Editors’ note: this page contains two of Helen’s dissertation chapters. Chapter Five deals with women’s roles in a variety of ceremonial and ritual contexts. Chapter Six focuses on their activities in rituals connected to death: Burial (ini-ozu) and Lamentation (Ikwa-ozu). RNH.
CHAPTER FIVE: ONITSHA WOMEN AND RITUAL: PART 1: GENERAL RELIGIOUS RITUALS
In the previous chapter, we discussed numerous indicators of the positions of Onitsha women relative to that of Onitsha men; for example, their roles in the economy, their access to independent means and disposal of goods, their decision-making roles in the family and lineage, their ability to inherit property, their rights to security of their persons, their participation in important political activities such as chieftaincy, ozo title-taking and kingship. But the roles of Onitsha women in religious ritual need to be more fully examined. The major problem concerns the degree to which they possess spiritual parity with men. This can be studied by examining their role in prayer, sacrifice, the annual ceremonial cycle, and by determining to what degree women are considered a “positive” or “negative” religious force in Onitsha life.
After an overview of the general activities of women in Onitsha religious rites (as distinct from religious concepts – see Chapter Two), our consideration will then concentrate, in the next chapter, on the roles of women in funeral ceremonies, the most elaborate of Onitsha rituals. The detail and scope of funerals provide an opportunity to examine many aspects of women’s ritual roles in the context of one culturally stylized event, and they therefore deserve extended treatment.
5.1. Women and Prayer
5.1.1. The Kola Ceremony
The giving of a kola nut is both a crucial sign of hospitality and a profoundly religious act throughout most of the Ibo-speaking area. The breaking of the nut is invariably accompanied by a prayer for the well-being of those present, and a piece of the nut is offered to the gods and the ancestors.
Kinship criteria are the basic guides as to who should break the nut, although they can be superceded due to the age or achieved status of certain participants. Generally, the pattern is as follows: the host directs his wife to bring a kola nut (from his treasure box, if he is titled, or from wherever he keeps it) and she then presents it to him. He then directs that it be given, for breaking, to another person present, if he is not the lineage priest.
The kinship criteria are these: 1) If a member of the lineage segment of the host’s mother is present, he should break the nut, but the latter may waive his right if he is younger than the host (his Daughter’s child), or if the latter is titled. This is true whether the representative of the host’s mother’s people is male or female. 2) Those who have given daughters as wives to the host or his immediate family are given the privilege of breaking the nut, but as in the above case, they may waive the right if they are younger than the host or if the latter is titled. If a woman is the “in-law” in question, she must relinquish her right to break the nut before anyone else gains the right to break it. 3). Among members of a lineage segment, the lineage priest always breaks the kola. When he is not present, the oldest person, male or female, will break it, provided no titled man is present. In the latter case, the ascriptive right will be waived in favor of the achieved one. Gender is not primary in the breaking of the kola nut, and a woman who is Mother of the Masquerade may take precedence over a younger titled man present. Even if the nut is first presented to the ozo man, he should offer it to her. Whether or not she actually breaks it depends on numerous interpersonal circumstances. 4) One prohibition holds for women, however: they may not break kola nut in the presence of their husbands or in the central part of his house while he is alive. If a guest comes when the husband is not home, the senior wife may bring out kola and present it to him to break. It also appears that a woman may break kola to the ritual objects kept in her kitchen, even though her husband is still alive. The daughter can break kola in her natal home if no priest or titled man is present. Onitsha people claim that in many Ibo areas women are not allowed to break kola. Information on this point is unclear. Uchendu states that an Ibo woman may not “present” kola nut (1964:49). For Onitsha, however, it is possible for women to offer prayers on behalf of men and women present.
5.1.2. Women’s Ritual Objects (Non-Seasonal Religious Activities)
Chi In Chapter Two, the major religious concept of chi, a personal god controlling one’s destiny, was discussed. The fact was noted that women as well as men are believed to have entered into a compact, prior to birth, with their chi in regard to their destiny in life, and women as well as men may set up shrines to their chi. A woman does not get chi until she has moved to her husband’s house, and then, often, only after the birth of a child. The chi, which is kept in the woman’s kitchen, is considered to be quite independent of that of her husband, perhaps “with a different temperament”, and may be prayed to and sacrificed to at any time, although prayers are always offered at the annual ceremonies of ajachi and owaji. The chi appears to be obtained by a woman from a native doctor without the mediation of her lineage priest or priestess.
When praying to her chi, a woman may touch kola to it while asking for the health and increase of her family and protection from witches.1 Palm wine is then sprinkled on each object, and cooked food put on them. As mentioned earlier, no blood is put on the chi until the woman’s death. Although a woman will remove her movable religious objects, including her chi, at the death of her husband for the period of mourning, they are not destroyed at this time, as has been reported for some other Ibo-speaking areas (Thomas 1914:22-23).
Okposi Although a chi is destroyed at its owner’s death, the children of the deceased may then “bring in the father” by setting up a ritual object, okposi, which formally resembles the chi (see Chapter Two), and which represents generalized ancestors. When a woman obtains an okposi, the priest of her own lineage goes to her kitchen where the four sticks have been placed in a cup, and performs a sacrifice over them. Some Onitsha informants indicate that a woman will have carved a small ikenga, to represent her father, which will be sacrificed to at the same time as the okposi. Any married man may keep okposi in his house; for women, it appears, only the senior living daughter may do so. The ceremony of “bringing in the mother” is dealt with below.
Ikenga Some informant’s accounts indicate that women may own ikenga, but in the ceremonies involving women’s ritual objects that were witnessed by this writer, none were present. Some informants denied that women would be permitted to own them.. There is, however, an historical account which presents evidence in favor of women owning ikenga. Taylor observed six women and a man under a grove performing a fetish custom: A woman brought out a chicken to offer to ikenga, telling it to “bless them that bless her, curse those who curse her today in the market”. The man took his ofo stick, struck it on the ground and answered by saying, “A great thing is coming to her as a present and she must share part with him of that fortune” (Crowther and Taylor 1859:288). It appears that in this case, while the woman offered direct prayers to the ikenga, the man’s use of his ofo solemnized the occasion and aided the woman in obtaining her wishes. Onitsha women have stated that they, or their mothers, got ikenga after obtaining their chi, or when things had persistently gone ill with them.2
At the initial ceremony, women of a similar age to that of the hostess are invited if their first sons or daughters are still alive. Ikenga, like chi, is closely associated with marriage and first pregnancy, and this may explain why women whose first children have died are not invited. Women sacrifice to their ikenga when they conceive children (husbands sacrifice to their own ikenga at such a time also), when things go well – or poorly – in their trade and during annual festivals. While a man’s ikenga is cut in two by his age mates only if he dies prior to about age 60, a woman’s is always destroyed at her death, apparently, also by her age mates.
