There is indeed no small burial in Igbo land, that much I can expressly reveal to you now. The only guarantees I can avail you is that the earlier the better, or the earlier the less expensive. Many communities in Nigeria’s Southeast have done much to reduce the burden of burials on those left behind by the deceased to reduce the cases and frequency of funerals put forward indefinitely. In fact, I know of a case where a young man deferred his late father’s funeral after the burial, so he could raise enough money to give him a befitting funeral, only for him to lose his life to Islamists in Yola, Adamawa State in the days when Boko Haram targeted mainly Christians and Southerners in the restive Northeast region of Nigeria. It became pertinent that this statute be adhered to, as situations were lavish burials and funerals were held for some dead, who while they lived could not routinely feed thrice daily, or even neglected while they ailed from one chronic illness or the other.
In many towns today, one of such rules instituted to encourage bereaved members of Igbo societies to bury and hold requisite funeral ceremonies for their dead is to the effect that a minimum standard quite affordable by a majority, for what should be presented during burials and funerals was arrived at, and to do otherwise (because you have the money) will amount to paying the village/town authorities a sum of ₦25,000 or thereabouts. This law hasn’t however stopped the bereaved from feeling sentimental about their dead loved ones, and still deciding to go to any lengths to give their dead a “befitting” requiem regardless of the cost, even if it involves them getting indebted or having to sell lands and property to achieve their aim.
Another thing to note is that the Igbo community is a communal one. It may account for why the homeland is insular in outlook, and why outside of it, the Igbo seek out one other to organize periodic meetings at village and town levels. Hence, when someone dies in the family especially the head, the man of the house, or his wife (and to a lesser extent any of the children), the decision about how and when such a person is to be buried is not the main preserve of the particularly bereaved, though what the latter may find convenient is given greater consideration than whatever any other member of the family or outside of it may wish or desire. In some cases, decisions like these can even be totally out of the hand of the immediate family of the deceased, besides the occasional consultation as to if they found decisions taken for the bereaved convenient for them, as in the case of “titled” members of society or the (high) priest of the village deity (in which Sven the final resting place is not made known to members of his family).
When I started this foray into THE IGBO AND FUNERALS several months ago, it was following a maternal uncle’s funeral I attended, and blogged about what I noticed from a distance, though they were things I’d always known. This time around having been directed affected by the loss of a loved one, I can speak from first hand experience after joining the club of the fatherless. You may come off wanting to fulfill the wish of the deceased for his/her burial and funeral rites not to be deferred beyond a few days after death, regardless of your readiness financially and otherwise, but by the time you commune with family you find days become weeks, then months, and if you aren’t careful even years, slated for the final funeral rites after the burial, which is usually not too far from when the deceased died.
In the case of a dead father, one is advised to stay on the path of caution to ensure that as advice comes with respect to pushing up the date for the funeral rites (as ones father isn’t one to be buried in a rush for instance), you stand as the voice of reason, understanding that the dead is gone, and nothing by way of an elaborate burial of funeral can in any way influence how the afterlife will treat the dead. Even the Egyptian Pharaohs and the great men of their time, interred in elaborate tombs and pyramids have today ended up in museums, remains, exotic property and all, and that’s for those that escaped notice of tomb raiders of yore. The matter of their spirit though is a case for another day.
I have mentioned in my earlier instalments the role that village or towns meetings play in burials in Igbo land, and how of all dues payable, that for condolence visits is held paramount above all others, or a person will not be afforded the due recognition, visit and other accoutrements that should accrue to the family of the departed at their passing if he fails to remit as often as they come- condolence visit fees (about ₦2,500 in some of the village or town meetings in places like Lagos). Any member of the group however, who feels inclined to attend the burial and funeral of such a one who hadn’t been attending general meetings or paying fully the condolence visit fees, can do so as their convictions lead them, depending on the relationship they shared with the faithfully departed.
Of course, if one is to bring to the notice of the members of the village and town “meetings”, the information concerning the death of a loved one, as with the case of a late father it is neater to approach with an invitation card, and an obituary poster. Banners can be made but that is usually meant for the home of the deceased, and back in the village for specific part of the village leading to the homestead of the deceased.
Another, is a booklet of tributes by members of the family and friends of the deceased, which will also include the outline of the programme of events for the day of the burial and funeral ceremony, where it is distributed to those present for the event.
The Igbo are well travelled people, but it is customary that their dead be brought back home to be buried with their fathers in the family compound (as you may not find cemeteries as routinely as you find them elsewhere, with some cultures going as far as burying the late “Man of The House” under the floor of his bedroom), regardless of the circumstances- palatable (dying at a ripe old age during sleep) or not (as with those executed in prison for couriering drugs in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia or the likes)- of their death, especially for a son (even daughters) that has attained a certain age. In fact, this custom was duly taken advantage of by Igbo drug dealers (if such legends were anything to go by), who stuffed the remains of dead colleagues with hard drugs for the homeland, or even shipments to their desired location before finally bringing the bodies back home for burial, giving rise to the infamous “Igbu Ozu Na High Sea” saying, literally meaning to “kill the corpse on the high sea” though with more sinister meanings related to the huge proceeds coming from such transactions where the human remains is used to haul drugs.
Usually, once the Igbo man dies outside of the homeland, his body is repatriated back to the village and kept at any of the morgues there, till his family is ready for the burial. Many Igbo families elect to keep the body of their late loved ones in morgues in cities or the country where he lived, with better mortuary facilities till just days before the burial, for fear that the remains of their loved ones may not receive the kind of attention at the morgues closer to the village compared to those with better facilities in the cities and towns of Nigeria or outside of it in the western world. Though many argue that the dead is gone and hence no need to waste scarce resources that should go to more important burial and funeral aspects, a visit to some of the morgues nearest to some villages or towns in the Igbo heartland, where sometimes human remains are laid out under the sun to dry (amongst other acts) as a means of preservation may convince some to only resort to such places only hours before the burial, as a stop over for the body of their dead before the final journey home, especially if they intend to lie the remains in state for a while before burial.
With today’s ease of communication, meetings regarding burials, funerals and the likes amongst family members have become less tedious, hence as long as an Igbo attends the village and town meetings of his place of abode outside the homeland, he can coordinate events in both places without necessarily visiting the homeland until it becomes absolutely necessary, before and during the burial and funeral rites. As most Igbo have shorn the native or traditional religion, which is associated with the culture and tradition, burials and funerals today are conducted in a manner that appeals to all parties via finding common grounds that won’t enrage any of the parties usually related to the dead, by blood, marriage or adoption. Hence, if for instance a pastor died in a city like Lagos, outside the homeland, he can have a Service of Songs done there in Lagos two or three days before the burial, then a Wake Keep at his residence in the village, on the eve of the burial and funeral. The Wake Keeping may be modified to be more inclusive such that it may start with the rendition of so called “church songs”, but much later in the night of local music of the area, like “Ekpili” from crooners such as Chief Morocco Maduka or Patrick Nwa Nsugbe, that’s popular in the Anambra Area of Nigeria’s (Igbo dominated) Southeast.
The burial and interment which follows the next day will then be conducted by the deceased’s church or mission. The funeral which is more of custom and tradition can be conducted afterwards or much later depending on how ready the bereaved are. Like I mentioned earlier, it is to encourage the many bereaved in the east to hold funeral rites even immediately after burials that laws were made to encourage those affected to come with minimum requirements or pay a fine if they intend an elaborate funeral ceremony for their departed loved ones. Allow me to stop here for now, and continue with much more in the next instalment of “The Igbo And Funerals”.