As often as I’ve attended funerals in Karamoja, last week was my first time to witness the process in its entirety. I’m sure variations exist, but I am told that most of what happened on Monday is typical of the Karamojong funeral practice.
When a person dies, preparation of the body for burial consists in the deceased being wrapped in a sheet and bound at intervals (ankles, knees, waist, etc). A sorghum stalk is cut to the person’s height and used as a reference in order to ensure that the grave will be long enough for the body. A suitable burial location is found inside the village and the weeds are cleared away. The digging begins. Depending on the location and the season and the time of death, the grave may not be finished by midday. If such is the case, all work stops at midday and those digging gather with the family of the deceased and sit quietly together. The digging cannot begin again until two hours after midday. The grave must be squared off at the bottom to the length of the sorghum stalk and the floor of the hole must be relatively flat.
When the grave is finished, members of the village bring the body out of the hut and carry it to the grave. When the body has been placed, the funeral service begins. Any time a friend or a friend-of-a-friend of the mission dies, one of our pastors is asked to come and pray. On these occasions, it is common for Dave or Al or Lokwii David to read from John 11 and say a few words about the resurrection, encouraging the listeners to embrace Christ and the resurrection to eternal life.
On Monday, Yoana, the husband of the woman who had died led in a song and our translator, Lokeris, followed with several more. At the conclusion of the singing, Yoana threw a handful of earth onto the body. The others gathered climbed onto the piles flanking the grave and, facing away on either side from the grave, scooped the earth back into the hole until the body was completely covered. When this was accomplished, everyone turned back toward the grave and began filling in the rest of the dirt, being very careful that no leaf or root should go into the hole with the soil.
When the grave was filled in and mounded, the sorguhm stalk was placed on the mound and covered, and a cross was placed at the head of the grave. Often, water is brought and everyone in attendance dips their hands in the water and sprinkles it onto the grave. Thus the funeral ends.
Monday’s ceremony was very subdued. Possibly because the wife of Yoana was old, and the death was not so unexpected, there were not the loud and violent displays of mourning that are often seen. It is common for women here to wail loudly and throw themselves on the ground during a funeral, but this time there were only quiet tears.
This woman was not very well known to us, but her husband attended our church regularly before he became to frail to make the journey. He is a fixture at the Nariko Bible study, always bringing his own Bible and asking perceptive questions about the lesson. When we go through the village to mobilize, it is common to meet him reading the Scriptures in the shade of his home. It is our hope that this Christian witness spilled over into the lives of his family, and we pray that his wife died in faith that she will one day be raised into glory with Christ.