Usually, most Igbos take these village associations and town unions in their different places of abode outside of their villages very seriously to avoid embarrassment for their kith and kin when they die.
When a Man dies, his first son is saddled with the responsibility of organizing his late father’s burial and funeral, regardless of his age. In actual fact, he in most cases is the figurehead, while the planning is done by those around him with his input required once in a while, he may however override certain decisions, such as when and how his father may be buried if he finds certain aspects suggested to him to be distasteful.
His support will come from those in his immediate family circles primarily before extending outwards. He will be guided in the path to go so as to satisfy the various groups that will be in attendance, to avoid situations where for instance members of the church will be at loggerheads with those of the traditional institution over who has the right to inter the deceased body, as I’ve seen happen in some situations.
Support also involves chipping in their two Pennies, especially if the affected family aren’t so well off. It also involves helping the bereaved do the necessary running around and the likes in preparation for the funeral.
The help people will be willing to render and the number of people that will be involved in rendering this help will depend on the persona of the deceased, his relationships and memberships of various village organisations, including his age grade, regardless of how wealthy or not he was while he lived, or that of his son or any other saddled with the responsibility of burying the Man or Woman, as the case may be.
The church may be present at the burial and funeral, but the main event is traditional and is an opportunity for the departed one’s people to send him home.
In the past churches have clashed with tradition, thinking to control all the activities, but nowadays churches simply play the part allocated them and either leave to allow tradition have it’s way or even partake, sometimes in observer role as the events unfold.
In many areas, the churches may insist that the funeral be held only a few days or weeks after burial, and threaten not to be part of the funeral rites if it’s extended beyond that. Several villages have also reviewed the requirements for hosting burials and funerals, so that the rampancy of putting off funerals till the hands of the host is ‘Strong’ is reduced to the barest minimum.
The danger in deferring funerals till the hands are strong is uncertainty. I know of a man whose mother died, and while he was busy trying to work hard to raise the much needed funds to give his mother a befitting funeral, he was caught up in the insurgency led by members of Boko Haram in Adamawa State. Though he’s been buried, no funeral has as yet been done for him seeing that his late mother hadn’t enjoyed the rite yet. His siblings now have to face this seeing that he left no heir to carry on his name.
Once the funeral date is set and the date is nigh at hand, the flurry of activities about the home of the deceased increases. His children, members of his family, his acquaintances, members of his age grade, his village and Towns Unions, and of his children and wife besiege the village from home and abroad. His in-laws will not be left out as well.
The funeral proper may start with a small church service led by clergy of the church the deceased attended when he was alive, sometimes (and is rarely the case) it may also be of the church the son or the wife now attends.
The preacher usually offers a condolence message to the bereaved, then will urge the rest to make the best of life while we still have it, while also using the opportunity to extol the virtues of the ‘faithfully departed’.
Most people usually skip the church part. The traditional aspect of the funeral isn’t necessarily spiritual except the deceased was a member of a particular cult, and even if he was, the part that relates to his cult is not done in the open but after the traditional funeral rites may have been concluded, either later the same day, the next or any other day they may deem fit to do their thing (it may also be done before the funeral, but is usually just as the funeral, done after burial). I will not be able to give you details of happenings associated with the occultic part of funerals seeing that I am not privy to their activities.
Simply put, at funerals the guests are entertained with food and drinks, and the bereaved family are presented with gifts by those present on behalf of their families.
The event begins with the ‘breaking of KOLA’. Kolanut is the stimulant found in beverages like Coca Cola. It’s grown in large quantities in the Northern part of Nigeria, but is of great importance to Igbo culture in Nigeria’s East. Traditional, even non-traditional events are set in motion after the breaking of KOLA. The breaking of KOLA is a ritual of praying to the gods, ancestors and even in these Christian days to the Almighty for the lives and prosperity of those present, even for those they know, who are absent.
After the breaking of KOLA, the floor is thrown open for guests to present their gifts. Usually, the gifts expected are a piece of cloth (of whatever material, of about six yards), two crates usually of liquor or beer (in some churchy settings, two crates of malt drinks or soft drinks will do), and an envelope laden with cash, these form the basic requirements. However, some persons may decide to include livestock such as goats or even cows, or the Naira equivalent of such livestock, and accompanying that with the rope used in bridling a cow or a goat as the case may be.
The other gifts are presented at a table where the deceased’s heir sits, with another member of his family taking records of the intake (this record is kept for years afterwards, and I don’t know why), while the piece of cloth is taken into the living room of the bereaved and left on a table on which the portrait of the deceased is also placed, by the leader of the delegation.
Many of the guests coming with these gifts dance on their way to making their presentation. In-laws are expected in some places to come with dance bands to entertain their in-laws even as they present their gifts. I’ve witnessed an in-law come to present gifts, accompanied by a dance troupe and masquerade. At another event, one brought a magician. A man who had been a teacher also had children from the school where he taught pay him a ‘marching’ ovation at his funeral.
The children of the deceased may also stage a show, by dancing around with a troupe while chanting their father’s name, thereby earning for themselves some money for their troubles.
By evening when everyone would’ve been spent and the guests bearing gifts may have considerably dwindled in size, several groups will perform, groups such as the fathers, mothers, young men and girls will take their turn.
This will be capped by the ultimate. The dance by the late man’s heir in honour of his father to rapturous applause and a spraying of money.
The event usually comes to an end after this.
I have intentionally not written about the untoward events that follow the death of a man especially if his siblings suspect his wife of foul play, or what happens in some families just days after the man dies, when they may be besieged by family members eating and drinking to their fill without pity for the widow as to how she would manage, or the fact that everyone leaves afterwards without a single care as to what will become of the deceased’s family, or the torture that the widows will thereafter go through in the name of mourning. I will leave that for some other time.
The Igbo it will appear, in celebrating the demise of loved ones, celebrate life and the perpetuation of their kind. I have no more words to say.
Ìgbò É’Kèné ê Mú Ûnù!