Scholarly article on topic 'Going Gentle into that Good Night: Indigenous Therapy on Death in Kenya'

Going Gentle into that Good Night: Indigenous Therapy on Death in Kenya Academic research paper on "Philosophy, ethics and religion"

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Abstract of research paper on Philosophy, ethics and religion, author of scientific article — Muchugu Kiiru

Abstract Through personal resonance with texts written on explicit and implicit indigenous therapeutic interventions on death and bereavement primarily on Kenya, this paper examines indigenous therapy on death and bereavement before the advent of modern counselling theories and practice in the country. In the process, it explores therapeutic implications of religious belief and ritual practices to death not only as an acceptable occurrence as a result of disease or age but also as a bizarre occurrence as a result of homicide or suicide. In the course of the exploration, it discusses therapeutic interventions traditional health helpers have employed to help individuals cope with death and bereavement and to bring about homeostasis in both the individual and the society. At the same time, showing why the therapeutic strategies work, the paper argues that the strategies are integral to a worldview that helpers and helped share and directive in orientation like therapy operating from behavioural theoretical perspectives. In the end, it evaluates the efficacy of, indicating some lessons we can draw and learn from, these indigenous therapeutic interventions that are still alive in a changed and changing Kenya.

Academic research paper on topic "Going Gentle into that Good Night: Indigenous Therapy on Death in Kenya"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 114 (2014) 298-310

4th World Conference on Psychology, Counselling and Guidance- WCPCG-2013

Going Gentle into That Good Night*: Indigenous Therapy on

Death in Kenya

Muchugu Kiiru


Through personal resonance with texts written on explicit and implicit indigenous therapeutic interventions on death and bereavement primarily on Kenya, this paper examines indigenous therapy on death and bereavement before the advent of modern counselling theories and practice in the country. In the process, it explores therapeutic implications of religious belief and ritual practices to death not only as an acceptable occurrence as a result of disease or age but also as a bizarre occurrence as a result of homicide or suicide. In the course of the exploration, it discusses therapeutic interventions traditional health helpers have employed to help individuals cope with death and bereavement and to bring about homeostasis in both the individual and the society. At the same time, showing why the therapeutic strategies work, the paper argues that the strategies are integral to a worldview that helpers and helped share and directive in orientation like therapy operating from behavioural theoretical perspectives. In the end, it evaluates the efficacy of, indicating some lessons we can draw and learn from, these indigenous therapeutic interventions that are still alive in a changed and changing Kenya.

© 2013 TheAuthors. Published byElsevier Ltd.

Selection andpeer-reviewunderresponsibilityof Academic WorldEducation andResearchCenter. Keywords: indigenous therapy, Kenya

1. Introduction

According to Lake (1998) death is "the inevitable finality of our lives" (p. 1) while bereavement "renews all the purposes of our lives" after death takes away people close to us (p. 2). Both death and bereavement are live, and sometimes public, issues in Kenya, as evident from a number of court cases relating to the place of burial of the deceased (Cotran 1995 & Nyamongo 1999). Though therapy has not been the concern of the cases, implications for therapeutic interventions are intertwined with the proceedings and the outcomes of the cases.

I have employed an interactive, reflective strategy with texts--similar to what Masson (1997) does--in a bid to show my place in the research, as well as my growth as a person, and the implication all this has on me as a practising counsellor. My view is that therapy is useful. To this end, my exploration of indigenous therapeutic interventions on death and bereavement demonstrates their unique nature and function in the ritual of the people.

Corresponding Author: Muchugu Kiiru E-mail:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.12.702

The people take the interventions for granted, as is evident in a court case that sought to determine where a lawyer should be buried (Egan n.d., Cohen & Odhiambo 1992, Cotran 1995, & Ojwang & Mugambi 1989). Explaining some burial rituals, witnesses during the court case would answer that the rituals are because they have been; thus, to the question that burial "customs discriminate against the women," a witness simply replied, "Those are the customs" (Egan, n. d., p. 49).

My brief incursion into other cultures helps to accentuate not only the universality of therapeutic interventions on death and bereavement yesterday and today but also the particular therapeutic role indigenous therapeutic interventions have played, and continue to play, in my society. As a result of the universality and the particularity, the crisis of change individuals find themselves in today (Mbiti 1992) are by extension a crisis of appropriate therapeutic interventions on issues, such as death and bereavement, in their lives.

The body of the paper narrates my resonance with texts, primarily texts exploring, explicitly or implicitly, indigenous therapeutic interventions, on death and bereavement in my society. On the whole, the texts comprise what resonates in me as being significant to therapy on death and bereavement. In the end, the body of the work comprises reflections and interactions that imply or indicate my place in, as well as my growth as a result of, the research on death and bereavement, and the implications this has on me as a practising counsellor. I indicate some implications for counselling in the conclusion of the study.

My MA special study in Counselling Studies at the Durham University, I decided at the beginning of the academic year in May 2000, would be on death and bereavement in Kenya. I would explore the subject relative to the relationship between, on the one hand, indigenous therapeutic strategies and, on the other, counselling theory and practice. This comparison, I told myself, was virgin territory that, hopefully, would enrich counselling in Kenya. As a result, I was determined to give the 'pioneer' work the best I could within the constraints of time and literature.

