Igbo Funeral Rites ("Ikwa Ozu")

Photo Source: Pulse NIgeria

Among the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria, death is traditionally a highly ritualized event filled with deep mourning. In the Igbo culture a rites of passage must be performed in a ceremony called "Ikwa ozu" which means "celebrating the dead". Without the performance of this rites, the deceased will be forbidden from taking their rightful place among his ancestors.

These "Ikwa ozu" rites differ from community to community, but occur after the elderly deceased is buried. Igbo funerals are typically lavish because large amounts are spent on livestock and alcohol entitlements for the various age grades within the deceased's community, for the entertainment of guests and, usually, for the long-distance transportation of the corpse. The honourable final resting place for an Igbo man is his ancestral village; and for a woman, in her husband's village. This reason is why many families tend to wait several months after the burial before embarking on the even more expensive "ikwa ozu", a situation that has led to the ceremony being frequently referred to as the "second burial".

Depending on what traditional titles the deceased held in his lifetime, the "ikwa ozu" can last anything from a day to days. All immediate relatives of the deceased are expected to dress in the same outfit at an Igbo funeral. This can add to the cost as the garment may not be worn again, while a church service is usually held before the burial. After that, family and friends accompany the deceased from church to grave for interment - often dancing and celebrating as they proceed. During "Ikwa ozu" guests, who come from far and wide for a funeral, are entertained in a nearby field and in the compound of the family home. Villagers can also attend and stroll in to join the day's event while different groups of guests tend to sit under specially assigned canopies: In-laws, age grades, friends of a particular family member.

Typically, each group of in-laws come along with their own group of dancers, or perhaps dancers from their own community, to entertain the crowds. Sometimes, family and friends usually join entertainers to dance in the field. As part of the burial rites, each child of the deceased is accompanied by their age group on a tour of the village. This usually lasts for most of the day and ends at night. At the end of the tour, another round of refreshments begins.

Going further, the Igbo tradition also has a laid-down procedure for breaking the news of death, especially that of a great man. The first group to be informed is the deceased's immediate family. Afterwards, the extended family is told. Then the entire community is summoned to an "ikpo oku".The final group to be informed is the deceased's mother's family. The news is broken while presenting them with alcohol and livestock. They are then given a date to visit the immediate family and learn exactly how the death occurred. Only after the "ikpo oku" are public displays of mourning permitted to commence. This continued until the day he was buried, when the women's heads were shaved clean. Lavish entertainment is provided at the occasion. The number of yams, goats and cows the mother's family demands to take home with them is dependent on the deceased's status in his community. This elaborate procedure for passing on the news of death helps prevent murder; it ensures that no-one leaves this world without the exact circumstances being ascertained.

Anyone that doesn't conduct an "ikwa ozu" for their deceased, family members are forbidden from being conferred with certain titles or holding key positions in the community. Also, nobody will be allowed to plan one for them when they eventually die.Even worse, the spirit of the deceased is believed to torment any recalcitrant family, inflicting on them various disasters, from disease to destitution.

However, a widow is subjected to certain rituals upon the death of her husband. These rituals include drinking the water that was used to wash the husband's corpse, the shaving of the widow's hair, sleeping on the ground without a blanket for a month and a week, wearing the same garments for a year, sitting on the ground motionless for a specified period, eating only with the unwashed left hand, and fasting. The widow's drinking of the bathing-water of her husband's corpse is a ceremony of self-exculpation whereby it is believed the widow will die if she was blameworthy for her husband's death. According to an article in Headway: "To refuse, or to even wretch while imbibing, would be to show complicity or joy in his death". Feel free to drop your comments in the box below!!