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Burial Ceremony

 

One of the biblical corporal works of mercy, as entrenched in the catholic doctrine, is to bury the dead. Hence it becomes important that we harness in this book the way burials are carried out in Ebudin. The responsibilities for burial of the dead rest not only on the members of the immediate family of the dead, but also on the entire community where he lived. It is generally believed in Ebudin, that burial must be done to ensure the deceased is at peace in the great beyond.

To talk a little about death here, let me quickly mention that to become an ancestor, one has to die, and the death must be honourable to the society before the dead can become a recognized ancestor. One has to die well; because there are good and bad deaths according to the Esan tradition.

Good Death normally receives full burial rites while bad deaths do not receive full burial rites. The good death is that which happened when one lives to a ripe old age and has lived an exemplary and good life and has children to honour the dead. Sometimes though, the death of a young person who lived an exemplary and good life is not considered a totally bad death. Esan people believe such young dead will have a good place in the abode of the spirits. He is therefore given a befitting burial and in consequence of this, he becomes a recognized ancestor.

Bad Deaths do not normally receive full burial rites. Deaths caused by the divinities like ‘Ovia’ and other shrines and deities are regarded as bad deaths. They are regarded as capital punishment from the divine and must not be mourned. Those who die a bad death are buried with purificatory rites to appease the divinities concerned with the death. Other types of bad deaths include those who die of leprosy, people who die by accidents like falling from Palm tree, lunatics, suicide and those who were drowned. The burial of such persons is not usually attended by ordinary people but by certain individuals who have knowledge and charged with the responsibility of performing the rituals connected with such death. It is believed that such persons who died badly cannot join the ancestors unless the necessary rituals and funeral rites are performed in his honour or the rituals connected with such death are performed on the corpses.

It is common belief in Ebudin and indeed in Esan Land that in death the deceased becomes an ancestor provided he/she lived a good life and proper funeral rites are performed by his children and siblings. These funeral rites are rituals of transition for the dead from the point of death to their becoming an ancestor. It is believed amongst the Esan people that without these ceremonies, the deceased cannot join the ancestors; he/she will be separated and therefore kept aside (Egborkpen) till the funeral rites are performed.

THE BURIAL PROCESS:

Burial ceremony in Ebudin serves as the last respect paid to the dead, especially for a beloved one. This is done to any dead person that had grown to adulthood whether the person had children or not. However, burial ceremony is usually performed by the children of the deceased and where the deceased has no child, relations and other sympathizers can perform the burial ceremony to fulfill the demands of the society and the expectation of the creator of heaven and earth. 

The extent to which burial ceremonies are done is a function of the capacities of the organizers. Expectedly, where the deceased have many well-to-do children with means and capacity, a very elaborate burial ceremony can be done; but where the reverse is the case, a simple burial devoid of  fanfares and merry making will be done. In both cases, the traditional requirement for burial of a deceased person is the same.

Burial ceremony in Ebudin is usually done in categories. The old-aged dead people that have children are the ones given more elaborate and befitting burial, usually sponsored by the children and relations of the deceased. Depending also on the grade of the deceased, materials traditionally required for burial are the same even though the style differs.

THE FULL BURIAL (‘OKPODEDE’) PROCESS: 

To flag-off the big burial ceremony known as “Okpodede” in Ebudin, the celebrants, usually led by the heir apparent of the estate of the deceased person, must begin by first informing members of his family, the people of his quarter and then the entire Ebudin community. Only four bottles of Palm wine is required to summon the various groups of people to enable the celebrant inform them of their preparedness to bury their late father or mother. The celebrant is expected to invite these groups for the formal announcement of their proposed day of commencement of the burial ceremony of their dead person.

On the agreed date, the chief celebrant is expected to re-inform all the elders of their readiness to commence the burial that day by bringing the required drinks to the elders’ council (Oko-Ughele) to flag-off the burial ceremony. This is to make sure that all the elders and the people are aware that the burial will commence that day and therefore make themselves available for the entire ceremony process rather than engage in some other activities for those days. However, before leaving for the elders’ council with all the required materials, the celebrant will have to get the required materials inspected by his kinsmen who are expected to accompany him/her to the elders’ council. This is to avoid any embarrassing situation arising from presentation of incomplete and/or insufficient materials. The commonly required materials are:

•Four bottles of Palm wine for the elders

•Three bottles of Palm wine for the Igene aged group

•Sixty Kola nuts

These materials must be inspected and taken with them to the elders’ council to the flag-off of the burial ceremony.

