ONYEKPEZE AND IKA CULTURAL MATTERS
THE MOMENT OF DEATH IN IKA
Generally, the ceremonies involved in burial rites, in Ika culture are varied. Like in other African communities, the moment of death triggers off frenzy of lamentation, wailing and misery. These are soon followed by frantic preparations and performance of some burial rites, which will lead to the disposal of the body, the commencement of mourning period and eventual outing ceremony. To understand the Ika attitudes towards these events, it is essential to recall the Ika concept of man and the role of death in Ika culture.
The general concept is that man is made up of material and immaterial substances. The material is biological being, while the immaterial is the spiritual being. It is believed by the Ika people that the community of the dead exists alongside the community of the living such that the dead and the living form an unbroken family continuum. In other words, Ika families have supernatural dimensions made up of the living and of the dead members.
To an informed Ika person, man’s life is, therefore, a cycle of birth, adolescence, and adulthood of marriage, procreation and achievements, death and after life. Man does not stay in one stage of existence forever, he must move on to the next state in a perpetual cycle.
The phenomenon of death is the separation of the material from the immaterial components of man. The material part then becomes decomposable, and for hygienic reasons, needs to be buried, while the spiritual part journeys to, and continues to live in the land of the dead.
The Ika forefathers thus saw death not as the end of life, but as a transition from the present earthly life to another life in the land of the spirits. To the Ika people, the land of the dead is home; man is only a sojourner on earth. Uwa wu afia, onyen zugu ola. Death is thus regarded as a journey, which man must make in order to reach the life beyond. The Ika people also believe that the spirit land is not only very far, but the journey to it is hazardous. Consequently, the dead must not only be bade farewell, but should be well equipped and placed in the hands of beneficent guiding spirits in order to reach there well.
In spite of the foregoing beliefs, to contain these scenarios, the Ika forefathers established and followed some elaborate ceremonial rites for the burial of members of Ika community. These rites are designed to serve some basic functions. For instance, the lamentations and weeping provide emotional release for the most intimately affected persons.
The dances are to comfort and allowed them to let go the disposal of the body of their loved one. Some rites also serve to release the spirit of the dead to join the social world of the dead, as it is believed that unless proper rites and ceremonies are performed, the ancestral spirit of the dead person may not be able to join the ancestral spirits in the world beyond.
Under certain circumstances, corpses can be buried without formal announcement of the death. There will be no public wailing and little or no entertainment excellently for any group. The corpse is however, treated as decently, in terms of coffin and other decorations, as the bereaved family can afford. This situation becomes necessary if the death occurs when the burial is forbidden as during ogen nso ali.
This is during the odd native weeks around Igue and other important festivals in the different Ika kingdoms. Financial difficulties and other domestic problems can also necessitate the burial of corpses in a silent manner.
At death usually, the man’s lineage, umu nedi or ebon nedi, will meet and send a message to the deceased man’s mother lineage or ebon nne to inform them of the death. The mother’s lineage or ebon sends some people who would take part in the interment. Failure to inform the deceased man’s ebon nne can trigger off problems.
At death of a married woman, the consent of her family must be obtained. To do this, the woman’s family must be properly informed about the sickness and eventually death of their daughter. The problem as in a case where her bride price has not been paid does not present much problem in Ika culture. But where her family insists, the husband’s people must negotiate and settle the difference before they can obtain their in-laws’ consent to bury her.
This occurs nowadays with some wives married from outside Ika community. Anybody who buries his dead wife without consulting and obtaining the consent of her family will be made to pay her people any fine, and with a hash family the corpse could be caused to be exhumed.
When the approval is given, the dead woman’s family umu nedi, will send representatives to wash her corpse, iwu ozun ehu, and prepare it for interment. On arrival, the dead woman husband’s relations welcome them, and show them the corpse of their sister and thereafter, the corpse is interred with the assistance of the youths of the husband’s village. The representatives of the deceased woman’s family are, thereafter, entertained.
The death of children who have not been able to accomplish anything on their own; for example, unmarried youths and men irrespective of their wealth and apparent social circle, is regarded as a tragic loss. In the olden days, the corpses of such people were buried hurriedly by the roadside. Ika people share the same belief with other societies in Africa, that the souls of such individuals hardly have a place in the social world of the dead.
For the married and older members of this class, the death is reported immediately to the onyenchen umu nedi, the kindred, and ndi oko (emissaries) to the in-laws concerned with the deceased. Arrangement is made to bury the corpse without much delay as their parents may be alive.
In any burial, the Idumu will sit the chief mourner (the first son of the deceased) down and advise him on what preparations to make for it. Some people will be appointed to help him, and members of the Idumu keep vigil around the corpse. The burial of the deceased, especially the elderly ones is accompanied with a lot of dances of band sets, traditional itu egu, and pomp and pageantry. This, in traditional Ika culture, represents the outing ceremony, after which the traditional mourning begins.