Oma All children of one mother are regarded, after her death, as being “in oma” to her; that is, the eldest daughter will set up a shrine to her, symbolizing the children’s continual relationship to the mother. At her death, the next senior living daughter will set up the shrine, which consists of a clay mound placed against the wall of the worshipper’s kitchen. For the initial ceremony of “bringing in the mother”, the Daughters of the patrilineage of the mother will be invited, and some informants state that it is the Head Daughter of this lineage who actually shapes the mud image and instructs the woman in its proper worship. First she takes a kola nut, chews it, and spits some on the shrine, then she symbolically “sacrifices” a hen or a goat, by placing a knife to its neck. (The actual killing is done by a man.) Blood is then put on the shrine, and later, cooked food and palm wine. During these offerings, the Head Daughter invokes the spirits of the dead mothers. 3
It may happen that such a shrine is not set up immediately after the mother’s death, but only after a period of some years, at which time the senior daughter either feels obliged to initiate it out of respect to the mother, or else does it because a diviner tells her that her misfortunes have been due to ignoring her mother. After the initial ceremony, the daughter performs the ceremony herself and need not invite others.
A woman may possess at least three such maternal shrines, representing the mother, the mother’s mother, and the mother’s uterine sisters. Until the woman has set up the shrines, with the accompanying ceremony, she may sacrifice to her mother and sister by drawing chalk circles on the floor of her kitchen, praying and giving offerings to these. Such shrines serve to propitiate the spirits of these kinswomen who otherwise, it is said, might bring disease and sterility to their children. A junior daughter found to be troubled by maternal spirits will be advised by her diviner to bring the ingredients for a sacrifice to the holder of the oma shrine and invite others who are “in oma” to the same shrine to partake of it (Henderson 1966:44).
The descendants of an ancestral mother, both male and female, who recognize a common oma shrine, may not marry each other unless the tie is ritually broken. Although the ideology of oma is a maternal one, the condition of being “in oma” to an ancestral mother can be transmitted by sons to their children – so that a person may stand in oma “not only to his mother’s mother, but also to the mothers of his father and his father’s farther” (Ibid.). Under some circumstances, men may keep shrines to the mother next to their household throne, either because they have “brought in the mother” along with the father prior to title taking (see Chapter Three) due to the advice of a diviner, or because they are the grandsons who have been chosen as the official representatives of an ancestral mother.
Umuada shrines Patrilineages keep rounded mud shrines similar in shape to those called oma by the descendants of a woman, which are dedicated to the collective deceased Daughters of the patrilineage.4 Every morning, before breakfast, the householder should take food, and after throwing some out to the shrine of the “courtyard land” (ani ezi), throw an additional amount, with his right hand, to the umuada and omanne shrines.
If a member of a lineage segment descended from an ancestral mother wishes to marry a person of the lineage segment in which the ancestral mother was a Daughter, a sacrifice must be performed over the umuada shrine by the latter’s patrilineage priest, breaking the ties. This severing of ties, however, will only be done after a minimum of three generations have intervened. Even more remote kinship links through women entail exogamy unless sacrifices are performed to break the tie, as for example the restrictions binding on descendants of ancestral mothers who were Daughters of the same patrilineage and who refer to each other as “child of mother” (nwanne) (Henderson 1966: 48).
Agwu This concept, which designates a being said to attach himself to individuals, male and female, has not been referred to earlier and is rather peripheral to our interests. Speaking of the Awka area, Thomas has referred to it as a “sort of tutelary deity of the doctors” (dibia): if agwu visits an ordinary individual with misfortune until the limit of his patience is reached and no remedy can be found, it is a sign that the man should become a doctor. (1913:27-28). In Onitsha, it is generally believed that if a person fails in most of his endeavors or behaves in a socially unstable manner, he may be troubled by agwu, and the blame may be put on a non-Onitsha mother’s village, since today at least Onitsha men claim that they themselves are not skilled at divining. To affect a cure, the man may go to his mother’s town, obtain small carved figures of men, women, dogs, and (a) vulture, and set them up as his special shrine.5. As part of the preparation ceremony, the initiate proceeds to his mother’s house and appropriates something from her ‘alusi’. He repeats the action on other ‘alusis’ of the family, including that of his grandfather (Basden 1966:54).) Aside from the fact that the mother’s family is often involved, the important point to note here is that women can also become diviners, herbalists, and midwives (see below); they also set up such shrines, although they do so less frequently than men. Women may also be told to establish such a shrine if they have persistently been unable to have children.
5.1.3. Women as Native Doctors, Diviners, Herbalists
Most native doctors are men, and they frequently are believed to inherit their abilities from their fathers, but such inheritance is also possible through mothers. However, as seen in the discussion of agwu, a man or woman who suffers continual misfortunes may be advised by a diviner to take up the profession. Native doctors can be separated into three categories, though any one person may possess any or all of these skills: herbalist, diviner, midwife.
Some herbalists are thought to be given their gifts by god and to be able to pick out the appropriate herbs without any formal instruction. To be able to use the afa divining system, however, a period of tutelage is necessary. Although the great number of diviners using the afa system are men, informants have seen women throwing afa shells.6 The more common form of divination in Onitsha, however, and the one in which some women are highly respected, is that using the kola nut, for which it is said no period of study is necessary.
The profession of midwife, though open to men as well as women, is dominated by women. Women who fall into any of these categories may lead relatively normal lives, being married and having children. In most cases they take up the role of native doctor because it is believed that a spirit demands it.
