COMPLAINTS about the high cost of living are universal and this topic, either directly or indirectly, occupies much of the discourse in media coverage. One rarely hears, if ever at all, complaints about the high cost of dying.
The funerary arrangements for burials cost the bereaved families scores of thousands of dollars which they cannot afford and which leave them impoverished. Families exhaust their savings and often take oppressive loans, since money is needed urgently as undertakers never give credit and demand all payments must be made upfront.
In a usual burial, the family has to contract with a funeral home who will undertake to bathe and dress the body, but usually such is done by members of the family on the premises of the funeral home, but yet they are charged for this service. Then there is the purchase of a coffin and many bereaved relatives, unbalanced with grief, feel that by choosing the most expensive coffin or casket, they would be pleasing the departed or paying due reverence and honour to him or her. Many families feel that buying expensive caskets would win them prestige.
Then comes the church which has its own type of expenses such as paying for the organist, printing of programmes, paying the priests and other helpers.
Finally, there is transport, purchase of land and cost of building the tomb and payment of gravediggers and other such ancillary expenses. And the priest would always be there to give the final committal. Families and even friends are exploited by all of those involved.
Hindu burials in their original form, were quite simple and affordable since there was the understanding that the body has no value and had been shed by the owner who moves on to another body. The body would be bathed, dressed in about six yards of white cotton and placed on a doli. A doli is a kind of stretcher made of bamboo and covered in white cloth, If the burial ground is within walking distance, the doli is borne there by friends and relatives. The doli is usually covered with net material. The pandit performs the last rites when the body is being interred. Nowadays, funeral homes are engaged for the provision of transportation, coffins, gravediggers and tombs. Despite using many of the trappings of Western burials, Hindu burials are still less expensive.
Probably the most efficient and least expensive form of burial is the Muslim. Muslims try to inter the body the same day as death or at least the next day. The body is washed dressed in two pieces of white cotton since, at Resurrection, all Muslims would be dressed alike. The coffin is a box usually made by a carpenter at the home. Many Muslim families have adopted the custom of engaging a funeral home to transport the body and arrange for gravediggers and tomb, but most Muslims feel it an honour to help in the whole burial process. And the committal is quite simple and efficient. Indeed, some Muslim organisations have minibuses converted into hearses and these are supplied to the bereaved families or these organisations themselves take over the whole responsibility for the funeral.
An alternative way of disposal is by cremation. There are two types of cremation used in Guyana: an electrical process which is quick and clean and allows for the ash to be later entombed and the pyre process which is very ancient and is found in all civilisations. The electrical process is offered by the authorities of Le Repentir Cemetery while the pyre system is found at various cremation grounds throughout the coast. Cremation was illegal in Guyana until 1956, though it was clandestinely practised on the foreshore. Cremation was a custom brought to Guyana by the Indian indentured immigrants in the 19th century and as such, the cremation grounds are maintained by Hindu groups who happily cremate persons of any faith. Since the law requires that bodies for burial or cremation should be put in coffins, coffins were wastefully burnt at pyre cremations. Cremation as a form of disposal has been rapidly growing in popularity and wooden dolis rather than bamboo dolis are used, saving the cost of a coffin. Ms Eileen Cox, the founder of consumerism in Guyana and the doyen of consumer advocates in the Caribbean and the only President Emeritus of the Guyana Consumers Association (GCA), was cremated by Hindu rites at the Ruimzight cremation ground. She was one of the early Guyanese disciples of Swami Paramhamsa Yogananda. Pyre cremations, using dolis, could be as inexpensive as Muslim funerals.
The cost of funerals could be made far more affordable to bereaved families if the public were to be educated as to how to arrange affordable but dignified funerals. This would involve the religious bodies and interested NGOs meeting, planning and executing such education campaigns.