Igbos And Albatross Of Expensive Burial Rites

Dickson Agbo         Posted:    1 year ago
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Igbos And Albatross Of Expensive Burial Rites

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 .

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