Every dead person is buried according to customary rite. In the olden days, the burial rites were oko and okpukpu.
- The oko burial was for Chiefs, wealthy men, women, and it was done with a wooden coffin or decorated box of Iroko tree, Oge, in the olden days.
- The okpukpu Ndichen was for the Obis, old men and women and youths who had a child or had entered into the age grade known as itu ijeto ekwa, and it was done with the bark of ojo tree. Now, a coffin is used.
- Infants were buried without ceremonial rites. The corpse was wrapped and carried to the burial ground call ikpękpę.
Before the corpse of (a) and (b) was interred, a special person was called upon to examine the dead body if there was internal trouble that caused his or her death, that is coroner. He cut it open in order to remove the thing and had the belly or so, washed and sown in order to get rid of such trouble as would prevent good reincarnation. Ozun-oko and Ozun okpukpu had two ceremonial rites. One was performed immediately after death occurred known as iseru-ali, and the other, ime izu. In the olden days, some rich men or elders were sometimes kept to dry for more days and months before burial, known as itu ozu mgbidi.
Itu ozu mgbidi was one of the methods through which corpses were preserved before the use of mortuaries was known in Ika community. By means of gadgets to support, a corpse was put on an erect position against a wall, inside a form of wardrobe made of kneaded mud or clay. The corpse was left in this container until it would be needed for burial, in which case, the structure would be destroyed to release it. Another method of preserving corpses in those days was by hanging a corpse over a slow burning fire, elu- akpata, and cuts made in the feet to drain away fluids. This morbid operation drained fluids from the body to prevent rapid decay.
The Ika people see their World as a moving equilibrium that is constantly threatened, and sometimes, actually disturbed by natural and social calamities. The events and all manner of hazards in their varying degrees, which may upset it include natural disasters like long, continuous drought, long period of famine, epidemic diseases as well as sorcery, death, hunger, poverty, and anti-social forces like litigation, homicide, violation of taboos and other incidents, some of which the Ikas define as abomination, nso all or aru-u.
In Ika culture, abomination is conceived as an offence against a deity who is expected to deal with the offender unless certain rites are performed, and fines paid in order to remove the stain of evil caused by the offence. The offences involving supernatural have one important feature; often, they cause neither death nor injury. Sometimes, not even inconvenience, but yet they threaten to disrupt society through the conflicts they can cause, or through normal decadence they may initiate. To deal with this class of offences, traditional Ika society would evolve the concept of abomination or taboo. The concept of abomination or taboo means that any behaviour so labelled in any kingdom constitutes an offence against the gods. Offenders are therefore, obliged to offer expensive sacrifices, perform complicated rites and pay fines in order to escape the wrath of the gods. The religious beliefs that informed the various abominations are not matter for debate. For believers, they are valid. However, there is no doubt that these abominations were instituted to regulate human behaviours.
Ika people believe, however, that the social calamities and cosmic forces, which disturb their World are controllable and manipulated through divination, and sacrifice appeals, to the countervailing powers of their ancestors against the powers of the malignant and non-ancestral spirits, and socially, through constant realignment in their social groupings.
Death, for example, disturbs the existing social and ritual relationships and demands a new mode of adjustment for the bereaved family. The status of the one who dies young seems frustrated, and in his family, creates a vacuum in the role structure through a loss of a member. The uncertainty about the cause of a sudden death is a source of concern for all. Divination settles this uncertainty by specifying the cause of death and recommending ritual remedies. The diviner’s verdict may follow a cultural pattern. The deaths of young people are usually blamed on the sin committed during their previous life on earth. The souls of such individuals hardly have a place in the social world of the dead. Death of adults may be attributed to ‘ripe age’, or senility, or a breach of taboos or other previous or present behaviours, such as sorcery, false oath, or theft or other faults committed in previous or present life. Hardly anyone dies without a cause; at best, a death could be said to be in agreement with the Creator’s will, or ori okwe ehi, or oru okwu ehi. In some Ika Kingdoms, the corpse could be “carried” or “questioned” (ima Ozun). There is a case, which tends to prove the authenticity of corpse carrying in Ika culture.
Akumazi people do not traditionally question their corpses except when a foul play was suspected in the death of whoever. In the late 1970’s AD, a revealing instance of corpse carrying happened in Isube town in Akumazi Kingdom. A septuagenarian respondent from Akumazi told the writer that in that year, a man died very mysteriously. The man, a carpenter, returned from his job hale and hearty, on that fateful day. Having taken his bath, he strolled to a nearby shop to purchase a cigarette. His wife informed him that she had passed his dinner when he came back home. But he complained that he could not describe how his body was reacting. He sent the wife for one of his brothers. His brother had hardly come when he gave up the ghost. His death sent a strange signal to, and raised a lot of dust in the Kingdom, so much so that the reigning Obi caused the Isube elders to question the man’s corpse. They carried the corpse and it confessed that he was killed by a witch from Akumazi Kingdom, at the end of which, they dropped the coffin.
In a reply to the emissary sent to the Obi, he further re- ordered the Isube elders to carry the man’s corpse to search for, and locate his killer. This was done, and the corpse had hardly been carried up when it headed for, and hit a hut at a quarter in Odugan town and stopped. An old woman emerged from the hut. She was to be manhandled by the irate crowd when the elders prevailed over their anger.
