Most communities in Kenya follow the tradition of burying their deceased loved ones while they are asleep in the coffin. However, within the Bukusu sub-tribe of the Luhya community, the Balunda clan has a unique cultural practice of burying the dead in a seated position.
The Balunda clan, residing primarily in Bungoma and extending to other areas such as Busia, Kakamega, and Trans Nzoia Counties, is believed to possess the power to bring rain. As a result, it is customary for rain to fall before they are buried in the grave.
Enock Sirengo, the chairman of the Balunda clan, provided insight into the history of this distinctive tradition during an interview with NTV. He traced the origins of the practice back to their leader, Mulanda.
According to Mzee Enock Sirengo, the chairman of the Balunda clan, Mulanda, who was an elderly farmer, used to graze his livestock in the fields. One day, when the cattle returned home without him, the villagers became concerned and set out to find him. They eventually discovered Mulanda’s lifeless body seated on an anthill, while his cows and goats continued grazing.
Following Bukusu burial customs, Mulanda’s body was taken home and laid to rest. However, a few days later, one of his family members claimed to have received a dream visitation from Mulanda, which is known among the Bukusu as “kamaroro ke bamakombe.” In this dream, Mulanda expressed his displeasure at being buried in a prone position despite having passed away while seated. Strangely, no one took the dream seriously until members of Mulanda’s family started dying mysteriously.
These unexplained deaths prompted the elderly men of the clan to exhume Mulanda’s body and prepare a special grave. Rituals were performed to appease his soul, and he was then reburied according to his wishes, in a seated position. Thus, the Balunda clan of the Bukusu sub-tribe adopted the practice of burying their deceased relatives while seated.
Even today, as witnessed during the burial of Musikari Kombo’s elder brother in October 2020, members of the Balunda clan are interred in a seated position. Wives who marry into the Balunda clan are also buried in the same manner, honoring the customs of their husbands’ clans.
However, daughters born into the Balunda clan do not receive the privilege of this special burial. According to Bukusu Marriage Customs, girls are married outside of their clans, so when they pass away, they are laid to rest following the burial traditions of their husbands’ clans.