Two days ago, a friend and I were talking about how funerals in Nigeria are turned into carnivals, rather than solemn ceremonies for friends and family. The excessive demands from clans people and the debts people incur in order to bury the dead.
Certainly not the only country who goes overboard with burial ceremonies, ours does rank among the most ridiculous. Apart from borrowing money, these days people actually send out invitations for funerals. These invitations, neatly enclosed in envelopes, are also solicitations for funds. The sale of Asoebi – uniforms to be worn by guests and family members – is another way of raising money for funerals.
With this still on my mind, I stumbled on this Facebook post by my friend, Immanuel James Ibe. I also took the liberty of sharing a few comments from some of his readers.
“Thinking about my mother this morning, I remembered her friend who did not eat at her burial: she had come to me complaining that “the food they shared” did not get to her. Food was sufficient but, as the day went by and the crowds later grew, it wasn’t. For a woman who died in her 50s, we were mourning, rather than “celebrating life”. But for some people, a burial is a burial and must be eaten.When my uncle died last year, his in-law from a certain state was worried, but for a different reason.
“Imo people bury people like you’d bury fowls”, he said, in sick lament. “That man was a big man. If it was in my place, he would be buried like a human being.”
In Africa, burials are eaten.
“We build pyramids for the dead who only need a pit”, wrote Tanure Ojaide. Property sold, funds borrowed.
“When people die, we bury them well because of the value we place on human life”, someone once said.
Yet when a stranger is killed on the streets, the corpse can be left to decompose there, sometimes for weeks. Yet victims of mass killings are ferried without body bags, their limbs dangling from open trucks; they are hurled, sometimes in bloodied clothes, into large, unmarked graves. Their killers walk free, while animal killers face judgment in other climes. But we value lives.
When people die, there is more planning for their burials than for the children left behind.
Because we value our pride instead. Often it is the pride that is costly, not the burial. In servicing the pride, we enrich the economy of the corpse and people reap a festive dividend. Burials are eaten where prides are sumptuous.
My mother. I will share her story next week. For closure. Today is for those who eat especially mournful burials. Wipe your tears and eat.”
Comments from some readers:
“Whenever I hear the ignorant phrase, “he/she was buried like a fowl”…I always wonder, in what culture do they bury fowls?” – Obi Eze.
“I battled my parent this morning because they kept increaseing the burial budget for my grandma. I have warned that I won’t borrow money or deep hands into my savings or sell assets to bury my grandma.
My father thinks I am bent on shaming him. This is a terrible thing. My mom says the Bishop must be invited and inviting the Bishop attracts additional cost. Fifty thousand naira and a goat for the Bishop and five thousand for the priests under him – to say, ‘thank you for coming’. Meanwhile, their food and wine will be different. We need urgent cultural adjustment.” –Chikwendu A.
“I debated this with my boss one day and he said there is nothing wrong in it. That his father’s burial, which he borrowed so much to do, was what opened doors for him. That when you bury the dead very well, they’ll be happy with you and open doors for you. Nna eh! The kind of things we believe in Africa eh.” – Chinedu O.
“When my father died, I wanted people to eat. In short I needed them to eat so it would give me a semblance of normality. It was as if we needed to hear the noise of those milling around so that it would distract us from the business of grieving which a return to silence would bring when they’d gone.
Me think this honour we give the dead stems more from the guilt of being alive and wishing we’d done more for them when they were alive. The least we can do is bid a final farewell to the dead properly because we believe that it’s the very least and last thing we can do for them before we can move on with our lives.
On the value of life, when compared to today, I think before the millennium year 2000 downwards, a dead body was better honoured. Fast forward to now and burials happen on a daily basis. Those who ask to eat at burials believe people will also eat at their burials when they die. In a country as unsecured as Nigeria where human lives can be taken at will by a police man over N20 and nothing is done, where hundreds dying in traffic and in road accidents is a daily occurrence, where armed robbers and kidnappers operate freely and unhindered, where militia herdsmen and banditry claim tens and hundreds in villages daily and nothing is done – our frequent attendance at funerals is so common placed now that the soberness of morbidity has begun to lose its meaning.
Death should not be so rampant but it is in this country, so much so it’s beginning to sound and look like an expected normal occurrence. Without even realizing it, many have developed an inbuilt resilience, a kind of inbuilt shock absorbing technique to overcome the daily happenstances of death around us. So another burial is basically another social gathering. Let us eat for tomorrow we may die. So it seems.” – Chalya M.
“My father was a titled man, a masquerade carrier and a chief in his own rights (the Obi is in his compound). He was buried over a period of seven days with fanfare. It was a mini festival.
After which we returned to town and learnt how to eat yam three ways: boiled for breakfast, pounded (and eaten with a mix of crayfish, pepper and salt and boiling hot water) for lunch, and fried for dinner.
We varied our “diet” with beans eaten three ways; or garri.
But at least our father was given a befitting burial by his widow. She and her children can go and die afterwards.” –Viola I.
In summary, ours is a wasteful and unsustainable culture that permeates every area of our lives, burials included. I honestly do look forward to a time when it will not be the norm to feel ashamed for doing small, intimate funerals where the dead is rightly mourned, and those left behind are free of debt.