Tuesday, July 31, 2012


In Rwanda, where 60% of people live below the poverty line and land is scarce, burying the dead comes at too high a price. A new bill before Parliament would introduce cremation, a totally new custom in this country.

 The prices of tombs in Rwandan cemeteries are exorbitant for the poor seeking to bury their dead. “In Kigali and elsewhere, people sometimes have to abandon their dying family members out of fear that they won’t have enough to pay for the funeral,” says a villager. In Rusororo, a town 20 kilometers from Kigali, a funeral costs from $25 to $1,500 depending on the size of the grave and the materials used.

 Moreover, cemeteries take up space in arable lands that aren’t cultivated. Yet, the country has over 390 inhabitants per square kilometer -- over 800 in some areas -- and farms are getting smaller and smaller (an average 0.2 hectares in the more populous north of the country). But farmers have to wait at least 20 years to cultivate cemeteries once they have stopped being used. “Some families believe the land where their family members are buried is sacred, and prefer to keep it uncultivated,” explains an Eastern villager.

  “You can easily tell the rich from the poor in a cemetery,” says a Gasabo villager. The tombs of the rich are built durably, with tiled walls and written inscriptions for identification.

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