5.1.4. Other Shrines held by Women
Widely found in the Nri-Awka area are conical clay mounds (ekwu) set up in a woman’s kitchen to protect her hearth, and especially to prevent anyone from poisoning the food cooked there. Apparently this is not an Onitsha concept, and it tends, in Onitsha, to be merged with that of oma, in that the sacrifices to these shrines are made, frequently, in the name of the owner’s female ancestors. Basden reports that the wife of an ozo titled man will have a more elaborate ekwu shrine than the wife of a “commoner”, consisting of egbo sticks, with small cooking pots inverted over them, located outside her kitchen. Sacrifices are made to such a shrine at least once a year (Basden 1966:48). Other shrines belonging to women, noted by Basden (ibid.), but not by this observer, consist of egbo sticks, a small pot circled with these growing green sticks, which serves as general protection to its owner, and akologholi, to prevent the spirit of death from entering her hut.
No woman should bring in a shrine other than chi, ikenga, omanne, or umuada to her husband’s or brother’s compound without his knowledge, lest she be accused of the malevolent use of such objects. Medicines and ritual objects brought in by women who are not natives of Onitsha are especially feared. When such a woman dies, people will say that her children will not know how to sacrifice to the shrine, and it will therefore cause trouble for the whole family. Bringing in ritual objects by women is not limited to non-Onitsha wives, however, and the types of objects involved may range from permissible fertility medicines such as akwali (Basden 1966:48) to deliberately harmful ones.
Women frequently bring in medicines to protect themselves and their families from evil supernatural attacks, especially from co-wives, but the medicine may have unforeseen harmful effects. They may also bring in medicines designed to make their husbands agree to their every demand. In some cases, after a dispute, co-wives or a mother-in-law may openly accuse a woman of having a charm buried on the premises that is causing harm to the family. Frequently, such statements carry a good deal of weight, and may lead the husband to ask his wife to clear the medicine or leave his house. Although women often wish to have their own medicines and shrines to protect them, men are supposed to ensure supernatural protection for their wives and children. Annual sacrifice to the omumu shrine by a husband, for example, is believed to guarantee his wife’s fertility.
One of the most common shrines that is believed to have effects on the sons and daughters of a village is ogwugwu. If a woman becomes ill, barren, is suspected of having a “bad destiny” (ogbanje – see ChapterTwo), or having a child who has one, she may be advised by a diviner to sacrifice to the ogwugwu shrine in her own village. On this occasion a woman may bring white cloth, and eagle feather, and dry fish with a strong head (azu isi – a catfish-like fish commonly used in sacrifice). The woman first touches these objects to her head and chest saying, “My life, my head, my heart, I offer sacrifice” (ndum, isim, na obim: kanji achu afa). The items are then placed on the shrine by the priest (whose presence has been especially arranged) and the shrine is asked to grant the woman her wishes. Men may also be advised by a diviner to sacrifice to the ogwugwu shrine, either of their own patrilineage or of their mother’s.
The shrine itself consists of a small cooking pot containing chalk, an egbo stick, and some other items. If advised by a diviner to do so, a woman may set up her own ogwugwu shrine – since she does not use that of her husband – in her own living quarters. First she goes to her own village, offers sacrifice, and then, assisted by a Daughter of that village, sets up her own shrine using some objects from the original ogwugwu – such as a piece of chalk. Ogwugwu is thus commonly established by women in their husband’s villages. Many Ogwugwu shrines that are found in a village can be traced back to the village of the worshipper’s mother.
Through time, they may come to be venerated by a wider kin group and considered to have independent powers of their own. Cases appear in the customary court records of women being accused by their husbands or brothers of setting up harmful shrines, and defending themselves by saying such shrines were only for the protection of themselves and their children. For example, a sister is accused by her brother of worshipping a “juju” to the detriment of his family, whereas the woman claims that she is merely sacrificing to an agwu (see above) shrine which was made for her by a diviner under the direction of her deceased father.
In another case a husband requests a separation since his wife is keeping idemili juju in his house without his consent, with the intention of killing her co-wife’s child. He further claims that he has heard her calling out the names of various shrines in her village, such as ogwugwu and ajji otumoye, to accomplish this end. In her defense, the wife and her brother claim that she was advised by a diviner to keep her mother’s people’s juju, the idemili, to prevent her being poisoned. (Idemili refers to the stream which flows into the Niger just north of neighboring Obosi Town.)
Women are also believed to be influenced by numerous other shrines from their own or grandmother’s villages. For example, a woman may claim that she promised in a dream to offer sacrifice to a shrine in her grandmother’s village if she conceives and delivers a child. The husband, then, is expected to finance such a sacrifice. Or a woman may be told to offer a sacrifice to the earth shrine in her own village if she is believed to have a bad destiny. She may also ask her husband for money to finance sacrifices to spirits that are causing illness to her mother.
It is believed that women can deliberately invoke evil in the quarter n which they have married (igba mmuo) to avenge themselves on any person who has stolen property, used witchcraft, etc., by going to their own village, obtaining some chalk from a powerful shrine such as ojedi (see below), orai, or ogwugwu, and, after setting it up in their own house, asking it to “let this person die who tried to kill me.”
5.2. Rituals Involving the Head Daughter
Adultery Confession As mentioned in Chapter Three, the Daughters of the husband’s lineage are the agents who hear a man’s wife’s adultery confession (iwa okuku: to swear on a chicken). A woman who has been so accused first takes kola nuts and a bottle of gin to the lineage priest of her husband’s family to have him offer to his ritual objects. Then after the Daughters have assembled at the priest’s house, the Head Daughter breaks a kola nut and prays for the spirits of her village to assist them in seeing that the wife conceals nothing. She justifies her acts by saying that she is merely doing as her forefathers and mothers have done. All eat the kola, the accused wife, clad only in a white loin cloth, taking it first.
Next the Head Daughter takes a cock and, holding down the jaw and upper beak, tears the jaw down to the neck. She then gives the cock to the wife who kneels and confesses the names of all her lovers since her betrothal or marriage. It is believed that as soon as she finishes naming her partners, the cock will die. If it does not, the Daughters may permit her to take sand and say “Those I remember and those I forget are as plentiful as the sand”. The cock should then die.
Some of the Daughters of the wife’s own patrilineage will also be present at the confession, but only as witnesses to carry the message to their own family. As noted in Chapter Three, prior to the performance of the confession, some of the senior Daughters of the husband’s lineage will have advised him to refrain from eating his wife’s cooking lest it make him ill. Before the husband, especially an ozo titled man, again eats his wife’s cooking, he will have been cleansed by the rubbing of an egg from the top of his lips to his throat, and a prayer offered that the food prepared by his adulterous wife will no longer harm him.
