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Pollution of Igbo tradition in marriage and funeral ceremonies

By Polycarp Onwubiko

It is sad to observe that some Igbo communities and groups have polluted the essence of Igbo tradition and unconsciously turned funeral ceremony into outlandish carnival of sorts in the deceptive notion of dramatizing and showcasing the supposed rich cultural heritage of Igbo people. It is a historical fact in Igbo land, funeral ceremony has been perceived and conducted in accordance with spiritual and trado-cultural dimensions and perspectives.

In the present time, the impact of Christian religion has reduced some of the abhorrent traditional practices like in marriage and funeral obsequies and ceremonies. Irrespective of the divergent cultural and religious perspectives, the dynamics of physical and spiritual awareness and knowledge has made it necessary and even imperative to make substantial modifications so as to reflect the interest and concerns of different classes of people in the society. It is widely acknowledged that society is ever in dynamic process in order to key into the global phenomenon for the mutual benefit of all mankind. In the hoary past or olden days in Igbo land, funeral ceremony was conducted in line with the dictates of the spirits that supposedly own the land.

Their dictates were regarded as the “Omenani” of the people. For example, the booming of guns during burial and condolence visits was believed to escort the spirit of the dead to the spirit world as to be received with standing ovation by the forefathers. On the day of the burial ceremony, in-laws and relatives of deceased would purchase and present a sizeable piece of cloth to be put on top the deceased body inside the coffin. The essence of the cloth according to the root of the tradition was to enable the deceased have sufficient clothing materials in the spirit world. Peradventure, if the deceased wallowed in grinding poverty and penury during the sojourn on earth, he would no longer suffer such deprivation and attendant humiliation in the spirit world or the land of the day dead. In addition to ensure the completion of the traditional funeral ceremony, the married daughters of the deceased would be presented with cloth during the condolence by their respective husbands.

If she is a widow or childless, the children or the kindred of the husband would present a cloth to the married woman’s kindred for the deceased coffin and another cloth to the woman when she would be dancing during condolence visit of her children or husband’s kindred. Having cried for the dead of his father or mother, the married woman of the deceased would be happily looking forward to the presentation of clothing materials by her husband or the children. In order words, it is an opportunity to have additional clothing materials to boost her wardrobe. The implication of purchasing and presenting the clothing materials is that no excuse for financial problem is tolerated. In poor families, basic needs of life’s sustenance are sacrificed so as to observe the traditional funeral practice.

In excruciating circumstances, borrowing or sale of valuable property is resorted to in order to fulfill the traditional practice. In the course of time when the knowledge of the Christian religion through the Bible widened, adherents of some Christian religious organizations took a realistic look at the traditional funeral practices in the light of correct interpretation of the Epistles in the New Testament. It should also be pointed out that not all the practices in the Old Testament are relevant or permitted in the New Testament mode of worshiping God. For instance, the Apostles never prescribed nor practiced shaving of hair, making incision and pouring of ashes on the head during burial and funeral ceremonies as was done in the Old Testament mode of worship. Again the founders of Christian religion never compromised the laid down Christian precepts with traditional practices in marriage and mourning of the dead since the root of those practices emanated from pure idol worship of the heathen world. The rational of some Christians who do not observe shaving of head for the dead, gun shot and presentation of clothing materials during condolence visit was based on the admonition of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who said in Matthew chapter 11verse 30 that: “for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.

The essence of this biblical interpretation is to take due cognizance of the have-nots in the society and compel Christian to trace the source of all societal traditions and customs without swallowing them line, hook and sinker. The conduct of these Christians with respect to customary and traditional practices in marriage and funeral ceremony sparked off violent quarrels in some communities where unenlightened persons direct their affairs of the communities but the rule of law on fundamental human rights and freedom of worship in the Nigerian constitution held sway. In this present day funeral ceremony, one is perplexed to observe a profound pollution of Igbo traditional funeral ceremonies.

The intent of the funeral clothing materials has been distorted due to flaunting of wealth, vanity, hypocritical posturing and inverted values in the present decadent society. Clothing materials has become a unique opportunity for people to stage carnivals and indulge in ostentatious fanfare and carousing during condolence visits. The most nauseating spectacles is a situation where a person whose sister married the son of a deceased would attend the funeral ceremony with dance troupe, village people and relatives along with clothing materials for her sister. This modern habit is contrary to the original or age-long traditional practice which has essence.

