By Maria Famakinwa
A young Igbo child died recently, and after her burial, sympathisers, family and friends from the same ethnic background were sighted eating and drinking. This surprised onlookers who expected them to be in a mournful mood, since the death of a child was expected to be considered a great loss in a family.
However, since culture differs, The Hope spoke with some people from the Eastern part of the country on why they celebrate the death of children and youths. A public servant who simply wanted to be identified as Mr Chimezie, explained that it is a tradition in Igbo land to celebrate the dead, irrespective of age. This, according to him, is hinged on the belief that once a person dies, such has surpassed those who are alive and should be celebrated, irrespective of the age.
On if the passing of a child would be celebrated like that of the aged, he said: “Even though Igbo celebrates the death of a child as part of its culture, it is not possible to celebrate the death of an aged like that of a child, because for an aged person, we have to pass through some burial rites and processes like asking the family of the dead to pay some things according to the traditions before allowing the burial to hold. This is not done while burying a child. For those desire, all they do during the burial of a child is to drink. It is Igbo’s culture to bury a child in such a way and should not be misconstrued that we are happy losing the young ones.”
Asked if dining and wining during the burial of a child signifies that they are not mourning the dead, he said: “That is the way our four-fathers have been doing it and we have to continue with such tradition. Though, the parents of the deceased and family may weep, culture will still take pre-eminence.”
Sharing a similar sentiment, a trader who gave her name as Mama Ada also disclosed that it is Igbo’s culture to celebrate the death of young ones due to the belief that anyone who is dead, irrespective of the age, is superior to those who are alive. She said: “The fact that we drink while burying a young person does not mean that we are happy losing him/her. That is our own culture.
“The Igbo people believe that a dead person, especially a dead adult (with a wife or husband), should not be sent off to the great beyond like a chicken. It is believed that if a funeral is not conducted for the person—no matter the age of the deceased—the spirit will be hovering around. It will be restless. It will not leave the land of the living for the land of the dead. In fact, in Igbo land, if someone moves in a sluggish or sneaky manner, the person is said to be acting like a corpse that was interred with no funeral ceremony. Funeral rites are, therefore, like send-off parties meant to sever the links between a dead person and the living.”
Asked if the parents or the family of the deceased are forbidden to cry, she said: “It is normal to cry when a young person dies. In fact, people also cry if the aged die. But that does not stop the culture. Losing someone in his/her prime remains a tragedy in any family and people are bound to cry. Despite the fact that we mourn over the death of a child /youth, the deceased must equally be sent to the land of the dead according to the culture of the land for his/her spirit to be at rest. The only difference is that we bury the youth with low funfair, compared to how we bury the aged,” she said.
A stationery seller who simply gave his name as Okoye also affirmed that Igbo people don’t celebrate the death of young ones as being rumoured but only do the needful. “Five years ago, I lost my first son suddenly. I almost ran mad and my wife was unconsolable. It was so sad that I had to take his dead body home for burial. Family members and other sympathisers gathered in the village for his funeral. After the burial, we had to serve drinks to people who came. Not that I was happy losing my first son, but I could not just allow those who came for his burial to go without showing appreciation.
“Though some may decide not to collect or drink anything, that does not mean you will not provide anything for those who came to commiserate with you. It is our tradition to do that and it should not be misinterpreted that we celebrate the death of our young ones. However, if it is an aged that die, even though we also feel sober for losing him or her, we will roll out drums to celebrate the passage. In fact, we provide different delicacies for family and friends, after performing the expected burial rites. We don’t do this while burying the young ones to show that we are mourning,” he said.
Another trader, Mrs. Chiamaka Nnena, in her contribution, though agreed that it is a culture in some parts of Igbo land to wine and dine while burying children or youths, maintained that not all Igbos celebrate the death of young ones.
Her words: “Celebrating the death of young ones is not a common practice from the part of Igbo land that I come from. Though some people are doing it as the culture of the land demands, it is not everybody. That is not to say that those who drink while burying young ones are happy. No tribe in the world prays to lose their youths but the tradition must be upheld. I have seen the burial of a young woman in one of the Yoruba states that was also celebrated in a low key manner to show that culture differs. After the burial, snacks were served to sympathisers who came around. The deceased was just 39 years old with three children and aged parents.
“When I asked the people why they served snacks at the burial of a young woman, they said it was because of her children, that since she had children, they could not just bury her without doing nothing. One thing that we do in my village that is not common in the Western part is that one can visit any burial ceremony, even though you are older than the dead person. That is not forbidden in my village. Also, the erroneous belief that Igbos eat human beings should be corrected because people’s culture differs,” she said.
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