The African traditional ceremony of the last funeral rites is considered evil by some Christian denominations. Some mainstream denominations, like the Roman Catholics, nonetheless, respect the practices and have no problem assimilating them into their liturgy. Mathias Mazinga sought the views of some religious leaders.
Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, Archbishop Emeritus of Kampala
The last funeral rites symbolise the continuity of a person, even after their death. Even Christianity teaches that death is not the end, but a passage from one form of life to another.
When we hold last funeral rites, we affirm that when people die, they do not cease to be completely, but they continue to live through their good works. The last funeral rites also give us the opportunity to honour our dead brethren, and to commemorate their marvelous works.
Before the advent of the Christian missionaries, Africans hungered for God. That is why in the Ganda tradition, for example, people worshipped small gods like Muwanga and Mukasa.
They were searching for God, the almighty. God, out of his kindness, sent the Christian missionaries to quench that thirst that the Africans had for Him. So, the positive cultural ceremonies help us to profess our faith.
Christian faith builds on the thirst that the respective people have for God. Faith comes from God and it finds us with that divine thirst, on which it builds. This explains why the Church respects the positive traditional cultural practices of the people that she seeks to evangelise to.
During the last funeral rites, an heir is installed to take over the responsibilities of their dead relative. The heir is always advised to emulate the good works of the person he or she has succeeded. They are normally advised to be courageous, hardworking, social and hospitable to all, among other things.
This is a positive tradition that does not compromise, but enriches the Christian faith. In the book of Sirach, we see the good works of the illustrious ancestors of the Israelites being praised (Sirach 44, 1-13).
The Catholic Church, therefore, upholds any cultural practice that does not contradict with the ideals of Christianity.
On the other hand, the Church rejects any practice that offends her teaching. That is why we shall continue to denounce practices like child sacrifice, witchcraft, devil worship and domestic violence, which are in total contradiction to the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Pr. Simeon Kayiwa, Namirembe Christian Fellowship
Any ritual has certain elements, for example sacredness, magic and ancestral worship. A ritual is actually a sequence of activities involving words, gesture, objects and performances, which are designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors’ goals and interest.
Ritual practices include ghost dance, myths and exhuming the remains of dead persons. These are usually prescribed by traditions of a community.
The performances of these rituals have their origins in societal beliefs, sacraments of local religious rites, and involve oaths and warnings. These rituals and practices, especially the solemnization of preternatural entities that are not God, but are worshipped as God, seriously conflict with Christianity.
It is good to install an heir and also to give him responsibilities. However, this should be done in a simple and normal way, just like a person giving a job to another without all that ceremonial ritualistic form.
The ritualistic forms that some people attach to the last funeral rites are the compromising weaknesses, which make our people conform to mythical forces in contravention to the ideals of God.
Every Christian should, therefore, be cautious about the content of worship, the intensity or commitment to spirits of the dead and the centrality of these things not being God.
But the practice of giving an heir to the bereaved family, if done in a proper way, is not wrong.
Cardinal Wamala says the Catholic Church upholds any cultural practices that do not contradict with the ideals of Christianity
Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Mwesigwa, Chaplain at St. Kakumba Chapel, Kyambogo University
The Anglican Church recognises traditional rites which are important. We are nonetheless mindful of the manner in which these rites are carried out.
In any cultural rite, we accommodate those aspects which are positive, or which rhyme with our Christian beliefs. However, we endeavor to streamline them, to make them compatible with our Christianity.
The last funeral rites, for example, have a worshipful component which must be replaced with the Christian way of life. Fetishes or symbolic things from our ancestral worship must also be replaced with Christian symbols like the Bible, which is the Christian symbol of authority and eternal life.
The Bible is the sword of the Holy Spirit. It must, therefore, substitute objects like the spears. To pay allegiance to the heir is something good.
To eulogise the dead person is also another good thing that we retained. Much as we accept important cultural rites, we reject all those traditional practices that are in conflict with the Christian teaching. We also endeavour to Christianise the positive traditional practices.
What some Christians say
Fred Kabuye, Catholic
The ceremony of last funeral rites is significant. It gives the relatives and friends of the deceased the opportunity to get together in cultural fellowship, to discuss issues of the deceased and to know their heir.
The extended family members also get a chance to know each other. Therefore, we need to jealously guard such important cultural rituals.
The fact that some people syncretize it does not mean that we demonise it. We should instead Christianise those aspects of the ritual, which do not rhyme well with Christianity.
Juliet Meeme, gospel singer
As a born-again Christian, I have no business with the last funeral rites. The ceremony has many rites which contradict the teaching of the Bible. This ritual, in Luganda, is called okwabya olumbe, whose direct translation in English is, ‘to burst death’.
But why is it that people are still dying when every Saturday people burst death? As a family we just pray when we lose a dear one.
After burial, they show us the heir, without taking us into those controversial ritualistic practices.
Betty Namaganda, pastor and singer
We are not comfortable with the last funeral rites because they are laden with many demonic rituals, like the total shaving of hair, or the so-called removal of death from the house.
We believe in the tradition of installing the heir. After burial, we prepare food for the mourners and, as we partake of the meal, an heir is shown.
Culture is part and parcel of our life. In fact, Christianity itself is rooted in culture. We all live within this context. So, total banishment of traditional culture is not ideal.
What we should do is to rid culture of those elements, or aspects, which make it incompatible with the tenets of God.