Dispute Settlement Some of the same ritual elements are used in more general dispute settlement within the lineage, especially in cases of reconciliation, in which a person who has previously been ostracized by the lineage is accepted back as a full member (see Chapter Three). In such a case the Head Daughter presents a container filled with palm wine and pieces of kola nuts to a male elder of the lineage and to all the parties of the dispute and all the lineage Daughters present. After taking the water into their mouths, all spit it out, indicating that the bad words that have passed between them are being thrown out.
Next the Head Daughter brings an egg covered with palm oil, with which all the daughters paint their necks, thus freeing themselves to partake in ceremonial food, without harm to themselves, on occasions when the formerly ostracized person is involved, especially as a food giver, e.g. at the funeral.
Finally, a goat is roasted and distributed among the Daughters, the Head Daughter receiving the largest share. After this, the Daughters are free to perform their rituals for the erring parties. IT is reported that if a man dies who has previously committed an abomination (alu), the lineage priest will have to perform a similar ceremony to enable him to take part in the funeral.
Rituals Involving Deceased Famous Daughters In several of the Onitsha villages, there are shrines to famous Daughters of the localized lineage which are worshipped by the Daughters of the lineage, led by the Head Daughter. One such case involves the generalized grave site of Aze, a “Daughter” of an ancient King, Aroli (or Eze Chima), who obtained great wealth through trade and took the ivory title. The spirit of this woman is associated with a type of millipede (ezu) and when this insect enters the house of a lineage brother or sister, he or she will not kill it, but gently squeeze some chalk (nzu) on it, and lift it outside saying “Aze is a woman who wears ivory” (Aze nwanyi obulu odu).
At ceremonies to this shrine, both the okpala and the Daughters are present, all of the latter sitting together, with the Head Daughter, in the front. She presents kola to the priest of the widest lineage segment who officiates. The women have no other part but to cook, eat and drink.
Another such famous Daughter is Ojedi of Umudei village, who was a wealthy trader, holding many slaves and having purchased ivory and otulaka (used in divining), but bearing no children, following a pattern discussed in Chapter Three. The shrine called by her name is a major alusi for the major Onitsha village of Umudei, and is worshiped by both sons and daughters of that village. During her lifetime she was reported to have been a witch with great magical powers. The area surrounding her shrine is even today regarded as a nighttime meeting place for witches and is greatly feared and avoided at night for this reason. Some implications of this pattern will be discussed below.
Probably all Onitsha villages have some shrines to Daughters which are worshipped by the lineage members, especially but by no means exclusively by the Daughters. Leonard reported that another famous Onitsha woman was “Neghagu of Opikporo”, the daughter of a former chief, who had been “held in great esteem for her power and virtue and who now watches over her people as she reposes in the form of a mud image, in a juju house” (Leonard 1906:417-418).
5.3. Rituals Performed by the Town Mothers
Before discussing the role of women in the annual ceremonial cycle, mention should be made of the important fact that they also meet and decide, with the aid of a diviner, which shrines should be propitiated during times of community shrine signals and external warfare threats. Such sacrifices are spoken of as “quenching the fire.”
Reverend D.C. Crowther (Bishop Crowther’s son) noted in 1907 the intensity of female interest in Onitsha rituals, remarking that the women were “most addicted to idolatrous worship” (1907:176), and “their combination with their priestesses is a formidable barrier to [missionary] break through: they have such a tenacious influence over one another as defied any other power” (176).
Most of the activities of the Town Women revolve about propitiating community-wide shrines near the central town market. In general, the leaders of sacrifices to the major Onitsha shrines should be men, because “women cannot walk where two ends of a house join together”, i.e. there are certain tasks that woman cannot properly perform. However, it is clear that the head of the Town Women is capable of praying and “doing necessary oblations for the communion of souls of the dead predecessors”, and “by the power invested on her by the whole of Onitsha”, blessing participants at community meetings (Awta Age Grade File 11, 1953).
Shrines to be propitiated by the Town Women may also be controlled purely on a village level, and thus administered to by only the Daughters and/or Wives of that village. An example of such a shrine is the Otumoye pond of Umuase Village, where Umuase Daughters and Wives were permitted priority of fishing rights over other Onitsha and non-Onitsha women, and which was occasionally given sacrifice, especially during times of trouble. When this shrine was recently threatened with being drained because of its mosquito infestation, the Daughters resisted, sacrificed to the pond, and left “her” untouched for five years to “mourn her damage”.
It may also be revealed to a woman through recurrent dreams, in which a shrine appears in human form conveying some ritual emblem indicating that a sacrifice is necessary to clear away pollution from a village or community shrine. This is true of shrines directly involving women and also those marginally so. In the latter case, the woman who has the dream will urge the men to do the worshiping. In shrines to which women have more or less equal opportunity to sacrifice, the elder Town Women decide if the pollution is severe enough to require ceremonial purification. It is generally stated by men that women are more ready to purchase the articles of sacrifice then are men because their “motherly feelings” move them to act quickly to avoid any possible suffering to their families from the wrath of a neglected spirit.
The major shrines associated with Onitsha women’s community-orientated worship are ebenebe, uzuzu mgbedemgbe, odigili, obinammili, and ani Onitsha. Onitsha women are regarded as Daughters to the spirits of these shrines, which are believed to have been established by their ancient forbears. The legends surrounding the ebenebe tree are pivotal in various crises of Onitsha history and are interwoven with the putative career of a powerful Onitsha woman named Atagbusi, mentioned at the end of chapter Four. It is believed that Atagbusi once administered an ebenebe shrine — a tree with medicine buried under it – at the entryway demarcating the boundary between the town and the waterside. At “Atagbusi’s Square” (ilo Atagbusi), this woman (who, as mentioned previously, was said to protect the town by metamorphosing into fierce animals such as buffalo) kept not only items for the community sacrifices of women, but also certain war medicines for the whole town. At night, the trees in this square, containing the shrine, were meeting ground for witches in the form of night birds.
