Traditional burial rites of southeastern Nigeria's Igbo people are extremely elaborate and complex ceremonies filled with intense sorrow and mourning. Cultural protocol involves two burial ceremonies. The first ceremony transitions the deceased to the spirit world. The second ceremony, referred to as "ikwa ozu," means "celebrating the dead." This rite of passage allows the dead to enjoy peace and respect among the ancestors. Igbo culture does not view death as an end to life.
When somebody dies in the Igbo nation, the body is purified. The purification process involves lying the body on plantain leaves and scrubbing it with camwood dye. After the cleansing, the body is considered sacred and placed in the living room. Generally, men are laid out with their feet facing the entryway. A woman is usually seated upright and carried to her husband's village.
After the body goes through the purification process, a wake takes place. The oldest son of the grieving family greets the community with an offering of kola nuts and libations. Prayers are spoken to connect ancestral spirits with the deceased. The wake continues throughout the night. During the next morning, gunshots are fired to alert the village or community of the death.
The Initial Burial Ceremony
Following the wake, the family selects a spot for a grave to be dug in the living room. Customarily, the deceased's most prized possessions are buried with him. Men are buried with such items as hunting equipment, tools or guns while women are buried with pots and dishes. The first burial ceremony ends with young men placing the body in the grave and enclosing it with wooden planks.
The Final Burial
In Igbo culture, a second burial takes place months after the first burial. The second burial is more lavish and treated as a celebration. Family members and visitors perform traditional songs and dances and wear their most impressive attire. After the second burial, the Igbo believe the deceased will transcend to the new world or next world of the dead.
- Igbo Funeral Rites Today: Anthropological and Theological Perspectives; Austin Echema
- BBC News Africa: Igbo burials: How Nigeria Will Bid Farewell to Achebe
- Igboguide.org: Traditional Family Ceremonies
- JSTOR: An Igbo Second Burial
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images