A family in Murang’a County has found themselves in a perplexing situation where they had to bury a banana plant instead of the body of their beloved, after a private hospital refused to release the remains over an outstanding bill of 1.3 million Kenyan Shillings.
This bizarre incident unfolded on December 9, 2023, in the village of Kamuiru in the Maragua constituency. Local residents are now urging the hospital to act appropriately and release the deceased’s body for the funeral rites.
The body of 55-year-old Irene Wanjiru had already been transferred from the hospital and delivered to the mortuary of Maragua hospital for funeral arrangements. However, a notice was issued, stating that the family could not take possession until the outstanding bill was settled.
According to the deceased’s son, Mr. Mwangi Irungu, his mother started experiencing health issues last year, 2022, and her condition worsened in July 2022, leading to her admission to a private hospital in Kirinyaga County.
“My mother was diagnosed with head cancer, and after undergoing surgery and receiving other treatments at Kerugoya hospital, the total bill accumulated to 3.8 million Shillings,” he explained.
Mr. Irungu added, “We made efforts through fundraising and managed to pay 2.5 million Shillings, and that’s when we reached an agreement with the hospital administrators to allow us to bury the body.”
However, further negotiations stipulated that the family needed to raise a little more money to finalize the agreement.
“After raising an additional 80,000 Shillings and presenting it to the hospital, we were shocked to be denied permission to proceed with the burial arrangements,” he said.
Relatives and friends who had traveled from different parts of the country for the funeral were informed of the billing dispute. In response, they decided to conduct a symbolic burial ceremony for the banana plant.
“We had already dug a grave, and according to our Agikuyu traditions, you cannot leave a grave open, nor can you fill it with soil without the intended body,” said 87-year-old Mzee Nduati Kariga.
Mzee Kariga emphasized the cultural significance, stating that filling a grave with soil without the intended body is considered a curse on the deceased’s entire lineage. In such situations, a banana plant is buried to symbolically represent and uphold the deceased’s body, purifying the family lineage according to customs.
He explained that the banana plant is chosen with its roots intact so that, even after being buried, it will grow and produce more plants, symbolizing the prosperity of the deceased’s family even after the hardships of mourning.