Funerals in Africa are elaborate ceremonies, especially when the deceased has lived to be over 70 years. In Benin culture for instance, the burial of the dead has advanced to such a level that it has become a sort of mini festival that occurs every weekend in the ancient city. Families dress in black clothes and charter bushes to the mortuary. Then they dance and drink on the streets as they move in a procession to the home of the dead to perform burials.
Most of the time, the ceremonies are performed at night and several music bands are invited by the different family members who also invite their age grades and friends to perform dances, and mourn the dead, although they hardly perform the latter.
In Igbo land, although it’s a little different, burial ceremonies have also assumed such a celebrative dimension, and usually, when one loses loved ones, he or she must go around raising lots of cash to perform the ceremony.
Cows are killed, and in some cases, horses, canopies are hired, bags of rice and several tubers of yams and other food items are purchased for consumption, while several jars and crates of drinks, usually alcohol are brought to honour the dead, and give them a peaceful passage to the land of the dead. While some people spend a few hundred thousands, others spend several millions to impress at the funerals.
In Nri ancient kingdom, Anambra State for instance, the ceremony is basically similar to other Igbo towns. Here, on this day, January 14, 2016, a foremost philanthropist and traditional high priest, Dr Ramas Asuzu is performing the funeral ceremony of his mother, late Mrs Caroline Anakwuba Asuzu.
According to Asuzu, who spent about six months after his mother’s death to prepare a befitting ceremony for her, no amount spent to honour her at death was too much as she had given everything a mother could to train him and his seven siblings through thick and thin. Although she died in June 2016, she has been buried since, but the last burial ceremony was necessary in Igbo culture and tradition to accord the dead full respects.
Dr Ramas Okoye Asuzu is a multi-titled man, and could be said to have attained full heights and titles like a total man in Igbo cosmology. Thus, he is regally referred to as His Excellency, Prophet Dr Michael Ramas Okoye Asuzu, Eze Ofo Ndigbo Gburugburu, Akajiofo Ndigbo, Odenigbo, Isimmili Na Nri, and Eze Oba.
He also is a United Nations POLAC Ambasador and Mayor of Peace and National Director, UN-POLAC Award Centre.
The Association of Music and Film Producers and Marketers of Nigeria awarded him the title of ‘Igbo Cultural Ambassador’, while the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Mines and Agricukture has awarded him the honour of being an ‘Honorary Life Vice-President and Fellow of Chamber’. These are some of the titles which Asuzu has attained and so, a funeral expected from such a man must be one loaded with ceremonies as so many guests are expected to honour his invitation to perform a final but proper mourning for his beloved mother.
So on that day at Uruofolor Village, Nri, cows were killed, and drinks flowed like water, for the Asuzu family must feed the whole community at that ceremony. Being a multi-titled personality however, Dr Asuzu had prepared to entertain much more than his community, and by the end of the ceremony, well over 10 kings of neighboring communities, top political heavyweights, organisations and societies, traditional councils and masquerades had visited the family to express condolences with Dr Asuzu, who is the eldest son of his mother.
Addressing the family in his condolence upon arrival, Chief Godwin Ezeemo, who is contesting for the 2017 gubernatorial elections in Anambra State told Asuzu not to wonder why so many people were at the burial of his mum. “When you were working and helping everyone who needed you, did you know you were sowing a seed? That’s why everyone here today sees you as a brother, and sees your mother as their mother. We are all aggrieved with you. Your loss is our loss. Take heart”.
One of the kings who came to the event was Eze Enugwu Ukwu Na Umunri, His Royal Majesty,Chukwudinigbo Agwuna, (Mkpume). The Enugwu Ukwu and Umunri King, who arrived the scene had Honourable Peter Chukwuemeka Okeke(Okaka of Nri) in his team.
King Mkpume arrived like a true African King, in a train of over fifty royal personages and musicians, who all walked solemnly to the point where Asuzu and his family received guests. A giant of a man, Mkpume was fully attired in leopard skins, and wore bangles, anklets and beads made of elephant ivory and crocodile teeth. His hand fans are made with animal skins, and from observations, closely resembled the skin of a giant python.
