THE common threads linking the passing and farewell ceremonies of three men of national significance this year was their simplicity in life, their pan-Africanism and nationalism, and one that nobody has paid much attention to – the preclusion of wreaths at their burial ceremonies.
We were told that James Mulwana specified it in his will or codicil, Amos Kaguta had made no secret of his dislike for the practice, and similarly, Eriya Kategaya did not encourage it.
I applauded each time I heard there would be no laying of wreaths during the funeral services, because I am against the habit. I don’t know exactly when or how how we started doing this in Uganda but, being sensible like those three eminent gentlemen, I want it to end.
I hadn’t seen or heard of it in other countries either but like the proverbial sheep, I have gone along with the practice and have even been “in charge of wreaths” at some points.
At those points, I always approached the task with a mix of reason, logic and sentiment: in what order the wreaths should be laid, whose wreath should be what colour, what flowers to include in the different wreath arrangements, and at what time they should be made, delivered and watered. I have the number of an efficient florist on speed dial and I have even hired a van to transport wreaths more than 200 kilometres!
They are useful, I must say, at the fresh grave site as they are used to cover the cement slab to allow it to set uninterrupted while giving your loved one a comfortable-looking resting place. But besides that I think they simply provide some people with a photo opportunity and the chance to hear their names said out over the loudspeakers.
Don’t get me wrong – I certainly don’t like wreaths being laid in church and I won’t have it done at my funeral (Note: Cut this out and save it) but for other people it is soothing and provides a symbolic gesture to use in bidding loved ones farewell.
When I first started thinking about it I thought the culture was derived from ancient days when scented flowers were probably spread over the dead to clear the smell of putrefaction. But it turns out that wreaths are more normally laid at graves in memory of the departed – and that sounds familiar.
Some accounts have it that the practice of laying wreaths (not in church) goes back to Ancient Greece and represents the circle of eternal life, which is why funeral wreaths are shaped that way. At funerals of young maidens, one recount goes, a young woman of the same age as the one being mourned would lead the funeral procession carrying a wreath of white flowers to represent the purity of the deceased and the eternal crown of glory reserved for her in heaven.
One online source quotes a book, ‘How Did It Begin’ by one R. Basc, as saying, “To send a wreath to a funeral and to lay it on the coffin or grave is a relic of ancient superstition and idol worship.”
Pause for thought, all ye who have done this inside of a church, then read on:
“The wreath,” it says, “was literally a floral offering, a sacrifice to the dead, meant to keep them happy, lest, being dissatisfied they might haunt the mourners.”
It was also important, they say, for the wreaths to be made of evergreens, representing eternity of life – which means that our wreaths made of roses that wither within a day are inappropriate in structure, as well as use.
That’s why I won’t be in charge of wreaths at funeral services any more. More importantly, I won’t be having wreaths at my funeral. Instead, please plant flowers – preferably Ugandan varieties – around my gravesite and a few fruit trees to provide shade and nourishment for my annual visitors. Local fruits – ffenne, miyembe and how I wish there could be a jambula or two!
Beautify my resting place, friends and family, but don’t use my casket for any glory.