Cows at funerals: Paradigmatic Change

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

In last week's edition, we noted the significance of cows across continents. The fact that its relevance is not limited to Africa, or to Igbos alone, is indicative of the fact that it is not just the Igbos alone that have placed some significance on cows. Other cultures have high cultural value for it. We may not here begin to compare its strength to that of horse, but cows, as well as horses, are known for strength. In the past, its strength made it one of the means of transportation, ploughing, and threshing.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations most animal dairies come from cattle. As a matter of fact, the following statistics indicate the level of importance humans have come to place on cows. According to the data from FAO 83% of milk produced across the world is produced from milk extracted from cattle; while buffaloes produce 13%; goats produce 2% while camels produce 0.3%; and the remaining 1.7% is produced by equines and yaks.

Apart from being eaten as part of food or dairies, Igbos prepare different types of delicacies of beef. Some prepare it as steak. Others prepare it as "ngwogwo". Others prepare it as "kanda". Yet, others prepare it as "nkwobi". Even for Israelites too, beef was one of their several delicacies served at royal banquets or when men of honour were received (Genesis 18: 7; 1 Kings 4: 23). At funerals, in spite of the fact that the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka has established a standing rule that cows being used for funeral should be cut in pieces and served with food to guests; the use of cows at funerals is always problematic.

Some people would like to do it as in the past when distinctive parts of the cow were shared according to traditional rituals. Some people believe that if the waist of the cow is given to "onye ishi umuada", for instance, likewise other designated parts of the cow to their traditionally entitled persons, then, the funeral ceremony of the deceased was done very well; and invariably, the journey of the deceased to the great beyond would have been successful. Do not ever think about the connection between the parts of the cow the designated persons received and the journey of the great beyond, and how successfully the deceased has joined his/her ancestors by the cow and its shared parts.

There is none. That is the truth. Some people hold that why the Igbos value cow is because of its closeness to the human person. That is what some people think. To their credit however, when we compare the gestation periods of animals and that of man, we see that there are some animals that have longer gestation periods than man, but cows give birth to calves at about the same time that women give birth to children, or just with one month difference, precisely, nine to ten months.

Though man and cow may have some similarities in their digestive systems, cows are herbivores while man is omnivores. And that makes a huge difference. When we can talk about human cognitive powers, conscience, integrity, spirit, and above all man's being created in the image and likeness of God, then there is no comparison. Those bring the disparities between them.

Furthermore, in the scripture, cows were among the animals used for sacrifices (Numbers 19: 1-15; Leviticus 22: 28; Numbers 18: 17). But when the chart of human salvation was being fashioned, there was a profound shift from cow to lamb (Exodus 12: 22; 2 Chronicles 35: 11). What is more, the bloods that were sprinkled on the doorposts of Israelites, for instance, were the bloods of lambs, and not the bloods of bulls.

In fact, God Himself was already initiating a paradigmatic change when He lamented about the loss of the purpose for Israel's multitude of sacrifices (Isaiah 1: 11). "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10: 4). Obviously, there was need for a new covenant with the house of Israel (Jeremiah 31: 31).

It was a covenant that was cemented with the blood of the Lamb - not of man but of God. For the Lamb is the Lamb of God who has said "for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26: 28). When His Blood was shed as the sacrificial Lamb, Jesus the Lamb of God offered Himself once and for all, and for all ages, and all times (Hebrews 7: 27; 10: 12).

Therefore, whatever, we want to achieve by presenting cows at the funerals of our deceased relations have been achieved in Christ Jesus. What we need to do is to offer Him again, and again through the Holy Eucharist, and that covenant will be reenacted. Then with ease we see cows not as funeral sacrifices, but just as delicacies that could be served at any occasion. For the ultimate sacrifice has been paid for every child of God by Christ Jesus who is the True Lamb of Sacrifice!

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