Funerals Have Taken A New Dimension In The East

Judging by what the eyes see, it seems that after the construction industry, the funeral industry is the largest these days in the South-East, especially in Anambra State. The amount of money sunk into funerals these days is mind-boggling.

Parents are living longer (into their 80s and 90s) because of better access to healthcare. Unlike the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when people could not check their blood pressure or blood sugar at home, such is available to many families these days, saving many from sudden death caused by high/low BP or diabetes. When people’s parents live into their 80s and 90s or even late 70s, there is tendency to turn their funeral into a “celebration of life”.

NON-TRADITIONAL

People of the South-East don’t have the tradition of celebrating birthdays in a big way, except those who live in Lagos and Abuja. It is not common to see someone in the South-East celebrate their 40th or 50th or 60th or 70th birthday with fanfare. If done at all, it is usually low-key with a couple of family members coming to the house for a get-together. Therefore, the burial of a parent has become an opportunity for big celebrations. It is not officially called a party but usually has all the trappings of a party or even a carnival.

There are suppliers of virtually everything: brochures, invitation cards, water, drinks, food items, gifts, and canopies. Then, there are undertakers, decorators, security people, servers, MCs, DJs, ushers, camera people for video recording and still photographs. There are also suppliers of aso ebi, which is a cloth worn by friends and associates for uniformity. In the past, only direct bereaved family would dress alike. But today, aso ebi, borrowed from the South-West, has become part and parcel of funerals in the South-East. Some would buy packs of such cloth and give to family and friends for free to sew and wear at their funeral ceremony as a way of making it colourful.

Because of the amount of money spent at burials these days, so many people have built their businesses round them. Week after week, they are supplying things to those organising burials. And they make a lot of money from such, thereby changing their financial status. The weekly traffic to the South-East for funerals and other events also ensures hotels are usually fully booked from Wednesdays to weekends. Airlines and buses travelling to the South-East from Tuesdays are also usually fully booked. Some people travel from Lagos or Abuja to the South-East for funerals 2 or 3 times a month.

DIFFERENT CATEGORIES

Funerals gulp millions of naira, depending on the financial muscle of those organising it. There are about 3 categories. 1st is the basic category which costs less than N1.5m. It can cost less than N1m. Only basic rites are performed, taking care of the requirements of the church, kinsmen, village, women’s groups and guests e.g. where stipulated that maternal kinsmen of the deceased man or kinsmen of the deceased woman be given a goat, this is given instead of a cow. Except perhaps palm wine, no bottled wines or spirits are shared at such events. Basic meals of rice and akpu or flour meal are prepared for guests.

2nd is the medium category which costs N1.5m – N5m. The funeral is made as dignified as possible, but attempts are made to keep cost under control. First, the amount of wine and spirits at the event is controlled. Second, a decent but not-too-expensive casket is used. Third, there may not be funeral undertakers to bear the casket – kinsmen are used.

Finally, there is the 3rd category, which is the premium. This starts from about N5m. First, the invitation card is a booklet – which costs aabout N1m. Second, the burial brochure costs over N1m to produce. Casket costs about a million naira or more, while undertakers charge about N0.5m or over a N1m, depending on their class. Food vendors charge up to N2m for a thousand guests, while drinks, wines and spirits cost up to N5m. Choice wines are drunk like regular beer. One person may drink up to 2 bottles of a champagne brand which costs over N150,000 per bottle. At the end of such a burial event, aabout N30m or more is spent.

Surprisingly, in spite the amount of money spent at such funerals, most families who organise them do not incur losses, except those who don’t attend other people’s events and who don’t support others. The communal spirit makes people to support the bereaved at their time of loss. It goes round from family to family, and anybody who is known to attend events and support others never runs into a loss after a burial. The Igbo people say, when a big man travels to a distant land and comes back with much meat, it is those whom he has been giving that have reciprocated.

ALL YEAR ROUND PARTYING

Interestingly, except for about one month of Lent, burials take place every week in different villages of every town between Wednesday and Friday all through the year. If the deceased or bereaved are people of note, friends and well-wishers come from outside the town. For example, when the funeral of a prominent Anambra person is taking place or one of the children of the deceased is a prominent person, one sees the Who’s Who in Anambra from virtually all towns in the state.

To be a good MC in Anambra these days, you have to know the names and titles of the Who’s Who in Anambra, for every week or two, they gather at one funeral or the other. For an MC to be rated highly, he should not wait for someone to give him a piece of paper before announcing the names and designations of such prominent people as they come in.

People take funerals seriously in Igboland. They can forgive you if don’t attend their wedding or naming ceremony or birthday. But if you fail to attend the funeral of their parents and you also fail to send your support and apologies to them, it is like a mortal sin. People keep records of what others brought to their funeral events. When it is the turn of such people, the records are checked before the funeral attendance is reciprocated. There are people who will never attend the funeral of the parent or spouse of someone who did not attend theirs or send in their support. Funeral is seen as a debt each person owes the other, because death is certain.

Even if you are not in town or in the country during some funerals, but return months or years after, you need to visit the homes of all those who were bereaved, especially within your community, and present your condolence support in cash. You can also go along with drinks. A condolence visit is never too late. But if you don’t visit those families, they will note it in their Book of Life and wait for your turn to repay you.

WHERE IS THE POVERTY?

Surprisingly, it is in this same country where people say things are hard that one sees different families spend millions on burials. Same people are also building houses all over the place, even as prices of building materials double and triple within few months under the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd). You then ask yourself, where is this poverty that is said to affect over 70% of the Nigerian population?

Nigeria is a paradox!

— Article by Azuka Onwuka.

Source:- Punch Ng

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