In the event, by July 2000 I had built a small library of texts touching on or dealing with death and bereavement.

Despite the availability of this wealth of material, I was unable to immerse myself wholeheartedly into the literature on "questions and answers on death and dying" (Kubler-Ross 1974) because I must have been uncomfortable with getting close to experiences of death, as well as the cocktail of emotions death excites. Uncomfortable to become intimate with death and bereavement, I ran away from the intimacy through denial spawned by the fear death aroused in me.

By the end of January 2001, however, the discomfort was behind me; I had read, initially tentatively, quite a lot of the literature I had collected. The literature stirred up remembrances of my experiences of death and bereavement. As a result of the literature and the experiences, death and bereavement became well-known companions to be accepted and respected, not alien monsters to be denied and resisted.

Interactions and Reflections

I discovered Leakey (1977) in early February 2001, soon after discovering and scanning Mwiti (1999) in January 2001. I was excited that Leakey (1977) had devoted over 60 pages of his work to the death and disposal of the dead by the Kikuyu. Kenyatta (1968) and Gatheru (1964) had already given me snippets on death and bereavement among the Kikuyu; now, I was going to learn a lot on a community with which I have close cultural ties, for I hail from the Kikuyu. Leakey (1977) gives me some gems; he informs me that people in the society accepted death as a matter of course:

Death, coming as it does inevitably to all in due course, was viewed by the Kikuyu with a considerable degree of fatalism. Though death was never in any ordinary circumstance welcomed, of course, the Kikuyu did not have the haunting fear of death which grips the people of many other civilisations.

A Kikuyu who knew that his end was near usually faced the fact calmly and with equanimity. (p.937)

A religion that held that the individual would live again as a spirit accounts for this absence of fear in the face of death; belief in it is therefore therapeutic:

Kikuyu religious beliefs did not countenance the idea of a heaven and a hell, and when about to die a man was not tormented by the fear that after all he might be destined for the wrong place. As a departed spirit, too, his life would not be unpleasant, for his needs would be seen to by those members of his family who remained on earth and by his descendants, and eventually his spirit would be reincarnated and take its place once more among the living. (Leakey, 1977, p.937)

Here, belief in religion appears to act as a therapeutic agent. In this Leakey (1977) is not unique; several writers on indigenous life in Kenya, explicitly or implicitly, recognise that religious belief or ritual practice acts as a therapeutic agent on death and bereavement: Gatheru (1964), Kenyatta (1968), Mbiti (1992), Mbiti (1996), Muia (2000), Mwiti (1999), Nagendo (1996), Nagendo (1998), and Ocholla-Ayayo (1989).

On the day I promised myself that I must finish reading Leakey (1977), I found myself idly and unenthusiastically turning pages of Mwiti (1999), 'Idly and unenthusiastically because my first impressions of the book had not changed.' I read his views on biblical statements on death and bereavement. I continued reading and came to his discussion of grief in communities in Africa. I soon got two therapeutic nuggets from

• One, as I read him I recalled reading elsewhere that some societies not only stopped work during the burial of a close one but also shaved the hair of the bereaved (Mbiti 1996). Now, Mwiti (1999) opens my eyes to the therapeutic significance of the indigenous practice of shaving the hair: it was done, he says, "not only to signify separation from the one who has died but also to communicate ... that death does not destroy because the hair will grow again" (p.14).

• Two, I began to appreciate the place songs and hymns I have witnessed, and sometimes participated in, in wakes and funerals play in helping and comforting the bereaved cope with loss of dear ones. This is when Mwiti (1999) says something I have not come across in all the texts I had read on death and bereavement. He talks about music as a therapeutic agent that "assists the bereaved persons to express the deepest human emotion that cannot be expressed through any other form" (Mwiti, 1999, pp. 12-13).

I am aware that chants or dirges accompany most ritual on death and bereavement in the indigenous society. As an accompaniment of ritual, this music embodies religious matter, for ritual is essentially religious because it not only "is a set form of carrying out a religious action or ceremony" but also "embodies a belief or beliefs" (Mbiti, 1996, p.131). The centrality of ritual as a therapeutic intervention on death and bereavement is evident in the society where, according to Kenyatta (1968) and Mbiti (1992), religion permeates every aspect of life.

The ritual comprises several, mostly public, activities and festivities such as feasting, dancing, and wailing. It incorporates taboo that sets rules on touching the dead (Egan n.d.), shaving hair (Mbiti 1996 & Mwiti 1999), suspending work or engaging in or suspending sexual activities (Leakey 1977, Mbiti 1996, & Egan n.d.), or smearing bodies with substances or disowning houses associated with death (Leakey 1977 & Mbiti 1996). Observing the necessary taboos, and preparing to resume "normal life," the bereaved help the dead to depart "peacefully" from "the living" (Mbiti, 1996, p.121). On the whole, this ritual is therapeutic to the bereaved.

• It provides an avenue for them to publicly vent sorrow for the loss, and express appreciation for the achievements, of the departed. This is apparent when Mbiti (1996) says that mourners "especially women, wail and weep, lamenting the departure of the dead person, recalling the good things he said and did" (p.121).

