Admittedly, there are two main aspects of Igbo culture which every Igbo man cherishes, almost worships and laments over if need be. These are two core aspects of Igbo tradition and culture. These are births and deaths.
Without any doubt, every Igbo family welcomes the birth of a new born baby. Although a lot of things have changed in our culture process, the admiration and hilarious celebration with which a newborn baby is welcomed cannot be over emphasized.
No matter how impoverish a husband may be, he prepares for the arrival of a new baby once his wife becomes pregnant. Why is it so, one may ask? There are two aspects of it. One is the biblical injunctions since many of us are Christians or to limited extent pagans (this is diminishing in our culture). ”Go ye into the world and multiply”. The second reason is traditional and cultural. Child bearing is seen as evidence of the blessing of God to a couple.
That is why a couple that has not been blessed with a child in their marriage is often thrown into confusion and indeed agony. No wonder Helen Nkume, a celebrated female artiste in one of her lyrics, lamented, “When I was looking for a child, I was willing to do anything including, if I were asked to eat a toad, I would gladly do it just to get a child.” Our society is punctuated with myriads of challenges and problems which face every marriage that has not resulted in at least a child bearing.
Another group of musicians, the dynamites have lamented over the sorrowful disposition of a woman who after many years had not been able to have a child. She was exposed to series of abuses, insults and condemnation. According to the lyrics, “She was assailed with abuses, caricatures and caused, including accusation of, ”a regular child eater (ori-nwa).” In fact, a housewife who has not been blessed with pregnancy and child bearing suffers a lot of humiliation. It is worse if her mother-in-law is alive.
It is so because on daily basis, the abuses and curses from her mother-in-law usually sends her to a spree of insults, caricature and curses in addition to her mother-in-law regularly and frequently asking her son,”why did you bring in a male into this house as a wife?” Therefore, once a couple begins matrimonial co-habitation in order for tongues not to wag, the couple will be expecting an early pregnancy from the woman.
A story was told of a father whose daughter-in-law had stayed almost 9 months without any sign of pregnancy. One evening, he sent for his son for a discussion on the issue. Of course, as we know, men are more subtle and diplomatic than mothers in-law. After asking the son to take a seat, the son was wondering the reason for such invitation from the father. After he had seated, the way the father began the conversation was very astonishing.
The father began by saying, “my son, when you asked me to lead you to your prospective in-laws to get your wife, I did with all support from my kinsmen. The young man listened with all attention and inquisitiveness. The father dropped a bomb saying, ”Why did you deceive us that you were going to marry a female instead of telling us that you were going to marry your fellow male?” The son almost lost his breath as he began to sob because he could not manage the question because his father did not spare any iota of diplomacy and wisdom.
According to the story, since he could not manage the situation, he walked away from his father. So many things came to his mind because the father had added a monumental insult to an injury in the childlessness of his son’s wife.” Thus in every family particularly the newly married, expectations for pregnancy and a newborn baby is very high because the Igbo tradition and culture attaches high premium on the arrival of a new baby.
That is why in olden times and to a lesser extent in modern times, when a wife is pregnant she is always pampered and sometimes over pampered by the mother-in-law. And this is why during the nursing period, the wife gets everything she needs and is always given the best of foods. Correspondingly, if the woman’s mother is alive, she is relocated to her in-laws house for maternity period to take care of her daughter and the new baby (Omugwo).
In some cases, after she has stayed the usual 3 months or a little more, upon her leaving, she is given a lot of items and that is why a story was told of a mother-in-law who while returning from a nursing visit from the house of her son-in-law could not be recognised by her husband at the entrance gate because the daughter took very good care of her including giving her more to make an attractive hair including the fact that she added weight and was over refreshed, her new outfit and all made her husband not recognise her at the entrance gate. This is the case in many instances. Indeed a new baby means a lot.
In the same way the birth of a child is celebrated, the death of a family member is mourned and grieved. Because the family is thrown into a prolonged period of mourning and agony. No matter the age and quality of the death, it is always a monumental loss. Therefore, as the Igbo culture welcomes a new baby into any family, so also is the death in the family indeed a lamentable thing. Unfortunately, everybody that is somebody must agree that our society has witnessed a lot of deaths between March last year and now. The rate of deaths has quadrupled beyond human comprehension.
To some who have the means to give their loved ones “befitting burial “sometimes, make the burials to look like a festival of a kind. There is no average man or woman who has not suffered the death of few members of the family, friends or relations, if not at home then at the in-laws place. Attending burial ceremonies these days have almost become a permanent feature of our tradition and culture. Because on weekly basis, an average Igbo will attend one or two burial ceremonies.
Added to the fact that we are facing a severe economic crunch, many indeed in order to archieve the level of “befitting burial” go the extra mile to selling lands or make heavy borrowing. Fortunately, most of the dead in the past one year in our society were those on the advanced age bracket. This makes it imperative for members of their families to over task themselves to give their loved one a befitting burial.
Painstakingly, while immediate members of the family of the dead are struggling to give their loved ones a “befitting burial” many people who attend burial ceremonies today are those who are in want of food to eat or something to drink. In those instances, today, there is no burial ceremony today that does not attract large mourners. Of course, some are genuine mourners while others are those who are trying to cash in to help eat the available food.
Therefore, while we may do everything possible because of our tradition and culture, trying to give a “befitting burial to our departed, we must understand that indeed and in fact, there is nothing like a befitting burial. Because after every burial, there will be many who will leave with frowning faces complaining that they did not eat.
Yet, the people have over stretched themselves to achieve, a “befitting burial.” The question is simple, do we have to die or commit suicide because we are trying to please the mourners many of whom can never ever be pleased? One advice is that our people must moderate their spending spree in trying to bury our loved ones. This is because after the burial, life goes on for the living and there is nothing like a befitting burial.
NOTE: I have in the last column invited scholars, students, traditional rulers, members of Eze’s cabinet and others who may have any question/issue concerning Igbo tradition and culture to get in touch with me without charge for full discussion or analysis on any issue or subject. This is my own contribution to Igbo tradition and culture.