Death is a passage from this earthly life to the world beyond. The death of any member of the family leaves us with fear, sorrow and pain. Therefore, the duty owed to the dead by the living is a befitting burial. However, the rites associated with burial is meant to send the dead home to the world of ancestors. But in doing this, the process has rather become very expensive that people now wince under the burden of this socio-religious duty of sending their dead home. Therefore, this research tries to find out the socio-economic and religious implications on families, causes of merriment instead of sympathy and justification for expensive burial and funeral rites in Onicha sub-cultural area of Ebonyi State, Nigeria. The research was carried out by reviewing past documents on the subject, use of oral interviews and participant observation in the area of study. It was found out that this problem has caused families a lot of socio-economic and psychological problems like poverty, indebtedness, prostitution, child labour, abortion, fighting, destitution and death. The implication is that if the society does not fight it, it will continue to cause poverty, corruption and death.



1.1      Background of the Study
Originally, man was meant to live a blissful and everlasting life in a stable and peaceful world but unfortunately, the sin of Adam and Eve brought death to man. Death is now a threat to life everywhere. According to Ojukwu (2001) at first, human corpse was thrown into the bush and left unburied. With time, dead bodies started to be buried in the bush instead of leaving them unburied. Much later, dead bodies began to be buried in the homes of the deceased instead of being buried in the bush. At the time when corpses were thrown or buried in the bush, each village had a portion of land for its dead, something that is very similar to today’s burial ground or cemetery. Only the corpses of bad people were still thrown or buried in the bush designated for such purpose. This kind of place is called ejofia. This system could still be seen in many places even-though Christianity seems to be phasing out this practice. When Christians came and were in need of land for their churches, they were given ejofia which was thought to be a punishment to them. But today, we see churches, schools and hospitals springing up in most of these places making ejofia pale into insignificance. Also because of their belief in resurrection, Christianity supported the idea of burial sites where saints could be buried. Today, burial sites have replaced ejofia and people are now encouraged to bury their dead in burial sites or cemeteries.

Asonibare and Ologun (1998) adds that in many cultures and among many peoples of the world, occasions of birth, marriages and other accomplishments of life often call for joy and celebration. Whereas occasions of death are periods of grief. The living performs practices and rituals to honour and maintain a good relationship with the ancestral spirits. These practices are particularly evident in funeral and burial customs such as wake-keep and second burial. So, in order to cushion the crises triggered by death, funeral rites are instituted by many cultures of the world. Funeral rites are important aspect of Onicha culture because it enables the dead to depart to the place they rightly belong.

In the cyclical order of the universe, the maintenance of a harmonious living with all the beings which are either friendly or hostile to man’s development and progress is the primary aim of man. All the good habits which man enjoys are primarily aimed at making the world habitable. His orientation is towards life and hence African worldview is both life-affirming and world-affirming. He prefers life here on earth to life hereafter and struggles to live well here on earth in order to return and continue to live.

The belief that human beings survive death in some form has profoundly influenced the thoughts, emotions and actions of mankind. The belief occurs in all religions past and present and decisively conditions their evaluation of man and his place in the universe. Onicha people just like every other African community acknowledge that human existence is fraught with life crisis situations or rites of passage. Death is one of such life-crisis situations which marks the end of life on earth. According to Anyacho (2005), life to an African is a continuous thing. Its cessation on earth paves way for the soul to experience life in the great beyond. Therefore, death is a passage to the hereafter. The last rite given to a man at death makes for a transition from the physical existence to the invisible existence which takes place in the land of the ancestors.

Basically, death is the reason we have burial and funeral rites. And the whole idea hinges on African cosmology which centres on the unified view of reality. Since reality is unified, man therefore seeks for an acceptable way of pacifying or creating harmony among the three spheres of the universe the heavens, the earth and the underworld so as to maintain the fluidity among them and in order to live in peace and to avoid molestation by the dead. He believes that the spirits and the ancestors who are higher than him in rank must be appeased. It was probably in his bid to achieve this that he evolved several propitiatory rites and customs for the dead in order to appease the gods and the spirit of the dead.