It is said, moreover, that at one time Atagbusi, sensing new danger from Europeans, decided to set up another ebenebe shrine at the waterside, in order to stop strangers from coming into the town and destroying the women’s trade. The powers of this shrine have been extended to protection against all dangers coming from outside, including disease and foreign warriors. Atagbusi created the new shrine, it is said, by gathering together all the people of Onitsha near the great riverside market, ordering a large hole to be dug, and then placing food, some leaves, and a sacrificed goat in it. Over it she planted an ebenebe tree similar to that at the square further inland, proclaiming as she did so that when this tree[grew and got leaves, the British government would return to Onitsha. In the 1920s the ebenebe tree was cut down by British government order, and the women dressed in white, as in the case of Otumoye pond, and mourned for the “burial of the tree at nkwo market”. This was done after they had consulted a diviner’s afa which revealed that the shrine would cause harm to Onitsha people unless properly mourned.
The women, then, taking the roles of Daughters to the ebenebe shrine, on this occasion performed to it rituals otherwise only seen at human funerals. For example, they dressed in white, collected many kola nuts and sacrificed a fowl (akuku owa – see Chapter Four) in the normal manner of the Daughters during the burial ceremonies, roasted it until half done, and then distributed it among them. All the women also ate kola and then danced. These ceremonies were performed several times after the tree was felled. It is claimed by Onitsha people that both the laborer who cut down the ebenebe tree and the town clerk who ordered the act done died soon after the tree was felled.
When the land upon which Ilo Atagbusi was situated was sold for commercial interests, the women moved the center of their activities further inland to ilo mgbedemgbe in Ogbendida Village (see Chapter Three) , where they had, according to informants, “long ago buried medicine to prevent disease”. It is here that women today hold their general meetings, presided over by the “oldest woman”, and here that they swear oaths that they have not yet broken rules made by women, e.g. in regard to the market, that they have not poisoned their co-wives or their children, etc. Market women can come here to swear on the shrine that they are not responsible for a death. Here the oldest woman offers prayers to the ghosts of her predecessors for the whole of Onitsha. Like the ebenebe, the mgbedemgbe shrine consists of medicine buried in the ground near a tree. The surroundings are tended and weeded by the head of the Women of Onitsha.
Many of the other shrines associated with women are located in or near the water, in the vicinity of the traditional main market of Onitsha. They, too, are viewed as protecting the town from dangerous foreign influences. Those associated with the water are believed to be able to quench the fires of trouble, and at certain points in the ceremonial cycle (as will be discussed), burning firebrands which symbolize the troubles of the town are thrown into the water and thereby “neutralized”. It is also possible for individual women or men to sacrifice with chalk, white cloth, chicken, or kola to any of these shrines at any time if so advised by a diviner.
There seems to be a tendency for collective female ritual acts to be associated with large bodies of water, but no elaboration of this connection was given by Onitsha informants. As mentioned in Chapter Two, large bodies of water, ponds of water situated in unexpected spots, and streams, running beside established shrines or places of great import, such as the main market, are all regarded as sacred spirits. Among those shrines associated with water, the most important is obi-na-mili (“she who lives in the water”), who is thought to control the river Niger and who has power over all other water spirits prayed to by women. This water spirit may demand, through a diviner, the sacrifice of a goat. There is some variance between informants as to whether individuals sacrifice to this spirit or whether the sacrifice is always performed collectively by the Town Women. Another water spirit is odigili whose shrine is situated near the main market in a whirlpool area of deep water leading to the Niger. Women also sacrifice to olinri (“she eats nri), supposedly a female spirit which takes only female animals for sacrifice. At this spot an evil man from Nri was once drowned. The final major shrine to be discussed with which women are involved, ani Onitsha, is the major earth shrine of the Onitsha community. While women bring white chalk, kola, white cloth and yam to it, the actual sacrifice is made by a man who is the head of the village claiming ownership of the land on which the shrine is located. Since ani Onitsha is the major protective shrine for the Onitsha community, it is appropriate that the women’s rites should relate to it. Women do not, however, [mkh slight change] play a major role in regard to this shrine as they do with others, most of which are primarily sacrificed to by women.
5.4. The Ceremonial Cycle
The major annual religious ceremonies in Onitsha have been examined in detail elsewhere (Henderson 1963, 1972) and will be alluded to only briefly here, emphasizing the role[s] that women have to play in them. The times that they are performed vary to some degree depending on the advice of a diviner.
The Onitsha King proclaims the annual ceremonial cycle, in former times relative to the 28-day lunar month calendar, but currently in terms of the Gregorian calendar. The ceremonies will be briefly discussed here in terms of the latter calendar, taking in account the former one also.
Ifejioku is, according to some sources (Orakwue 1953:76) the last, not the first feast of the year on the former calendar. It could be placed as well at the end of the calendrical year as at the beginning. It looks both behind, at the accumulation of pollutins during the previous year, and ahead, seeking to pursue the coming year in a new, purified condition.
5.4.1. Ifejioku (“serving roasted yam”) (also called osisi-okasi, “boiling cocoyam”)
This ceremony marks both the close of the preceding season of rest and the beginning of the new farming cycle. This ceremony was observed by Taylor in 1858: “Today I could hardly get any person to work, as they have another Moa custom to celebrate called Ojoku (sic). It is a feast made from cocoa-nut (sic, “cocoyam”, i.e. Taro) and yam seeds, to propitiate them to bear well the next season, with thanksgivings to God for the fruits of their past labours…” (Crowther and Taylor 1859:331). Primarily, this is a ceremony to establish the yam spirit in the farmlands of the patrilineage. As pointed out in Chapter Three, the spirit of the yam is antipathetic to women, and the latter are not permitted to sleep on its farmland. Once the occasion is set by the patrilineage priest, sacrifice is performed on a household level.
Early in the day, the householder goes to his farm and cuts a chicken’s toe, spilling the blood over the seed yams which are to be planted and over farming tools, asking for the success of the next harvest. Carrying a few of these seed yams, he returns to his home, and brings forth his ritual objects (chi, ikenga, ofo, ossissi, treasure boxes, etc.). He presents various offerings to them and to the seed yams, including kola nut, palm wine and others, culminating with the presentation to the ritual objects and the seed yams of taro which has been grown, harvested and prepared by the wives of the household.