He also held a fly whisk, made with the tail of a horse, and a sentry who walked behind him held a royal standard made of the full skin of a wild hyena. Two young palace orderlies walked before, dressed in glistening white and while one carried a huge bell, which he rang periodically to announce the arrival of a great King, the other held an exquisitely-decorated bag, which, according to reports, held goodies the king frequently allowed to be showered on subjects.
Right behind the orderlies, a middle aged flutist periodically blew from a flute made with the horn of an African antelope. Also garbed in white, the flutist wore red coral beads on his neck, and a red cap on his head.
The giant King, who sauntered majestically towards the arena, was flanked by palace Chiefs, ndi nze, who were all dressed in whites and held walking sticks. Others in his train include youths who held gifts of wine and spirits, kolanuts and other gifts for the bereaved, and a group of minstrels who played melodious music only fit for such a regal train. Let’s remind you that the King, aside his imperial paraphernalia, had a very calm and amiable mien.
While his head bore the crown of power and glory, accorded him by the Enugwu-Ukwu people are Gods, he also wore a natural tuft of white beards that contrasted his youthful face. The whole combination gave the King that glory only a King ordained by God can carry, which can only be seen by transcendental eyes.
By his side walked a dear friend, Honourable Peter Chukwuemeka Okeke, who was very simply dressed in natives. There was nothing remarkable about Okeke, save the fact that he carried himself with natural comportment fit for the company of a great King.
Naturally, the people made way for the King and his paraphernalia to pass, and stood in admiration. ‘Adi afu ugo daa'(one rarely sees the eagle, and must admire one when sighted).
The king, who stated that his visit was also to console the family, advised them to stop crying as their mother was a good woman and would also have joined the ancestors. “Be consoled by the fact that what happened to you has been happening, and will happen to everyone of us. We have come to express condolences. Also accept the few things we brought according to tradition.
“Igwe Mkpume, we thank you for coming. May the feet that will take you home be better than the ones that brought you to us”, a family representative responded on behalf of Asuzu. They then brought out the traditional gift of a rope representing the cow they brought to the ceremony, an envelope bearing money for kola nuts, and a piece of cloth. In Igbo cosmology, it is believed that the dead will be covered with these clothes, and so, every family that came there brought a piece of cloth for them.
In his argument in support of the culture of honoring the dead with an elaborate funeral, the Eze Uzu of Ichida, Anene Chukwuma, Eze Mbanabo of Awka said “if you look at me, you will know that this is how an upholder of tradition dresses when we attend funerals. Asuzu is our friend, and that’s why we have come. When you perform a funeral like this, you are completing the rites of life for spirit. The person who is thus honoured will then be accepted in the land of our ancestors, so that when he or she returns, he or she can return as human.
Speaking to media men, he said “why will you fail to perform a funeral for your mother? Are you mad? If not for her, will be human? It’s like asking your mother whether the pumpkin plant grows the pumpkin fruit. You must escort your mother properly hike so that when she arrives, she can be intercession a for you in the land of the ancestors. You ought to do it because it’s the tradition. Our ancestors did it, why our time be different?”
He advised Igbos against lavish spending for funerals “Funerals should be performed as modestly as possible. These days, people go and borrow, others go and even sell lands and houses. They should be aware that all you need to do is just a few things to send your parents home. That’s why in Igbo, we have a saying that anyone who have the means should bury his father because it’s not the first son that killed him. But try and give them proper burials. But it’s not nice trying to be unnecessarily showy, and say that such and such millions were spent. When you look at the man who performed the burial, he will be miserable. Don’t try to outdo others, the dead will not wake because of such spending. If you have a lot of wealth you want to spend, look around your neighborhood, there are those who need it”.
War Veterans who fought during the Biafran war came too to honour the family. According to them, Dr Ramas Asuzu had been very supportive to them all through, where the Nigerian government and South East Governor ignored them. They were led by GOC Ejiofor, who was under the Biafran war.
Other groups include Nrijiofor Primary School team and Ebube Igbo Cultural Group. United Nigerian chaplains, led by its South East and South South commandant, Ifeanyi Nwabueze was also there. Awka Province Scout Association and Anambra State Non-Indigenes Association. The Tabansi family, famed to be among the original Nri families was also there.