Mr Uchenna Ezenwoke a 40-year-old father of four has blamed the accident that led to the amputation of his left hand to the high cost of burial ceremonies in Igbo-land, which force people to bury their dead beyond their means just to ensure a befitting burial
Mr Ezenwoke from Ikwuano local government area of Abia State said he was living comfortably from his food stuff business in Aba until his father died early last year after a protracted illness, which he said cost him a substantial amount of money in hospital bills as he was the only grown up male child of his parents.
He said that though he was aware that burial ceremony was an expensive project, he never imagined that it would take all his savings and throw him into debt.
According to him, his first shock was the demand by his late fathers’ maternal kindred people of the sum N8,000 and assorted drinks just to inform them of the death of their grandson and another N50,000 to show them the corpse before he could deposit it the mortuary.
Mr Ezenwoke is not alone in his experience as Mr Ijendu Iheaka from Isiala Ngwa North local government also of Abia state who buried his father recently, said they bought three cows, eight goats and over 15 chickens as well as various drinks in tens of cartons for the burial and also settled the fathers debts at the church before the clergy could officiate at the burial ceremony. “We spent well over N1.3million from a pool from the contributions from my other relations. This, he said was apart from obituary announcements in the state radio and television and individual expenditure that ran into hundreds of naira.
He said his dead father stayed 121 days in the mortuary during which they paid N200 every day outside the initial N15,000 paid as deposit and other sundry payments to mortuary attendants. These he said are avoidable expenses if the deceased was given a prompt burial adding that he was concerned that these expenses are not considered in relation to what was spent on the welfare of the deceased while alive. According to him there are some people who spend more on the death of their parents than what they contributed to the welfare of the deceased throughout his or her life time.
He said that his father deserved a befitting burial given his achievements in the community as well as his age, which they as his children did willingly, but it should not be an imposition where there are prescriptions which the community or society gives that must be swallowed as if it was medicine from medical doctor. The community does not consider one’s financial capabilities for instance in demanding that it must be given a cow or the maternal kindred people, demanding a cow if it is a woman.
“We had to renovate my father’s house at least to give it a face lift though there is nothing wrong in that but there are others who had to build a new house before the burial takes place which can make the corpse to be in the mortuary more than necessary . “Believe you me , at the end of the burial we had spent about N1.5 million, which some consider as moderate.”
Lamenting the cost implication of the burial M r Ezenwoke on his part said he had to sell two portions of land he inherited, emptied his savings and lost his business as he dipped hand deep into his capital.
“With nothing to fall back on, I bought a motor cycle on hire purchase after an initial deposit and started okada riding. Just two months in the business, I had this accident that cost me my left hand,” he disclosed.
Bitter about his experience and fate, he condemned the culture of expensive burials in Igbo land and called on the elders to remove those items that make one want to commit suicide or run away when one loses either a father, mother or a close relation.
Reacting on the issue a traditional ruler and first deputy chairman of Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers and the Egwu Uga 1 of Umuosu Okaiuga Nkwoegwu autonomous community, Umuahia North local government area of Abia State, HRM Eze Nzenwata Mbakwe said that expensive burial ceremonies especially for the non-titled persons was an imitation of other people’s culture that was introduced in Igboland.
He said the concept was just a mere show of wealth and false affluence even when there is none so that the bereaved will not be ridiculed by the public for not giving the deceased a befitting burial.
He said that burial ceremonies should not be seen as a competition as is now the case but a period of mourning and reflection on life.
He commended the Muslims’ method of burial which he said was far more economical than what obtains in most Igbo society.
He recalled that the effort of the church to reduce the cost of burial by stipulating that corpses should not kept for more than two weeks, died on arrival as the bereaved cunningly delayed informing the church of the death of the loved ones until two weeks to the burial.
“The irony was that most of those who host very expensive burials could not take proper care of the deceased while alive, but once he is certified dead, they will start buying cows and goats, building mansions, renovating their houses and other things in order to give the deceased a befitting burial,” Mbakwe said.
Eze Mbakwe, who said he was a campaigner of moderate burial rites called on Igbos to cut their clothes according to their size, as all hands are not equal, adding that expensive burial makes the bereaved to go aborrowing, sell lands and become bankrupt at the end of the ceremony.
On the way out, Eze Mbakwe recommended the prompt burial of the dead as a way to reduce the rising cost of burial ceremonies in Igboland.
According to him, Igbos could learn from Muslims, who abhor keeping corpses for more than 24 hours irrespective of the personality or amount of wealth the deceased may have possessed before his demise.
Culture he said is dynamic as he called other traditional rulers to toe the same line and pass it as a law, so that the dead will be buried at least within one week of demise. “There is no need for unnecessary expenditures,” he said.
He advised that a sensitization meeting has become necessary among the traditional rulers who are the custodians of the law, educating them on the need to look into the issue in order to reduce the stress associated with the burial ceremonies and in turn disseminate the decision reached by them to their various communities.
For Rev Canon Nanaemeka Miracle Nwogu, Vicar in charge of St Georges Church, Anglican Communion Umuokahia , Aba, said the church was aware and worried by the high cost of burial ceremonies in most parts of Igbo land but is handicapped in implementing its laws to checkmate it because of the hypocrisy of its members.
He said the Anglican Communion has a law that no corpse who should stay more than two weeks before it is buried. He said the period was considered because two weeks was too short for any person to find a buyer of a property that could sold to bury the dead or build or renovate an existing structure or run around to borrow money for an expensive burial.
He said regrettably most church members would hide the death of a family member as long as possible to enable them get all they require for the “befitting” burial and inform the clergy two weeks to the planned burial. “You can’t impose yourself on the family to see one of their own who they pretend is sick in an undisclosed hospital,” he said.
He said the inability of most church members to detach themselves from traditional religious beliefs was another cause of the high cost of burial in Igbo land. According to him the befitting burial which include the slaughtering of cows for the community and the maternal home of the deceased is based on the traditional belief that without it the deceased would not be accepted in the “ancestral court” in the Great Beyond after burial.
In some parts of Igbo land those who did not slaughter a cow or cows during their father’s or mother’s burial fear they would die if they knowingly or unknowingly eat the cow slaughtered in another persons’ burial ceremony. This fear compels those who can or cannot afford the cows to go all out to buy it.
The abroad syndrome he said is another factor as those who live abroad often give instruction that their dead should not be buried until the come home which at times takes months and when they come, change the dollars to naira set another level of befitting burial to be copied by the poor living at home.
He added that the prevalence of pastors and churches who are prepared to bury or wed anybody at a fee has provided an alternative that makes it difficult to enforce their laws for fear of losing members of their church from that family.
He said that the church has done much to reduce the cost of burials by prohibiting wake keep. The canon who said he was writing a book on the negative consequences of high cost of burial and bride price disclosed that he has abolished the bringing bags of rice, drinks or meat to the church by the bereaved family and stopped them from giving “envelop” to him.
‘‘My parish under my watch assists the bereaved family with N50,000 as welfare package to help them in the burial, eats what is provided for the general public at the burial and does not accept money from them because they are mourning”.
He said he was inspired by arch-bishop Nwankiti of Owerri Diocese who in burying one of his parents gave only water to those who came for the burial on the Bible principle that there is a time to mourn and a time to merry as according to him they had come to mourn with him and not to merry. The canon said in his parish they do not practice the payment of arrears of debt the deceased owed the church before death. This, he said also contributes to the high cost of burial.
He advised community leaders who have compiled a list of what constitute a burial rite in their communities to review them if this practice is to be stopped .