Do people today respect the dead?

The death of musician Emmanuel Mayanja aka AK-47 last month shocked many. But equally shocking was the manner in which news of his mysterious death got around and about. Photos of the singer’s corpse were getting around on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media sites, much like a photo of a fire on a landmark would.
While many made it a point to send unsolicited phone messages with images of the singer’s dead body bearing what appeared be a wound on the head, some were not amused.
“It is strange that people feel it is trendy to WhatsApp pictures of a body, what is so nice about it?” wonders one Anitah Sserwanja. Sserwanja runs a garments shop business downtown Kampala. “I mean, what’s the point?” she asks. “It is unfair that his family is mourning yet others found it as news buzz. Do people respect the dead?”

So do we respect the dead?
Good question. Do people respect the dead? Is there any respect left for the dead in this era of social media? Social media has made the distance between any two persons shorter than ever before. Communication is easier than it was two or so decades ago. One could be in the UK, Dubai or Boston, Johannesburg or wherever and get instant news about what is happening at the National theatre, as it happened when the public paid their last respects to AK47.
And that is not all. Beatrice Auma, a Makerere University technology student believes the unlimited control of information flow on the different social media platforms is what is making it very difficult to manage grief in these times.
“Just a few weeks back,” she narrates, “I was attending a funeral service and girls were taking selfies of themselves and posting them on Facebook, can you imagine! I wondered whether they were at the funeral to mourn or have fun.”
That might have happened in Auma’s village in Soroti eastern Uganda but in December 2013 at the funeral of former president of South Africa and celebrated world icon, Nelson Mandela, world leaders including US President Barrack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were captured on camera taking selfies. The pictures, not of Nelson Mandela’s body but President Obama and Chancellor Merkel taking a selfie at a funeral went viral.

Announcements
The other concern Auma has is people who make death announcements on social media about other people’s loved ones without consulting them or seeking permission. “What if the family of the deceased wants privacy but you are there going about posting comments? It is wrong,” she states.
While growing up in Nsambya Quarters, Eric Ntalo, 31, the media coordinator at Association of Uganda Tour Operators remembers waiting to hear death announcements on radio.
“There was no hype about death announcements,” he says. Even the tone of the announcer indicated there was nothing exciting, but someone has died and that was it. But today the various unconventional media platforms have made things different. “Weeks have passed since AK-47 died but bloggers those on Twitter and Facebook continue to post uncoordinated versions of his death. This is not helped by the fact that the police are undertaking investigations into the cause of the singer’s death,” notes Ntalo. What is being posted on the various social media platforms vary from the singer’s music life to alleged romantic relationships. “Isn’t it time we have a law on the dead, why give falsehoods about people who have died?” says Ntalo.
Ntalo believes as much as information is easily disseminated and accessible to the masses than ever before, there is need to respect the sacredness of death on the media platforms.
Comparison to the past
Back in the day, the dead were respected. Even though there was no social media, it is very improbable to suggest people could pose around with and circulate pictures of the dead.
“When a person died, relatives and members of his family mourned,” says Edward Jjuuko 48, a peasant at Kizigo, Mityana district, “people never went around excitedly telling others about one’s death. If one did so, they would say such a person is a sorcerer or night dancer rejoicing over a dead man. But that is what we see today.”
He further explains, “If it was an adult who died, say, a father in the home, his children shaved off their hair as a sign of respect. In some families, during the funeral the orphans did not, and many still do not, put on shoes. Husbands and wives are not intimate for sometime. All that is showing respect for the dead.”
Yet it was not only the family that showed respect for the dead, Jjuuko says, but the entire village or community. “How could you for example go and dig when there is a dead person in the village?” wonders Jjuuko. “That was unthinkable. It was antisocial. People gathered around and mourned, they respected the dead.”
Status of the dead
Henry Matovu holds a different opinion. He says it all depends on who the person is.
“If he that is dead was one for whose friends anything can pass, you will be sure to find pictures of his or her dead body on Facebook. But that is not the case with very many people,” Matovu argues.
“We have had a number of high profile persons in this country die but how many of their bodies did you see on social media? Do you want to say for such people, their relatives and friends did not have smartphones at the funerals (to take pictures)?”
Not that news of death for such people is not circulated, no. Rather Matovu says it is done respectfully. “You will find obituaries of such people in print media with accompanying pictures – not pictures of the body but pictures when they were alive. That is a dignified way.”
So as Matovu argues, is it the kind of person one is and the friends he or she has that determines the manner in which his or her death is handled or the era of social and other media platforms? Have times changed or it is the people that have or is it about a lifestyle, where people do not think before sharing information?

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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