By: Lokol Lawrence Hatty

It was 2014. 

The turbulent period had just ended and the fruits of disarmament were starting to ripen. New opportunities for growth opened up like pandora for businesses. 

One company, Sanlam decided it might be a great opportunity to sell life insurance in Karamoja and I signed up with gusto, it was good money after all. 

I was put in the Life department. Easy-peasy!

On one of those days on the job, I met an old man seated by a tree, tired from his walk and exhausted from life, he looked like he was just waiting to go.

‘What are you selling son?’ He asked.


‘Where is it?’

You can’t see it, 

I said, 

I’m selling to people a chance to have a decent send-off after they die – I mean I couldn’t really explain life insurance in lay terms. 

How would I?

To a man whose life revolved around striving daily to survive, the thought of saving money while alive to ostentatiously dispose of it on the body while dead sounded outright ridiculous!

In that time, as a young man full of dreams, I loved evening walks by the seasonal river, Loposa. They were wild, serene and beautiful! I called them virgin walks.

The walks were my daily ritual until the day I stumbled upon a corpse lying beneath thorny shrubs by the river—it was decaying, already swollen under the scorching Nakamu sun. 

My friends would later run into another while defecating in the northern bend of the same river – they loved open defecation, those folks – they said the river breeze cooled your exhaust during the deed – better than marble toilets, my best friend loved to say when he missed the good old breeze while in the city.

He had just dumped in the shining marble toilet of a 5-star hotel and that didn’t even do. He called me in the midst of his huffs and puffs and said he missed home, Lotyang!

The dead were dumped in the open plains. 

Corpses were treated in a sort of outcast fashion – the body was simply carried and dumped in the dry banks of seasonal rivers. 

‘Life is beautiful while we are alive,” 

goes an old song of the plains, 

the body is useless!

I remember that chant. 

It was the drankards going home after the sunsets. 

It is a grey beautiful evening; the sun dips below Rwot and Amiel in the West with a departing hue. Dongodongo Dwe, pincher of naughty kids staggers to his manyatta in drunken stupor, 

‘ekile ekile eroko eyari,’ 

he chants, 

‘ke twana ekile tonyama ngataruk esibo’

– a man is a man while alive, when he dies the vultures eat his ass.’

They say when when a vulture starts to devour a dead man, it starts with either the eyes, the tongue, or the anus; depending on his posture in death.

Karamoja’s vultures were fat!

When death spilled into some of the more progressive families; especially when it struck the family head, he was wrapped in his favorite suka and buried (no coffin) in the family kraal, and then the homestead might move. 

Move on. It is done! 

In some societies this is utter brutality, a mortal violation infact. But as it is always the case, every society has a poetic justification for doing what they do.

‘Don’t think about how a man is buried,’

the elder told me,

“what are you town folk so worried about? 

Is it that dirt might choke your corpse through your nostrils. Or that vultures might poke your eyes and eat your ass? Which hurts more?” 

I don’t know Muzee. 

But there is certain comfort we find in the thought of tiled graves and rosewood caskets. 

“Does a cozy grave make death any less painful?”

We don’t know.

“What a useless body suffering the pangs of a destitute death!”

maybe the body in the stately casket pities the one whose poked eyes the vultures fight over!

The human conscience has grown overtime ofcourse – from the days of the wooden coffin with nine dreaded nail locks hammered for finality to the stately casket, an ostentation for the rich. 

Maybe when one dies the living have a certain hidden guilt – a consequential conscience of being alive, and that is only vainly eased by granting a ‘decent burial.’ 

Mexicans don the body with all sorts of beautiful flowers to please it. They pack milk and delicacies next to it to please the all seeing soul on its eternal journey. They dress them with new fresh cloths, or their favorites while alive. 

Do these efforts actually please the dead? Do they count? Do they comfort the spirits?

To the father who threw his beloved son lokitela (those scorching plains) – the son is dead , he thinks, the soul is gone out of him, he is not him anymore. Let the vultures devour the bag that carried him.

Death is a dull show to my people. They make it so, in mortal attempt to spite the ripper. No big announcements are made. A family next fence might lose a person and they won’t tell. Why be thrilled to announce gloom?!

A week later the neighbor may stroll by to greet his old friend,

‘Ilakinit’ – he has gone on an errand. The wife might say of the dead man.

If she is candid she will say,

‘let’s forget him.’

And it is done. He is simply forgotten. 

No elaborate dinners or silver-tongues. No dramatic mourning rites.

To my people, death is an end, a finality!

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