Fr Pat Amobi ChukwumaTuesday, November 18, 2014




uring my days as a seminarian at Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, I was a member of the Theatre Group. In one of our displays, I acted as a dead body with a few other dead bodies. Over two hours we were lying motionless on the stage at night. Mosquitoes butchered us like a cow in the abattoir. As dead bodies, we were forbidden to make any movement. Some of us slept off. Even one of the dead bodies started snoring. Have you ever seen a corpse snoring? I couldn't help laughing before my body starts to decay on the stage. As one dead body was snoring and the other was laughing, the stage curtain was drawn suddenly to put the house in order. Thank God the drama came to an end before they could think of burying us behind the stage. From that day I swore never to act as a corpse again in any drama. Rather I would prefer to act as a mad man to stay alive. Indeed I have died before. I am waiting for my second death. What a drama!

According to Shakespeare, death is an inevitable end which must come when it will come. Man's death is not an end itself but an end to a new beginning. Humanly speaking, even though death is a transition from mortality to immortality, it is painful. That is why we shed tears. When one dies, the next programme in the agenda of human life is burial. Some talk of befitting burial. Unbefitting burial is practised than spoken. When we talk of befitting burial, you count how many cows were slaughtered; how many cartons and jars of wine were drunk; how many cooling vans were standby. If an "ijere" masquerade performed, it adds feather to the burial ceremony. The presence of masquerades shows that the dead are welcome into the spirit world, because we believe traditionally that masquerades are spirits. Contrarily, I was taken aback when I accidentally saw a masquerade behind the house of the bereaved drinking beer. I shouted, "What an eye-saw!" The masquerade told me that the spirits are also hungry. What a dramatic drama!

When one is bereaved, the kindred normally send a list of costly items that must be provided to them before the dead can be buried. It includes assorted food items, cows, drinks, cigarettes, money, etc. There was the case of a man I know. He was eating from hand to mouth with his wife and seven children. Eventually, his aged father died. The poor man approached his kindred to inform them of his father's death and proposed burial. Instead of commiserating with him, they gave him a long list of burial items for the "umunna" (kindred). The bereaved man couldn't believe what his eyes saw in the list. He nearly fainted. To add pepper to an injury, they threatened to cease his father's corpse should he fail to provide those burial condiments. In addition, if the man buries his father in secret, he stands being ostracized forever. His land would be confiscated. The bereaved poor man went home and started crying like a baby before his wife and children. To worsen the situation, his wife and children joined in the crying. Indeed it was like a crying competition. Drama saw drama.

I pity the dead. Last week, I attended a burial somewhere. As the corpse was being awaited from the mortuary, friends, relations and well-wishers of the dead had already started eating and drinking to their satisfaction. As I was saying my prayers before the corpse arrived, those serving set before me a complete roasted giant chicken and a bottle of cold stout. I interjected instantly, "Lead me not into temptation!" A Reverend Sister sitting close to me added, "but deliver us from all evil. Amen!" I asked those with tags "Ask Me" this question: "My dear, are we here to pray and bury the dead or are we having a sumptuous party?" This question remained unanswered till today. They just snubbed at me and walked away as if they were in a jamboree.

Eventually, when the awaited corpse arrived, some of those burying food and drinks into their stomachs, covered their food and drinks. They went down the stairs to welcome the departed. They cried awhile to justify the amount of food and drinks they have consumed. I was just watching the drama. Then they walked back into the parlour, wiped away their tears and continued eating and drinking.

I was shocked to the marrow one day I attended a burial of a woman somewhere. As the corpse lay in state, the "Umuokpu" (women from her kindred) surrounded her corpse swallowing pounded yam and "egusi" soup. For them, it was a symbol of their last communion with their departed beloved one. They were eating. But the corpse was not eating with them. They were just hungry women. Was it not a time to cry and pray for their beloved one? What of if the woman died of contagious disease? Then all the women who ate the food would contract the disease. No one says eating and drinking during burial ceremony are bad. The contention is: when, where and how should we eat and drink in times of bereavement, especially when we not concerned as such. Those boys digging the grave condemn cartons of beer to show their love for the bereaved family.

The men and women kindred attach importance to their list of demands than what they can do to assist the bereaved family. There was a young Igbo man who lived in America. Unfortunately his father died suddenly. He came back to home to bury his father. His kinsfolk gathered to present their list of "no go area." Raising his eyebrows over the superfluous list, the bereaved young man exclaimed, "What a nonsensical nonsense is this! Please men, get out from my house and let me bury my dad as I want." In anger, the young man brought out his pistol and scared them away. The old men ran for their lives, abandoning their native bags containing cups and openers for wine. Angrily they swore to deal with mercilessly with the American based young man should he bury his father without their consent. The young man's mother approached him and pleaded with him to visit his kindred men and apologized to them for his provoked action. After series of pleading, the young man agreed to apologize. But the men were not ready to forgive. However, at last, they succumbed to the plea for clemency. It was a conditional pardon. The bereaved young man must present to his kinsfolk three giant cows as his penance. Unwillingly he accepted to appease his people. Indeed he gave them five cows instead of the three. The old men happily accepted his offer. At the background, they prayed that such would happen again so that their stomachs will give testimony. This is again a good dramatic drama.

Many dramatic things happen today among our people during burial and funeral ceremonies. Some cry more than the bereaved, just to satisfy their ego. Some pray constantly that men of timber and calibre may lose their beloved ones, so that food and drinks may be very plenty. Some hungry people make mockery of the burial of a poor man. However when a rich man or his relation dies, they dance for joy. If I were the dead, I would just come out of the grave with "koboko" and deal with such people acting drama at burials. What a nonsensical nonsense! God must hear this. When I shall die, but not now, I have many things to discuss with God.