• It helps to stabilise them. Mbiti (1996) succinctly expresses how this happens when he says: "people are able to come to terms with the agonies, sorrows and disruption caused by death. By ritualising death, people dance it away, drive it away, and renew their own life after it has taken away one of their members (p.122).

• It helps them accept the death and affirm the continuity of life. This therapeutic outcome is implicit in the symbolism, reminiscent of Mwiti (1999), of the shaved hair:

In many places members of the immediate family have their hair shaved off, and some of their normal activities are suspended until all the funeral rites have been performed. The shaving of the hair is a symbol of separation, showing that one of the families has been separated from them. At the same time it is an indication of people's belief that death does not destroy life, since the growth of new hair indicates that life continues to spring up. (Mbiti, 1996, pp. 121-22)

• It helps them live in comfort and peace, for, having sent off the departed to "join other spirits" (Mbiti, 1996, p.124), they believe that the departed will not trouble them. Here, therapy derives from the widespread hold spirits of the dead have on the living (Gatheru 1964, Kenyatta 1968, Mbiti 1992, Mbiti 1996, & Ocholla-Ayayo 1989).

In some places, ritual demands that a king or the rich be interred with "weapons to defend him along the way to the next world, or food to eat on the journey, [or] wives and servants to keep him company when he reaches there" (Mbiti, 1996, p. 120). In the absence of evidence, I hazard the guess that kings and the rich are sometimes interred with their possessions because they won't let go their attachment to worldly goods. I suspect that as a result this strong attachment they resist to go "into that good night" but, with the inescapable "dying of the light," go with the possessions, suggesting an apparent failure by the prominent to accept death as an inevitable end. The therapeutic import of the centrality of ritual that demands that people and property accompany the prominent to their graves is that mourners are at peace with the accompanied dead.

The centrality of ritual is apparent too in requirements governing the place of burial. The significance of this ritual requirement is evident in a court case that, for some months in 1986 and 1987, captured public and media imagination in Kenya (Cohen & Odhiambo 1992, Egan n.d., & Ojwang & Mugambi 1989). The court case revolved around the place the body of a lawyer was to be laid to rest: his matrimonial home near Nairobi or his ancestral home away from Nairobi.

The contending parties were his clan that wanted him buried in his ancestral home and his widow, as well as her children, who wanted him buried near his matrimonial home. In the end, the court ruled that the deceased be buried in his ancestral home (Cohen & Odhiambo 1992, Cotran 1995, Egan n.d., & Ojwang & Mugambi 1989). Arising from the court ruling on the place of burial, I see two therapeutic implications for the bereaved, but contending, parties: either peace or distress.

In connection to attaining peace, the clan's argument was that if the deceased was laid to rest elsewhere except in his ancestral home his spirits would go back to haunt and trouble the kin. In this regard, the brother of the deceased was afraid of being haunted if he failed to ensure observance of requisite rituals that entailed that his brother was buried in the ancestral home. "I will not be able to sleep properly," he told the court, "because wherever I go, there will be ghosts haunting me for having let my brother be buried elsewhere other than home" (Egan, n.d., p. 59). The deceased's stepmother indicated that once the correct ritual of laying the dead to rest where tradition demands is observed, the bereaved lives in peace, without fear that the deceased would haunt

them. "Since proper burial rites and ceremony was [sic] carried out," she said of her late husband's burial, "he will not haunt me" (Egan, n.d., p. 68).

In connection to suffering distress, the widow, as well as the children, of the deceased kept away from the burial of the deceased, evidently because the court ruling ran counter to her prayer on where she wanted her husband buried. In the event, she experienced pain when she lost the legal battle for the right to inter his body according to her wishes to bury, and his reported wishes to be buried, near the matrimonial home. The pain is palpable in what she said after the ruling: "I feel bitter and it is sad for me and my children to have been denied a husband and a father" (Egan, n. d., p. 103).

As the case was going on, I kept wondering what the hullabaloo was all about: shouldn't a man be buried at his matrimonial home where he has lived with his wife and children and where they, in any case, want him buried? Now, I am beginning to realise that the place of burial is important under the indigenous dispensation (Ocholla-Ayayo 1989), because the ritual involved is therapeutically significant for the bereaved and the dead.

Social norms relating to the place of burial have links with therapeutic interventions in the bereaved and, implicitly, the dying. In the bereaved because they know that they will live in peace, untroubled by the spirits of the departed. Implicitly in the dying because they would accept death in the knowledge that they would not haunt or trouble their living family that would lay them to rest in the appropriate place from where they would join kindred spirits.

Yet, I am learning that the social norms can deny power to the dying and the bereaved unless their wishes are in line with the norms. Testimonies from the court case illustrate the dispossession of power.

• With respect to the dying, the wishes of the dying over their burial are inconsequential if the wishes are in conflict with the beliefs of the indigenous society. The widow told the court that the deceased had told his step-brother that he would like to be buried in Nairobi, the step-brother had said nothing then, but later reportedly told the widow that a "man can talk about his death and burial but in the end 'we [the clan] would do what we want' " (Egan, n. d., p. 26).

