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.