Why exhumation cases are on rise in the recent past

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 00:00 |

Recently, residents of Shinyalu constituency, Kakamega county, woke up to a rude shock when a father exhumed the body of his daughter barely a week after she was buried.

Aggrey Asiema, 52, from Kamwega village exhumed the body of the 15-year-old child in order “to give her a decent burial”. 

Locals described the action as a curse and wants the family to perform cleansing rituals to appease the dead.

Last year, another family from Siaya county also wanted to exhume their son, who had died of Covid-19 on the grounds of giving him a decent burial.

According to one of the family members, their brother was not given a decent burial because he was buried at night, something that contravenes the Luo culture and could even psychologically affect the bereaved family.

Carefully controlled

The family wanted the body to be removed from the grave then taken to the mortuary to allow the family set a day to bury him decently in a coffin. Their wish was, however, not granted.

Exhumation is the process of unearthing buried human remains for any number of reasons. Though many religions discourage disturbing the dead, exhuming bodies isn’t that uncommon.

According to Antony Odeck, an advocate of the High Court, there are a number of reasons why one would elect to have a loved one exhumed.

Criminal investigation is a common factor and DNA testing is another. 

Other reasons usually involve family members who wish the grave of the deceased to be relocated.

“Legal disinterment is carefully controlled to ensure respect for human remains.

That is why one requires a special permit to disinter a body. This allows the court to ensure the chain of custody is transparent, and the wishes of the deceased are represented,” he says.

According to Odeck, despite that disposing of a dead body has been a controversial subject in the country since the colonial era, no dead body can be exhumed without a permit granted by the cabinet secretary incharge of health.

Available studies show that whether legally or illegally, exhumation remains a taboo, in most part because many religions and traditions forbid the practice. 

Additionally, most tribes believe that moving a person’s remains can unsettle their spirit.

Religions such as Islam discourages opening, handling, or reusing graves until there are no traces of the original corpse left.

And many Christians believe if someone’s body is disturbed or destroyed, they cannot be resurrected.

Unhappy spirits

But what is leading to the rising numbers of exhumation cases? 

Joyce Amusimba* who lost her sister to Covid-19, says measures to prevent the virus have been the main reason.

She says how Covid-19 victims are being buried is making the ‘spirits of dead unhappy’. This is believed to have dire consequences in the long run for the living.

“Our sister was buried wrapped in plastics and her soul couldn’t rest until we disinterred her.

Since we couldn’t be allowed to exhume the body we did it at night; unwrapped her and buried her in a decent way.

Nobody apart from the family members knew that it happened,” says Amusimba.

And why are people going to this extent? She says burying the dead decently is one way of ensuring they are accorded dignity and respect and that the feelings of their living loved ones are considered.

On his part Odeck says that, family conflict is also forcing people to exhume the bodies illegally as some member’s resort to not bury their loved ones in the home of where the person was married to if the deceased is a woman. 

Failure to adhere to deceased last wish, especially when the deceased had left a will indicating how they want to be buried or even said it orally is another reason.

Since section 137 of the Penal Code makes it an offence for anyperson to unlawfully hinder the burial of the dead body of a person or without lawful authority disinter  dissect or harm the dead body of any person or being under a duty to cause the dead body of any person to be buried, fail to perform that duty.

Odeck says that this is the reason why people are doing it illegally and mostly at night.

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