The Anthropologists argue that the fight against Ebola will not be won until we will not be busy processing the dead. In Monrovia, There is a worrying gap between the number of patients growing strongly and the number of the bodies collected for cremation.
Every day the bodies of the dead by Ebola are collected in treatment centers and hospitals in Monrovia. They piled up in a morgue specialized for them to be burnt. But the number of bodies collected decreases every day. “Very few of those picked up are shown to the family.” According to Van der Velde of MSF that deals with the collection of corpses.
Contact with the bodies of those who die of Ebola is very risky. The disease is highly contagious in its advanced stage even after death. According to WHO, the worst epidemic in the world so far, has already killed more than 4,000 people, half of them in Liberia.
Towards the end September, the crematorium worked restlessly, burning 80 people every day. Early October the number was reduced to 30/40 body. That means we hide the dead and bury them in secret. In the villages, we know even less!
Good deaths and bad deaths
The question is: “why people do so? ” There are several reasons, but one fact is very clear: The dead were buried according to the rites of culture to honor them and accompany them during their last trip without worrying about safety standards. The normal belief is, we often distinguish between “good death” and bad death. “For most of the cultures and traditional beliefs, the funeral is a passage (for Muslims and Christians) from this earthly world to the spirit world.
In many areas of Africa, the “good death” is a very personal matter and the senses play a major role; it is necessary to touch a loved one, we cry, we kisse. The dead body is washed by the family, they apply palm oil and dress him with best clothes. The body remains at home to be seen and later is buried in the courtyard near the house.
With Ebola, there is no “good death”
Any contact, even a simple touch can spread the disease. At the time of death, the transmission capacity is at its maximum. Because of this, there can be no traditional funeral, so that the body and the soul of the deceased rest in peace and follow the normal course of the new life; while comforting those who remain.
The horror of the disease in population is compounded by leaving leave their dead to be buried or cremated by “foreigners” and there is no condolences or social rites. Imagine, losing 10 people in your family and no one to embrace you, or to console you! “
Athropologists working in Kissi say to local people “if the funeral is not done well, the dead can go in peace and rest among the ancestors or participate in worldly affairs of living of the family.”
With Ebola, instead of the family coming together to “mourn their dead,” they sees men in drysuits with biochemical protection that spray corpses with chlorine before introducing them with the clothes they were wearing at the time of death in the sealed plastic bags.
Traditionally, the proximity of the tombs indicate the proximity of the ancestors or spirits. Only the cursed or the evil dead are buried far away! The burial of “Ebola contageous” does not take account of customs and traditions. It is dangerous in itself.
The response to the Ebola crisis took place without anyone seeking to understand and respect the different elements surrounding the death, which are critical to the security and peace of the community. It result as a resistance to modern standards of hygiene.
For Almudena and her team of anthropologists, the rural cultures are pragmatic and flexible and would adapt easily, but the health organizations need to interact with the families; and should not content themselves by simply imposing standards without listening to what is important in the lives of the affected populations.
Finding a way to respond to this infection (ebola) in a way that makes sense and is accepted at the local level is essential to stop its spreading in the communities. If we limit ourselves in giving orders, without taking into account the local beliefs, the funerals will not happen without a minimum of hygiene and people will continue to hide the dead bodies.
SMA lay associate, Spain.
She works with a team of anthropologists
of the German NGO “Charity” in Guinea and Liberia on ways to fight against Ebola.