When Nabongo Japheth Wambani Rapando, the departed king of the Wanga, is laid to rest on Saturday, he will have made history not because of his short reign but because he will be the first to break the community’s traditional burial rites.
According to Wanga customs, kings are buried while seated, wrapped in animal skin with a stool, the symbol power, placed on their head.
Wambani’s burial will be done in the modern way but still uphold the tradition.
The coffin that will be used to bury the king has been built like a chair to comply with the tradition.
Its design was drawn even before the king died.
One of the royal’s sons, Mr James Wambani, says he gave instructions on the design last November when he realised his father’s health was deteriorating.
“I knew the old man was not going to live long and started the preparations of having his coffin made,” explains Mr Wambani.
He went on: “I constantly kept checking the progress and reminded the designer that he had to make something unique.”
Mr Wambani, who is the fifth of Nabongo Rapando’s 11 sons, says his father left a will spelling out how he wanted to be buried.
According to the coffin designer, Mr Christopher Omondi, it is one of a kind.
“I was amazed at the design since I have never made such a coffin before,” says Mr Omondi.
Mr Wambani says it took him time to think of a design.
“I had a picture in mind and this is it,” he says.
The coffin is 6.3 feet and comes with a trolley.
“I will give them (the family) two of my aides to help them handle the coffin when they come for it,” says Mr Omondi.
He says it took him two weeks to make it.
The coffin cost Sh40,000 and the trolley Sh5,000, bringing the total price tag to Sh45,000.
“I am impressed with the work and I think it is good value for money. It is a coffin befitting a king,” says Mr Wambani.
Mr Wambani explains that he had to travel all the way to Kisumu to have it made.
“It is said that if you want something nice or a great piece of art, go to Kisumu,” he says.
Noble Laureate Wangari Maathai’s hyacinth casket was also made in Kisumu. The coffin drew a huge crowd at Kibuye market.
Mr Wambani says the Wanga elders were opposed to the coffin initially as they wanted tradition to be followed to the letter.
They wanted Nabongo Wambani’s body to be wrapped in animal skin instead of being buried in a coffin.
This, according to Mr Wambani, was not possible because of health reasons.
He explains that the family also imported a suit and shoes worth Sh20,000 to dress the king’s body.
The coffin will be picked tomorrow morning and taken to St Mary’s Hospital mortuary in Mumias, where the king’s body lies, before they embark on the funeral procession to his home in Emulambo village, Mumias District.
According to Mr Wambani, viewing of the body will be at his home on Friday. Only immediate family members will be allowed to view the body.
In a break with the Wanga tradition, the church is expected to lead the funeral service before the burial rites are performed.
About 6,000 people are expected to attend the burial, including politicians.
The successor of Nabongo Wambani will be decided before the burial. Community elders will lead the succession rites.
According to the Wanga traditions, the elders will anoint the successor from among the sons, who will then be expected to spear an animal.
The animal is supposed to fall next to the body, confirming that the king has approved his successor. Failure means the elders have to make another choice.
Nabongo Wambani, 88, died on January 1 at his home after a long battle with sickness.