On their presentation of the required materials at the elders’ council, the elders will send for the Igene aged group member to come and take delivery of their entitled three bottles of Palm wine with some Kola nuts. The quantity of Kola nuts given to the Igene aged group members is to the discretion of the elders. It must be mentioned here that at the commencement of the ceremony, the celebrant is expected to shoot dane guns, as many rounds as they can afford. This is to tell the entire community that the burial ceremony has started and also serves as invitation to all and sundry.

After the initial presentation of the Palm wine and Kola nuts signifying the commencement of the burial ceremony, prayers will be said for the celebrant and his family by the elders after which the drinks are served and merry making continues. As people are merrying, the celebrant and members of his family will be expected to present gifts of money and other gift items to everyone present at the ceremony. This is known as ‘Ifi-bhobor’ (Cash and material gifts). This usually requires that the Odionwele be given at least N20.00 and N10.00 each to other elders. The amount given can be more than stated above depending on the capacity of the celebrants. The Odin-Igene, who has been sitting with the elders, will also be given his gift by the celebrant. Similar action (sharing of gifts) will also be done for the Igene aged group by the celebrants. All that have been stated above are the preliminary activities required preparatory to the actual burial rites.

After these preliminary activities at the elders’ council, the celebrants, accompanied by people of his quarter that earlier accompanied him to the elders’ council, will return home with jubilation and fanfare to commence the actual burial rites. 

Back home, all the members of the Igene age group who are members of the celebrant’s quarter will be given some gifts by the celebrants in appreciation of their efforts so far in ensuring a smooth commencement of the ceremony. 

Following this, the celebrant will need to add a bottle of wine and some Kola nuts to the gifts already given to the elders of the celebrant’s quarter in further appreciation of their support so far. This process is called ‘Imi-Odede-bhu-wa’ (welcoming the dead home). The elders will then give some of the Kola nuts to those persons that have come to attend to the celebrants at the wake-keep ceremony. The drinks will then be served to all those present at this ceremony.

After this Imi-odede-bhu-wa (welcoming the dead home) session and as the elders are leaving the venue, they instruct the youths (Egbonughele) to carry on with the wake-keep peacefully without quarrel and rancor. Depending on the capacity of the celebrants and the family members, various dance bands can be hired to play music for the youths and other invited guests to entertain themselves during the wake-keep.

On the early morning of the next day following the wake-keep, the celebrant will nominate a town crier to go round the town and invite all the married women to come to the celebrants’ house to sweep the house preparatory to the commencement of the burial activities of the day. This is done with fanfare and the women, led by the oldest married woman in the celebrant’s quarter, will arrive the celebrants’ house to ensure the home is properly cleaned. The celebrants will be required to present some gifts of both cash and other items to the women who have come to clean the house.

After cleaning the celebrant’s house, the woman leader will inform the celebrants to provide all the needed materials for cooking pounded yam and possibly rice meant for the burial ceremony and for use in entertaining other invited guests. On provision of all the needed cooking materials, the woman leader will inspect and confirm that the items are complete, correct and sufficient for the various foods to be cooked.

While the women activities are going on in the celebrants’ house, the men, made up of elders (the oldest of the age groups), Igene (Middle aged men) and the youths (Egbonughele) will be outside, at the designated places within the celebrant’s compound, to see to the killing and sharing of the various animals provided by the celebrants for the burial ceremony. Depending on the capacity of the celebrants, a very big Cow or Cattle is provided for the burial; otherwise a she-goat is the legal requirement. 

When it is time for the killing of the cow or goat and depending on what the celebrant provided for the burial, the oldest man amongst the members of the celebrant’s quarter will delegate some people to go with the chief celebrant to slaughter the cow and other animals provided by the celebrants. It is customary that the cow must be divided such that the ‘left leg will be cut along with the tail’ which is usually given to the Iyan-len (the sponsor) who is usually the immediate junior brother to the deceased. It must be noted that all those senior to a deceased person do not participate in its burial as a matter of deliberate rule in Ebudin. The left leg with tail meat from the cow provided by the celebrant will be given to the sponsor who also has responsibility of providing Kola nuts and wine towards the burial as done by the Chief celebrant for summoning the entire members of his quarter for the burial activities.

