A generation after Western missionaries handed over leadership of the church to Africans, the clash between Christian faith and ethnic tradition remains as worrisome as ever.
The struggle between Christians and traditionalists reignited when the Anglican church in Kenya attempted to modernize funeral ceremonies following the March death of Bishop John Henry Okullu. The church's proposed reforms also would fundamentally alter the traditional view of life after death.
REFORMS PROPOSED: The church quenched a spirited attempt by Okullu's Luo ethnic community to provide a traditional burial because they regarded him as their leader. Okullu, one of Africa's most respected church leaders, had made his ideas on the issue clear, so the Anglican church won wide support for a Christian burial.
The church took ad vantage of the victory to kick off a national debate by proposing wide-ranging reforms to the elaborate and expensive customs traditionally linked to burials.
The reforms would enable a widow to inherit the husband's property and allow her to marry whomever and whenever she likes. "Widows normally suffer twice on the death of their spouse, the loss of the husband and the loss of property," says David Gitari, archbishop of Nairobi and primate of the Anglican church of Kenya.
In addition, the reforms would re move an array of embarrassing syncretistic practices at Kenyan burials. For instance, at gravesides, Christian ministers often stand side by side with traditional warriors in full regalia, ready to do battle with evil spirits in what Okullu's people call "sending away the ashes."
TRIBAL BACKLASH: The incident is symbolic of lingering tensions between Christian and tribal leaders throughout sub-Saharan Africa, which is mostly Christian. ...1
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