By John Chizoba Vincent
“The man that buried his father with cow
and the man that buried his father with hen,
each did according to their ability”. Igbo Proverb.
The chaos and havoc experienced in some families when sharing what a dead man left behind are very alarming and disturbing especially if the dead man was wealthy or an influential person in the country or when he die leaving no will to the children. Even if he has wills, the uncles, Aunties, mothers, kindred, village clans and many other relatives won’t allow those whom the properties are willed to to have peace of mind until there is chaos in the family concerning the sharing of these properties.
Even if your father have nothing, his clothes sometimes cause trouble among his children and some of his relatives especially in a polygamous family. I’m a witness of this. I have seen a brother killed his brother because of his late father’s property. I have witnessed where a sister made her own brother mad because of their late father’s properties. The list goes on and on and on. My mother always told us that there is no gain fighting over the properties of a dead man.
During the sharing of these properties, you come to realise that your uncle that has one leg can actually fight better than those that have two legs. You will see that your blind auntie can see better than those that have eyes. You come to realise that salivating on someone’s face is normal and the custom and tradition of your village accept that.
When someone dies, the family gathers to plan for the burial, that is when they will know that the licking roof needs to be replaced, the cracked walls need to be fixed, the floor needs to be tilled, the curtains needs to be replaced then finally the walls need to be painted.
It’s during burial that your family worth are measured by outsiders, if they perceived your family to be rich they want to see a colourful and expensive ceremony on that day but if the funeral wasn’t that big enough to their taste, it shows that your family isn’t rich or among the well-To- Do in the society. If your family is poor, they already knew that they would be the one to contribute for the coffin and drinks, food and palm wines, but bear it in mind for that single help from the kinsmen from your clan, you must not talk any how to your fellows either in the village or outside the village because if you misbehave or talk to anyone of those who helped to finance your father’s burial any how, they will remind you how they contributed to bury your father and how you could not bury your father and this, would definitely be a shame on your own side. And this kind of statement can make the man in you to fold into scramble of papers. Some people know what I’m saying.
“When my father died on the 30th of October 1998, being the first son I summoned a meeting with the elders of my place; after a very long meeting, the expenses for the funeral was above 1 million naira” said one of my neighbours to me when we were discussing about this issue. I’m a listener and most of the things I write about are from those things I listened and observed from people.
” Why should it cost so much for funeral in Nigeria? More advanced countries don’t spend one tenth of what we spend here.” He continued.
It is very important to throw an expensive funeral to pay the last respect to our loved ones but it should not be done while the living are hungry and miserably tattered and confused. Let the dead be honoured but not to the detriment of the living, to the detriment of those living; who still have a future to go for. Not to the detriment of those who still live on the surface of the earth.
It is not only the money that you are being charged by the kindred that matters but also some other expenses that will arise during this funeral. It is another way of making money in many part of Nigeria especially in the Eastern part of Nigeria. It is another means of fighting and arguing over who takes this or that from the man’s belongings after the burial. It is another mean to kill one another because of another man’s sweat.
Some people get killed during this time and some are injured by others. I could remember when one of my In-laws died, his people came to his house and packed all his belongs not excluding common pin. They didn’t leave anything for the woman to take care of the four children the man left behind. It is very disheartening when you see a situation like this. Is sharing a dead man’s property better than taking care of his children?
For example, When you see a core Igbo man buried outside his village, then there are issues to be settled within the families in the village because the money the elders or his clan could have collected from his children or relations, they didn’t collect it. It is very obvious, and this, we need to stop. Those elders should not be demanding much before a person would be buried in his home town.
Perhaps all these burial expenses come up because many of these people have been to their friends’ family and see how burial celebration is done and inviting them to their own family means putting all those things in place if not those coming for the burial will go home with shame considering the kind of expensive life they are living in the city. Sometimes, I don’t see it working that way. Once someone is dead, I think the rightful thing to do is to commit him or her to mother earth than making unnecessary expenses which leaves people in debt after everything.
However, in Igbo culture or tradition, if you don’t bury your late father at home, your mates will one day laugh at you that your kinsmen can’t locate where your father was buried and that alone will definitely make you a lesser man or makes you feel like an outcaste among your people. And in some part of Igbo society, they are some titles that you can not be given as a successful man later in the future when your father is not buried in his home town or buried properly.
The culture of excessive spending during burial is a cause for worry in our society, especially at financial time like we are in. People should consider the living, those that need the money more are those people that are alive not those dead. Nawaoh days, it is a time to know which family is really rich and those that are poor and oppressed. You have to spend and get your lips and pocket ripped off just to satisfy the curioty of many especially the kindred.
One of my neigbours once told me that he lost two mothers at the same month -his mother and paternal grandmother – 2016 and for reasons bothering on fulfilling customs, traditions and meeting the conditions spelt by their families, he had to bury them 2018. He had to borrow! He had to borrow money to meet up the standard of funeral in his village. Those elders don’t even care if you recover the money or not but the truth of the matter is that you have to settle many things so that the funeral can hold in the village. Frankly, when I think of burials, I envy the Muslims with their culture of burial. They are great with that. They are absolutely sensible in that department.
It is no longer a hidden fact that some Igbos particularly those from Anambra and some people from Abia do not conduct funerals to make loss anymore, yes, they do not. Some strategies and methods are always in place on how to cover expenses. The ceremonies are conducted in such a way that a painful or funeral profit is made from invited guest from families, relatives, brothers and sisters and other far distant friends of the children. The worst expectation is a breakeven because of the amount of money spent at the funeral.
Just know that in many cases, loans are taken with lands pledged as collateral and most often, properties are sold to fund a funeral in some part of Nigeria. And after the burial, the children start paying for those debt they incurred. Wouldn’t it be stupid for one to make a loss or lose the collateral by making a loss in the funeral? So these days, going to some funerals, your pocket must be filled with money else, you would be seen as someone else.
You now understand why no sympathizer is entertained in some funerals until he or she presents the monetary or Gifts equivalent to his/her sympathy to the bereaved family. Yes, it is specially strategies and principled to that so that you don’t just come and eat rice and stew and chicken without leaving something tangible behind. No one would drop nothing and expects to be given food or beer and gifts worth more than others who have given in a funeral ceremony.
Burying a dead man is more expensive than caring for the living in my country home!
John Chizoba Vincent is a Public Affairs Analyst.