Mourning the dead

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

Mourning the dead has shaded it solemn cloak to become a fanfare in Igbo land today. People even go out of their way to get professional mourners, who could dance with the coffin, and perform all kinds of paraphernalia to mourn for them. The mourning period ranged from first four days of one's death/burial to three native weeks (izu eto), and eventually to a year, especially for a husband, wife, father, or mother.

Though, the mourning period has some little variations, from one community after another, it is not the same for everybody. The way a man is mourned as a husband and father, is different from the way a woman is mourned as a wife and mother; and also different from how a young man or young woman is mourned.

However, at the beginning and at the end of each mourning period, some rituals take place to mark the period of mourning. As well, the rituals vary from community to community. But some of the common rituals at the beginning of mourning periods are the shaving of hairs which include hairs on the head, armpit and pubic areas; bathing following death/burial, and the wearing of the mourning clothes.

Prior to the advent of Christianity, some communities had gruesome practices, for instance, widows, and especially those whose husbands died under suspicious conditions, were made to drink the bathe water from their husbands' corpses. It was believed that if any widow killed her husband, by drinking the bathe water, the dead would certainly take some revenge over his death.

In fact, until recently, wailings and lamentations are expected from widows at the death of their husbands. Any widow who acted differently would be thought as having hands on the death of the husband. Within the three native weeks (izu eto), relations of the dead are technically demobilized. All family members, and particularly, the wives of the deceased stay at the home for the mourning.

Within those days different groups are mandated to bring food (ishi nri ekwa). However, under the pressure of civilization, the difficulties of this demobilization, and the high cost of feeding a whole lot of persons at the same time, modifications of how such food are brought began taking place.

In some communities now, such cooking are enforced only within the first four days of death/burial; outside those first four days, the burden of feeding those who are around for the mourning, rest on immediate families of the dead. Having people mourn for us when we die is a strong sentiment among our people.

It has made many Catholics to abandon their faith so that when they die, they would be by their relations, and be guaranteed that they would receive traditionally accepted bury and mourning.

Mourning of the dead is human. Even in Scriptural time, mourning has been there. Rachel mourned for her children, and refused all consolations because her children were no more (Jeremiah 31: 15; Matthew 2: 18). The Israelites mourned their people when they died (Numbers 20: 29). When Christians are bereaved, they mourn too. But Christian mourning recognizes that there is a God who cares for all.

There is a God who even from the Old Testament time has promised the removal of mourning veils from His children (Baruch 5: 1; Ezekiel 24: 17; Matthew 5: 4; Revelation 21: 4; 1 Thessalonians 4: 13). Christian mourning reminds people of what Christ has promised that He has gone to prepare mansions for His followers. The cooking of food is one of the serious issues at burials. In some places it is always associated with disputes.

But such food is not really for the dead. It is the living who need food. Some Christians think that the cooking of food has anything to do with their lives after death. Many Christians break ranks with their faith because they think about those who would cook food for them when they die. But the truth is that nothing connects us and the food the living eat when we die.

Even in our proverbs ihe onye riri ka obu naa. Food is always for the living. The food for the dead is prayer.

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