The role of women during this ceremony consists mainly in preparing and giving such food to the men, rather than in conducting any rituals themselves. Taro, their main agricultural product, is an important part of their husband’s presentation to his ritual objects. Basden notes that a husband should salute the ifejioku saying “Make this woman’s edde (taro) to be big like this (doubling his fists to indicate the size suggested); keep her in health and prosper her and her children that, next year, she may be strong to come and give you more food. Do not allow sickness to visit this house.” (1966:68)
Women are also responsible for washing the kola prior to its presentation to their husband’s ritual objects. The supportive significance of women’s role in agriculture during the planting and growing season is underlined by this ceremony, since ifejioku marks the close of the time when men provide the major foodstuffs (i.e. yams) for household consumption, and the beginning of the time where greater reliance is placed on women’s agricultural products – cocoyam, corn, and cassava. Women as Daughters send kola nuts on this occasion to their lineage priests, asking for prayers for their welfare (igo mmuo). Women also send plates of cocoyam (taro) to male relatives, both lineage and affinal, receiving in return yams delivered on the same plate.
5.4.2. Ajachi (“sacrificing to chi”)
At the peak of the period of hard work and food scarcity in June “months of work” (onwa olu) the King announces the ceremony of ajachi (literally “sacrifice to personal god”) in which all men and women who have a chi shrine ask the god to help them in their endeavors, especially in regard to ensuring that the forthcoming crop will be a good one (Leonard 1906:435).
In the morning the senior wife freshly chalks her husband’s chi, this being the only time in the year that a woman touches a man’s chi. She has previously bought the ingredients for the sacrificial soup. Each husband presents palm wine and kola (brought by his wives in turn) and asks for the gods’ blessings on his family and on each individual wife and her children. Afterwards, the women go with kola nuts to their lineage priests, as in the above-mentioned ceremony, asking for prayers for themselves and their children. When they return to their homes, they make offerings to their own chi, located in their kitchens. Taking kola, they touch all of their ritual objects (see above) and pray for the health of their family, asking all of the spirits of their husband’s and their own village to give them a good year. Next, wine is sprinkled on each object, and finally cooked yam and goat meat are placed on them. Women do not kill a chicken over the objects (excepting the chi) as do the men. But the wife uses the same food for her chi ceremony that she has cooked for use in her husband’s.
During this ceremony, the woman calls her own children to be present and to take part of the food after it has been symbolically offered to her chi. Many of her prayers are concerned with her children’s welfare. A woman will also direct prayers to deceased relatives, especially a husband, father, or brother, to ensure the welfare of her children, saying “Let those of good heart take food, let those of evil go away”. If a woman wanted to give her chi a chicken, she would not kill it but merely “show” it to the shrine and then set it free.
Traditionally on the same day, after the individual chi ceremonies have been performed, the King ordered a human victim to be dragged to all the major village squares of the town, at each of which the head priest of each patrilineage segment would confess the sins of his family and symbolically place them on the victim. The victim was then thrown into the river at the site of the water spirit, olinri.
5.4.3. Umato (“feast of new corn”)
The feast of umato is generally performed in July and extends throughout most of the month, the celebrations occurring in households in order of prestige-rank in the society. Thus the King begins, by feasting the chiefs and then the commoners with “corn food” (nni oka). Soon after, the heads of the royal patrilineage perform the feast, inviting their subjects, and next the senior chiefs redistribute food to junior chiefs in their villages. Finally the ozo men of a village perform the festival.
During this ceremony, each highly-ranked person emphasizes his responsibilities toward those of lesser rank and their dependence on him. Ordinary women, whether Mother of the Masquerade or wearers of ivory, do not perform this ceremony although it is highly probably that the Queen and her female councilors did so in the past.
Prior to the ceremony in any given house, the head Daughter may be asked to perform a “cooling of the house” (iju uno) if it is believed that some pollution has occurred. Other than this, the only specific ceremony that women perform at this time occurs on the last oye day of the umuato festival. All women are prohibited by the Town Women from going to market. Instead, they throw ogili leaves under the storage areas in their kitchens and then sweep out the area [which?], thus celebrating the end of the period of hunger.
5.4.4. Owuwaji (“Splitting yam”, “New Yam Festival”)
This ritual, occurring at the time of the yam harvest, marks the peak of the ceremonial cycle, and is much more elaborate than any of the other ceremonies in terms of the ordering of villages in which the ceremony may be performed, and in the distribution of foodstuffs. The legend behind the ceremony relates that when yams were first introduced into Onitsha, it was feared that they would be harmful to eat, and, consequently, they were given to the lowest-ranked non-royal villages first and the royals last, culminating in their presentation to the King.
The ritual eating of the yam is supervised by the ubulu-na-ikem clan, who are renown as diviners and charged with making medicine to render the yams safe for consumption. Prior to the partaking of the new yam by the patrilineage priests of the royal clans, the King goes into seclusion and “dreams”, i.e. has communion with the major spirits of Onitsha and with the dead, attesting to his innocence of their deaths. The seclusion of the King is ended with his triumphant annual public appearance before the Onitsha community, the ofala, or “emergence”.7 At this time, the King’s subjects come to the outer courtyard of his palace and rejoice that he has lived for another year.
The Queen and her councilors are also present at the annual emergence as are the chiefs, ozo titled men, Town Women and most other citizens. Although the Daughters of the King dance in resplendent clothing, the wives of the King must remain in seclusion (see Chapter Four). Formerly, men and women entered the King’s courtyard by different gates and sat on opposite sides. As noted in Chapter Four, the Queen then held her own ofala after that of the King, though it largely involved the members of her own clan rather than the whole of Onitsha. After the ofala ceremony, the priests of the royal patrilineage are permitted to eat the new yam, and after them, the King himself eats. (See ikelebeji below).
The basic ceremonial pattern of the owaji feast remains the same regardless of the village it is being performed in, royal or non-royal. The Head Daughter has a prominent role to play in the rites preceding the feast. It is her ritual duty and prerogative to go to all of the houses in the patrilineage segment, starting with that of the senior priest, then the ozo titled men, and finally, the commoners, to “quiet the house” (iju-uno). Prior to her arrival, the titled men have placed their titled staves and treasure boxes outside their houses until the time of ritual purification.
