Funeral Rites in Ebiraland – In Ebiraland we have two realms of human life… We have “Ehe” : the domain of the living and “Eku“: The land of the dead (also called “Idaneku“)
Human passage is from Ehe to Eku and back again, either in the form of a masquerade or a child.
We shouldn’t mistake the Ebira idea of “Eku” to the Abrahamic religions idea of Heaven.
The journey to “Idaneku” begins with the death of man and in the Ebira tradition, there are rites to be observed for a smooth transition from Ehe to Eku as this article will try to explain.
When the curtain falls in death for an Ebira man (woman), depending on his/her age at death, burial rites begins in earnest.
If the dead person is young (child, youth or a person yet to attain a grandparent status), the corpse is hurriedly buried, shrouded in an Ebira traditional cloth popularly called “Ita Oku Eta” and buried behind the compound such person lived in.
But in the case of an older person, the rites involved are as stated:
Ebira idea of “Idaneku” is a strange land far away, where dead people go to after death, a land of shadow and uncertainty, to meet with the Divine where they are treated according to how they lived on earth (Ehe), there is means of coming back from Eku to revisit and reinhabit Ehe (land of the living).
Funeral Rites in Ebiraland for an Older Person.
We should note that the rites for a male differ (albeit slightly) from that of a female.
When a person transition from Ehe to Eku, leaving a corpse, an announcement is first made within the compound the person lives then immediately a cloth (Ita oku eta) is hung up, also another cloth called “ubanito“(optional and used for only men) and other traditional wears are hung on the main entrance to the compound of the deceased, this cloth- hanging is called “Avahi” and it serves as an announcement or a sign to passersby that a person who lives in that compound is dead.
Messages are then sent to the relatives of the deceased both far and near to come and mourn their loved one.
In the past when walking was the only means of transportation, emissaries sent to far away farmlands to inform relatives of the death of a deceased, take days to get there and back, in order to preserve the body from decay, Anebira embalm the body using traditional methods.
Embalming Process in Ebiraland
A local form of Embalm which consist of placing the body on a raised surface called “Ode” in a room, then surrounding the Ode on the floor will be dry and heavy branches from an oil-bean tree called “Unechi“, this branches alongside some dry local herbs are burnt in a very low flame and the smoke directed towards the corpse.
Using this method a corpse can be preserved for a long time, making it easy for mourners to come from far and near to view it lying in state.
Funeral Rites in Ebiraland for a Man.
The main burial of an Ebira person is a two-day event and this is usually in accordance to a person’s wealth, sex and social status.
On the first day a local drum “Arigede” is beaten to formally notify the people of the death of the deceased, after which a masquerade Osamakuru dressed in palm fronds and black masked, goes round the village in a form of display, these usually happen in wee hours of the morning.
Following this is Ogugu, a dance procession round the village with the corpse (sometimes without it), the local pot drum “Anuva” is beaten and the children, relatives and well-wishers dance round the village carrying artifacts of the deceased showcasing his feats while he was alive, these (before the advent of pictures) may be his farming tools (if he were a farmer) or his bows and arrows (if he were a hunter). The mourners are usually dressed in the clothes of the deceased.
A masquerade (Eku Echichi) accompany the Ogugu and the corpse bearer (usually a strong and hefty man) swings the corpse in a circular motion and this stirs up cheers from the crowd.
Gunshots rent the air and people sing songs about the trials on earth and the transition of the deceased.
After the procession, the mourners return to the deceased compound where festivities continue, meals of pounded yam, yam and palm oil, Apapa (beans bread) are prepared in abundance for the people and a local drink made from guinea corn called “Eche Ayi” also known in some parts of the country as “Burukutu or Pito” is used to water down the food.
The wake for the deceased is done by the deceased friends and children in a solemn manner, they sing old songs and recount life’s trials and pray for the safe travel of dead to “Idaneku“.
Sometimes local singers are invited to add flair to the wake.
