Londola: 'flying' caskets identify alleged murderers in deadly DRC rite

 
The “londola” tradition involves carrying a casket through a village, until the casket — believed to be moving on its own — helps the grieving family identify the deceased's murderer. But the rite often leads to tragedy. In Kakanda, a remote village in Katanga province in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), three individuals accused by a “flying” casket were recently killed.
 
On July 24, relatives of a deceased young man decided to carry his casket through the streets of Kakanda in the hopes that it would lead them to his murderers. A man who was there sent us a video he filmed showing dozens of furious villagers running behind the casket.
 
 
At 0'53, the crowd stops in front of a first house, which is a signal — according to the tradition — that one of the guilty parties is inside. Immediately, several members of the crowd rush to the house and begin to destroy its walls. A few seconds later, the video shows the result: the house is now a pile of debris. All of this was done in front of numerous villagers, most of whom cheered on the macabre scene.
 
In another video — from which we have chosen to display only screen grabs, given the extremely violent nature of the images — a woman, also “chosen” by the casket, is grabbed from her house and thrown to the ground. She is then beaten by villagers who use all kinds of objects — including a cement block, a tire and a plastic chair — to beat the woman to death before burning her body, which they cover with debris. On the same day, two other inhabitants of Kakanda were killed under similar circumstances.
 
When asked about these events by Radio Okapi, the UN radio service in DRC, the administrator of Lubudi territory announced his decision to outlaw the practice. “We cannot tolerate a phenomenon in which people are murdered,” Nkulu Mfwifwi said. He explained that the family of the deceased young man had entered the morgue without the knowledge of its staff, who were preoccupied with another funeral, and had grabbed the casket. An investigation to identify the perpetrators of the three murders has begun; two days after the crimes, 10 suspects were arrested. However, the authorities believe that more perpetrators have escaped.
 
According to our Observers in DRC, the ritual of the flying casket is a Katangan belief largely unknown in the rest of the country. In 2008, several houses were burned and their owners beaten to death during a londola in Ngalaka, a village in the Kambove territory, also located in Katanga province. In 2009, footage of a cheering crowd following a casket in Lubumbashi, the provincial capital, was broadcast on a local television station. In addition, a Katangan news website reported that, last February, a londola had taken place in Sambwa, another village in the region.
 
 
 
Screen grabs from the second, highly disturbing video sent by our Observer, where a woman was beaten with different objects before being burned to death.
Contributors

“Those who believe in this practice think that the law will not punish the witchcraft allegedly committed by the individuals selected by the casket”

Sergio is a webmaster in Lubumbashi, the provincial capital of Katanga. One of his friends in Kakanda village filmed these two videos and told him all about the events that took place.
  
The young man apparently died of an illness. But he passed away so quickly that his family immediately thought that it was his uncle, who happened to be the village chief, who had put a curse on him. According to local tradition, the village chief can gain power by sacrificing young men, and thus secure his position. But the uncle convinced the family that he was not the murderer and authorized them to carry out a “londola” to identify the culprits.
 
In general, the londola brings together the entire village, because everyone wants to know who committed the crime. In fact, the practice doesn't always have to end in lynching: the idea at the beginning was that the alleged culprit should be humiliated by being selected by the casket in front of all the other villagers. But, progressively, people have become convinced that the alleged culprits, even once they were “outed” by the casket, would continue to kill, and came to believe it is better to kill them first.
 
“If the people carrying the casket can no longer move it, it means that the designated person is indeed the culprit”
 
On the footage, we see that those carrying the casket have white powder on their faces. It is a way to protect themselves from the deceased, because it is said that during the londola, they become evil and can kill many people. It is also said that their breathing can be heard if one gets close to the casket.
 
The footage also shows a man kneeling by the casket, speaking to the deceased in Swahili [starting at 1'30]. He lives in one of the houses chosen by the casket and is pleading with the deceased to believe in his innocence. But the man was nonetheless be carried out by the deceased's relatives, who beat him to death. According to the tradition, if the people carrying the casket can no longer move it, it means that the designated person is indeed the culprit.
 
Those who believe in this practice think that the law will not punish the witchcraft allegedly committed by the individuals selected by the casket. Personally, I don't believe in it at all, simply because the casket does not fly by itself. It is very much carried by real people who may have bad intentions.
 
Even though the administrator of Lubudi decided to outlaw the londola, this phenomenon will continue so long as a law is not passed against it in parliament.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.
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