Religious faith determines where one is buried in Tana River

Tuesday September 24 2019

A cemetery for Catholic faithful in Hola Town, Tana River County. Non-locals who are not Muslims or Catholics or Methodists find it hard to secure a place to bury their dead. PHOTO | STEPHEN ODUOR | NATION MEDIA GROUP


In most parts of the country, people who are considered non-locals or foreigners often form welfare groups which they use to support each other in case death occurs.

The welfare groups raise money to assist the bereaved families cater for logistics and burial arrangements.

But the case is different in Tana River County.

Here, non-locals prefer to join religious groups as opposed to welfares in order to secure a burial sites when death occurs.

In as much as death is not a choice, for non-locals in Tana River, it requires one to make prior plans in case such a calamity befalls a family. This is because burial has to take place within 24 hours after death.



One has to either be affiliated to a predominant religious group – Islam and Christianity (Methodist or Catholic) – before they can secure a spot where to bury a body.

Nina Kimani, a Christian affiliated to the PCEA Church, faced this reality when she lost her sister who died in one of the hospitals in Tana River.

The two had been working at the Bura Irrigation Scheme for 13 years when Ms Wairimu succumbed to pneumonia.

"We were out of time having been asked by the hospital to take the body by the afternoon, barely hours after her passing, since the hospital did not have a mortuary, and neither does there exist one in the county," Ms Kimani narrated.


Lucky for them, friends came to assist the family and the only solution they had was to find a place to bury the body.

That is when it dawned on them that in as much as they were Christians, it was still not a guarantee that they would find a resting place for her sister.

The Catholic Church would not offer them a spot in their graveyard as they were not members of that particular faith.

The Methodist Church also said that its graveyard was strictly meant for its members.

"We called in a specialist who injected my sister’s body with a preservative as we sought for a place to bury it. I was so heartbroken with this Christianity thing," Ms Kimani says.


The following morning a truck driver who had come by to pick melons heard of their predicament and offered to help them since he was a friend.

He advised them to wrap the body in a khanga and thereafter put it in a tightly sealed coffin before loading it in his truck full of melons.

They then set off on a journey to Nairobi’s Lang’ata Cemetery for burial.

Ms Kimani is not the only victim of such tribulations.


Early this year, the family of Joseph Mutua had to undergo similar treatment for being Christians who did not subscribe to the predominant faiths.

"When my son suddenly succumbed to diabetes, we sought for a burial space in vain. Our church members tried the best to get a burial place in the sites we knew but the respective church committees would not allow it as we were not members of their faith," narrates Mr Mutua.

Mr Mutua, a farmer, recalls how in one of the churches, they were asked to subscribe to the faith in order to be given burial space for 23-year-old Elias Mutisya.

When all efforts proved futile, the family decided to offer a cash incentive to a particular church that had earlier turned them away, which the committee gladly accepted.


Even for Sh15,000 for the burial space in their graveyard, the family was given a space far from the graves of the church’s believers at a corner, lest the spirit of their son disturbs the brethren who were resting in peace.

Two days after the burial, a disagreement emerged among the church committee members as it emerged some had been by-passed in the decision making.

Some of the elders threatened to dig up the fresh grave.

The Mutua family found themselves in fresh negotiations even before they could get to terms with their loss.


“These elders demanded an extra Sh10,000 for the site since they did not get a share of the first pay, so I coughed out more money just for Eli to be left in peace," he recounted.

While it costs a non-Methodist Sh5,000 to get a burial place where locals pay between Sh200 and Sh500, there is no room whatsoever at the Catholic cemetery for the non-Catholics.

One has to subscribe to the Catholic faith, in life or on his or her death bed before being allowed through cemetery gates for final rest.

Some of the non-locals who have chosen to live in the county have since been forced to secure land and settle, and use the same space for burial.

The frustrations of an immediate burial coupled by the lack of a mortuary have pushed both locals and non-locals to bear huge costs.


The locals have resorted to traditional methods of embalming bodies in cases where relatives demand the presence of other who have to travel from far for burial.

The non-locals have also slowly begun to buy the idea, except for those who can afford to ferry their dead to mortuaries in Malindi.

Tana River Health Executive Mwanajuma Hiribae notes that while there is a mortuary at the county referral hospital, it cannot hold bodies for more than 24 hours since there are no cold chambers.


"We have that in our budget. We have factored equipping cold chambers as required and hopefully people will not have to travel long distances anymore," she said.

On the cemetery crisis, Lands Executive Javan Bonaya notes that it has been an uphill task identifying a site as almost all land is occupied by particular communities who have set of demands for the implementation of every project.

"We have an allocation of Sh6 million in our 2018/2020 budget for securing a public cemetery though it will require long discussions before we can agree on a site," he noted.

Meanwhile, the non-locals have no other option but to continue to pay the high price of securing places to bury their dead.