The ceremony of purification, or “quiet the house” (iju uno), is similar to that conducted by the Head Daughter whenever a defilement has occurred, although in this case it is more elaborate. The Head Daughter arrives, carrying a chicken in her right hand and a snail shell in her left. She also brings salt, palm oil, and “head fish” (azu isi), which she gives to the head of the house or his wife in return for yams, and which will be used in cooking the feast for the day. Proceeding into the house, she beats the live chicken against the walls, saying “let all evils be cleared away; let there be purity in the house; let there be wealth in the house; let there be children in the house; let there be health; let there be no sin; clear away sickness”.
The purpose of beating the chicken against the walls is to clear away the “heat” of past “forbidden acts” (nso); the same is true of the snail shell which has a cooling effect. Prior to this ceremony, all males must leave the house, as discussed earlier under quarrel settlement, there are dangers present which only Daughters have the power to nullify. The chicken used in the ceremony, provided by the householder, is not eaten.
After this purification, a feast is prepared, and sacrifices are made to the ritual objects which have been moved back into the house. Only the senior wife can prepare the yard for this feast. A wing of a sacrificed cock is sent to the senior patrilineage priest as an annual tribute.
Several facts should be noted about the activities of women during owaji festival. Women are the members of the community who move about the most during this time, going back to their own patrilineage segments, carrying kola nuts to the priest in return for prayers on their behalf. If a man wishes, he may, at this time, send yams to Daughters of his family. A woman may also sacrifice to her own ritual objects during owaji, especially to the shrines representing her mother and father, and to her chi. During the owaji festival cycle, a man may sacrifice a chicken to the oma shrines of his mother and send the wing to the head priest of her patrilineage as tribute. A Daughter’s child (nwadiani) will also travel to the homes of his mother’s patrilineage priest during the latter’s owaji ceremony, partake of the food and drink, and receive blessings.
Several other ceremonies occur around the time of the owaji cycle: ogbalido, itu ukpukpu, osisi-ite, and ikelebeji.
Ogbalido, performed by those men who have traditionally taken a human life or killed one of the most feared animals (such as the leopard), involved [involves?] sacrifice to the ikenga. Women have no role in this ceremony. The rites celebrate the number of victims, human and animal, killed by men during the year (Leonard 1906:437).
Itu Ukpukpu This ceremony occurs after the ofala ceremony and symbolizes the mourning of the dead themselves. All ritual objects representing the dead are brought outside the house for four days (the length of the Ibo week) and are replaced with three sticks of firewood marked with chalk to “represent the mourning fires kept for the dead” (Henderson 1972). At the end of the four days, the Head Daughter of the patrilineage segment removes the pieces of wood and again purifies the house (iju uno) with a live chicken, as in owaji. The objects representing the dead are then returned to their usual place and preparation is made for the ceremony of ikelebeji, when the King eats newly pounded yams for the first time while other members of the community can only eat them roasted.
Osisi-ite Another important ceremony after the owaji and ofala festivals is osisi-ite, which marks the end of the farming and harvest period and the beginning of the “months of play” (onwu efulefu, literally “months of irresponsibility” as opposed to the preceding months of work, onwu olu). On this day the betrothed girls go to their prospective husbands’ homes, carrying pots which had been brought to them full of palm wine during the betrothal ceremonies. They remain there for four days, doing household chores, but abstaining from sexual intercourse.
During the afternoons of the four-day period, the girls gather at the central women’s square, mgbedemme, to sing, dance, and be chased by youthful masquerades. Their songs are frequently ones of derision, directed at girls who are not yet betrothed. At the conclusion of this period, the betrothed girl is escorted home by brothers of her fiancé to protect her from the masquerades.
On the actual day of osisi-ite, cocoyam (taro), prepared the night before by a man’s wives, mixed with a special vegetable (ule and bitter seeds) is used for the feast. Prior to the ceremony, the Head Daughter again purifies the house (iju uno) but receives on this occasion not yams, but cocoyams (akasi),. This use of the woman’s crop, in place of the male crop of yam, underlines the importance of female crops in the coming months. Wives may on this occasion prepare the cocoyam jointly, in contrast to their usual pattern of separate cooking pots.
Sacrifice is then performed by the householder over his ritual objects, and cocoyam food is offered to them. This feast is attended mainly by people of the same village, and is a jolly, somewhat informal time. Wives may prepare large quantities of cocoyam and send some to their parents and to their husband’s parents.
Iru Ani, “to venerate the land” This ceremony occurs at the end of the period of penance performed by the King and after the ofala ceremonies. It is an annual sacrifice to the Onitsha land shrine (ani Onitsha) by the King, who is represented by a virgin boy who goes to the bank of the River Niger accompanied by members of the royal family. At this annual sacrifice to the Onitsha land shrine, the virgin boy goes first to the shrine with chalk and kola, then he and his party go to the bank of the River Niger, dip their feet in the river, and are thus ritually purified.
Traditionally accompanying the royal party were men beating the royal drum[s] and youths, with whips, to beat anyone who dared to attend the market on this day. Traditionally, it appears that this ceremony often included human sacrifice to clear the town of all pollution, with the victim being dragged through the town, while the populace prayed that their sins would be expiated by the sacrifice (Basden 1966:69). Eventually the victim was cast into the river. [already says River Niger above]
Osekwulo The final ceremony of the year, occurring in December or January, is also a symbolic casting away of the evils from the town. It is referred to variously as osekwulo or ichu aja obodo, the latter being a more general term meaning “sacrifice to drive away (evil) from the town”. However, women may perform such ceremonies to drive away evil from the town on any eke day, especially during the dry season, directed by a diviner.
