The Changing Face Of Burial Culture In Igbo Land

Burial rituals in Igboland. Image: Youtube

One thing that is certain about a generational change is that nobody takes immediate notice of its occurrence until things come to a head, and far from what we used to know or do. For example, in Igbo culture, many changes have taken place in our society. But nobody can place his or her hand on when such change began. In every aspect of our culture – social, political, religion, business, etc – there had been a lot of generational changes. If we begin to enumerate them, there will be no end in sight.

In the past, I have tried to discuss many aspects of our culture. It is not because I know more than others. It is simply because I am a core Igbo man who appreciates, admires and cherishes the Igbo cultural heritage. I will like it to be preserved like others are preserving theirs.

Now to the subject at hand. When I came back from the United States in 1979, I attended the burial in my community. It was characterised with a lot of wailing. At the end of the burial, people were served with biscuits and soft drinks. Many years later, I attended another burial in a neighbouring community. When I got there, I saw a large number of mourners. There were many canopies punctuated with countless number of seats decorated with covers. When it was time to go for the church service, many people went to the church along with the coffin for the service. But a good number waited behind for the coffin to come back from the church.

During the church service, as the coffin was being brought in, it was followed by close relations, all clothed in beautiful uniforms. It was supposed to be a solemn moment. Copies of brochures were shared and everybody struggled to get a copy. But indeed it was not enough. At the end of the church service, the number of people that accompanied the coffin to the man’s family house was larger than the number that accompanied it to the church.

By the time we got to his house, the place was jampacked. To many, they wanted the burial rites performed fast in order to begin entertainment. One interesting aspect was that close members of the family were invited to dance. And they danced and danced. Naira currency notes of different denominations, including pounds and dollars were ‘sprayed’. Of course, the currencies splashed on the dancing family members made some impact as younger ones could be seen struggling to outdo one another in picking the notes. It became a melodrama.

Unlike what obtained in the past, the whole pattern of burial ceremonies have changed. Today, announcements are made on the radio, television and newspapers. Posters and banners are mounted and pasted all over the community. Different types of drummers, musical groups and singers are invited to perform. Canopies are mounted, and having under them several number of seats. During the entertainment, different types of groups are singled out and giving different types of entertainment. In some cases, lists are drawn up with items to be presented to ensure that requirements are met. Coolers upon coolers of different foods – jellof rice with or without chicken, white rice with different types of sauces and other delicacies are served.

From close observation, in every celebrated burial ceremony, a pyramid of drinks of different brands are made available to invited and uninvited guests. Today, it has become fashionable for young men in towns and villages to wander about looking for places where burials are taking place in order to attend to their own version of stomach infrastructure. These were not the case in time past, but today, things are changing, and changing very fast to the extent that one can say without fear of contradiction, that a new culture of burial is already here with us. But, please, let’s watch it so that we don’t replace the good with the bad.

-----------SUN NEWS