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Ibusa Town: a Funeral Ceremony in Nigeria

by Emeka Esogbue

Ibusa offers an example of a town in Nigeria where traditional funeral rites are still very much held in honour of the dead. Anyone who has had the opportunity to partake or witness a funeral ceremony in this wonderful town will gain a pleasant unforgettable experience.

In March, 2008 in this town I was involved in the burial ceremony of one great illustrious son the town, the first time I would fully partake in such a ceremony even though am an indigene and have lost my parents. My situation then did not avail me with absolute opportunity to observe just how this is done in celebration of the Dead.

The traditional wake-keep of this very one came up on a Friday and by Saturday, the following day the proper traditional rites had commenced. I must comment here that nothing traditional about the wake-keep was observed even though the presence of aging men and women were noticeable everywhere a situation which curiously aroused my interest.

On this Saturday, at about 10.45am we set out for a procession which I was told was “Okanga rites”. Okanga comprised of the membership of “Nkpalors” or “Alor title” holders within the Umuekea Quarter. The members of this group were mostly old men who drummed and presented old folklore songs and chanted traditional war songs in honour of the Deceased. The Deceased I must add here was a male “Alor title” holder of above 60 years of age. The Okanga membership did not include the female gender. We heard it is forbidden.

We soon set out to dance round the whole quarters of Ibusa with Okanga people carrying cutlasses and some of them dressed as though we were approaching the very war front where the battle is fierce and capable of cutting anyone’s life short without mere warning. As we danced round the various quarters of the town singing, dancing, and occasionally avoiding the deliberate sound of clashes of cutlasses by the warriors of Okanga; we laughed and listened to certain tales of some of the places we passed as told by the old and experienced people in our midst who also were there for the purpose of mourning.

This Okanga set-off at Isieke (Umuekea) one of the ten Quarters of the town such that on our right we had the saint Augustine’s Catholic Church built by the Europeans, passed through Ogbeowelle another (another Quarter in Ibusa) down to Umueze (another Quarter) through to Ezeukwu, (a Quarter) from Ezeukwu to Ogboli ( a quarer) Ogboli to Umuadafe (Quarter) finally to Umuisagba (a quarter) From Umuisagba back to isieke where we started our journey.

Participants were dressed in the traditional Akwa-ocha attire (Oto-ogwu in Ibusa). Everyone held “Uya” (Horse-tail). The “Diokpa” (first son) of the Deceased additionally wore a native round cap attached was a single feather. The “Ada” (first daughter) also carried a cutlass and “Uya” With these we all danced to the tune as often as we could and as long as our legs could carry us but sometimes frequently running to stores to purchase water, ice-cream and mineral. “Okaga” men produced a traditional rhythmic tune only typical to them that has been heard from ages to ages, the sound that people find identifiable to them that only suggests that a funeral is going on somewhere when heard even from a distance. This tune has been so heard for centuries, and hardly has it changed.

At junctions, in front of churches and “Uzo-Owelle” (once evil forest places) “okanga” halted to observe the traditional age-long silence in honour of those buried in the forests and to honour God Almighty. (“Igu-Aya”) Incantations were performed. “Ululuani” (canons) were occasionally shot. Friends and relations of the Deceased family also occasionally walked up to the “Okanga Group” and presented them with gifts in form of cash or beer.

When “Okanga” finally returned we had a sign of relief but not for the “Diokpa of the Deceased who stood in front of his late father’s house and tried to prevent us (the Okanga people) from breaking into his the house. Soon after, he presented to the “Okanga” two Beer which I understood was a way of welcoming them. He was then instructed to sit in his father’s (“Ogwa”) shrine which was hurriedly constructed for this purpose, a sacred place he must not leave for sometime to come. Guests soon trooped in there to say welcome to him with cash and Beer.

At the first cockcrow, the Deceased was lowered to the ground a sorrowful development which brought to an end all that had begun like a celebration of some sort. Ibusa is indeed a land of tradition and culture.

Emeka Esogbue hails from Ibusa, Delta State, Nigeria. He is is a Historian and International Relations Analyst with lots of tremendous published and unpublished works

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