Many posts to follow but this is what is possible with power and network problems,  Thanks for reading!!

Leaves of Grass, Church and State

The Member of Parliament has died and we are to attend his funeral.  From the clan of Sumari and the Akeri Parish,  the MP was something of a founding father in the early years of independence.  It is the tradition to have the funeral at home.  For 4 straight days arrangements have been made.  Since President Kikweti, President of the Republic of Tanzania will attend, even the dirt road from the tarmac road to the family compound has been repaired.  It is a spectacle of religious pageantry,  crowds of village people,  political maneuvering and tradition.  We have been warned that the funeral will be many hours and that there will be as many people as leaves of grass. Just a week ago, we attended a District commissioner’s wife’s funeral,  a smaller version of what is to come.

We leave Nkoaranga Hospital at 10:00 am for the relatively short ride to Akeri Parish.  The open field across from the Akeri Parish has been transformed into a ceremonial area.  On one end of the field is a tent with a raised stage and an altar,  tents on either side are lined up with seating on the ever present plastic lawn chair.  A large tent for the family, next to that a large tent for CCM party officials, another tent for ward counselors,  another for District Commissioners, another for invited representatives of the CDRB,  the TZ stock exchange, and other businesses the MP was influential in.  Opposite the altar, 50 yards away or so, there is a large tent with wooden chairs for the elected officials.  There is seating for 100 or so in there.  Opposite the family and others are tents for the pastors, the sound crew and other invitees.  In the center of the field is a smaller tent with the white open casket on a red carpet, flanked by uniformed people who are not explained to us.  The time to pay respects is 9:00-11:00 am.  We join a long and continuous line outside the perimeter of the tents.  The line moves rapidly as there is no one greeting the mourners.  We simply file by the flower laden casket.  We leave the line and are greeted at the pastors tent.  As guests of the Diocese,  we are seated with the pastors, about two rows back.  Dr. Mollel is Diocese staff so we are all together.  We have a good view of all the pageantry.  Dr. Mollel identifies dignitaries as they arrive.  The General Secretary, the former Prime Minister, some MPs,  other ministers of the government.  There is a stir when the Speaker of Parliament, a woman, arrives.  She is seated in the front row center of the dignitaries. The Prime Minister arrives with a retinue of uniformed security police in flak jackets and red berets.  Now all the legislative leaders of the country are here as well as many of the former leaders.  Only the President has not arrived.  There is music over the PA and the Akeri choir sings, and sings and sings. A huge sound truck has a generator and speakers running outside the defined area.  The CCM ruling party dressed in green and yellow is ushering and doing crowd control.  There is an emcee who makes occasional remarks.  The line of people from the village, from different areas continue to file by the casket with no breaks.  By 11:30 all the seating is full.  People continue to file by in their katangas, dress shirts of all colors and materials, in suits in this blistering heat.  The area behind the tents and up the hill-sides are filling with people and still they come.  Just before noon,  the line is stopped and the governmental dignitaries file pay their respects, single file as a group.  Then the Bishops enter.  With all the attention to governmental dignitaries and the heavy presence of CCM party members, the church is still in charge of the funeral.  Bishop Akyoo is joined by two other ELCT Bishops and other men who we learn later are the Anglican Bishop and the Pentecostal Bishop.  Leading the processional are the Pastor from Akeri parish, Pr. Amani,  the District Pastor, Pr. Nasari and the Assistant to the Bishop, Paulo Orio.  The ELCT Bishops all wear the cape and mitre of Bishops.  Bishop Akyoo carries the Bishop’s staff.  They process to the altar area and the funeral begins.  There is a hymn and the amazing acapella harmonies ring up the mountain side.  People continue to gather, the crowd grows denser.  The temperature is well in the 90’s and the wind gusts from time to time, lifting clouds of dust.  The elaborate order of speakers begins with representatives from CDRB,Community Development Rural Banks, of which MP Samari was a founder.  These speakers are followed by people from the TZ Stock Exchange, followed by party leaders.  The microphones are erratic.  Even high level funerals are not immune to power outages.  By the time the member of Parliament speaks, the problem seems to be resolved with a long cord, knotted in the middle which is strung across the field from the sound board to the truck with the generator.  Then the MP’s oldest son speaks and does a short bio.  The Speaker of Parliament follows.  Finally, the Prime Minister brings his greetings and those of the President. It is unclear if he will come. It is now going on 2:00pm and the liturgy finally continues.  There are hymns and readings,  Bishop Akyoo introduces his fellow Bishops.  The Anglican Bishop speaks first.  Then the Pentecostal Bishop.  Bishop Schau from the Northern District begins his sermon when there is a stir.  President Kikweti has arrived.  He enters and is seated quietly.  As a Muslim, he respects and politically needs Christians,  many of the government are Christian, yet his place in the ceremony is awkward.  Bishop Schau continues his sermon.  There is another hymn and the family gathers at the casket for its closing.  Other Members of Parliament are  pall bearers.  The internment is immediate and on the family grounds.  MP Sumari is buried next to his mother in a family plot.

The entire assemblage, led by the casket, the President and followed by Bishops and invited guests processes down a dirt road to the burial plot.  The ¼ mile walk is lined the entire way with people looking for people of importance, saying farewell to their MP,  part of the clan or village.  Walt and I feel very out of place as the only visible white people there.  What a privilege to be part of such an important day in the life of the community and the region. At the grave-site a smaller seating area has been arranged.  Security people seem to know who is allowed and who is not.  We stay close to our Diocese escorts as we would not be able to negotiate these crowds independently.   Bishop Akyoo continues the liturgy at the grave-site.  The President says some brief words and greets the family.  He departs. The casket is lowered, the grave filled, flowers laid, hymns sung.  Bishop Akyoo leads a final prayer and benediction.  A few people greet the family, somehow Walt and I are in that group and then it is time to walk back up the dusty path.  It is traditional to have food for everyone.  Everyone will not be fed. We are led to the family home where the caterers are prepared and waiting with a traditional buffet,  two kinds of rice, vegetable stew, spaghetti, chicken, meat, potatoes, banana stew and fruit.  The surreal sensation of being in the midst of an event that I might see in the news or a documentary continues.  Loti Nnko, Dr. Julius, Walt and I are early among the diners.  By 5:00 we are ready to leave, seven hours since we arrived. Clouds of dust are raised as we walk up the path to cross the road to Akeri parish where Diocese vehicles were parked.  As we pass the ceremonial field we see trucks filled with huge pans, being accosted by people.  Dr. J tells us that there is a competition for the food since not enough has been provided.  Mr. Nnko tells us the crowd is estimated at 10,000, most of whom have come by foot at least from the tarmac road.

During these long hours I reflect on what a young country Tanzania is.  It is remarkable the infrastructure, the agencies, governmental progress they have made.  It is their own unique mix of tradition, current practices, and new developments.  The dignity and authentic ownership is humbling. We are privileged to have been included, part of their expansive hospitality.  Asante sana.

More tomorrow

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