Birth, marriage and burial are considered the three major family events in most cultures, and Igboland is not an exception. It is common to be invited to a traditional marriage ceremony by an obviously delighted family that sees the occasion as an opportunity to announce to the whole world that their son or daughter is ripe for marriage. Of course, marriage in this part of the country is considered a virtue that only responsible persons adhere to.
Igbo culture does not view death as an end to life rather it is seen as a kind of transition from earth to an elevated spiritual existence. It means attaining a higher realm, a re-connection sort of with one’s ancestors, a graduation from the physical to the ethereal and transition to the spirit world.
In Igbo mythology, unless the rites of passage are properly and adequately done in honour of the departed, in other words until a befitting funeral is accorded the deceased, he/she is unlikely to be admitted into the ‘spirit hall of fame’. Worst still, the spirit of the departed, according to legend, will hardly rest nor find peace instead it would be wandering and hovering aimlessly astride the land of the living. He/she is therefore dishonoured in the estimation of those departed.
It is believed that unless funeral rites are performed, the deceased will wander between the land of the living and that of spirits.
In almost all parts of Igboland, the living spends lavishly to bury their beloved ones even if they died in abject poverty, whatever it takes to give the dead a befitting burial will be done in order to satisfy tradition. Everyone is expected to perform the same burial rites and they are capital intensive, complex and elaborate. The complexities and financial expenses are more if the dead is a titled man, held political offices, or a person of immense social and political status.
It is very expensive to bury loved ones, especially ones parents in Igbo land. In order to accord ones parents a befitting burial, some persons even go to the extent of obtaining loans from friends or even selling their family land to raise enough money for the ceremony. They have to raise so much money to take care of the burial expenses like the purchase of an expensive casket, sewing of uniforms, preparation of exotic dishes and drinks to entertain guests and indeed the community. The family is also expected to announce to the world, in a grand fashion, the departure of their loved one to the great beyond and so anything that ensures that this announcement is done is not spared. It does not matter if the departed was a devoted Christian or a traditionalist, a lay man or woman in church or an elder or deaconess or even a cleric. The difference may largely be faith-based, but approaches to certain rites and quantity of items needed to perform the prescribed rites are the same.
However, in all elaborate festivities, the same kind of dressing by members of the immediate family, friends and others that can afford to pay for the cloth, hiring of live band or discotheque, traditional dancers, church choirs or all sorts of performances shows the status and the assumed influence of the deceased or the family that he/she belongs to.
Friday Magazine learnt that despite the widespread influence of Christianity in Igboland, heathen beliefs and practices still hold sway.
Some elders including highly religious ones have stated that the Igbos spend lavishly on the funeral of their loved ones against the background of the long-held belief that if a dead man is not accorded a befitting burial, his spirit will wander in anguish and as a repercussion haunt and hunt the family members that refused or failed to accord him/her the appropriate burial rites. For fear of being tormented by the dead, family members traverse oceans to accord their dead the prescribed rites often cloaked with the popular tag ‘celebration of life’. The intention is to please the dead and thus avoid the wrath of an angry spirit.
In fact, stories abound of children frustrated by their departed parent/s or close relative because they failed to conduct befitting burial ceremonies. Some women were allegedly made barren, prevented from achieving any tangible economic success in life or enjoy some measure of good health as punishment for disrespecting their dead loved one.
Emeka Ibe said “Look my brother, in Igboland the fear of the dead means safeguarding yourself against the wrath of one’s departed parents or uncles, especially if you inherited land or family inheritance.
“So we Igbos can go to any length to appease the spirit of our ancestors, parents or very close relatives by giving them very expensive burial rites. We spare no expenses, as the thinking is that in some ways the ‘gods’ will ensure that one’s business thrives.”
Friday Magazine thus understands why some persons in the South-East would even at the detriment of the welfare of their immediate families, stage very expensive burial ceremonies; one that puts their families in debt without blinking an eye.
