For the third consecutive Saturday in a row, they held the same solemn ceremony again. In the same village, same church, presided by the same pastor, for the same bereaved family but for a different victim.
The ceremony was attended by family members, close relatives, and many of the villagers. They all wore solemn faces, as they gathered outside the church to pay their last respects to the deceased. They silently watched as the convoy of vehicles accompanying the hearse sneaked its way slowly into the church compound.
As the coffin was lifted from the hearse, the grief-stricken mourners, wailed, and wept loudly. Some family members and close relatives, collapsed, unable to bear with the irreparable loss of one of their own, yet again, so soon.
After a short delay, the funeral ceremony started with prayers. Thereafter, the first person to speak, on behalf of the deceased family was an elderly man. At 70 years, he had been chosen to speak first because of his advanced age and also because he had been there during Mau Mau war, when similar deaths ravaged the village indiscriminately. The villagers reasoned that he would be able to compose himself, comfort the mourners and convey consoling words to the multitude of mourners.
He was up to the task in terms of composure. But from the gloomy faces looking at him, his message that greater calamites had been witnessed before was interpreted to mean they had not seen anything yet, and more calamites were on the way.
Next was an age-mate of the deceased, who read his eulogy. He enumerated the deceased’s virtues in his short life. He had died at 40 years. Half way through, he cut short the eulogy as he was overcome by grief, and sobbed inconsolably. This again triggered another round loud weeping and wailing.
And then the area chief, as a representative of the government, was given a chance to console the bereaved family and welcome the mourners, some of whom had travelled from afar.
Chief Furahisha rose to speak. First, he thanked the mourners for turning up in large numbers to bid farewell to Mugendi, his age mate and friend. He then said that he was disappointed by the speakers and the mourners’ lamentations about the calamites.
“I am sure you are asking why God has allowed these tragedies to befall this family,” the chief said. “But it is you who are wrong, not God, as you are the ones who have failed to arrest a situation within your control.”
“I was faced with a similar situation five years ago. I lost five families members in a span of one year,” he continued. ‘I did everything an elder son could do in the absence of his father. My father died when I was only fifteen years.”
“I paid again, the dowry for my mother and grandmother as recommended by the clan elders on losing my second brother, but still lost a sister soon after. Then, it occurred to me that it must be a hereditary condition that was afflicting us,” he continued. “I subjected the remaining family members to medical
tests from the best doctors, but still I lost a brother and sister again. Even my authority as chief was of no help.”
After a brief pause, the chief continued.
“The last straw was when I lost my youngest brother, who was only three months old when my father passed on, and had always considered me as his father. I wondered who had cursed our family and why.”
“I cried the whole night. “It was then, that I realised that I was confronting a higher power. I had no option but to intervene to stop the deaths in my family,” he continued.
Again, the chief paused for a while, cleared his throat, and slowly adjusted his cap. Everybody sat up straight, as silent as a mouse, in anticipation. Even their heart beats seemed to have momentarily stopped, waiting anxiously to hear how he had accomplished such an insurmountable task.
“When I realised that the tragedy might continue afflicting us, and I could be next, I confronted God,” he went on. “I knelt down on a Monday evening, after burying my youngest brother, thanked God for all the good deeds he had done for me and my family. I then beseeched him to allow me to question him, not about our tragedies, but his approach.”
Turning to the mourners, he asked. “Don’t we all know that he has absolute power to call anybody to his kingdom, including your chief, at will, any time?”
The mourners nodded in affirmation.
“So I turned to God,” he continued. “Not any more from my family, my God! Go to our neighbours, pick one there. They are already tired of coming to console us.”
“Not any more from my family, my God! Move across the ridge, pick one there also. They think we are cursed.”
“Not any more from my family, my God! Pay a visit to the village across the main road and call one to your kingdom. They believe we are a doomed family.”
“Not any more from my family, my God! Be a guest to our market residents. Give one of them a ticket to your paradise.’
He continued on and on. By now the mourners were clearly amused and their sombre mood had lifted. They joined him in unison to his “Not any more from my family, my God!” chorus.
“My God did not disappoint me,” the chief continued. “Within a week, he responded to my prayer.”
“The first casualty was the village across the ridge. He picked one person for his kingdom. We hastily went to console them.”
Next was the market place. There God called the market traders association chairman to his kingdom, on the eve of annual general meeting he was to chair. Then he came closer and took my neighbour’s daughter to heaven. My entire family literally camped there to console and support them.
On and on the chief continued.
“It’s been five years now since the last death in my family occurred,” he said. “I believe it is my family’s turn now. Hardly does God give us a chance to invite people to our burial ceremonies. But my God has bestowed on me that rare opportunity. I am next on the line.”
They all watched him in silence.
“You are, therefore, most welcome to my funeral ceremony, in this same place, same church but at God’s opportune day.”
And then he took his seat to thunderous applause from the mourners. Everybody, including relatives of the deceased, momentarily forgot their sorrow.
Not so the poor pastor, who was next in line to speak. He knew he had a tough act to follow
Looking perturbed, when he rose to preach, he dwelt on his usual topic, the importance of offering to God, and the consequences of not doing so. He made reference to Cain, Elias sons and Ananias who all faced God’s wrath for their sinful ways.
Drawing parallels from these cases, he prophesied that calamites would continue to befall the villagers, unless they fulfilled their obligations to God. “You have al now harvested your crops,” he quipped. “But how many of you have submitted your tithe?”
By the time the pastor completed his sermon, the church was almost empty. The few mourners, who were still inside, were visibly bored out of their minds, and their hearts and souls had drifted off to sleep. They were only woken up by the choir singing “this world is not my home’ as the pall bearers carried the casket from the church to the grave.
At the graveside, Pastor Mubatari did not entertain any songs. He quickly performed the rituals, collected his payment for the ceremony, and hastily left. He was clearly agitated that his gospel of reverence and offerings had been undermined by the chief’s masterful delivery.
Perhaps, this and the realization that he had lost control of his congregation were too much for him to bear.
But the mourners cared less about his tribulations. Finally, the turn came for the person assigned the duty of passing a vote of thanks to the mourners. He commended the mourners for not tiring to attend the numerous burial ceremonies the family had had of late. He then paid special thanks to the chief and assured the mourners that they would not be coming soon for another burial involving one of their family members.
“And not our chief, God,” he said.
“Not our chief, God,” the mourners replied in unison.
And the mourners replied in unison ’Not our chief God.’
After the pall bearers lowered the coffin into the grave, the sky turned dark and the thunder roared. The mourners ran as the first drops of rain touched the ground. Everybody went home happy, but soaked to the skin – no doubt having ben cleansed and feeling that the calamities afflicting their village had been washed away.