Horrendous Burial Ceremonies In Urhoboland
Chief Bobson Gbinije
“Anyone Can Be A Barbarian, It Requires A Terrible Effort To Remain A Civilized Man” Leonard Sydney.
The Urhobo people are inexorably obsessed with matters concerning their customs and traditions. They hold on to their tradition with pathological imperativeness notwithstanding the hybrid of Western bastardies and civilizational interfacing(Religion and Education ). The Urhobos believe that death is a continuation of life in a different realm. Hence, the belief in Transcendentalism, Transmigration, Transmogrification of the Soul, Reincarnation and Ancestral Worship, etc.
In secular terminology, death is a cessation of life. Death by extension is lifelessness, inanimately deceased, dysfunctionally demised (legal) and extinctly late. William Shakespeare the English Playwright observed that death is an inevitable end and it will come when it will come. He said “There is no armor against fate, hence death lays its icy hands on Kings”. Implying that death is a common denominator, a leveler and a landlord that reminds us of the expiration of our tenancy agreement on earth.
A studied and educated understanding of life and death by Philosophers, Religionists, Necromancers and Occultists has introduced semantical neologisms into the “death” lexicon. They say it is a transition from mortality to immortality, departed, a move to eternal bliss, end of a chapter, a touch of the Elysian ladder, end of story, Elysium transcendental, joined the saints triumphant, gone to the grand theatre, a time to be born and a time to die and ad majorem dei gloriam.
It remains a pasteurized fact amongst the Urhobo people that nobody dies a natural death under the age of (60) sixty years. Such deaths must have been caused by witches and wizards, etc. Hence, the recourse to look for the cause of the death of such a person. It is the oracle that determines the type of traditional burial the person gets. However, under normal circumstances, if a young person dies with or without children, it is a sad story and does not attract too much fanfare. But when an elderly man, chief, king, or queen dies it is given all the trappings of traditional grandeur. In most parts of Urhobo land the elderly or a wealthy elderly man of note is given complete traditional burial rites within (7) seven days, fourteen days or twenty-one days burial ceremonies. This entails the formal interment after death or after several weeks in the mortuary. Then the family of the elderly man or woman now sits down to fine- tune the burial logistics. In some cases the burial is combined with Christian wake keeping and then on to traditional rites. Depending on the family, the Agberen (effigy) is carried. This symbolizes the completeness of traditional honour to the deceased, etc.
The families of the deceased have their traditional roles to play. In most cases, the eldest son is given specific roles to play. The elders are called upon to pour and offer prayers to the ancestors (Erhiwin) and to shrines where the deceased worshipped. It could be any of these: Onerungberun, Ayelala, Eni, Eshu, Ogun, Erirhie, Aguarode-Ogbu, Aguarode-Ogidigan, Olokun, Amenojigbe, Ekpenakpewen, Oreshugbo, Aigbiroko Daderhie,etc. It is then capped with traditional gun salute (Ekurusu) as a mark of honour. There are other clandestine rituals which cannot be discussed here.
However, the traditional burial rites in most Urhobo areas are virtually the same with slight variations in different kingdoms making up the Urhobo nation. But the gravamen of this submission is the wantonness, waste, mutant immorality and splendiferous theatrics that have in recent times become fashionable in most Urhobo burials and being disguised as tradition. We have seen corpses lined and decorated with beads and gold rings. Some buy caskets lined with gold rings. Most burials in Urhoboland are carnivals of immorality and bazaar of Babel. Divorcees (Omotogbes) and social nitwits have taken burials as a rendezvous for grandiose debauchery.
Most Urhobo families try to almost wake up the dead through these terrible grotesque burials, some still call them traditional burials. A belief in the continuation of life after death and a desire to gratify their arrogance has given rise to this state of affairs. The reverence for the dead in ancient Egypt led to the dead being mummified and preserved, buried with gold, diamonds, silver, clothes and horses, etc. All the Empires that grew in Upper Mesopotamia, (the river Euphrates and Tigris) Samaria, Babylonian, Hittite and the Persian Empire follwed suit 9400-330BC).
Nobody is saying that the dead do not deserve a good burial, Afterall the Bible says in Ecclesiastes chapter 6 verse 3 that “if a man begets a hundred children, and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many but he does not enjoy life’s good things, and also has no good burial, I say that an untimely birth is better off than he”. A decent burial is the crowning glory of a worthy life. But must we Urhobos kill the living to bury the dead? All types of demonic levies are stamped on unemployed children.