• With respect to the bereaved, the widow, as well as her children, has no voice over the burial of her departed husband; asserting that "her duty is to mourn her husband," one of the defendants said the views of the clan on the place of burial prevailed should the views differ from those of the nuclear family:

"The clan takes the responsibility of the burial. His wife is even not allowed not only to bury her husband,

but even to touch his body after he has died. The children become members of the clan after their father's

death. The customs do not even allow them to decide or point out where their father should be buried."

(Egan, n. d., p. 49)

I suspect that social norms 'disempower' the dying or the bereaved because of fear of transgressing ritual relating to burial. In the changing dispensation, where indigenous religion is daily losing its hold on the people and where individuals have a right to unbelief (Kenyatta 1968 & Mbiti 1992), however, the bereaved are likely to become more empowered relative to indigenous social norms. On the same basis, I see the role of the counselling helper changing from a dependence on the edicts of spirits to a response to the needs of the bereaved. Responding to the needs, the helper will likely become less directive and more disinterested in line with a clientele more empowered in its relationship with helpers as a result of ritual enfeebled by social change.

I have realised that ritual, out of which therapy is an offshoot and which is significant, and indispensable, in the indigenous society, is conservative of the social order, as it is based on sacrosanct belief in the world of spirits and strict observance of rites of passage. In line with this argument, ritual associated with death and bereavement cannot be dissociated from social necessity; out of this relationship arise its unassailable therapeutic interventions and outcomes in the indigenous society:

• It not only helps the bereaved but also demonstrates human capacity to accept and live with loss. In this way, it saves the bereaved from destruction from emotions that death can stir up.

• It restores individual and communal homeostasis that death threatens to disrupt and, in the process, helps people to resume "normal life" (Mbiti, 1996, p. 121).

• It achieves its therapeutic goals through indigenous helpers who are authority figures unquestioned by the bereaved and sanctioned by the social order.

Belief in the invisible world of spirits is widespread in the world, and how cardinal, however, to my indigenous society belief in this invisible but eternal world of spirits is, I am discovering, is evident in Kenyatta (1968), Leakey (1977), Mbiti (1992), Mbiti (1996), Oruka (1989), Muia (2000), Nagendo (1998), and Ocholla-Ayayo (1989).

Does belief in the world of spirits or the eternity of life have a bearing on therapeutic interventions on death and bereavement in my indigenous society?

Life in the world of spirits can begin only at death, I am learning. To this extent, I tell myself, belief in this world imperceptibly accommodates death as a reality of current existence. To the extent that it accepts physical death, the belief in the hereafter enriches life, I conclude. As a result of this, it is gradually dawning on me that the belief in the hereafter appears to be therapeutic for both the living and the dying.

• It helps the living accept death and participate in funerals and burials in the knowledge when their time to die comes; the living will accord them decent funerals and burials. Armed with this assurance, death does not preoccupy them, and, as a result, they continue with the business of everyday living without undue anxiety over death.

• It helps the dying accept death with peace of mind in the conviction that physical existence is not the end of life but the beginning of life as a spirit. In the event, the belief tempers anger and resistance at the prospect of death, the "rage against the dying of the light" and the refusal to "go gentle into that good night." In their place are acceptance and peace based on the hope of life in the next world to join the loved ones. Believing that when their time comes they will join those who died before them and, albeit in an invisible

form, participate in affairs of the society they will have left behind, the living stage elaborate or lavish funerals and burials in honour of the departed. In the process, they sometimes provide property and people to accompany the departed on the journey to the next world. Pleased with the honour they bestow upon the dead, the living are happy that the dead depart into the next world in peace, and, departing in peace, will be content with the living. In the process, they will allow the living to live in peace.

When troubles assail the living, however, I am learning, the living seeks to placate the departed, whom they believe they may have offended through improper funeral or burial rites. They make necessary offerings or sacrifices, convinced that once the spirits accept what they offer or sacrifice the spirits will be at peace (Kenyatta 1968, Mbiti 1992, & Mbiti 1996). In this way, the belief in the hereafter, on which are based offerings and sacrifices, reduces anxiety in, and, therefore, is therapeutic to, the living.

The therapeutic mechanism that helps believers accept, not resist, death as a physical phenomenon is implicit in Leakey (1977). He argues that the Kikuyu faced death calmly because their families would meet their needs in the hereafter and their spirits "would be reincarnated and take ... [their] place once more among the living" (p.937).

This therapeutic mechanism has a place in endeavours to immortalise the deceased, as bereavement endeavours to immortalise the departed by giving them hope that they would be re-created, obeyed and taken care of—as is evident in the existence of the "living dead" (Mbiti, 1996):

[W]hile the departed person is remembered by name, he is not really dead: he is alive, and such person I would call the living-dead. The living-dead is a person who is physically dead but alive in the world of spirits. So long as the living-dead is thus remembered, he is in the state of personal immortality. This personal immortality is externalized in the physical continuation of the individual through procreation, so that the children bear the traits of their parents or progenitors. From the point of view of the survivors, personal immortality is expressed or externalized in acts like respecting the departed, giving bits of food to them, pouring out libation and carrying out instructions given by them either while they lived or when they appear. (pp. 25-26)

In its keeping the departed alive in the minds of the living, though an ever open question, bereavement—I conclude—is therapeutic to the dying who die in hope that they would live in the people they leave behind to remember them.