Such a person according the agelong customary practices would attend the condolence visit in a simple way with the family and few kindred persons without dance troupe, gun shots and clothing materials for the sister. This is because our forefathers reasoned that clothing material is meant for the married daughters of the deceased man or woman and not the wives of their children. In this civilian government, it is observed that party members attend funeral ceremony with clothing materials showered on their female members. This practice is neither Igbo tradition nor in tendem with Christian value of worshipping the Almighty God in the spirit and truth.

What impression does party members want to create by showing pieces of clothing materials on their female members who lost the father or mother of her husband? Are party members in-laws who by Igbo tradition would present clothing materials to the daughter of the deceased man or woman? If common sense or rational thinking is anything to go by, party members should present only money and drinks in condolence visit and not clothing materials because they are not in-laws to the deceased.

This blatant bastardization and brazen pollution of Igbo traditional funeral practice should be stopped by the presidents general of town development unions and traditional rulers. The former Hon. Commissioner for youths and Orientation, Mrs. Chinwe Anowai did her best to re-orientate the minds of people to re-examine some of the things they are doing in the name of showcasing the so-called Igbo rich cultural heritage. It is pertinent urge Governor Peter Obi, who has displayed a measure of civilized conduct in governance to step up the tempo of social re-orientation so as to check frivolous and flagrant display of wealth which subject the less privileged people to anti-social conducts to the detriment of the society in general. Onwubiko writes from Lagos.

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  1. Okuka Emeka December 13, 2012 at 4:59 am

    With due respect’ the Igbo’s has sold their tradion,in name of born again.Goodmorning NDI IGBO.

  2. Okuka Emeka December 13, 2012 at 5:01 am

    With due respect’ the Igbo’s has sold their tradition,in name of born again.Goodmorning NDI IGBO.

  3. Tokanbaduku December 13, 2012 at 5:04 am

    Do the Ibos have marriage and burial tradition?

    • Uncle P December 13, 2012 at 8:56 pm

      Dry season sickness is too bad. it makes ppl to talk without thinking.

  4. Okpodike VC December 13, 2012 at 5:30 am

    Ever since funerals turned in2 gr8 party of who is who, our people hv nt stopped dying. I join hands wit u 2 say dat flamboyant burials shd b checkmated

  5. Great Nchuma December 13, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Culture is dynamic and the only constant thing in life is change. Some of the practices enumerated here had undergone some changes even before the writer knew them. Those traditions equally vary from town to town and community to community as the case may be. What should be advocated, in my opinion, is moderation. There is no way a rich man and a poor man will do a ceremony and they will be same. Class and cult has been there from times immemorial in every tribe and race. Igbo is not particular about this. Visit the Niger Delta area or the Yorubas and you will see the proper cannival.

    • Omon Osiki December 15, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      You are right-the solution is “moderation”! In any case, people should do what they think and know they can do, not the one that will give them a lot of debts after the ceremony!

  6. Ogbuzuru December 13, 2012 at 9:18 am

    I’m from Amauzam Ugbawka.Culture influences culture.Culture is dynamic.If this are some of the characteristic of culture and tradition.So should anybody complain about changes.I’m from Nkanu. Display of wealth and power is part of the peoples Burial Ceremony ,shooting of the best guns is compulsory because we are all warriors. Slaughtering of bulls is compulsory in the ancient days.My ancestor 140 years ago slaughtered over 200 bulls during his fathers burial ceremony.Excluding,goats,chicken.Human sacrifices,numbers I can mention.That is why we are called Ogbuna agodo,Ogbuzuru etc.He’s a slave merchant and a great farmer.I still have his Portuguese sword up till now.Christ have change the whole thing,so Christian doctrine has influenced our culture. Nkanu people and Enugu people don’t display wealth during marriage ceremony till date.

  7. Nweke O Nweke December 13, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I agree with the writer that burial in Igbo land which used to be sober is now full of ostentatious display of affluent. Another case is the dancing and throwing the coffin up and down. This has led the Nze and Ozos in my community to abandon the burial of a prominent Nze according to them it is an abomination for an Nze to be tossed up and down like a dice. The children had to pay a fine before they were persuaded to come back. Most of these practices are not Igbo tradition but borrowed from other cultures. Another case is the cutting of cake in traditional marriage. This is laughable as cake is not an Igbo culture or practice.

