There is an uncle from my husband’s extended family, who lives in kikondwa. He lived there with his wife and sons nearby. My husband knows him well because that is the same village he grew up in. When he was little, this uncle came with his young family to live nearby because his father had helped the uncle, his brother, purchase a piece of land nearby to settle on. Back then were the beginning days of the mail-o land holding system. Many struggled to understand how to navigate the system, which was often more red-tape than paperwork.
The uncle Makubuya had somewhat disappeared from the usual family gatherings over the past 12 years but recently he had been making a reappearance. He had attended a recent last rights gathering of a late relative. There had been wrangles about family land and its distribution. Fights about family land in Africa often leave people dead or estranged. Yet this uncle, in his old age, felt the call of the DNA in his blood and decided to lay aside old grievances and come near the blood which runs in similar veins, enjoying the comfort of old ways and gatherings.
Yet, late the other night, when the inside lights had been dimmed and the outside lights were trained to deter thieves. The dog lay by her master’s door and the cat curled up on top of the dog for warmth. The shrill ring of the phone cut through the night like a shill. “Tata Makubuya is dead,” they reported. What do we do? Oh my! Tata is dead! The calls rang to many more slumbering homes and many more children and relatives rubbed their eyes and started at the news.
“But he was not sick!”
“Can it be true?”
Some began traveling to the home of the deceased to bring condolences and begin burial preparations and rituals from night to dawn. The next morning burial plans would begin in earnest.
This wife of an Ugandan husband, cancelled any plans of any, anything for the next 2 days. It would be as though there was no husband in the house for the next few days. And after that there would be a tired husband for a few more.
The next day the sun rose as usual, the phone began ringing early as others called to confirm the death. More began to travel to Kikondowa. My husband also began his short journey to Kikondowa, the nearby village.
The meeting began as a quorum assembled. The sons and daughters of the deceased were there. The wife was present. Formalities were uttered. Then quickly things began to unravel as discussions began about burying the deceased in the large family burial grounds in Nsambwe, some 15 kilometres away. The sons of the deceased jumped up and with inebriated enthusiasm, disagreeing vehemently with the burial location. The elders there requested an explanation. The sons wildly accused the extended family of old grudges. Their bloodshot eyes rolled as they recounted how their father did not want to be buried with the family in Nsambwe.
“But we have never heard of this.” the elders countered in a puzzled way.
“But we are here to bury our father!” a nephew announced. “And this is what we will do!“ he added.
This announcement stirred the sons’ addled brains into a tizzy, as one jumped up and ran to the house to lock himself inside with the deceased. The other sons declared they are prepared to chase everyone away with machetes. Yet other sons began calling their drinking buddies and dealers to come and assist them with machetes.
Chaos ensued as those who cared for their lives urged others to depart before blood was shed. My husband also stood and began footing it home. He slowly walked the red road home, discussing the event with his brother. Along the way, many neighbors also stopped offered condolences and discussed the manner of the death of the deceased.
Meanwhile, two stories began to emerge.
“He fell in the bathroom and injured his head and died.”
“No, he was brought from the road at night.”
“Oh, but the sons were drinking at the local bar but they received a phone call and both left, quickly…early.”
“But wait now, the deceased had just received funds of $500 to fulfill a contract at a construction site in Kampala.”
“Yet wait, the funds are nowhere to be found. It is as though they evaporated.”
“Oh, this is why the sons were behaving abnormally! They didn’t even allow anyone to view the body.”
“But wait, senga saw the body and there was a deep wound on the head.”
“AaaAah! what shall we do now?”
“But there is nothing to do!”
“They will bury and that is all that can be done.”
“AaaAaah, but the sons have killed their father!”
“Those boys. We knew they were disrespectful.”
“What can we do? There is nothing to do!”
“They are doing just like what was done to their grandfather. He also was buried quickly in a remote place in that bush in Nkooki.”
“What a shame!”
And so goes the story, night and day and night and day till the deceased is buried. The matoke and the thin watery beef soup is eaten. A few women from the extended family come and discreetly stay to observe, grieve and participate in the burial rituals. But mostly, they stay in order to make elaborate reports when they depart.
The rest of us all, we wait for the night hours …for the dreams, where tata approaches us with requests or complaints. Or perhaps he will voice his displeasure with his resting place. Certainly, he will return. He will not rest peacefully.