This search for immortality is linked to the belief in the hereafter. In turn, the hereafter is part of the rites of passage that mark critical stages, such as birth, initiation, marriage, and death, in an individual's life (Kenyatta 1968 & Mbiti 1992). Integrated in the rites of passage is a belief in the existence of the world of spirits that, while heralding life in a different form, puts an end to life on earth. The rites form the worldview of this indigenous society (Mugambi 1989), and the society, revering them, demands that all its members observe them punctiliously.

In line with this social edict, faith in the rites of passage can "conquer" fear of death. It, therefore, is therapeutic as evident from the argument that the believer in existence in the world of spirits who knew that death "was near usually faced the fact calmly and with equanimity" (Leakey, 1977, p. 937). Considering this, I am inclined to believe that the believer has no reason to resist death with anger or fear because, being a rite of passage, death is anticipated; for the same reason, I expect the bereaved to accept death with peace of mind. In their anticipation of physical death and spiritual birth, rites of passage rest on the belief that an individual will mark, through appropriate rituals, necessary stages of life. In this way, the rites rest on the principle that the individual matures with age and stages and, that with maturation leaves a mark on the society. Underlying this principle, I see three implications for therapeutic interventions on death and bereavement.

• One, should an individual die before going through requisite rites of passage, the society treats the individual as less of a social being relative to the stages the individual has failed to go through. Accordingly, the gravity of loss and the depth of grief, as well as the nature of burial rites, will correspond to the number of rites of passage one has successfully negotiated. In this respect, a child is casually grieved over as it is "still regarded as part of its mother" (Leakey, 1977, p. 964), while an adult who dies at a ripe age, however, may receive elaborate funeral and burial rituals (Nagendo 1996). Between the treatments of the two lie degrees of bereavement that revolve around not only age but also gender and status (Leakey 1977, Nyamongo 1999, & Ocholla-Oyayo 1989).

• Two, marking death as a rite of passage where the relationship between the individual and the society is so close that each is "indefinable except in terms of the other" (Kettle, 1970, p.14), the society supports the deceased's kin in funeral and burial rites such as dances, feasts, and music. In this way, the society treats an individual's loss as its loss and an individual's grief as its grief (Mbiti 1996). In the process, grief does not burden an individual alone; it is a shared responsibility geared towards calming and comforting the kin of the departed. In the end, the society becomes a therapeutic support group that helps the bereaved process the loss and resume normal activities, for in the words of Muia (2000): "Death in most African societies is socialized and localized [,] and in Kenya [,] regardless of whether death occurs in the city or in a remote

village, it is always treated as a communal affair" (p.16). In this way, the social marking of a rite of passage translates into a therapeutic intervention. • Three, the indigenous society accommodates the bereavement of every member—despite that some individuals who fail to negotiate key rites of passage get short shift in the form of rituals associated with death and bereavement. This is because hardly anyone dies of natural or accidental causes in this society (Mbiti 1992 & Mbiti 1996), presumably if one is not old enough to have negotiated critical rites of passage. In this case, society attributes death to mystical forces. "In the Kikuyu society it was always assumed that when a healthy man died suddenly, without previous illness, his death was caused by witchcraft" (Gatheru, 1964, p. 52).

The sorcerer, the witch, or the wizard is one personification of these forces. Once society identifies one as a sorcerer, a witch, or a wizard, it puts the individual to death, in a ritual manner, for committing "a crime against the whole community" (Kenyatta, 1968, p.228). I suspect the ritual execution of sorcerers, witches and wizards satisfies the bereaved who now feel comforted that the human cause of death is dead. In this sense, the principle of rites of passage accommodates emotions aroused by unpredictable deaths, whose causes appear mystical; the execution is therefore therapeutic to the bereaved as they have someone to blame for the deaths.

Belief in mysterious or mystical causes of death, as well as of some ailments, rests on the presumption that people do not just die; instead, death usually results from mysterious or mystical forces as the following two examples indicate:

When a man is stricken by lightning it is said..., "He has been smashed to smithereens for seeing Ngai [God] in the act of cracking its joints in readiness to go to smash and chase away its enemies." (Kenyatta, 1968, p. 237)

[A] bereaved mother whose child has died from malaria will not be satisfied with the scientific explanation that a mosquito carrying malaria parasites stung the child and caused it to suffer and die from malaria. She will wish to know why the mosquito stung her child and not somebody else's child. The only satisfactory answer is that someone sent the mosquito, or worked other evil magic against her child. (Mbiti, 1996, p.200)

On similar lines is the person who believes that "children die because they are bewitched, because someone else in the family has offended a god or, in some secret way, erred" (Achebe, 1988, p. 98). These are the beliefs that Achebe (1988) condemns as "malignant fictions" (p.98). Condemning, as well as pitying, believers in them Achebe (1988) gives an eyewitness account:

Some years ago I watched the pitiful spectacle of an emancipated little child brought out and sat on a mat in the midst of the desperate habitues of a prayer-house while the prophetess with maniacal authority pronounced it possessed by the devil and ordered its parents to fast for seven days. (p.98)

In effect, the believer in "malignant fictions" mystifies agents of death and, accordingly, blames curses, nature, sorcery, or spirits as causes of death. Cognisant of the belief by the bereaved that somebody or something is the cause of the death of a dear one, I picture the bereaved asking the indigenous helper: "Who is to blame for the death in my family?" Once the helper unravels the cause of the death, the information abates fear that had

gripped the bereaved. In this way, the bereaved is relieved of anxiety; to this end, the knowledge the helper conveys to the bereaved is therapeutic.

