Nigerian Burial Traditions

Nigerian Burial Traditions

Nigerian funeral ceremonies still retain their traditional flair even though they've changed due to modernization resulting from people converting to Christianity and Islam. Muslims and Christians believe that once a person dies, his soul is released to be judged by God and either sent to heaven or hell. Nigerian traditional tribes believe that a person is reincarnated and comes back as his mother’s relative. Nigerian traditional religions believe that a person has to be buried with appropriate ceremonies and rites to prevent him from coming back to haunt the living.

1 Body Positioning

Nigerian Muslims bury their dead with the heads facing the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Traditionally, for most tribes, a man is buried with his head facing the east so that he can witness the sunrise. Women are buried facing west so that they will be able to prepare dinner for their husbands in the afterlife after sunset. Black earth is used to cover the bodies during burials as people believe that red earth blemishes the skin in the next life.

2 Dressing Attire

The appropriate attire during a burial depends on the age of the deceased. When the deceased has lived to a significantly ripe age, family members of the deceased pick specific colors to be worn by all family members. This is usually a combination of two colors, and all family members, including young children, have to adhere to the chosen colors. Traditional clothes are preferred during burials, with women adorning locally tailored and dyed cotton, and men wearing agbada, which is a wide-sleeved, flowing robe that's ornamented using embroidery. Young people are buried in dark and dull clothing colors reflecting the bleakness of a life cut short.

3 Celebrations and Eulogies

Although the structure of the burial service depends on the religion of the deceased, a typical service is characterized by a lot of singing, reciting of prayers, praising the family through poetry and eulogizing the departed. Ethnic groups found in Eastern Nigeria typically have a lot of dancing and music during funerals as they believe it improves the chances of the deceased having a successive afterlife. Plentiful food is prepared; goats and other animals are slaughtered after death and during the funeral. Nigerians must have enough money set aside to cover the cost of such elaborate celebrations when a loved one dies.

4 Second Burial

According to the culture of most Nigerian tribes, relatives can perform a second burial after the initial burial of the deceased. The second burial involves organizing elaborate celebrations for the dead accompanied by merrymaking and partying. This partying is attributed to the cultural belief that the deceased doesn't gain passage to the next world of the dead unless his family performs this burial rite. These Nigerian tribes believe that if a second burial isn't held, the spirit of the deceased comes back and haunts the relatives who failed to grant a befitting sendoff. Families usually hold second burials to ensure the deceased has a peaceful passage to the afterlife.

Jane Doucet has been writing professionally since 2003. Her articles have been published with the "Canadian Living," "Gardening Life," "Homemakers," "Reader's Digest" and "Halifax Magazine," among other publications. Doucet holds a Master of Arts in journalism from University of King's College, Halifax.