It is for this reason that a corpse is accorded a special rite before it is buried. Man is the only creature known to bury his dead. This fact is of fundamental significance. The practice was not originally motivated by hygienic considerations but by ideas entertained by primitive people concerning human nature and destiny. This is clearly evident from the fact that the disposal of the dead from the earliest times was of a ritual kind. The primitive people not only buried their dead but they provided them food and other equipment thereby implying a belief that the dead still needed such things in the grave.

In the opinion of Quarcoopome (1987), communion and communication between the living and the dead is an evidence of reality of life after death. The ancestors are addressed in much the same way as the living members of the family by their seniors. They are called upon during prayers to bless the living with long life and prosperity. The ancestors are capable of influencing the living for good or ill. Thus, the ancestors are regarded as part of the social structure and this is manifested in ancestral cult.

Death rites and customs stem from the instructive inability or refusal on the part of man to accept death as the definitive end of human life. They also reflect the belief that human beings survive death in some form and represent the practical measures taken to assist the dead achieve their destiny and sometimes to save the living from dreaded molestation by the dead. This explains why the people of Onicha embark on elaborate and expensive ceremonies to bury their dead. Burial and funeral ceremonies are occasions when the people of Onicha gather to honour their dead and to perform the traditional rites necessary to send the dead to the land of the ancestors. In Onicha, people believe that human beings are spiritually indestructible. They believe that after death, ordinary people become ghosts whereas prominent individuals become ancestral spirits who will be honoured and petitioned as invisible leaders of the community.

1.2      Statement of the Problem
In giving honour to the departed, the people of Onicha spend fortunes to bury their dead. Families have had to spend huge amounts of money in order to give their dead a befitting burial and sometimes they have to borrow to do this. All these have serious socio-economic and religious implications for the people. There is the problem of economic instability due to huge financial debts incurred during burials by the bereaved families. It is quite disheartening to note that some families go as far as disposing of their plots of land and other valuable property in order to give their dead a decent or befitting burial.

This is done in their bid to meet with the excessive conditions and demands to cover the cost of expensive burials which the society generally has imposed on families. Quite disturbing too is the fact that some families now go a borrowing in order to survive after burial while some others live almost the rest of their lives paying debts incurred during burial ceremonies.

Burial ceremonies are also occasions for enemies to create problems for the mourning family. Moments after the death of someone, all the associations to which he belonged come with a long list of debts owed by the deceased. Individuals also come complaining of debts whether real or imagined owed them by the deceased. Many a time, the budget presented to the bereaved family by the unwunna who constitute the burial committee is usually exorbitant and quite beyond the financial capability of the bereaved family. When they term the deceased erieri (that is somebody who is stingy or who finds it difficult to spend) they attend his burial with the evil intention of getting the family purse dried. However, some of these things are done deliberately as a vendetta against the deceased but the question is, can the dead offend? Therefore, in view of the aforementioned problems, we cannot help but ask these few disturbing questions, are there any justifications for expensive burials? Why is it that people who are supposed to be sympathizers see burials as an occasion for merriment? What sort of impact does expensive burials have on families? All these questions that agitate the mind are questions which we seek to find answers to in this study.

1.3      Purpose of the Study
This study shall highlight the socio-economic and religious implications of burial and funeral rites in Onicha. We shall look at the impact of expensive burial on families. The influence of Christianity on traditional burial and funeral rites shall also be investigated. We shall also try to find out the justifications for expensive burials whether they should be encouraged or discouraged.

This study shall as well investigate the seemingly shift of emphasis from mourning and sympathy to entertainment and merry-making at burial and funeral ceremonies. We shall try to find out why people eat and drink instead of showing a deep sense of loss and sympathy for the bereaved family. We shall as well find out how traditional burial and funeral ceremonies are practised in Onicha and the place of reincarnation as the basis for funeral ceremonies.