Udeh Nwosu thinks that expensive ceremonies offers them ample opportunity to feed the community, the poor in particular, show affluence and boost their profile. That is why the number of cows, goats and sheep slaughtered, the quality of guests and the number of days the people were fed are status symbols in Igboland. “It is common to see young men brag about the number of cows they killed during their fathers’ funeral, as well as the holdup that the long-stretch of cars caused during the funeral procession of their father/mother in their communities or how well the burial was publicised in the local and international media,” Eze Nkemjika, a businessman in Lagos, said.
Ike Okafor, who works at a law firm in Abuja, described elaborate funeral as wasteful, heathen and an irresponsible showy display of material possession. That is why we have so many thieves in government, greedy persons who are desperate to accumulate wealth and show-off in such wasteful endeavours.
“Ironically, even the poor ones who can barely afford one meal a day are involved in this mad-quest to show-off and in order to be accepted by an immoral society, they resort to desperate means to conduct expensive burial ceremonies.
“It is sickening, reckless and in some ways show lack of real spirituality because no godly person would steal or accumulate debts just to be praised by the society for according his late father or mother a befitting burial even while those living are in abject poverty. Even if one can afford an expensive ceremony it still doesn’t make sense to me because there are things to be done for the living.”
To worsen the situation, in some cases, the deceased when he/she was alive was hardly catered for. Family members never thought it wise to make them have a feel of the good things of life. Sadly, once the person dies, those alive will do everything possible to lavish money in the name of giving them a befitting burial. Those who do not take proper care of their parents or elderly ones while alive, but give them an expensive burial are praised by the society as people who have respect for the dead.
Uchenna Ifezue believes that another reason why some engage in expensive burial rites is simply because they want to use it to announce their ‘arrival’ in the society.
Funeral ceremony of a traditional title-holder is normally expensive because of the many segments of the society that must be given their compulsory entertainment not minding whether the children are wealthy or not. Even if they don’t have the money, they will be compelled to obtain loans to satisfy the funeral requirements.
Another factor that contributes to this is when the deceased has an affluent child or children. The children or their relatives will organise expensive funeral ceremony to reflect their social status and not actually that of their deceased father, mother or relative so as not to earn disrespect from members of the society.
Many people have continued to kick against the practice of spending too much money to bury the dead as such funds ought to have been used to provide for the deceased while they were alive.
Nevertheless, many people and organisations have been calling on relevant authorities to put a limit to burial expenses based on the argument that there is no need of spending so much money in organising funeral, while hunger or lack of money may have led to their death. Children are expected to take good care of their parents, the aged and relatives when they are alive, instead of spending so much when they are no more. They also advocate that those left behind should have something to fall back on after burying their loved ones.
Interestingly, a former Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, during his administration, planned a policy to take care of the poor and elderly by introducing monthly stipends of N5,000 for all persons aged 70 and above.
Churches were also in line to stop this ostentatious display of wealth as pastors in some Pentecostal and Catholic churches condemned the practice, but most families believe that people would make a mockery of them if they fail to have an expensive burial ceremony.
Recently, the Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, His Grace, Most Rev Paulinus Ezeokafor, condemned the high cost of burying the dead in Igbo land
Delivering a sermon during the burial of the prime minister of Umuchukwu community in Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State, Bishop Ezeokafor described the huge amount of money the Igbos spend during the burial ceremony of their dead ones as an economic waste.
On the other hand, unfortunately, people are pushed to spend so much money on funeral activities as a result of what members of the community say. Some of them after attending a burial discuss things that are not necessary. Some of the things they discuss include the kind of food they were given, the type of gift items shared, the number of committee of friends and their different uniforms, the price of casket bought, the casket bearers and so on.
It is disappointing that a funeral ceremony which is supposed to be a time of mourning and sorrow is now used as a tool to measure the standard of living and level of respect of families in the community.
However, organising a flamboyant funeral by many Igbo people is subjective because it depends on where one comes from or his cultural background. If one uses what obtains in his own cultural setting as an example, burial in the Igbo society may be looked at as expensive. This is so because even as the state varies, expenses for funeral also vary.

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