Lusaka Running Out Of Burial Space! Is Cremation The Solution?

Lusaka Running Out Of Burial Space! Is Cremation The Solution?

Lusaka FOR a country that prides itself in being a Christian nation while at the same time clinging on to its cultural norms and customs, the statement by the Lusaka mayor that residents look to cremation as an option in light of the limited burial space was always going to elicit a lot of interest if not controversy.

“ It’s unchristian, we’re a Christian nation and we shouldn’t be doing cremation,” someone quipped when cremation was suggested to him as an option.

“ Let’s just be going to our villages to be buried, there’s a lot of land in our respective villages.

We should just prepare resources while we’re alive because it is expensive to take the burial to the village.” The two cemeteries in the city – Chingwele and Leopards Hill – are almost running out of burial space and the Lusaka City Council is facing a serious challenge of finding an alternative burial site.

The mayor, Wilson Kalumba, wants a cultural shift from burying the dead to cremation in an effort to address the shortage of burial space.

The Local Government Act provides for cremation of bodies and a few prominent citizens have opted for that route.

“ I will support the issue of cremation if Zambians accept it as a means to handle the diminishing burial space and population increase,” Mr Kalumba said.

Interestingly, the statement by the mayor came a day after the Vatican issued guidelines on cremation.

The Vatican had responded to what it called an “ unstoppable increase” in cremation and issued guidelines in which it barred the scattering of ashes “ in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way.” The Vatican decreed that the ashes of loved ones have no place in the home, and certainly not in jewelry. It urged that cremated remains be preserved in cemeteries or other approved sacred places.

It was reported that the instructions, which reiterate the Roman Catholic Church’s preference for burial over cremation, were in line with previous teachings.

The new guidelines, which Pope Francis approved this year, were released ahead of All Souls Day, which fell on Wednesday for Catholics, who are called to remember and pray for those who have died.

The New York Times reported that the Catholic Church had for centuries banned cremation but began to allow the practice in 1963 as long as it was not done for reasons at odds with Christian doctrine.

“ Burials are deeply embedded in Christian tradition, and in the United States and elsewhere many dioceses still run graveyards and cemeteries, though cremation and other alternatives are on the rise,” the New York Times noted in its report.

The publication quoted Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which drafted the guidelines, as saying: “ We believe in the resurrection of the body, so burial is the normal form for the Christian faithful, especially Catholics, whom we are addressing with this document.” The document explains that the church cannot condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the ‘ prison’ of the body.

It added that burial in a cemetery “ encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead, while at the same time fostering the veneration of martyrs and saints.” The document noted that burial prevents the forgetting of the loved one, and unfitting or superstitious practices as well as the fact that the deceased one should be in a place accessible to everyone and as such a cemetery is preferable to a home.

On the other hand, scattering ashes can be misunderstood as a sort of religion of nature, while there is belief in resurrection.

According to a number of scholars, cremation is said to have started in the early Stone Age – around 3000 BC – and most likely in Europe and the Near East.

“ During the late Stone Age, cremation began to spread across northern Europe, as evidenced by particularly informative finds of decorative pottery urns in western Russia among the Slavic peoples,” says the Cremation Association of North America ( CANA), an international organisation of over 3,300 members, composed of funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories, industry suppliers and consultants, founded in 1913.

“ By the time of the Roman Empire – 27 B. C. to 395 AD. – it was widely practised, and cremated remains were generally stored in elaborate urns, often within columbarium- like buildings.

“ Prevalent though the practice was among the Romans, cremation was rare with the early Christians who considered it pagan and in the Jewish culture where traditional sepulchre entombment was preferred.

“ However, by 400 AD., as a result of Constantine’s Christianisation of the Empire, earth burial had completely replaced cremation except for rare instances of plague or war, and for the next 1,500 years remained the accepted mode of disposition throughout Europe.” CANA, which was originally formed to promote the “ modern way” and the “ safe and hygienic way” of dealing with a dead human although it says it is not a ‘ pro- cremation over burial’ association, but is concerned with the proper treatment and respect for those who have chosen cremation. Modern cremation, as it is known, actually began only a little over a century ago, after years of experimentation into the development of a dependable chamber.

According to HowStuffWorks – an American commercial educational website founded by Marshall Brain to provide its target audience an insight into the way many things work using various media to explain complex concepts, terminology, and mechanisms – modern cremation began in the late 1800s with the invention of a practical cremation chamber by Professor Brunetti, who presented it at the 1873 Vienna Exposition.

“ Championed by Queen Victoria’s surgeon, Sir Henry Thompson, and driven by public concern for hygiene and health and clerical desires to reform burial practices, crematories slowly began opening in Europe and abroad. The first modern crematory in America was established in Pennsylvania in 1876,” the website notes.

“ Today, cremation is practised in at least 31 countries around the world, with rates ranging from less than two percent in Ghana to more than three- quarters of the deaths in Switzerland.” However, there are different religious views regarding cremation.

For instance, Hinduism mandates cremation while Christianity, Judaism and Islam frown upon it.

But according to How Stuff Works , which got its start in 1998 at a college professor’s kitchen table but has grown into an award- winning source of unbiased, reliable, easy- to- understand answers and explanations of how the world actually works, while religious views and historical traditions have a strong influence on funerary practices, so do societal, economic and ecological needs.

“ As more people look into cremation as a viable funerary option, they might find it’s not as mysterious as they thought,” the website states.

Perhaps, that is the point of the mayor.

Mr Kalumba says he is shocked that some sections of the Zambian society are against cultural shift when the Local Government Act allows for cremation of the dead.

The negative response from some residents on issues of cultural shift is surprising to the mayor because they are enshrined in the Zambian Constitution.

“ When these laws were presented to Parliament, no question on culture was raised.

So I don’t understand why some residents are against issues which they presumably concerted to,” he says.

Mr Kalumba says cultural shift issues are optional and require one to think through before deciding and people will not be stopped from cremating the dead if they so desire because the constitution allows the practice.

But in a conservative society such as this one, the proposal by the mayor is bound to raise some controversy.

The mayor, Wilson Kalumba, wants a cultural shift from burying the dead to cremation in an effort to address the shortage of burial space.