The answer is largely found in the Igbo philosophy that “nne ka” meaning that “mother is supreme”.
Many Igbo children bold enough to speak out pray that they don’t lose their mothers before their dads. It is believed and I can testify that a child can easily get over a father’s death but would grieve for the loss of a mother for a lifetime.
Did I actually much miss my dad that I lost at the age of 7? No, I didn’t miss those flogging and the hoarse voice of a retired 2nd World War veteran that he was. Which child likes a disciplinarian dad?
My dad would be green with envy if he could see how I, as an adult, a married man and a title holder cry daily for the loss of my 85 year old mum.
Another point is that Igbos are matrilineal in relationships. This makes a child more emotionally attached to or more inclined to relate with or trust the mother’s relations than the paternal folks. The natural tendency for a child to lean towards the mother’s side is not helped by very bitter competition for inheritance between the children of the same father.
Included in the reasons why a mother’s funeral is more expensive is that Igbo’s ideology that a married woman actually belongs to her father’s people. Igbos believe that a woman is on a marital lease to her husband’s people.
When a woman dies, her husband, his children and their kinsmen are required to visit the family of the wife or mother to perform some ceremonies that consume even more resources than that done during her marriage. Also, any marital rites skipped during the deceased marriage must be fulfilled before burial or during her funeral of a dead married woman.
I know the tradition of my people but I didn’t reckon with the cost of the rites my siblings and I have to contend with as we prepare to bury Mama Obiora, our mum. Even though the burial proper will be on 23 November 2018, the final ceremonies have since started.
My kinsmen led by Obiora, the chief mourner, had to visit my mother’s kinsmen to officially account for what happened to their 85 year old daughter and sister.
Every umunna or kinsmen has a list of items the in-laws or sister’s children must present upon arrival. And Obiora and selected members of Prince Ezenwegbu Ezeoguine family of Otolo Nnewi provided all that were requested by the my mother’s kinsmen of Okpuno Nnewichi.
During this accountability visit, children of the deceased are not allowed to talk. One of their paternal kinsmen would be the party’s spokesman.
That was how the chairman of my kindred or umunna, Prince Okey rose and started telling my mum’s kinsmen that their sister had not been feeling well of recent and that our family, her husbands, had tried all we could to make her whole but she was not improving. He enjoined them, as the “owners” of “our wife” to come and take their daughter and sister home to see if their own approach would yield a much better result.
He dared not say in his short speech that their sister had died even though her brother was called when she was confirmed dead and had authorized her embalmment and in fact escorted her corpse to Akwudo Mortuary. Unless this traditional visit is paid, my uncle, my mother’s brother, would still be behaving as if his sister was alive. Her death couldn’t be discussed openly by grown adults in Enumah’s family until it was announced during this accountability or notification ceremony.
Then, a man who was a distant cousin to my mum, sitting beside my mom’s immediate younger brother Chief John Enumah who doubles as the Obi or the first son of Charles Enumah, my mom’s father, rose and asked, “hope you are not telling us that Christiana, my sister is dead?”
And there was a palpable silence, that type felt on a Good Friday during the Stations of the Cross when the officiating catholic priest, says “And Jesus Breath His Last”.
The man repeated his question, at this time looking pointedly at my brother, Obiora with the mien of Pete Edochie of Nollywood or Abbas in the rested Checkmate series. And no one answered.
“What is the meaning of this silence?”, the man bellowed and went into a loud heart searing shriek of a cry and everybody joined in the chorus to a cry for the departure of a sister. My brother and two sisters present, cried the loudest. They’ve to be seen to be grieving and wailing and should never stop until consoled.
After the official cry, with cleared eyes, my father’s kinsmen brought forth the items as contained in the list collected from my mother’s family days before. Drinks and food were served and my kinsmen were asked to suggest a date for the funeral. They did and my mom’s people concurred.
My family has no powers to unilaterally fix my mum’s funeral date without the concurrence of my mother’s kinsmen.
This first ceremony was smooth because my mom’s kinsmen felt that my father’s people took very good care of their sister otherwise the reception would have been different.
If their sister had ever complained of any mistreatment by her husband or her children, her people will then name their conditions which must be fulfilled before the funeral would hold. The sister’s kids who never related well with their mum or her people are subjected to serious fines before proceedings are allowed to continue.
The other area of extra cost happens, after the corpse is interred. It is a key aspect of a married woman’s funeral ceremony called “i bu ozu nwa ada” meaning “act of taking back the corpse of a sister from her husband’s house to her father’s ”. The deceased relatives are feted with generous food, drinks, meat, souvenirs and a big goat. Well-to-do children are expected to gift their maternal relations a big cow. This cow belongs to or is the right of the eldest of the brothers of the deceased woman or the obi of her father’s house.
Outside the aforementioned areas, all other funeral costs are the same for both dead man and woman of the same age or social status except in cases where the bereaved choose to spend to impress.
It is a settled culture that the whole essence of an Igbo man’s struggles is to make enough money to build houses, train his children, take care of his wife, siblings and parents and most importantly to give befitting funeral to his parents when they die. A typical Igboman would not spare resources in burying his mother.
No Igbo man can spare or hide his true worth during the funeral of his mother. All he has or has got will be on display on that day.
There is a saying in my place that if the bereaved is a thief that his victims would target to recover whatever items they had lost to him during his mother’s funeral. Meaning that an Igbo man is pushed to bare it all as the eyes and movements of the sympathizers in and out the funeral home are not restricted.
But this applies to only the rich men and criminals not a civil servant like me.
This article was written by Anayo Nwosu.