Eunice Godfrey is a wife and author of "All in Time" and "Saving Maltira."
Funeral Ceremonies Are Part of a Rich Culture
Igboland is rich with culture and tradition. This culture is mostly expressed in ceremonies and festivals. One of such festivities is the burial ceremony of a titled man.
A burial ceremony is a big deal in eastern Nigeria. But it is even bigger when the deceased was a title holder. It is more expensive and carries more drama. If the deceased was a wealthy man, the family does not need to suffer through carrying the burden of the expense. But if not, then they have to bear every expense.
Burials and Funerals May Be Separated
In Awkuzu, funerals are not necessarily held during burials. The family of the deceased might decide to put off the ceremony because of how expensive it can be. When a titled man dies, his body is buried immediately. This burial is locally referred to as "putting the body in an underground mortuary". After the burial, the family can now take their time to prepare for the funeral ceremony.
There are three groups of communities in Awkuzu, namely Exo, Ivite and Ikenga. These three groups each have one month in a year when funeral ceremonies are conducted and it has to be during the dry season: January–March. So in a month, several families, some of whose deceased have been dead for a long time, have their funerals.
Eve of the Funeral
When preparing for a funeral ceremony, the first thing his children buy are cows. This is usually the most expensive single item, so they quickly cross that off the list. The first daughter, called "Ada", will buy a big goat. This is her obligation and it is compulsory.
On the eve of the funeral, several gunshots are fired into the air. These gunshots signify that there is a funeral of a titled man the following day. A bed is set up in the deceased's living room. On that bed, all his clothes will be put on it together with a long elephant tusk. That bed will remain there for 12 days.
Dancing to the Tune of the Uvuo
On the same night, a particular type of musicians called "Uvuo" start to play a local musical instrument named "Uvuo", which they are named after. Every man in the family of the deceased is required to come out and dance to the tune of the Uvuo. While they are dancing to their special song, other family members and guests who have started arriving will be dancing to other musical instruments being played by a band or DJ.
Because guests start arriving to the funeral, food and drinks are prepared and disbursed during the singing and dancing.
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Amongst the dancers is a very important guest: Ijele. Ijele is an igbo masquerade. It is called the king of masquerades. It appears rarely and only on very important ceremonial occasions. The Ijele is a beautiful and magnificent masquerade to look at. It is very big and tall, colourful items including fabrics, mirrors and bells are used in designing it. The presence of the Ijele shows how important the person being buried was.
The Day of the Funeral
Very early on the morning of the funeral ceremony, both men and women wake up to begin preparations. Cows are slaughtered and smoked. Some of the meat is used in cooking, the rest is used for barbecue.
Some of the meals prepared include bitter-leaf soup, which is served with either pounded yam or pounded cassava. Pounded yam is served to guests who are titled men, while the pounded cassava is served to ordinary people. Some goats will be killed, used to prepare a type of soup called 'Nsala' or white soup.
The ceremony begins with the arrival of the deceased's family members. Each adult comes in with their own dance group. A large table is set under a canopy where the oldest person in the family sits. This person receives all the gifts from important guests. These gifts include, fabrics, cartons of drinks, money, etc. When someone brings drinks, those drinks will be served to that person and his family or friends: all those sitting at his table.
The Ijele masquerade also comes to dance again, this time alongside other masquerades. One particular masquerade that attends this funeral is known to be quite destructive. On its way to the funeral, it kills any chicken it comes across. Each chicken it kills is tied to its costume by its followers.
The Mourning Wives
The wife or wives of the dead man will stay at home from the start of the funeral until 28 days later. After 28 days, her hair will be shaved off, and she starts wearing her mourning clothes (black) for one year. During that time, she won't sleep outside her husband's home, neither will she comb her hair or wear any other clothes apart from her black mourning clothes.
At the end of one year, the widow will burn her mourning clothes and shave her tangled hair. She will not be allowed to remarry until the funeral is complete, no matter how long it takes.
Note: This last part of the custom no longer holds as it used to. A widow who is not a traditionalist may choose not to cut her hair or wear mourning clothes. She may choose not to be part of the funeral ceremony at all.
My mother, who is a native of Awkuzu.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.