Royal Free: ‘Ram was not sacrificed at our hospital’

The sacrifice of a ram is said to be part of the bukusu tribe tradition

The sacrifice of a ram is said to be part of the bukusu tribe tradition - Credit: Archant

Heathman was intrigued to discover Hampstead had become the talk of Kenya this week, as African newspapers reported an unusual ceremony taking place to “rescue the soul” of a much-loved former vice president.

Michael Wamalwa died at the Royal Free in 2003

Michael Wamalwa died at the Royal Free in 2003 - Credit: Archant

Family members of the late deputy leader of Kenya, Michael Wamalwa, travelled with dignitaries all the way to the Royal Free Hospital on Monday, to carry out a ritual that traditionally involves the slaughtering of a ram.

Wamalwa, a member of the Bukusu clan, died aged 58 at the hospital in August 2003.

His passing saw mass mourning in his home country of Kenya with authorities forced to deploy riot police to control the huge crowds of people wishing to pay their respects.

Twelve years later, and Bukusu tradition stipulates his soul must now be retrieved by slaughtering a ram at his place of death – in this case, the Royal Free Hospital.

The Royal Free said the sacrifice of animals on hospital grounds was against NHS policy

The Royal Free said the sacrifice of animals on hospital grounds was against NHS policy - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

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The ceremony, commonly referred to as “Khulotia”, is said to appease spirits and allow relatives to carry the soul of the deceased back to his home village in Kenya.

Wamalwa family spokesman Geoffrey Matumbai told Kenyan journalists this week the tradition is “paramount” among Bukusus, failing which the spirit cannot be at peace and may haunt the family for the rest of their lives.

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He said: “It is very important that we show respect to the dead among the Bukusu community by following our traditions.”

Wamalwa’s funeral was famed in Kenya, and indeed the rest of the world, for the family’s strict observance of traditional burial practices.

It reportedly included the cutting off of his genitals to place on his right thigh to ensure his generation “multiplies”.

Bukusu elders have also reportedly been pressuring the late vice president’s family to “bring back” Wamalwa’s soul, claiming that a failure to do so had made the clan’s leadership fortunes dwindle.

So, it would appear the slaughter of a ram may have been high in the mind of family members as they arrived at the hospital’s chapel in Pond Street on Monday.

But they would have had to get past the NHS’s health and safety policy first, with the Royal Free yesterday telling Heathman the killing of animals on hospital grounds is strictly prohibited.

Unable to get in contact with the family, it is not known if a ram was slaughtered at the site.

But a Royal Free spokesman said: “We can confirm that no animals were taken into the chapel, and there were no reports of any animals being brought on to trust premises.”

They added: “Friends and families wishing to mark the death of a loved one are free to do so at the Royal Free Hospital’s multi-faith chapel. The chaplaincy service will also endeavour to facilitate specific requests to host memorial services, where possible. However, our infection control policy prohibits anyone from bringing animals on to trust grounds, with the exception of guide dogs and therapy pets.”

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