Ostentatious funerals: A degeneration of Igbo culture

Over the course of countless centuries, much before the advent of christianity, Ndigbo had tried to maintain good public image as a people cradled in moderation, modesty, and rational frugality. This was evident in the way and manner they organized and hosted social functions. Emphasis is placed more on the subject of the occasion than on its side attractions and frivolities. For instance, at obsequities, they mourn the deceased and beheld in its remains the “vanitas vanitatum” of King Solomon of old (Eccl.1:2-14). Then, the rites of Igbo funeral exhibition mirrored the rectitude of modesty.

When Christianity became a dominant religion of Ndigbo, the decorous modicum which depicted the earthly life of Christ shaped the people’s approach in hosting and celebrating obsequious festivities and necrology, albeit a few outliers on the sociocultural graph. At some point, Nsukka diocese declared that any corpse that spent more than two weeks in the morgue, won’t be accorded Catholic burial rites; a move to control luxuriation of funerals. Other Igbo zones had similar rules.

Such was the noble culture for ages, until last two decades when the 3rd millennium, possessed with spirit of ostentation, infested with maggots of showiness and obsessed with debauchery, dawned on our youths.

As the rest of the world welcomed the 21st century with prospective actionable plans to make the world a better habitat for humanity, some parts of Igbo land were making marriage ceremonies of their daughters some sort of mercantile ventures capable of impoverishing their suitors and enriching themselves. Prospective suitors from other tribes in Nigeria, out of genuine fear for this ugly trend became apathetic towards dating, courting or wooing Igbo ladies for marriage. Our ladies were seen as too costly and unaffordable ‘commodities.’
Nollywood made several satirical movies to correct this ill.

In the same vane, burial/funeral rites of fallen parents or relatives were observed in moderate ceremonies, until Anambra millionaires took it to showbiz level. It blew out of proportion when Sir Kevin Chukwumobi established APAMS funeral home services in Onitsha. It was a luxury elitist undertaker company with offices across the southeast. Patronizing his services by men of wealth made burial/funeral an unaffordable crapshoot in Igbo land.

What we witnessed on Friday, 17th July 2021 (few days ago) about one multimillionaire, Obi Iyiegbu, popularly called Obi Cubana burying his mother in clamorous exhibition of raw wealth, where cash were flaunted to the consternation of the surrounding world, which dominated discussions across social media platforms as well as offline public discourses was a progressive erosion of a people’s culture. The ‘show’ portrayed Ndigbo as an epicurean society.

In November 2016, Sir Emeka Offor of Oraifite in the same Anambra held the record for the most expensive coffin ever used in Igbo land. He buried his father, in N15 million worth of a casket. Obi Cubana doubly broke this record last week! A coffin estimated at N30 million went into the ground. Over 200 cows valued at the same cost slaughtered. A voluptuous show of libertinism! 

If he had spent these sums on his Mom’s helathcare, she would have fared better and her life sustained. The Prince of Saudi in coma, is being sustained by such money since 2005. But a typical African would prefer to spare the money to lavish it on his obituary.

In my June 28, 2014 column in Newsdirect magazine, I wrote: “I followed keenly, the events of the death, burial and funerals of the Emirs of Gombe and Kano respectively.

I marvelled at the simplicity with which the Hausa/Fulanis conduct funerals. As influential in wealth and fame as these northern Monarchs were, in their lifetime, their death and burial/funeral was no different from that of a commoner within their emirates. The cost of the entire events couldn’t in any way match the cost of sophisticated coffin for the burial of an average Igbo man.

The low-key celebration of the death of Hausa/Fulani men of promenience is a shame to the extravagance exhibited by their Igbo counterparts.
Of late, we Igbos unjustifiably see burial/funerals of our relatives/loved ones as occasions to throw our weights around, show off luxury, and indiscriminately waste the scarce resources on which those left to mourn the deceased could survive.

It is getting to a stage that even the sons of an apparently poor man, would sell their late father’s landed property to stage an elaborate funeral ceremony. And in that case, sadly enough, their father who lived his life struggling in penury will lie in-state, in a well refurbished family house adorned with the proceeds from the sales of his hard-earned assets.

Let those who may argue that the Hausas are frugal with expensis during burial/funerals in obeisance to their predominant Islamic faith, be reminded that the Christian Faith which the Igbos profess, never supported such outrageous expenditure for the dead; and more especially at the expense of the living.”

At Independence in 1960, a certain Billionaire statesman and philanthropist, Sir Louis Ojukwu donated the most expensive car of the time to federal government to ferry Queen Elizabeth II from airport to Marina Lagos. Yet his death and burial was done with no trivial exuberance. About 12 years after the civil war, another Anambra Billionaire-philantropist, Chief M.N Ugochukwu, spent staggering amount of money lobbying relevant federal authorities to make his hometown, the headquarters of old Orumba LGA, and it paid off for the common good of his people. It shows that the current scandalous exhibition of personal wealth to exude affluence was not the original culture of Ndigbo. It is a strange guest introduced by the present generation, that is better served the exit door.

I will conclude with the words of Ezugwu Okike: “Obi Cubana just took funerals to a monumental dimension. From now on, the competition will be for the loudest and most ostentatious funeral. We are largely an unevolved people.  Before now, a man who slaughtered some cows took the “Ogbuefi” title and died fatly fulfilled.  We are still a consumerist tribe of shoulder-high cow-killers. This is distressing because as we bury the dead with obscene ostentation, others are travelling to space and planning to help us eliminate our malaria. I need hardly mention again that our society is facing a of bleak and festering poverty.
If you are among those telling people that it is not their money and suggesting that they ought to have no opinion, you are just being a miserable student of logic. As an apple does not fall far from its tree, so does a human society from its values, its priorities. This society needs to be careful with the values it chooses to venerate and hold paramount.”

It is not irredeemable yet. Ohaneze Ndigbo, Igbo traditional rulers council as well as council of President Generals of different towns in the zone still save the day if they so choose.

Jude O. writes from Abuja via[email protected]

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