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REVEALED: Why Bukusu Elders Are Secretly Exhuming Bodies Of Covid-19 Victims

Khisa KE

July. 31, 2020

Following the emergency of Coronavirus pandemic, the government of Kenya put in place several measures that sought to curb the spread of the virus.
Among those measures was a strict protocol on how people would bury their loved ones, especially those who succumb to complications caused by Coronavirus. Under the new Ministry of Health regulations, funerals were changed from a nearly all-day affair to a hurried one-hour service mostly at dawn, supervised by health officials in hazmat suits.
For the Bukusu sub-tribe in the Luhya community, these regulations go against their own traditions when it comes to how to treat the dead. With the hurried burials, the tribe’s elders fear many of their long-time traditions are being contravened, which according to them might end up inviting a curse to families of the victims.
It is this fear that has reportedly led to the elders resorting to secretly exhume the hurriedly-buried bodies, so as to accord them a ‘proper burial’.
According to Bukusu culture, bodies are to be buried in a resting position. The head must always face away from the compound and shoes, necktie, shirt and trouser must all be loosened and if this is not done, it is believed the dead person will constantly harass family members in their dreams.
The Star Newspaper reports that one prominent reburial, which took place this week, involved the family of a politician whose father sits in the Bukusu Council of Elders and brought together all the elders for the exhumation ritual. 
Council chairman Patrick Chaka said the community is keen on enforcing traditions. He said the community has a way of burying their loved ones depending on the cause of death. 
"We, however, don't have a system of burying people who succumb to the Covid-19 disease because when one dies of the virus people are not allowed to go near and the government takes over," Chaka said. 
So far, the Star reports, six persons from the Bukusu community have died of Covid-19. Five died in Nairobi and their bodies were ferried to Western for the burial while one died in Sirisia. The two exhumed and reburied bodies, are both from prominent families. 
The political family's burial was conducted before 3 pm, against Bukusu traditions while the second body was buried at Namuyemba home in Kanduyi constituency. 
His Balonja clan led the exhumation attended by a few family members and elders this week. So secret and sacred is the exhumation ceremony that nobody wants to talk about it. 
In April, the Ministry of Health published guidelines stipulating that bodies of Covid-19 victims should be buried within 48 hours and community rites must not be performed. 
"The disposal of human remains from Covid-19 cases should be overseen by a public health official within 2 days (48 hours) to avoid community practices that would result in more infections through contact," the regulations, signed by acting Health director-general Patrick Amoth, say.  
Even with the Ministry of Health insisting that bodies of persons who die of Covid-19 must be buried when overseen by a public health official, the World Health Organization (WHO) in a guideline on burial for Covid-19 patients states that "Except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious. Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease."
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