Burials and Funerals in Igboland are elaborate and except you have money growing on trees, it’s not and cannot be a one man show.
Even when the burials are low key, involving only close family members, the funerals most times are elaborate.
Funerals may follow immediately after the burial, days or weeks after or much later depending on circumstances, but it must eventually be done by the deceased’s children or siblings, and in the case of children, the onus usually lies with the eldest son if he has any.
If the children fail to hold a befitting or any other kind of funeral for their parents or an older member of the family, those children will not be accorded one too when they die. The truism in this is aptly put in the words, ‘Ónyé kwâlû Mmádù, Kwàlù Ònwé Yâ’, literally meaning, ‘the one who sends forth the dead, will likewise be sent forth when he dies’.
The importance the Igbo attach to funerals is seen in the way their civilization is set. An Igbo man begins to make preparations for his funeral from the day he begins to socialize, even from childhood and continues for much of his life.
The Igbo culture is insular, and though the Igbo man may travel far and wide, he appears to be eternally attached by an umbilical cord to his native land, in other words, the Igbo man comes home, only the ‘Efulefu’ won’t. It is therefore no coincidence to find the dead Igbo been brought home to his village for burial though he may have lived almost all his life abroad returning home only a few times in years.
The insular nature of the Igbo culture ensures that he grows from inside out, and at every level of his socialization gets recognition and legitimization from that immediate social environment before proceeding to the next. The first level is his/her immediate family while the tip of the pyramid is at the Igwe-In-Council, where decisions pertaining to peace in the locality, as well as the perpetuation of the culture and traditions of the Igbo are established and maintained. These have been before the colonialists came and brought government and Christianity, it still continues within and alongside the democratic structure of state, and hopefully will outlive us.
The Igbo culture is heavily patriarchal, so please pardon me if it appears that I tend to refer mainly to the male gender, though most of the findings I have highlighted and will highlight in most cases are obtainable with and among both sexes.
Usually, the calibre of people who attends a person’s funeral depends on the level he rose to before dying, as well as personal relationships (which most times may appear to make the deceased bigger than he may have been while he lived, because of a particular person or groups of persons he associated with). Also regardless of how high the very aged rose before his demise, his funeral will also attract the attention of many. In essence, the old man will draw a wide range of mourners to his funeral for his longevity, while the young man will be able to do same or surpass it if while he lived he spread his tentacles to embrace many groups and circles within and outside his immediate sphere of influence.
The Igbo kid’s immediate area of influence include his nuclear family. This is his first line of defence and regardless of his age, he has the responsibility to also defend this family, by any means possible. The family is important to the Igbo, in that one may be an orphan yet be accorded his due respect and entitlements just because he is from a family that’s proved it’s mettle over time, while another may not be entitled to any form of respect though the family be intact all because his family neglected to do what is required culturally, but if the one decides to right the wrongs, he would be granted the opportunity to write his own story (either on sand, clay or marble), though his father is/was an Efulefu.
From the one’s nuclear family, the extended family is next. His dealings at this level will be with his age mates. He will choose his playmates from these and others also from families he may not be related to, but live in the same vicinity. Even for those who live in Towns and Cities, it is to these same set he returns to play and learn of happenings, and becomes integrated into the social life of his kindred and people, whenever the one returns home. He will partake in the responsibilities as will be required of his age grade, and sometimes also serve punishments and reprimands as may be meted out to his group by the community, though he may not have been part of the offence.
Once he’s associated with an age grade, he will live and die with that group (except he decides to move to another for reasons best known to him, which also comes with it’s challenges as going to a group younger than his may bring derision and some insults once a while).
It is with the backing or on the back of this age grade or the name of his age grade and not necessarily his personal name that he may then become a member of his village organization, what is generally known as ‘Village Meeting’.
Every young Man is expected to be a member of this ‘Meeting’ once he’s a member of an age grade that has ‘declared’, that is established and is known by a name. Women are attached to the meeting by their husbands in what is known as the ‘Women Wing’ of the ‘Meeting’, and they can be quite influential, in driving policies when they want to.
Those who live outside the village are also expected to join the branches of the village meeting in their respective places of abode, and seeing that the Igbo are widely travelled people, it will be difficult to find a place on earth that this situation doesn’t subsist, or cannot be made to be, unless trading isn’t a vocation in such a place.
It is on the back of the age grade and ultimately on that of the village meeting both at home and abroad that the Man may then proceed to become a member of the ‘Town’s Union’, at home and abroad.
As a Man, He will have responsibilities towards his nuclear family, his extended family, his age grade, his village, his town and maybe as a politician his state and country as the case may be.
He will continue to diminish in size and status as he joins the larger group unless he takes on leadership positions or positions of responsibility within the varying groups.
When the Man dies, it will be the responsibility of the groups closest to him to see that he’s properly buried and a befitting burial will be accorded him by the many groups he belonged to.
Many have desired death just based on elaborate funerals they witnessed even when it meant they won’t witness their own funerals, yet they make certain preparations just so they can be sure to have such or greater when they leave Terra Firma. Fortunately, in this parts of the wood no one speaks ill of the dead, even when the deceased was the worst human that ever lived.
It may be the fear of going unannounced that could be at the heart of the Igbo Man’s penchant to ensuring that he attends meetings regularly and promptly and fulfilling all the requirements therein.
If you are an avid watcher of events at Igbo ‘meetings’, you will notice that they lay more emphasis on one’s contribution towards condolences to the bereaved. You will be pardoned if you owed monthly dues, or sundry payments, but once one is found to have failed to pay contributions meant for condolence visit to bereaved families severally, the years of prompt attendance to meetings etc, will be disregarded, and benefits that should accrue to the one when the same unfortunate circumstances befall him will not be extended to him or his immediate family.
(TO BE CONTINUED)