This is not the end, however. Anxious to have peace restored and in a bid to avert tragedy in the family, the bereaved wants to know what needs to be done: What should the bereaved do if the cause of the death is a human agent? What action needs to be taken if the spirits of the dead, in their unhappiness as a result of improper burial, exact vengeance? What steps need to be taken if the departed had transgressed a taboo or broken an oath? Invariably, the helper's prescribed action will involve ritual: an offering to appease offended spirits, destruction of the wizard who causes death through poison, sacrifices to purify the land, or exacting vengeance on people or their property (Kenyatta 1968, Mbiti 1992, & Mbiti 1996). In this way, the indigenous helper helps the bereaved come to terms with the death and, in the process, restores the homeostasis the psychological struggle with the cause of death disrupted. The restoration is effected through interventions of indigenous helpers such as diviners, physicians, and mediums.

These indigenous helpers through whom therapeutic outcomes are realised will have been trained (Gatheru 1964 & Mbiti 1992); in some cases, only individuals who are "called" can be trained as helpers (Gatheru 1964). The training, Gatheru (1964) leads me to believe, helps society duly recognise the individuals as specialists (Mbiti 1992), who, because society believes possess "supernatural powers... [,] have to be trained to use them" (Gatheru, 1964, p. 27). In the circumstance, the training instils ethics in the specialists, buttresses the prestige and mystique of helping, underlines the social necessity of helping and helps the society dispense with charlatans.

The helpers, however, operate within a religious framework (Kenyatta 1968, Mbiti 1992, & Mbiti 1996). Within this framework, they partly act as a bridge between the world of the living and the world of the spirits and, in the process, interpret and, sometimes, enforce demands they believe the spirits of the dead make. In this respect, the therapy they offer as intermediaries between the dead and the living is authoritative such that when a family is to engage in a momentous "undertaking" or "decision" or suffers "a major illness," it pays homage to and consults the departed "through the diviner, medicine man or medium" (Mbiti, 1996, p.130). In the process, a therapeutic relationship is established between the helpers and the helped, as the former help to restore homeostasis in the helped who are the bereaved. Besides, when they die, the bereaved dead know that their wishes similarly will be communicated to and obeyed by the living bereaved, who also would have internalized these beliefs as much as they would experience homeostasis or peace once they do what helpers instruct—quite effective therapy I am persuaded to imagine.

Implicit or explicit in Kenyatta (1968), Mbiti (1992) and Mbiti (1996) is that everyone—helpers and helped—in the society shares the same worldview arising from commonality of religion and rites of passage. As a result of its prevalence in the society, the worldview pervades the therapeutic relationship in which helpers administer herbs, conduct rituals and contact spirits in their capacities as physicians, priests, diviners, or mediums (Kenyatta 1968, Mbiti 1992, & Mbiti 1996). In any of or in all these capacities, helpers play a therapeutic role: they ensure that the bereaved do not suffer from guilt when they fail to bury their dead properly, they seek causes of death, they help society dispense with wizards, or they convey wishes of the dead to the living. In the event, therapy can be neither inconsequential nor luxurious.

In the therapeutic relationship, however, helpers are authoritative while the helped are passive. Indeed, the helped must obey the instructions helpers convey to avert calamity on themselves. In the light of this, I see an unequal therapeutic relationship in which helpers have the upper hand as interpreters, if not enforcers, of religious edicts. In this sense, indigenous helpers are invariably directive in orientation. Yet, this is from our perspective—not the indigenous perspective where all share, by birth and socialization, the same religious worldview. Norms prevailing in the indigenous society fortify helpers' directive orientation; this is because while the dead make demands on the living, the living cannot instruct the dead, and while the living can offend the dead, the dead cannot offend the living (Mbiti 1992). As messengers of the dead to the living, indigenous

helpers therefore enjoy unassailable authority that robs the helped of power in the therapeutic relationship. In the end, directive in orientation, these helpers rely on, and operate within the context of, religious edicts.

The edicts are apparent in vengeance that is widely used in the indigenous society as a vent for the anger or the grief the death of one close to the bereaved excites. This is the society in which, there being "no atheists" (Mbiti 1992, p.29), members revere religion and in which absolute obedience to religious edicts is the forte of the members (Kenyatta 1968, Mbiti 1992, & Mbiti 1996). In this regard, when an indigenous Kikuyu killed someone inadvertently, the deceased's relatives set out to kill a killer's kin in a bid to demonstrate that the deceased belonged to a kinship "group capable of inflicting retribution on behalf of the one of its member" (Kenyatta, 1968, p. 227). The relatives avenged the kin's death by killing a relative of the killer or destroying the fields of the relatives of the killer if the avengers failed to kill one of the killer's kin (Kenyatta (1968). Kenyatta (1968) implies that the vengeance checked a "blood feud" (p.228) between the offended and the offender.