According to the respondent, the old woman told the crowd that the incident was a proof of the authenticity of corpse carrying. She admitted killing the man, and boasted that whether the irate crowd was to beat her or not, she was prepared to extend the onslaught to the late man’s children. Her premise was that the late man was the first to hurt her. According to the old woman, the late man set her house on fire because she was suspected to be a witch after her husband’s death. She ran away to her kindred at Odugan after her house had been set on fire. The Odugan elders settled the old woman and the children of the late man.
Also, the experience of Edward, Paul in running the corpse corroborates that of the Ika people. The chief mate, Mr. Mansfield and some of the crew being one day on shore were present at the burying of a poisoned Negro girl. Though they had often heard of the circumstance of the running in such cases, and had even seen it, they imagined it to be a trick of the corpse bearers. The mates therefore, desired two of the sailors to take up the coffin, and carry to the grave. The sailors who were all of the opinion, readily obeyed, but they had scarcely raised it to their shoulders before they began to run furiously about, quite unable to direct themselves, till at last, without intention, they came to a hut and damaged part of the wall. The owner of the hut was taken into custody on this, and he confessed the poisoning. This story is given as the mates related it, and to the crew on their return to the ship.
The verdict of corpse carrying may cause a further imbalance in the existing system of the lineage or Idumu. Whatever is the case, a loss of ritual balance is implicit and remedies are recommended. A deceased may be, as a result of a verdict, denied ground or decent burial (a privilege accorded only to those who die without blemish), and the corpse cast into eje ofia, bad bush fit only for the outcast. Ritual purifications are primarily designed to dissociate the living from the deceased’s blemish, and thus establish the ritual balance of taboo caused. A centenarian respondent said that life on earth in Ika people’s view, is linked in the chain of state hierarchy, which culminates in the achievement of ancestral honour in the world of the dead. In his view, those who die young cause much frustration for their families on earth, and suffer much frustration themselves in the land of the dead. But when an elder dies, there is less grief on earth and much joy in the land of the dead.
An ontological balance must be maintained between God and man, the spirits and man, the departed and the living, in ika philosophical worldview. When this balance is upset, people experience misfortunes and sufferings, or fear that misfortunes will strike them. They make sacrifices and offerings as a psychological device to restore this ontological balance; creating an occasion of making and renewing contact between God and man, the spirit an man, that is the spiritual and physical world. When these are directed towards the living-dead, (ancestors), they are a symbol of fellowship, recognition that the departed are still members of their human families, and tokens of respect and remembrance for the living-dead.
In Ika cosmology, nothing happens without a cause. Whatever threatens the life of the individual, or his security as well as the society is interpreted in Ika as a sign of warning that things must be set right as this may be without a cause’, ihieni eka mmaka, For example, continuous unproductive farm yield, constant illness, business failure and other misfortunes may indicate that the spirits that bring them are threatening action for being neglected while drought or too long a rainy season is a warning that society has lost its balance with nature. The Ika philosophical wisdom in an event of complication, conflicts and contractions, is that realms, that is, the spiritual and the material are consulted. Following this orientation on the doctrine of the inter-penetrability of the spiritual and the physical, complications in human experience, such as a protracted illness, is tackled consulting practitioners and experts from both realms. The Ika person would seek remedy from a physician if his illness is usual and ordinary, because he believes in the reality of the physician, whose knowledgeable by empirical verification. But if it becomes prolonged and protracted, he is quick to consult spiritualists or witch-doctors because he equally believes in a form of reality that transcends the sounds of common sense and experience. The Ika persons know that a physical sore that refuses, for example, to heal after the administration of proper medical remedy, may have a remote cultic non-physical cause or causes, a phenomenon that only a psychic, a parapsychologist or a spiritualist or a witch-doctor for that matter, may competently handle. The witch-doctors see far beyond in such cases. They can consult their oracles to probe into the minds of the demons responsible for such illness to determine what compensation or offering that will be required to appease them in order to take their hands off the afflicted.
It is well known in Ika tradition that some diseases are caused by demonic spirits. For example, some farmers who innocently trespassed into the forest residence of the invisible spirit gods were struck dumb and some afflicted with fits. It is thus known that most diseases or ailments have psychic disorders, which the modern doctors, with their modern diagnostic instruments cannot detect. But the traditional medicine practitioners trained properly in African medicine craft’ have at their disposal, materials with which to tackle demon caused and wizard-infected diseases.
They are not only deities and spiritual forces that are manipulated. Human beings and social relations are also subject to manipulation. In Ika, the individual balances his conflict with his patri-lateral kinsfolk, ebon nedi (father’s descent link) with his privilege in his ebon ne descent link from the mother’s sides. The mother’s link among whom he enjoys defence privilege stands with him against any perennial conflicts he faces among his father’s link. He may be constantly exposed to physical dangers among this link, umu nedi, which is one of potential hostilities. The umu nnę take his person sacred. In Ika, the relation with one’s descent from ebon nne is more solid than that, which one enjoys from the ebọn nędi. Ebo nnę is one’s place of exile should one be forced out by one’s um nędi. As the Ika proverb puts it, ebon nędi renihian mma, olasi ebo nne. However, Ika ideal is that a son should, in his interest, appeal to both links, ebọn nędi le ebọn nne, in conflict situations. (To be Continued…)