Ndi Igbo has property sharing formula
Chukwuemeka Nwachukwu, also known as Autocracy, is a traditionalist with sound knowledge of herbal medicine and different Igbo customs and rites. He hails from Isiala Mbutu in Aboh Mbaise Local Council of Imo State. He spoke with CHARLES OGUGBUAJA on issues concerning various forms of rites for the dead, inheritance and other traditional practices in Igbo land.
Rites of the dead before and after burial
In Igbo land, the practice is general, unless where, some people for their faith in Christianity decide to change or alter it to reflect present situations.
When a woman loses her husband, she is expected to observe certain widowhood practice, as may be prescribed by tradition. If she fails to observe them, she risks facing ancestral sanctions.
In those days, when there were no mortuaries, the woman would be made to sleep in the same room with the husband’s corpse for four or more days, until the man is buried. Nowadays, the corpse is taken to the morgue, which does not only deviate from that practice, but invalidates it. However, a twist to the practice is that fellow widows would now shave the woman’s hair before the burial. She would also be made to eat casual foods, restricted to a location and remain taciturn.
She would continue to observe these rites, as a sign of respect to her departed husband’s soul. But where the widow is said to have done bad things, such as exhibiting acts of wickedness to her late husband, she would be made to suffer more. She would be forced to remain with the corpse, clean it and sleep with it, aside verbal castigations.
This persists until the dead is buried. After the burial, she would observe a mourning period of usually between six months and one year.
How about a man losing his wife?
The man would sit calmly and welcome fellow widowers. He would only eat food prepared by a widow from the late wife’s family or his sister. He would also be restricted to a location, talk less and wouldn’t shake hands with non-widowers, until his wife is interred. Also, he is not expected to go to the market or make social visits within the period.
If the marriage were blessed with children, the children of the late woman would not frequently visit their maternal home, until their mother is buried. But if the woman had male children, the first son would, in company of other relatives, inform the oldest man in the family about his mother’s demise. Afterwards, he would also go to inform his late mother’s relations. There, he would be told to present certain things, including a specific sum of money, drinks and a cow, among others.
The children are not expected to have their bath, eat, wash their mouths or quarrel with anybody, until their mother is buried. After that, they would visit their maternal home, especially the first son and first daughter, to have their bath and eat. The bath is usually taken on or before 5 a.m. Here, they would hand over all monies in their possession to their maternal sisters, brothers and uncles.
When a man dies, the children would share his wealth in the following ratio: If alive, the mother gets 30 per cent. The first son gets the lion share of about 40 per cent, while the other children share the remaining 30 per cent. The first daughter is entitled to a plot or more of land. However, some areas in Igbo land make this a subject of dispute.
Post burial rites for late father or mother (Ikwa Madu)
According to Nwachukwu, it is generally believed in Igbo land that when a man/woman dies, the children should bury him/her with a cow, in addition to others materials, as may be specified by the relations or the secret group he or she belongs. However, because of the cost of such items, it is often deferred to a time the children are able to afford them, though the first son is restricted from eating cow meat at any burial he attends, until he performs the rites for his late father or mother.
It is believed that the ancestral spirit would be angry and put up obstacles in several ways, until the traditional rites are performed. But when the children are rich enough to perform all the rites of their deceased father or mother, the oldest man in his kindred is consulted, and he directs the children on what to do.
If the first son has no money to buy a cow, he would be allowed to buy freshly killed cow’s head with the neck. He would also buy different kinds of drinks and kolanuts. He would prepare food, especially for the father or mother’s peers that would be invited. The meat is shared in such a way that different parts of it are given to the first son and the first daughter. During this period, the oldest man goes to the grave to pour libation, making some incantations to invoke the spirit of the dead, while explaining the reasons for the lateness of the action and asking that he or she accept the rite.