After removing the left legged bearing the tail from the slaughtered animal, the remaining part is further divided as follows:

1.Nine lumps of the slaughtered Cow or cattle for the Edion (elders)

2.Nine lumps of the meat for the members of the Egbonughele (Youth) aged group

3.Five lumps for the Eni-khuo (married women) of the quarter, and

4.Three lumps of the slaughtered meat for the ‘Enibhie’ (daughters of the celebrant’s quarter that are married outside their quarter)

These sets of meat will be given to the women doing the cooking in the celebrant’s place in the way they were so divided above to avoid mix-up. These sets of meat will be used by the women to cook for the respective groups. Commonly, two types of soup are prepared and served with pounded yam during the burial ceremony. Cooking of other types of food such as rice is a function of the celebrant’s needs and desire. The two types of soup are Ohiele or ‘Ogbonor (Douganuts) and Ikpogi (Melon). Any other soup such as ‘Black soup’ may be prepared but will not be served officially at the burial ceremony.

Expectedly, while the cooking of food by the women is going on, entertainment of guest will be going on simultaneously. When the yams being boiled is cooked, the celebrant is expected to provide kola nuts with a bottle of Palm wine to the Egbonughele aged group to invite them to come and pound the boiled yams now due for pounding. The leader of the Egbonughele aged group, known as ‘Odin-Egbonughele’ will be formally told that the boiled yams are ready for pounding. He will then proceed to inspect the boiled yams and ensure they are shared according to the four groups to which the meat was previously allotted.

After pounding the yams and shared into the various groups, the elders will, on presentation of the food, share part made up of three lumps of meat, out of the nine lumps of meat meant for the elders, to the ‘Igene aged group members’. The celebrant will then be invited to come and improve the quantity of the food provided (Dor khua-ema). This is just for the fun of the ceremony and also to get more gifts from the celebrants before eating the food. This Ikhua-ema (food improvement) can be monetized. The older Egbonughele aged group will also ensure the junior Egbonughele aged group is given four lumps of the meat meant for the entire Egbonughele aged group, while the older group retain the balance five lumps of meat. After the eating of food, the celebrant will be expected to provide burial gifts to the various groups of guests at the ceremony.

When all the groups have finished eating, the celebrant will then provide all the necessary items needed for the actual burial made up of: 

A She-goat

A He-goat, and

A Hen. 

If the burial is happening for a polygamous person, the eldest sons of the second and/or other wives will also provide only one He-goat each; depending on the number of wives the deceased person had.

While the elders are seated and to their full observance, the eldest son will be required to slaughter all the animals provided by the obligated children of the deceased as follows:

oThe “Hen”: This is slaughtered first as it is assumed to be the first to reach heaven before the dead. It is common practice in Esan Land that the dead person‘s body is sanitized with a “Hen” and the “Hen” is immediately killed before the interment of the dead person. The slaughtered “Hen” is assumed must get to heaven first before the dead person’s arrival in heaven. 

oThe next to be slaughtered is the “He-goat” meant for the grand children of the dead person and

oThe next will be the “She-goat”, which concludes the burial ceremony.

All other animals provided by various persons including the betrothed children will also be slaughtered by the chief celebrant. 

As it is customary, the eldest son is the heir apparent to the estate of the father and this is concretized by his being the person charged with the responsibility of slaughtering the various sacrificial animals during his father’s burial. However, if the burial is for a polygamous man, the first son can permit the first son of his other father’s wives to also slaughter his own goat as a confirmation that he is free to be on his own going forward. Otherwise, the other first sons will remain submissive to the heir apparent till he permits them to be on their own.

Depending on the class of the burial ceremony, the whole quarters in Ebudin is involved in the sharing of all the slaughtered animals with Odogbe quarter choosing first, followed by Igun and Oghale quarters in that order. The left over will then be given to the other quarters in no specific order. After the sharing of the animals, those delegated to carry out the supervision of the animal slaughtering will be invited before the elders, who will give the Igene age group one of the slaughtered goats and the rest is shared to all the elders themselves.

Further burial gifts are presented by the celebrants to the elders and all present as a final appreciation of their participation in the burial of their father or the dead one. After this, the eldest man in the burial ceremony will then pray for the celebrants and this ends the burial ceremony. The celebrant will then be permitted to shoot guns and other fireworks if they so wish. The shooting of guns and other fireworks is to tell the whole community, especially those who could not make it to the burial venue that the burial of their dead one has been successfully completed. This brings the burial ceremony to an end.

The following day, the celebrants will then cook and entertain all those who helped and played specific roles during the burial ceremony known as (Edu-bhu-uwa). The celebrants will then need to stay and observe the mandatory seven days plus additional day (an eight day) mourning period starting from the date of the closing ceremony. He is expected to rest at home without doing any major task or job. The eight day is said to be the most important of the eight days, as adverse consequences can befall any member of the deceased family who disobey the “rest at home” observance for the family members of the deceased.

 

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