In Wole Soyinka’s play “the Bacchae of Euripides,” he described such wantonness as the display of unmajestic, orgiastic, Dionysian exuberance and salacious revelry. As soon as an Urhobo man or woman dies the family is thrown into jubilation because an opportunity for social recklessness has been opened. Each member or each gate is asked to pay some money and they go on to erect temporary brothels euphemistically called family booths or canopies. Members of each gate or the general family go into a competition of “my Mercedes is bigger than yours”. Some go to money lenders for loans, whilst some sell their properties to enable them massage their egos and give a so called good account of themselves during the burial ceremonies.
During the burial, expensive clothes, drinks and dance groups are flaunted with wicked devilry. Women, both married and single move, dance, talk, sing and dress with sensual and libidinous suggestiveness. It is, however, instructive to note that in most families when the deceased was alive nobody cared to assist him or her. There is a family that gave one of the most wasteful burials in Sapele. It is on record that the deceased suffered from diabetes, but nobody could afford to buy him his dose of insulin. Another case in Ughelli was that of a Chief who suffered from stroke. He defecated and urinated on his bed. None of his children could assist. He died out of frustration. But as soon as he died all the children and their friends arranged and held the most terrifyingly explosive burial in Ughelli. Why can’t we care for the living?
Virtually every Urhobo man or woman belongs to one social club or the other. The aims and objectives of such clubs are mainly to assist its members during burials. The clubs have extended their tentacles to the churches. During burials, the groups from the churches are placed side by side with the social clubs, old boys and girls associations, town or village unions, etc. They then start their depredational jamboree and melodramatic saturnalianism. There is so much of boisterous carousal and waste that you will begin to wonder whether these people have no problems like building of schools, hospitals, roads and other welfare facilities in their towns and villages.
As soon as you mention development projects to these ones they develop cold sweat, cold feet and the donor fatigue syndrome. Their greatest love is for this meaningless waste. Sometimes they use these burials as political campaign ground and for snatching other people’s wives. Burial has become a major industry in Urhoboland. The media is also involved. These senseless burials have become the greatest catalyst of corruption and moral decadence, because everybody wants cursed monies for frivolous extravaganzas. We know of people who have become financially insolvent and bankrupt because of these burials. Are these lunatic fixations and corybantic deliriums part of Urhobo burial tradition?
The time has come and it is now for Urhobos to start re-orientating their social and traditional thought patterns on burials, to mirror what is reflective of modicum of moral moderacy and discipline. The traditional rulers in their various domains and kingdoms have a great role to play here, by letting burial mongers know where tradition starts and where it stops. They should draw a line between traditional degeneracy and abuse, and where it is loftily lifted up. Any burial that is beyond laid down criteria should attract fines for community development. The blocking of roads for burials must be stopped and the immorality and salaciousness inherent in most burials must be checkmated. The Urhobos will be lifting up the banner of social decorum if they implosively forestall these antediluvian antics.
They must realize that life is like a tale told by an idiot packed full of sounds and fury, but in the end signifying nothing. Our intellectual binoculars should be able to fathom the fact that life is more than the physical embellishment we put into it. The love of the mundane perishable and frail physical body has dwarfed the eternal essence of life. Man is so pestiferously committed to his solipsistic self-centeredness that he has become monomaniacally introspected in materialism. The essayist John L. Motley said “Deeds, not stones are the moment of the great”. Let Urhobos begin to think of things that will eternalize their names, and not transitory and impermanent hypnotic regression into yahoo-like burials.
The wanton desire for rapacious narcissistic and esurient acquisition of material things has precipitated the fear of death in man. A man who luxuriates in wealth fears death, because he feels he will lose those empty things, which strangers will come and inherit and not even his children.
He is tortured emotionally on his death bed and on his way to the top because he must have stepped on so many toes to get to William Thackaray’s “VANITY FAIR”-vanitas vanitum. The wicked are hideously afraid of death because they are not sure of their destination. The Urhobos have become spectacle of ironies and comedy of errors in matters relating to burials. Our highly revered burial tradition is now submerged and sandwiched in and with duplicitous interpolations, which supplies incentive to base and deranged conduct.
Finally, let Urhobos begin to think, act and operate on “tabular rosa” in Matters relating to burials. The Urhobo burial tradition has been consigned to a state of AB ABUSU AD USUM VALET CONSEQUENTIA (No valid conclusion as to the use of a thing can be drawn from its abuse). Even if others do it Urhobos must carve a unique social niche for themselves. But if they insist on this show of shame, let them heed the principles of sic utere tuo alienam non laedas (so use your property as not to damage the property of another). In the words of Leonard Sydney Weoff “Anyone can be a Barbarian, it requires a terrible effort to remain a civilized man”. Let Urhobos be civilized in “Burial” matters.