HomeLocal NewsCremation or burial, what difference does it make?

Cremation or burial, what difference does it make?


Does burning a body to ashes or burial in the ground make any difference?

Cremation has never been a popular custom in the African culture and tradition. However, Indians and white people have practiced cremation since time immemorial.

They uphold cremation so much that the ashes are actually placed in their cupboards in a small container placed in the living room.

Cremation is the process of reducing dead human bodies to ashes. It may serve as a funeral or post-funeral rite that is an alternative to the interment of an intact body in a coffin.

Cremated remains, which do not constitute a health risk, may be buried or interred in memorial sites or cemeteries, or they may be legally retained by relatives and dispersed in a variety of ways.

Recently, the Bulawayo City Council urged residents to consider cremating bodies of their deceased relatives, as the city was fast running out of burial space.

However, the local authority has been forced to continue looking for burial space in the city.

This clearly shows African people are not considering cremation anytime soon and hoping this plea will ever be considered is like trying to force a donkey to drink water when it does not want. The issue of cremation has been met with mixed views.

Nkululeko Nkiwane (58) from Gwabalanda said cremation was not part of the African culture.
Cremation is something which we have never practised as Africans and as such, it is not something which we can just wake up to one day and accept, he said.

That has always been a culture of white and Asian people, because they understand it better.

Zimbabweans believe in life after death. Therefore they believe that if they cremate their deceased relatives, their spirits would not live in the afterlife.
However, Nomalanga Ncube (25) said there was nothing wrong with being cremated.

There is no difference between being cremated and having a normal burial because the person will be dead anyway, she said.

I believe that the issue of the afterlife is neither here nor there because when you are burying a person, his or her spirit would have already left the body, likewise when the person is being cremated.

According to CountryReports.org, a United States website that compiles information on history and culture, 24% of the Zimbabwean population subscribes to traditional African beliefs and 50% combine both Christianity and indigenous beliefs.

Traditionalist Phathisa Nyathi said Africans did not favour cremation for various reasons.

One of the reasons cremation is not favourable is that most people say they cannot imagine the process of burning a body. Some say it gives them pain and yet it will just be a corpse burning, he said.

Nyathi said the way Christianity has been taught to people also has an impact. Biblically, we have always been taught that it is evil, sinful. People are burnt in hell fire, he said.

Therefore, most people feel that when a person is being cremated, it is as if you have already sentenced that person to hell.

There are certain African traditional and cultural ceremonies, such as umbuyiso (spiritual home-bringing of the deceased) which are performed after a certain period after the death and burial of the deceased.

The traditional umbuyiso ceremony is something which is strongly upheld by Africans and for that ceremony to take place there is need for the grave, and soil to be taken and used from the grave, he said.

When a person is cremated those things no longer exist. Therefore, such African traditions are another reason that cremation will not be an easy option for people to just accept.

It is, however, interesting to note the suggestion to cremate has not only been made to Bulawayo residents only.

According to media reports, in November last year, Harare Mayor Muchadeyi Masunda said council was exploring prospects of encouraging cremation instead of traditional burial.

Reports were that four of the citys seven cemeteries were all full and the remaining three were almost full.
However, the Harare local authority equally met the daunting task of convincing people to depart from the traditional ways of burying their deceased relatives.

The mayor of Francistown, Botswanas second largest city, Shadreck Nyeku, last year also reported in the media the citys only cemetery at Gerald Estate was 90% full and that a new one was in the process of being developed.

He revealed that Batswana were resorting to cremation as an option, but the problem was it was a sensitive issue that needed a cautious approach. Nyeku was quoted saying, consideration should be given to the culture and religious beliefs of people.

According to Hindu traditions, the reasons for preferring to destroy the corpse by fire, over burying it into the ground, is to induce a feeling of detachment into the freshly disembodied spirit, which would be helpful to encourage it into passing to the other world (the ultimate destination of the dead).

A Hindu undergoes 16 rituals during his lifetime, like naming ceremony, thread ceremony, beginning of student life, marriage, etc, and the last being cremation. Cremation is referred to as antim-sanskara, literally meaning the last rites.

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