1.4      Scope of the Study
All over the world, burial and funeral ceremonies are practised even-though the mode of practice differs from community to community. In Onicha, physical burial ini ozu is often accompanied by funeral ceremony ikwa ozu. The focus of this work will be on the socio-economic and religious implications of burial and funeral rites in Onicha, Ebonyi State Nigeria. This will cover Onicha sub cultural area in the present day Ebonyi State. This sub-cultural area is made up of Isu, Onicha, Oshiri, Abaomege, and Ukawu.

Despite their dialectical differences, they have common cultural affinity. Their occupation is mainly trading and farming. They share common boundaries with Ohaozara on the Southwest, Nkanu LGA of Enugu State on the Northwest, Ishielu on the North, Ezza South on the East. The traditional religion of Onicha people arose from their belief in deities and ancestral spirits.

1.5      Significance of the Study
Man is the only creature known to bury his dead. Consequently, burial and funeral ceremonies form very essential activities in the socio-religious life of man. It is practised right from time immemorial not only in Onicha but all over the world. Every man at one time or the other will eventually face this life crisis situation. It is inevitable and because man must maintain a balance between him and other hierarchical or higher beings, a series of death rituals are performed to guard against unpleasant consequences.

This study will serve as a working document which seeks to draw the attention of the society towards the need for attitudinal change because of the devastating impact of expensive burials on families. The work exposes the impact of Christianity on traditional burial in Onicha as most of the traditional burial and funeral rites have almost been replaced by Christian tradition. Most traditionalists get converted to Christianity shortly before they die or at the point of death with the intention of breaking away completely from their tradition in order to be saved. But when they die, the elders who are the custodians of culture struggle with the clergy over who should bury them.

This work examined the essence of rituals during burials and funerals which rest on the unified view of reality. It maintains that the three spheres of the heavens, the earth and the underworld are in continuous interaction, that there is a sense of community and a sense of the preservation and enhancement of life which is the prime value of man.

1.6      Methodology
The methods used for this research work were oral interviews and participant observation. In this work, primary and secondary sources of data collection were employed to collect data for this work. These primary sources include oral interviews and participant observation. A substantial number of elders and traditionalists who form the subjects for this study were interviewed on the subject matter. In the course of this work, the researcher attended some of the burial and funeral ceremonies in the area of study where he personally witnessed the rites as a participant observer. The secondary sources such as textbooks, magazines, journals, newspapers, published and unpublished materials were reviewed to capture various shades of opinion on the subject matter. The subjects in this study were mostly illiterates and the few among them who are educated were not knowledgeable enough to fill in questionnaires. The data collected were critically analyzed based on cultural area approach.

1.7      Definition of Terms
Socio-economic: This is a combination of social and economic factors. In this case, it means the social and economic effects involved in the practice of expensive burial and funeral rites.

Religious: This has to do with the spiritual. It is that which is directly rooted in or concerned with the mysterious in life i.e the mysteries which are the ultimate depth of personal life. It is non-physical, non-rational and dynamic. It is associated with the invisible and intangible in life. In this case, it means the possible effect or result which expensive burial and funeral rites have on the religious life of the people.

Implication: This means a possible effect or result of an action or something suggested or indirectly involved in a statement. In this case, it means the effect or result involved in the practice of expensive burial and funeral rites.

Funeral (Ikwa ozu): This is a ceremony which marks a person’s death. It is carried out as a second burial or proper burial for the dead. It involves a complex of beliefs and practices, prayers and rituals used to remember the dead and usually undertaken in honour of the dead.

Burial (Ini ozu): This means physical burial, the act of committing a dead body or corpse into the mother earth.

Rites According to Read (2004), Rite is a solemn or religious ceremony performed in an established or prescribed manner or the words or acts constituting or accompanying it. It is any formal practice or custom.

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