Early the next morning, a grave is dug, the site for the grave usually the deceased bedroom, the frontage of his house, middle of the compound or favorite area in the house.
An elderly person’s grave is never dug behind his house.
DRESSING OF THE CORPSE FOR BURIAL
In dressing the corpse, it is shrouded in the Ità o gede, Ubanito and Ita oku eta hung in the doorway, afterwards children and relatives presents different clothes for the burial of the deceased. The process is known as ” Tani Ita” (stretching of clothes).
At the end of the process, a reasonable pile of clothes is assembled for the burial. These cloths are to serve as coverings on his journey to “Idaneku“.
The burial is done with the corpse going down with Ità o gede, but Ita oku eta and Ubanito is usually removed from the corpse and given for the man’s reincarnation as a masquerade (Eku) and Ubanito given to a mystical masquerade called “Eku Oba“..
After the burial, local singers and the mourners continue to sing and dance.
In the night of the burial, a night masquerade wearing Ita-oku-eta (forbidden to be seen by the female folks) visits, announcing the safe passage of the dead to “Idaneku”( land of the dead), following this is night masquerade musical display.
Funeral Rites in Ebiraland for an Woman.
Upon the death of an Ebira woman, emissaries are sent to her relatives (her father’s people) called the ” Omenyi ” the call party is usually consist of the deceased children and some their paternal relatives.
A mild drama usually takes place upon the reporting of their mother’s death to their maternal relatives, they (the Omenyi) stage some form of annoyance demanding to know the cause of their sister’s death, they get angry for not being informed early enough and finally they demand for their sister’s belongings and body.
After pleadings and through the invention of elders who will try to pacify the angry Omenyi, they (the Omenyi) give leave to have their sister either buried in her husband’s place or be brought to them for burial. The acceptance from the Omenyi is usually greeted with dancing and rejoicing from the deceased children…
A popular song is sang “Omenyi ami oo doo mi irenu, Oka e ma si Oku ve” (my maternal relatives have accepted, I’ve been asked to bring the corpse).
Note, that without the consent of the “Omenyis” a woman cannot be buried, going against this have got bad consequences some of which are:
- Severing family ties
- Bad blood amongst families
- In some very bad cases. war.
After the Omenyi’s consent, a deceased woman is also wrapped up in Ita-oku-eta and Ità-o-gede provided by the “Omenyi” there is no Osamakuru to announce her death in the wee hours of the morning instead a solemn announcement called ” Onyiami Nyene (Good Morning Mother)”is done, also there is no Ogugu, it is replaced by Onyi Muruwei, what differentiate these two dances is that Ogugu takes along Eku echichi but Onyi Muruwei don’t have eku ehichi they are replaced with the carrying of “Enya Ohu“, a mystical artifact created by powerful women who have got the ability to commune with spirits.
The contents of Enya Ohu is unknown up to this present day, also there is no gunshot during onyi muruweyi.
An Ebira woman is usually buried with Ita oku eta provided by the Omenyi is used as a wrapper, head tie and a shroud. The Ita-oku-eta is not returned because a woman is not expected to reincarnate as an “Eku“.
There is no night masquerade to bring messages from Idaneku or any masquerade display.
Apart from the stated differences, the burial of an Ebira man/woman goes the same way.
After Burial in Ebiraland
After the burial of a deceased, a Nine (9) months mourning period is declared. During this period, none of the deceased properties is touched nor taken.
On the 9th month, the entire family of the deceased goes to the stream to wash and cleanse themselves, they go amidst drumming and dancing…
Cleansing themselves is a way to bade a final farewell to the deceased and cutting all ties with it. This day is usually on a market day and it also signifies the formal end to mourning.
After the washing, the properties of the deceased are shared and his/her room prepared for reoccupation by another person.
The burial rites described above is for non-titled men and women in Ebiraland.
The rite of burial for Tarus and Onokus are different from the above and will be discussed in subsequent series.
Forgotten culture (Part 1)
By: Salami Anne Aminat
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