Vengeance here, I am learning, symbolises anger and grief at the death of and, simultaneously, becomes a source of solace to and comfort for people who inadvertently lose one of their own. In this way, vengeance expresses the needs and sublimates the emotions of the relatives of the deceased and, therefore, serves as a therapeutic intervention in the hands of the bereaved in a deeply religious society.

In the face of the need to avert costly blood feuds or to forestall debilitating social calamities occasioned by the desecration of the earth, society appears to have chosen therapeutic healing through vengeance as the less costly option. In the light of this, I appreciate society's enforcement of ritual edicts to exact vengeance, just as I now understand why it destroyed houses in which people died (Leakey 1977).

In light of the use of vengeance as a therapeutic tool for the inadvertent killing of a human being, I am not surprised by the heavy penalty society exacted to rid itself of wizards. According to Kenyatta (1968), wizards were individuals who, operating "in the most secret way" and in "secret hiding-places" (p. 300) and using poison or "witchcraft" (p.228), killed people. The penalty the society exacted for these killings was execution. Once sentenced to death, wizards killed goats as symbols of their impeding deaths (Kenyatta 1968). Evidently well aware that ostracism in the indigenous society implied a living death (Mbiti 1992), the society declared that convicted wizards stood "alone" (Kenyatta, 1968, p. 303) before executing them and seeking to purify the land they had evidently polluted by using fire to burn wizards.

Kenyatta (1968) gives a detailed account of the destruction of wizards and the subsequent cleansing of the land. In him, however, I hear an authoritative voice telling colonialists that the life of his indigenous people was noble. To this extent, in his discussion of the destruction of wizards, I discern political intents to demonstrate that indigenous people had a fair system of government. In the circumstance, his interests appear to be more political than therapeutic; I can appreciate therefore why he does not handle therapeutic processes and outcomes of the destruction of wizards. In line with my study, however, I can extrapolate therapeutic implications relating to death and bereavement from the political agenda Kenyatta (1968) endeavours to set.

A wizard's magic steeped people in fear. In the words of Kenyatta (1968): the evil magic "is extremely feared, for not only does it cause death when it is administered to a person, but its nearness to a homestead is considered as bringing misery and suffering which will dog the footsteps of those who dwell therein" (p.30).

Since fear of the evil magic lay at the heart of the social fabric, the society held elaborate rituals to exorcise the fear. In the circumstance, I suspect that the use of fire, which could be a symbol of purification, to destroy wizards is symbolic of the purgation of the fear. Yet: destroying wizards, the society killed its own. Consequently, it needed to purify itself of the widely held social belief in the society that death contaminated (Leakey 1977). In the end, therefore, the burning of wizards, together with the attendant purification of participants in the burning, restored the homeostasis that wizards threatened to upset, or indeed disrupted, through murder.

Like the wizards, individuals who take their lives are blamed for polluting the earth. Thus, according to Kenyatta (1968), individuals who commit suicide are not only likely to make their spirits "eternally unhappy and pernicious" but also certainly will have performed an act society considers "ritually unclean" (p.301).

Treating suicide as an abomination, the society went to great lengths to erase or remove traces of the suicide from the tree from, or the house in, which an individual committed suicide and to cleanse individuals associated with the cutting down the body from where it hung (Leakey 1977). Once all this was done, the society resumed its normal activities in the belief that it had purified itself of the pollution wrought by the suicide. In this sense, therefore, the uprooting of the tree from which an individual committed suicide, the destruction of the hut in which an individual killed oneself and the purification of the individual who cut down the dead body are therapeutic to the extent that they restored normalcy in and to the bereaved.

Yet, the restoration of sense of normalcy fails to account for factors that lead an individual to commit suicide in a society proud of its harmony and religion. How could suicide be "by no means unknown" (Leakey, 1977, p. 969) in the idyllic indigenous society that appears, on the whole, to emerge from Kenyatta (1968), Mbiti (1992), and Mbiti (1996)? The answer seems to lie in the overweening control society exercised on the individual. In the event, the individual cannot conceive of existence outside the society (Kenyatta 1968, Mbiti 1992, & Mbiti 1996), which inexorably incorporated one into it through social norms such as rites of passage, taboos, and oaths. In this set-up what then happens to one who could not observe the norms?

Going back to the burning of wizards, I suggest that wizards operated secretly because the society denied them an opportunity to resolve unrelieved tension, leading them to resolve, in destructive acts, the contradictions they perceived, consciously or unconsciously, in the society. This unrelieved tension—a probable cause of suicide in the indigenous society—is apparent in Gatheru (1964) when he talks about a woman who "eventually committed suicide" evidently because she "had always been ill-treated by her husband" (p. 192). This said, on the whole, the indigenous society treated people who took their lives as outcasts because, in its eyes, they desecrated the earth; consequently, it forbade their burial in the bowels of the earth they had polluted (Leakey 1977).

