Music Legend Geoffrey Oryema’s Family Speaks On His Death, Cremation Controversy



The late music legend Geoffrey Oryema. His death sparked a family controversy on whether he should be buried as stipulated by Acholi culture or his remains be cremated

By Pamela Acemah Oryema, Canada

The family of the Late Wilson Erinayo Oryema wishes to thank well-wishers from around the world, the media and friends for the support and prayers following the passing of world renowned singer, Geoffrey Ocheng Oryema on Friday, June 22, 2018.

Oryema’s family wishes to clarify and provide the facts on events leading to the cremation of of Geoffrey’s remains on Saturday, June 30th, 2018.

Deeply saddened by the sudden passing of the late Geoffrey Ocheng Oryema at age 65, the Oryema family abroad and in Uganda worked hard to bring home the remains for a befitting burial at the ancestral home in Anaka, Nwoya District.

This was not only in accordance with the Acholi tradition, but also in honor of Geoffrey Oryema’s vision and love for the Acholi community, as expressed through his music and in conversations with friends and relatives and his desire of one-day returning home.

When he passed away in Lorient, France following six months of illness, his two younger sisters, Irene and Anna (the former having been his personal hair dresser) were with him and had been by his bedside in the hospital for a week till the day he breathed his last.

Geoffrey left behind three children from two previous marriages: Chantal from the first marriage, Ocheng and Ajoline from the second marriage, a live-in partner, Madame Regine Martz, in France. Geoffrey did not formally marry Madame Regine Martz; neither did the couple have any children.

It was, therefore, shocking for the Oryema family members who had travelled to France from Canada and Europe shortly after Geoffrey’s death, to learn that Madame Regine Martz, working with the late Geoffrey’s eldest daughter, Chantal Oryema, had planned to cremate his remains.
There had been no consultation with the rest of the family. Given the extreme urgency of the matter, the Oryema family promptly executed two specific actions. First and foremost, at a
considerable cost, the family hired French lawyer Maitre Anne-Aymone Pedelucq on Thursday, June 28th, 2018 to apply for an injunction in the French Court of Appeal of Rennes presided over by Judge Pierre- Olivier Danino.

Secondly, the family mobilized support from home. This included a strongly worded letter of support from Lawirwodi of Acholi, His Highness Rwot David Onen Acana ll, to the French Court, dated Thursday, June 28th, 2018.

The Paramount Chief was very clear in his articulation of the Acholi norms regarding bereavement. He strongly objected to the cremation of the remains of the late Oryema, urging that the remains be brought back intact for a decent burial. If that was not possible, then the remains should be buried where he lived.
The petition for the injunction was admitted, approved and served by clerks of the court on Madame Regine Martz and Chantal Oryema on Friday, June 29th, 2018, at 11:00 a.m. The hearing was set for the same day, Friday, June 29th, 2018, at 3:30 p.m.

Conducted only in French, Judge Pierre-Olivier Danino wanted to know if there was a will. He was informed that the late Geoffrey Oryema did not leave a will with specific instructions about his funeral. The judge also wanted to know whether Madame Regine Martz was married to the late Oryema. He was informed that she was not.

In the absence of a will and matrimonial certificate, the judge asked for submissions. The family of Oryema represented by Mrs. Pamela Oryema Acemah, and supported by three sisters, Irene, Anna and Elizabeth Oryema maintained that Geoffrey never relinquished his dreams of returning home to Uganda.

In illness, Geoffrey reached out to his family in a show of love and solidarity and maintained his wishes to return home. Though he never expressly spoke about his funeral and where he wished to be buried, it was understandable because in Acholi culture the funeral of a patient cannot be discussed while the patient still breathes. He understood the Acholi culture that funeral arrangements are left to the surviving family members. In this case the family planned that he would be buried next to his father, the late Erinayo Wilson Oryema.

Speaking in French, respondents’ Madame Regine Martz and Chantal Oryema maintained before the court that Geoffrey had expressed the wish to be cremated, and his ashes scattered in Soroti and in Anaka, Nwoya District. To bolster their submissions, they produced five witnesses—Virginie Pallaird, Jean- Jacques Melamed, Mancour Gharbi, Christine Deraeve and Frank Deraeve—who alleged that they heard Geoffrey Oryema express the wish to be cremated upon his death. The names of the witnesses speak for themselves. None of them was an Acholi, none of them was a relative of the Late Oryema.