By Anayo M. Nwosu
It was not until about two decades ago when I arrived Lagos that I started hearing people describing someone’s death as a “celebration of life” or that the “funeral is going to be a party as Mama or Papa died at old age”.
I initially convulsed at hearing such until I attended a couple of funeral ceremonies of the parents of my colleagues and friends in different Yoruba towns.
Unfortunately, “celebration of life” ideology has started cripping into some communities in Igbo land but not in Nwosu Ezeonwaneti royal family of Nnewi. We grieve for our dead irrespective of the age of passage.
No death in Igbo land is seen as celebratory; not even that of Mama Obiora who died at 85.
Funeral in Igbo Language is called “ụnọ akwa” or “ụnọ ọnwụ” meaning “place of wailing, crying or mourning”. It is never a place of partying or celebration.
This definition is still lived till this day in an Igbo town of Akụ in Igbo Etiti Local Government of Enugu State where all the relations of the dead or close friends must enter the funeral venue wailing so audibly and would not stop until elderly relations of the deceased deem it fit to ask the wailer to stop. The wailing is never optional no matter the standing of the statutory wailer. Anybody who refuses to wail is liable to serious sanction.
Ndị Igbo are never happy that an elderly person dies even if the deceased was sick unto death. We mourn our dead. This is mainly because our elders are deemed the conscience of our society through various organs like “Ndị Nze na Ọzọ”, “Ndị Ichie” and “Diọkpa or Okenye bu Ọfọ”. The qualification for membership of the above named groups is by age and position is held until death.
During a typical funeral in Igbo land, all attendees are required to show empathy and to convert their condolences into cash or material gifts to the bereaved who, would in turn provide a light or heavy refreshment depending on the value of the material condolence.
Measures are put in place to prevent entertainment or enjoyment seekers to bring their madness to a funeral event.
In my town, the people selected to entertain people know what to give to each visiting sympathizer. They are meant to be watchful to know what each sympathizer dropped in the tray. No amount is too small but no one would drop N200 and say “I want to drink big stout” when asked “what drink do we offer you?”
Never! This would make the bereaved to incur heavy losses after the funeral.
In my town, during the funeral, a tray pan is placed on top of a table in front of where the chief mourner sits with his paternal kinsmen. Sympathizers who could be neighbours, friends or relations are expected to show their grief by dropping money into the flat tray while other material like drinks, clothes (usually wrappers), goat, cow etc are openly handed over to the mourner’s kinsmen in his full glare.
Right behind the chief mourner(s) is seated a secretary recording whatever financial and material condolence brought by each sympathizer.
Every Nnewi man keeps this record of funeral till he dies. It is also a book of creditors as today’s sympathizers shall be tomorrow’s mourners and everyone is guided by the records.
Whenever you attend an Igbo funeral and see a lot of cows, clothes and monetary gifts, please note that the beneficiar(ies) are merely receiving from those he/they had given before now or from those he/they must give in future. This is captured in the saying in an Nnewi refrains that say that “mbọsị mmadụ na-akwa ibe ya ka ọ na-akwa onwe ya” and that “ife nwoke nyelu ibe ya bụ ‘nee jidelu m'” or simply that nobody receives more than he or she gives to others”.
Therefore, funeral ceremony in Igbo land is a give and receive transaction. Never mind the funeral of a relation of a political office holder wherein favour seekers outdo themselves to impress the favour giver.
No Igbo person who suckled the mother’s breasts prays for a relation to die so that he or she would make profit but nobody plans to make loss after the funeral hence all attempts are made to prevent loss agents like loafers and drunkards from deepening the grief of the mourner.
It is a known fact that in many Igbo towns, families borrow money to finance the funeral of their dead and are expected to pay back after the funeral ceremonies. Those loans are usually secured by a swathe of family land. So, how could one now become financially reckless in a “celebration of life” and later lose the collateral used to secure the funeral loan?
There are only three groups whose entertainment or drinks are not expected to be self financing. These are the church members, the deceased maternal relations and the married sisters from the deceased family known as Ụmụada; but the good thing is that their requirements are standardized and are known upfront and this aides in making arrangements. However, whatever deficit incurred in meeting the expenditure obligations is taken care of by the revenues from other sympathizers.
I lost my dear mother, someone not too old to become the president of Nigeria, Zimbabwe or Malaysia where only the aged rule. How can someone then tell me to be happy? I will not! Sadly enough, most of those who sell the “celebration of life” ideology to me are those who want their old man to continue ruling.
Therefore, any sympathizer planning to pay me a condolence visit on the 23 November 2018 must be ready to abide by Nnewi tradition because when “you go to Rome you behave like Romans”. We mourn our dead not with empty stomach but never party during their funeral.
How can I celebrate the loss of a woman who died within the age some people still seek to rule my country?