Monday, 30 October 2017

Traditional burial in some parts of Ikwerre

     One Saturday morning, Oyinyechi and her mother paid a visit to Mrs Woke, the wife of the deceased – Mr Woke. 

Mr Woke had been a ‘Knight’ while Mrs Woke had been a ‘Lady’ in the Anglican church that Onyinyechi and her family also attended. The burial had taken place in Omademe, a part of Ikwerre Local Government Area, so Onyinyechi and her mother had to travel all the way from Port Harcourt to the Wokes’ family house in Omademe. The couple was well known in church, so the house was filled with church members, as well as their relatives and friends, helping in the house and comforting Mrs Woke. After paying condolences to Mrs Woke, Onyinyechi and her mother headed back to the city.

“Thank God for Christianity,” Mother said on the drive home.

“Hmmn…Why do you say that?” Onyinyechi asked curiously.

“I said that because Christianity has helped in removing some unfair traditional practices. In the past, widows suffered greatly in the hands of their in-laws and even their family members during the burial rites of their deceased husbands.
The widow would be dressed in black and would be escorted by a more senior widow to climb the Ojo. Ojo means bad. The Ojo is an elevated platform built from the Oturu tree. A long bamboo is then mounted by the side of the Ojo, on which the deceased’s Oha (red cap) and his old clothes are hung. This showed that the deceased belonged to the Oha – the company of leaders with the highest title in the land. The corpse of the deceased would be placed on this Ojo and there would the widow and her escort remain till the following day, when the corpse would be buried.
As she is seated on the Ojo, she was expected to cry for her late husband. Those around her – mainly women- would try to make her laugh even up to tickling her! If she laughed, she would be made to pay a fine for committing such an abomination.”

“But that’s not fair!” Onyinyechi chirped in, piqued, “That means she always has to put on an act of sadness and force herself to cry. It’s not easy at all and those tickling her are just making things difficult for her.”

Mother shrugged. “It was the practice then. The widow would be made to carry a machete with a small padlock tied to it anywhere she went with the belief that it would protect the widow from bad spirits. The widow’s hair, toe and finger nails would be cut and put in her late husband’s grave. In some cases, during and after the burial of the husband, the widow was beaten and forced to sleep on plantain leaves or mats spread on the floor. Throughout the mourning period, which was usually for a year, the widow was forced to wear sack cloth, walk barefoot, prohibited from entering any vehicle and forbidden from entering another relationship with a man. If a widow happens to die during this mourning period, it was regarded as an abomination and she was denied a befitting burial. Strangely too, such traditions were usually enforced by fellow women who may have acted out of jealousy or revenge.”

“So, such practices have stopped now because of Christianity?” Onyinyechi asked hopefully.

“I believe such practices are rare now or are now of the past.” Mother replied.

There was silence as the car drove on.

“Thank God for Christianity,” Onyinyechi muttered.

“Yes, thank God,” Mother concurred.


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