Ikwa mmadu

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

What happens to people after death? Perhaps, there may be as many answers to that question as there are people to answer it. But the fact remains that, people hold different opinions about what happens after death. Besides, answer to the above question depends on one's cultural cum religious creed. In our Christian, and Catholic belief, after death, the deceased goes to heaven, purgatory or hell. That is all.

One of them would certainly be open to the person depending on how well or bad the person followed Christ. It is believed amongst Igbo people, that when an adult dies, and he/she is duly buried with proper funeral rites, the deceased joins his/her ancestors. What is the location where this joining is done? That is not given any consideration.

The important thing, however, is that the person joins his/her ancestors. Every other thing is secondary. The Igbo belief is that anyone who is not properly buried or whose funeral ceremony was not properly done is yet to join the ancestors, and as such, the person is still hovering around in the world. Some people might even describe the period from after the burial to the funeral ceremony ikwa mmadu or ikwa ozu as a time the soul of the dead is hanging in-between his/her ancestors and the living.

Activities at funeral ceremonies (Ikwa mmadu or ikwa ozu) vary from community to community. But things that cut across Igbo culture, generally, are the uses of dances, masquerades, cows, eating and drinking, and in some places the use of horses for display and eventual eating, and in other places the marketplace display of some belongings of the deceased.

In some places, the age grade of the deceased or the youth of the community would run around the village chanting songs of anger, brandishing machetes and cutting of branches of trees as they chant along. During the days of Bishop Eneja, there was a story told about the day he went to bury a prominent young man at a certain community.

At the interment of the deceased, young people dashed out in anger chanting "Iwe, iweeee, iwe! Iwe, iweeee, iwe! Iwe na-ewe anyi o. Anyi ahughi brother. Iwe." The pious Bishop Eneja saw that opportunity as a wonderful teachable moment. He called them back, and admonished them. He taught them that, during the reading, they read that "the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them" (Wisdom 3: 1-6).

Bishop Eneja taught them that if they believed what they read during the burial Mass, they already know where their brother was, namely, in the hand of God. And thus, there was no need chanting angry songs. Christianity has modified a lot of those funeral practices. However, the use of cows at funerals in Igbo culture is one other place we need to look at.

Why do people use cows at funerals? Do cows represent anything? Why are they so important at funerals? If an adult is buried, and the relations could not afford cow for the person's funeral, nobody in the family would merit the use of cow at his/her burial again, until one cow is killed for the person who died earlier. In Chinese cultures, cows are adored.

Some countries use cows as goddess of fertility. In Igbo culture, cows are revered; and they symbolically announce to the living that their deceased member has fully join their ancestors. Should Christians accept the use of cows at funerals? How best should Christians use cows at funerals? Answers to those questions would form part of our next week's reflections.

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