Let’s delve into the traditions that come into play when a married man from Nnewi passes away, whether he is in his hometown or far away. We’ll shed light on why a wife’s authority over her husband’s body after he’s gone is not unlimited.
In Nnewi and various parts of Anambra state, where the customs run deep, a man’s family connection greatly influences his life, even beyond death. The family from his mother’s side, known as “ikwu nne,” and from his father’s side, called “ndi nnaochie,” play a big role in his life. These family units provide support and a sense of belonging. What’s interesting is that a child has the freedom to choose whether to identify with his father’s or mother’s family. A famous saying in Nnewi reflects this choice: “ọsọ chụba nwata ọgbanaa ikwu nne ya,” which means “when faced with significant challenges in his father’s domain, a child seeks refuge and solace with his mother’s kin.” Within his mother’s group, he finds protection, leading to the saying “nwadiana bụ eke,” which emphasizes that “a sister’s child is untouchable in his mother’s place.”
In Nnewi, when a father wants to divide his assets or allocate land for his children’s homes, he must involve the nnaochies of his male offspring. These family members not only bear witness but also passionately advocate for the rights of their “sons.” The bond between a man and his mother’s family is so strong that the whole town might stand up for their sisters’ children if they sense any unfairness or suspicious circumstances surrounding a death.
Contrary to the idea that a man’s remains are solely under his wife’s control, Nnewi doesn’t hold this belief. In fact, a wife’s claim is restricted, as she can choose to remarry after her husband’s passing. Neither the child’s mother nor the wife possesses complete ownership of the deceased. Instead, a man is seen as an asset that intersects with various interest groups in Nnewi and the wider Igbo society. The phrase “till death do we part” in wedding vows signifies that the wife’s claim to her deceased husband ends upon his death. Their relationship transforms due to the finality of death.
When a married man dies in Nnewi, his paternal family, including his sons, must seek approval from the deceased’s nnaochie before arranging the burial. The date for the funeral must be agreed upon by all parties involved.
During the funeral proceedings, the maternal family concludes the ceremony with a ritual called “Ịgbafe mgwulu.” This ritual marks the end of the departed’s presence on earth and severs any lingering ties he might have with the world of the living.
The custom of burying a married man within his homestead has a significant purpose. His resting place is carefully chosen so that he has a clear view of anyone entering his compound, even in death. This symbolizes an ongoing awareness, even after passing.
The burial site’s location within the compound is specifically reserved for the “dibuno,” the head of the household. On the other hand, his sons who passed away before him or those without established homesteads are buried outside the compound.
If a man hasn’t explicitly stated his preferred burial location before his death, his firstborn and elder family members take on this responsibility following established tradition. Interestingly, certain villages within Nnewi, like Uruagu Nnewi, have distinct burial practices. For instance, some men are laid to rest inside their rooms, seated on a traditional stool called “mpata.” This practice, known as “ini nsụkwụ,” is unique to these locations.
The deceased’s wife can convey her late husband’s burial wishes through her children or her husband’s brothers. However, it’s important to note that her role doesn’t extend to making final decisions or having ultimate authority over her husband’s remains.
The financial aspect of a man’s burial is shared among his brothers or umunna. All male members of the deceased’s family are expected to contribute to the funeral expenses, either promptly or retroactively. Therefore, financial constraints cannot be used as a reason for a wife to opt for a burial outside Nnewi, which refers to any location beyond the town’s borders.
In special cases, a man has the agency to instruct his children and brothers regarding his preferred place of burial. This decision effectively separates him from the lineage of his ancestors, akin to self-imposed exile.
Choosing to be buried outside one’s homeland may also reflect an individual’s lifelong convictions. Notably, priests, religious figures, or the chief priests of the Edo Nnewi deity are often laid to rest near their respective shrines or churches. While early Christian converts from Nnewi initially preferred Christian cemeteries, a return to ancestral burial practices has become more common.
The worldview of Nnewi is intricately tied to Catholicism and orthodox Christian beliefs, highlighting a strong connection between the living and the departed. This connection is further emphasized by the Christian concept of resurrection on the Last Day. Similarly, Nnewi’s cultural beliefs suggest that deceased individuals will rise from their graves within the town for identification purposes. For those who adhere to traditional Igbo religious beliefs, the journey to the realm of ancestors begins after the proper funeral rites are completed, marked by cannon shots signaling the end of the ceremonial proceedings.
Given the intricate customs surrounding the transition from life to death in Nnewi, it’s crucial that this detailed explanation reaches a wide audience of Nnewi men, both within the town and around the world. Furthermore, this understanding serves as a guideline for the wives of Nnewi men, both present and future