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Fearing Desecration, Congolese Resurrect Ancient Burial Rites

In the DRC, families increasingly send the remains of deceased loved ones back to their home villages rather than bury them in the city. It is both an age-old tradition and a way to protect against irreverence.

A traditional funeral ceremony in Duakombe Village, DRC.
A traditional funeral ceremony in Duakombe Village, DRC.
Mathieu Mokolo

MBANDAKA — When a shopkeeper from the Bikoro territory died suddenly earlier this year, his body was rapidly repatriated by his family to his native village to be buried there. A few weeks earlier, two other bodies took the same direction. One of them was returned on a motorized boat to Bomongo, more than 300 kilometers north of Mbandaka.

Watching the funeral procession heading towards the village with watery eyes, a sixty-something Ekolo Paul promised himself, "I, too, would like to be buried beside my relatives. As soon as I get my pension, I'll save a bit of money to organize my funeral." These past few months, being buried at home has become a ritual for those living in the town of Mbandaka.

M’bokolo Elima, who works for the state and lives in this capital of the Equateur province, explains that the gradual return to this tradition can be explained by better roads but most of all by the lack of respect some city residents have for the dead. "It is now possible to drive to locations that used to be isolated and afford the luxury of burying family members there," he says.

A "journey" for wealthy people

Very popular in the past, the custom of burying loved ones close to home became very rare in the 1990s, after the Congo's socio-economic situation broke down, particularly in the Equateur province. Paul still remembers the years when the wish of any member of the community who wanted to be buried beside their relatives was respected.

"At the time, we had an association regrouping people from the Bikoro territory," Paul says, nostalgic. "Thanks to contributions, we had enough funds to cover the funeral costs. It really didn't affect us financially. Even children who died in town were buried in the village."

The custom has now returned, but only certain wealthy and privileged people and those who belong to clans with a large number of members can afford this "journey." In some cases, regional politicians help families.

The wish for an eternal ancestral connection is why families choose to repatriate mortal remains to home villages. According to Samuel Kinda, another Bikoro native, many people ask that, when they die, they be buried beside their parents, children or other relatives.

"In this case, the wish of the deceased must be respected," he says. "Otherwise there could be a curse." Another factor is that people fear the obscenities and profanities that can happen during mourning or the funeral, which is very common in the city.

"Here, the dead are buried, and people desecrate the graves," Kinda says. "In the village, it's not the same. Respect towards the dead is a principle there. Graves are sacred and are treated with great care. They are considered as true places to rest in peace for eternity."

In the collective mind, being buried in an "Elali" (a clannish cemetery) is the sign that the dead belong to a community that entitles the deceased or their family to certain rights in case of land-related disputes or during the creation of a remit with investors.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Zaluzhny vs. Zelensky: Ukraine's Heavyweight Feud Puts The War At Risk

Tensions keep brewing between Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, and his military chief, Valerii Zaluzhny. Coming at a critical point in the war's deadlock, the disputes risk undermining Ukrainian unity and playing into Russia's hands.

Photograph of the Ukraine Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny  saluting in uniform

February 24, 2023, Kyiv: Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny salutes during ceremonies marking the 1st anniversary of the Russian invasion

Ukrainian Presidents Office/ZUMA
Roman Romaniuk & Roman Kravets,


KYIV — On November 20, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Ukraine.

Austin's arrival was initially intended as a show of respect to Ukrainian war heroes and a reaffirmation of Washington's steadfast support for Kyiv. However, this visit inadvertently exacerbated tensions between Ukraine’s top military leader, Valerii Zaluzhny, and its President, Volodymyr Zelensky.

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"After Austin's arrival,” one Ukrainian government insider revealed, “it seemed Zelensky was suddenly about to replace Zaluzhny. Eventually, though, their conflicts faded away, and were replaced by sarcastic banter.”

Recent weeks have seen global media outlets reporting on the details of the "conflict" between the Ukrainian president and the Armed Forces head. In response, the President’s Office dismissed all such claims as Russian propaganda.

Amidst the ongoing threat looming over Ukraine, disputes between the country's top leaders aren't surprising. Such disagreements can even be seen as part of the carrying out of any war.

The root of tensions between the nation's president and its ranking head of the Armed Forces, can be traced to a complicated blend of war and politics. Zelensky's involvement in military planning and command during the war has caused friction as he's integrated political elements into the traditionally apolitical sphere of the army, inadvertently making Zaluzhny a visible figure in the political arena.

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