My grandfather died last week. He was 85, a father of 19 and husband to two women. He was also a grandfather to 68 and he’s left behind 57 great-grandchildren, which I think is amazing.
So anyway, I sat down with my parents to write his eulogy and after getting the bare bones of it down – year of birth, marriages, career, kids and so on, I suggested we flesh it out with anecdotes that showed his personality and character. One of his favourite lines for example was "ndaciarire mbegu igethira mwiri'' which loosely means "I sired children until I could sire no more".
My father thought this was too crass to say at the funeral and so we left it out. I wish it was the only thing we left out but he kept editing me. Seeing as he is my grandfather’s first born, we went with what he wanted, but it left me wondering about my funeral.
Our time on the planet is a sacred gift from God. Ultimately what we do with it, is between us and our maker. While other people have opinions and judgements of how we spend our time, it is not for them to make our lives ‘palatable’ when they eulogise us. I do not want my life to be edited to suit the sensitivities of those who attend my funeral. I’d like the people who turn up to do with the intention to celebrate and honour the life I actually lived, not the one they wish I lived – some sanitised version that is easier for them to digest.
My grandfather had a strong commitment to his family. He, for example, made sure each child knew what they were inheriting while he was alive, to avoid in-fighting after his passing. He was cantankerous in the way old Africans can be, knowing that no-one can correct them. He loved to cook and could chinja very well. A few months ago, he told me the new female ‘headman’ in the village was doing a better job than any man who had ever held the post. He said it with genuine shock and admiration… not the finest feminist moment, but I’ll take it.
His views on women and family infuriated and cracked me up in equal measure. Like other members of his generation, he believed women are property. Sure we are alive and of high value but property nonetheless. In speaking to him, I really got to understand patriarchy, the thinking behind it, how deeply entrenched it is and like it or not, how elegant a system it is if you happen to be male. One of the main challenges facing feminists is the lack of an equally elegant alternative.
But I digress.
My grandfather loved to party, dance and enjoy life. I hear he also loved women. He had an easy laugh and loved to reminisce on colonial days, and what the white man brought into the lives of Africans – Christianity, infrastructure – like I said, infuriating. I’ll miss the old man, and remember to leave strict instruction in my will – celebrate the life I actually lived, however rude or crass it might be.