The indigenous society has been and is changing from a tribal to a gradually detribalised and individualistic social order (Kenyatta 1968 & Mbiti 1992). In the wake of the change, the hold indigenous ritual has had on people has declined (Bottignole 1984, Kenyatta 1968 & Mbiti 1992) and, I presume, so has the effectiveness of edicts from indigenous spirits. Basing myself on this trend of events, therefore, I see the secret mourning for people who take their lives declining in the changing social environment. I can only hope—subject to further research on suicide.

I am learning, however, that the indigenous society does not always treat young children as objects or subjects of bereavement. And I am disconcerted too that hardly have I come across textual evidence that the indigenous society fully incorporates children as subjects in the process of bereavement. Casting my eyes back at the court case I cited while discussing therapeutic implications of the place of burial, I see that children are peripheral during funeral and burial ceremonies of the deceased close to them (Egan n.d.). The exclusion or shielding of children from the process of bereavement, that uncharitably can be perceived as an obtuse type of therapy through denying reality, could cause childhood trauma, which does not just go but which, if overlooked in childhood, could rear its head in adulthood. The trauma is plain in Gatheru (1964):

I remember Gacanja's death particularly well because he was the first dead man I ever saw. The Kikuyu do not like their children to see dead bodies and I was dragged away quickly by my mother—however, I saw his mother raise his head which so frightened me that even today I feel the same fear rise in me when I pass a cemetery. (p. 53) Conclusion

My overall view is that therapy is useful. To this end, my exploration of therapeutic interventions inherent in the indigenous society demonstrates their unique nature and function; I say 'inherent' because the interventions are indivisible from the society whose wellbeing is ensured through ritual, from which they arise.

Before I undertook the study I was not aware that there existed so much literature on death and bereavement in my native land. While the literature does not always address itself to therapeutic issues on death and bereavement, it nevertheless demonstrates interest in the last "inevitable phase of life" (Byock, 1998, p. XIV). The literature, however, indicates that therapy on death and bereavement was indispensable in the indigenous society; indeed, it was and is as indispensable as ritual was and is. I therefore am tempted to conclude that were it not for the instances that indigenous ritual is challenged as it was during the court case cited in the body of the paper (Cohen & Odhiambo 1992, Cotran 1995, Egan n.d., & Ojwang & Mugambi 1989), the therapeutic interventions ritual embodies work imperceptibly.

The changing society that has daily subverted the indigenous religion (Kenyatta 1968 & Mbiti 1992), which is the bedrock of therapeutic interventions, threatens, if not undermines, the automatic efficacy of therapeutic interventions in the contemporary society. Yet, despite the changes that have ushered in individualism and undermined communalism (Mbiti 1992), I am aware that belief in indigenous therapy is still alive in the society (Cohen & Odhiambo 1992, Egan n.d., Ojwang & Mugambi 1989, Students Go on the Rampage 2001, & The Power of Witchcraft 2000). After all, we are aware of the power of the collective unconscious. The therapy helps individuals regain homeostasis when they meet ritual requirements such as holding proper burial ceremonies for the dead and offering requisite sacrifices to the spirits of the departed. In this way, it meets individuals' needs and expectations.

On the whole, the paper indicates that religious belief is central to indigenous therapy; religion, as a shared worldview, governs the ritual in which individuals seek help because death and bereavement threaten to disrupt their lives or rob them of homeostasis. Therapeutic interventions are integrated in religious beliefs actualized in partly ritual practices that promote the worldview. In the process, therapy works because helpers and helped share the same worldview. The shared values, I suggest, are facilitative of therapy because, when one seeks help on the cause of death of a loved one, the helper, after performing the necessary ritual, points out what or who is to blame for both believe that death is "caused." In the circumstance, helpers fulfil facilitative, though directive and acceptable, functions; directive because society recognises helpers as mediums of the invisible world of spirits and acceptable because everyone believes that therapy is necessary. Fulfilling these functions, helpers conduct therapy normally openly and occasionally communally, as is apparent in the burning of wizards (Kenyatta 1968) and in the burying of the dead. The open or the communal therapeutic encounter provides community support to the bereaved or the dying.

As a counsellor under the new dispensation, I am aware that the client and I do not share the same worldview evident in the indigenous therapeutic relationship. In this respect, I am aware that I am not a ritually recognised medium between the bereaved and their spirits of the dead; I therefore cannot convey messages from the spirits, instructing the bereaved what or who to propitiate to the departed. In the event, I need to respect clients' values, be aware of the values I hold and be on the lookout that my values do not intrude into my counselling. At the same time, I need to bear in mind that the therapeutic relationships I establish with my clients will be neither open nor communal. The therapeutic relationship will be ethical, safe and secure, however, allowing the clients space to disclose in confidence "repressed emotions" (Thomson, 1980, p. 359), such as ones we see in people who commit suicide. And yet, how do I handle the collective unconscious? This paper endeavours to answer this question in the hope of laying to rest the ghosts of the collective unconscious.


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