whenever the head of a household died, some grains of millet mixed with simsim were placed in his right hand. This mixture was known as entetera. Each of the dead man’s children was required to take in his lips a small quantity of the mixture from the dead man’s hand and eat it. This was being made as a promise to follow in thier father’s footsteps by living and behaving like him.

The body was wrapped in bark cloth, the number of backcloths depending on the wealth of the dead man.

The following rites were performed by one of his nephews.

  1. The sister’s son had to wrench out the central pole of the house and throw it into the middle of the compound.
  2. He would also take out the dead man’s eating basket (endiiro) and his bow.
  3. The fire in the center of the house was extinguished. There would be no fire for cooking in the house for the first three days of mourning.
  4. A banana plant from the household’s plantation with fruit on it was also brought and added to the heap of the dead man’s utensils in the compound.
  5. Then the dead man’s nephew or son would go to the well and bring some water in one household‘s water pot by throwing it down among the heap of the dead man’s utensils.
  6. He had also to catch and kill the dead man’s cock to prevent it from crowing.
  7. The chief bull’s testicles were also ligatured at once to prevent it from engaging in any mating activity during the time of mourning. This bull would be slaughtered after four days and eaten. This act of killing male animals was known as mugabuzi.

The ceremony of killing and eating the main bull after four days concluded the period of mourning. The dead man’s house would not be lived in again.

Burial

In Bunyoro, burial would take place either in the morning or in the afternoon but not in the middle of the day. It was considered dangerous for the sun to shine directly on the grave.

If the dead body was for a man, the last cloth on the corpse was wrapped around it in front of the house, in the doorway. If it was for a woman, all this would be done inside the house.

When the body was being taken to the grave, women were required to moderate their weeping. At the grave, there would be no weeping. A pregnant woman was not supposed to attend the burial in the belief that she would miscarry.

The body of a man was laid on its right side, that of a woman on its left. These positions were correspondingly considered to be the appropriate ones to adopt when sleeping. In all cases, the head was placed towards the east and nobody was supposed to leave the graveyard before the burial was completed.

Before the burial took place, the grave was guarded otherwise it might demand another person. Should a grave be dug prematurely, and the supposedly dying person recovered, a banana plant was cut and buried in the grave.

After all the burials, the used to dig the grave and the basket used to carry the soil were left by the grave-side. People would wash themselves thoroughly and remove all the soil for it was believed that if one walked in a garden with the soil on, all the crops would wither and rot.

After burial, people would cut hair from the back and front of their heads and throw it on the grave. The grave was marked with stones and iron rods for it was believed that if one built over a grave, all the members of his household might fall sick and die.

If a person died with grudges against anyone, in the family, his mouth and anus would be staffed with clay. This was meant the ghost from coming out of the corpse to haunt those with whom the dead person had a grudge. If the dead person was the head of the household, the grave digger would perform another ritual in which he would take a handful of a juicy plant and squeeze it with soot in his hands so that the juice ran down from his hands and elbow. The children of the dead man were required to drink this juice from the elbow of the grave digger.

On the day of the burial, of the head of a household, a lot of firewood was placed in the middle of the compound. The children of the dead man would sit around it in turns. The grave digger would then tap each of the children on the side of the head with a large food basket. A Small amount of hair from the part tapped was cut off and thrown away.

Note: You have to note that due to modernity that some of these practices have vanished but some are still present in the rural parts of Bunyoro-Kitara.

Key words

Embiko: condolences

Mugabuzi: Killing and Serving of a bull.
Entetera: Practice of mixing grains of millet mixed with simsim
Endiiro: Easting basket

Author. Bunyoro Kitara North American Association.