  8. ColNwako December 13, 2012 at 11:44 am

    There is infiltration of other cultures into Igbo tradition and I don’t think other tribes allowed ours to infiltrate theirs. Burial and marriage ceremonies have undergone some measure of metamorphosis . In my town, Agulu , Anambra State, burial use to last a whole month and people are fed everyday but today it is reduced to three days. Thereafter people can still pay condolence visits but no food will be served. It will still reduce further to one day as done in some towns in Outside Igbo land.
    Igbo tradition during marriages , does not make room for “aso ebi”. These are maidens colorfully dressed that will accompany the bride to come and welcome the in laws to the bride’s home. Previously , the mother of the bride would be asked to go and bring the daughter out to welcome the visitors. This “aso ebi” issue is borrowed from the South West part of Nigeria. The word “aso ebi” is not Igbo word but Yoruba. It has spread like wild fire and any Igbo girl who fails to parade them will offend her peers. The groom picks the bill of dressing the maidens and if they are there to as bride’s maids, it is another set of free clothes. So the young girls love it a lot and it has come to stay. There should be an Igbo name for it. Change is constant in life. Let us keep borrowing things that are good.
    We have been copying from Oyibo. Bleaching our skin, different hair treatment and using artificial things for the women. Borrow, imitate, copy , one and same thing.

    • Stine Chykee December 14, 2012 at 7:39 pm

      ColNwako my brother i am from Agulu too from Okpu Agulu precise and i support your point but i want to shade more light on the issue you raised.My town Agulu well known with a rich culture in Anambra and South East as a whole and i wish our culture should be promoted more without the interference of the Christianity becouse it seems Christianity and Western culture is fast gaining ground in Igbo land and as a result affecting the Igbo tradition

  9. anizoba nevbechi emma December 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Tokanbaduku, above, has asked a very pertinent question: Do the Ibos have marriage and burial tradition?

    The issue is that the Igbo do not have one marriage or burial custom/tradition. They have customs/traditions as diverse as their dialects of the Igbo tongue. It is misleading and sheer waste of breath to debate on non-existent “Igbo this” and “Igbo that”. Cheers!

  10. SWEETBORA December 13, 2012 at 9:26 pm


    • chidi obi December 14, 2012 at 12:23 am

      christ is not a poor man

  11. chuks December 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    In as much as these pratices are not peculiar only to igbo nation but i’m ‘ still very ashamed.I believe that change is dynamic but if not directed can be very disastrous.Burial ceremony is always a sad one no matter how old the dead person is, so i don’t see any reason for a fanfare entertainment.Moreover we’re almost 100% christians and as a consqeuence,our activities have to reflect the image of Christ in us or are we the pharises that Jesus so much detested? The issue of marriage is even more alarming.To the best of my knowlegde,igbo men marry more from other tribes and outside nigeria than other men marry from igbo land .Love is not always the cause because convenience is becoming more and more a determinant factor.In some communities, forced expences imposed on the groom can be as high as N500.000 taking into account compulsory cartons of beer and malt ,crates of soft-drink,bars of soap,different sums of money in envelopes for different groups of people and individuals etc.To me this is neither custom nor tradition but a super highway to self destruction.

  12. Ezinwanne December 14, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Igbo tradions and cultural practices have been destroyed by pentecostal christianity.
    The biggest destroyer of Igbo language too

  13. Paddy December 14, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Let’s not throw away our traditional values on the platter of intelligentsia or bornaganism chose what you want to do and be moderate in d ones you don’t know it’s history, let’s drop castigation, Igbo culture remains rich no matter what and how we see it

  14. Stine Chykee December 14, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Igbos cultures and tradition must be prevail no matter how the Western cultures is trying to influence it and as for marriage we know that Igbos hadly marry wome outside of their Igbo land more than the way other tribes marry Igbo women especally Anambriarians they hadly marry outside of their Anambra State

  15. amamchukwu December 14, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Change is permanent no doubt, but ndigbo should not allow undue influences to violate their traditions and culture so that the future will not judge us.

  16. concern Nigerian December 15, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    any cultural activities that does not reflect the person of Jesus Christ is idol worship. what we owe the dead according to the scripture is to bury them, all these shooting gun,killing goat etc are waste of resources.

  17. ARINZE December 15, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Concern nigerian
    you are a fool and disgrace to your generation.
    You are as well say christmas and sign of the cross was reflect by christ.
    Op have said something important which i learn something.
    Christianity,islam,judaism and hinduism all promotes idol worshipping in different form.
    Time to go back into ODINANI(OMENANI).

  18. ARINZE December 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Concern nigerian
    you are a fool and disgrace to your generation.
    You can as well say christmas and sign of the cross was reflect by christ.
    Op have said something important which i learn something new.
    Christianity,islam,judaism and hinduism all promotes idol worshipping in different form.
    Time to go back into ODINANI(OMENANI).

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