The dry season, especially in December, January, and February, is regarded as a time of disease, and it is believed that sickness is caused either by the failure of major spirits to protect the people because the spirits feel neglected, or because the spirits are offended by the abominations that have been committed in the town during the year. Hence, there is an annual ceremony of driving away evil from the town in which the Town Mothers are the principal actors. After consultation with a diviner as to what shrines have been especially offended, the women inform the king of their plans for the ceremony. The ceremony then proceeds in several stages. First the women, in their separate marital villages, take pieces of fire wood, carry them around their houses, then into the town square, and hence to the boundaries of the village, where they are deposited. This event was witnessed by Taylor in 1857:
Today the inhabitants of this town kept their new year’s day. Every family [brought] a firebrand out into the public streets, and threw them there; returned, and exclaimed as they went along, “Osokura! Osokura!” Aro onoru o puta o!” “The gods of the new year! New year has come around again!” The meaning of this custom seems to be that the fire is to drive away the old year, with its sorrows and evils, and to embrace the new year with hearty receptions. (Crowther and Taylor 1859:32
Basden describes the same event, referring to it as oso ekwulu:
The people foregather in their own villages at a stated time. Each person carries a firebrand. When all are assembled, the cleansing ceremony is conducted and then. With much noise, and no little excitement, the mob moves to a prescribed spot where the firebrands are cast away. (1966:51).
After this part of the ceremony has been completed, the women assemble at the King’s palace, accompanied by some men. In cases involving large sacrifices to waterside spirits, the King and Chiefs may make contributions. From the palace, the group proceeds to the waterside, brandishing fire-brands which are eventually thrown into the Niger River (Basden 1966:61). This part of the ceremony was probably witnessed by Taylor in January of 1864:
Sacrifices of all kinds were offered, and borne by the women to the river Niger. Two dozen and upward passed our gate, with whips in their hands, beating the air, and wailing along in a doleful strain…’Nne of buro ibe a yin dse na Oru na Abo’…’Mother, it is not at our place: go to Igara and Abo’ [send the disease there] (1865:146).
At this time, the King may also send his representatives to make sacrifices of chalk, kola, and firewood to the river. Examining this ceremony more closely, it will be noted that along with the sticks that are cast into the river, there is also a bundle of medicine, prepared by a diviner, that is carried and eventually thrown into the water by the head of the Town Women. The idea appears to be that the water will quench the fire, that is, the misfortunes and antagonisms of the town.
The women proceed first to the land shrine of Onitsha where, if they wish to make a sacrifice, they must have in attendance a man from the village on whose land the shrine is situated. While the older women sit at the land shrine, the more able of the elderly ones proceed on to the other waterside shrines such as ebenebe, olinri, odigili etc. Accounts vary as to whether the sacrifice to the river shrine obi-na-mili (see above) occurs on the same day as that to the lands shrine, or whether if occurs a week or so later. It is possible that it, like ogwugwu, is only sacrificed to when specifically required by a diviner.
Sacrifice to obi-na-mili entails either the casting of half-burnt sticks into the river or the depositing of them on the banks. During a meeting of the Town Women in 1954, it was declared that obi-na-mili had complained that she was “blinded” by the burnt sticks. During this meeting, the necessity of “feeding” the spirit was discussed as well as the material required for doing so. The head of the women then proclaimed on what day the sacrifice should be performed. On some occasions a goat, cock, white cloth, and kola are offered to obi-na-mili, or even a cow, if a diviner says that the shrine demands it. For sacrifices involving the killing of animals, such as goats and cows, the Ruling Age Set will assist the women. During their visits to the various shrines, the women ask the spirits for children, health, and for evil to stay away from the town. On their way back to their own villages, each group of women sings their own village songs, and does not speak to anyone passing by. On this day, no Onitsha women are permitted to trade in the market, lest they be fined, or, at worst, excommunicated from the company of all other Onitsha women. After the ceremony to the major waterside spirits, if so advised by the diviner, a date may be set for a sacrifice to an ogwugwu shrine near the town’s boundaries with Nkpor town. This ceremony is also classed as ichu aja. First, the women gather at the general women’s square (ilo mgbedemne) and from there proceed toward the shrine carrying a tattered mat, pieces of burning wood, and medicines made by the diviner, all of which are thrown in the bush near the ogwugwu shrine. On their way, the women call out “drive evil toward the Ibo” (Ichu aja nuzo Igbo), i.e. away from Onitsha.
These ceremonies, in which women are the primary actors in driving misfortune away from the town, may be viewed as an appropriate ending to the calendrical cycle, clearing away of the old troubles before the advent of the new year.
5.5. Negative Aspects of Women’s Ritual Power
It can be seen then that women have important roles concerned with driving evil away from the town, and in purifying houses of their accumulated abominations. Women, themselves, however, are often believed to be the causes of dire misfortunes, both in their own villages and in the wider community. As mentioned in Chapter I, three major forms of supernatural attackare distinguished in Onitsha: amuosu, limited to women, roughly corresponding to Evans-Pritchard’s definition of witchcraft; ogboma, limited to men, and considered the most benign of the three; and ikunsi (literally “to hit with poison”), which may be glossed as “sorcery”. For purposes of clarity and generalization these English translations will be used for the native terms amosu and ikunsi. This is not meant to imply, however, exact correspondence with European connotations of these words. Indeed, no English equivalent was found suitable for any of them.
5.5.1 amuosu (witchcraft)
In Onitsha, as in much of West Africa, a witch is a person who metamorphoses, flies through the air, and kills persons by devouring the internal organs of the victims, or “sucking their lives”. The spirit double eats the “vital principal” of the victim while the witch’s material body remains at home sleeping (c.f. Talbot 1926:200). In Onitsha, the witch is always a woman, and she is blamed for causing wasting diseases, madness, miscarriage, sterility and death, especially death of children. Witches are believed to take their victims to the top of tall iroko trees and eat them, the victim dying after his heart is consumed. It is in such tall trees located near the town markets or near shrines to famous women such as Atagbusi and Ojedi that the “society of witches” (otu amosu) meets in the form of night birds, particularly owls.
In order to be initiated into this society, a woman must contribute the “soul substance” of a son, daughter, or other close relative. But it is felt that women do not perform acts of witchcraft consciously, i.e., it is said, “It is not in their eyes” (oburu anya fa). Thus a woman whose only hope is her son or daughter will not be aware that she is offering him or her to her fellow witches. There have been recorded cases of women asking a native doctor for medicines to protect them from witches, only to be warned by him that they, themselves, are witches and likely to be harmed by the medicine (Onitsha Native Court, 1939). It is believed, however, that some old women, out of malice, intentionally, out of malice, intentionally go to the society of witches to be initiated (Leonard 1907:302).
Nothing about an individual’s appearance that betrays the fact that she is a witch, but at death, her body may swell. The powers of the witch are not inherited, but mothers put medicines “consisting of vegetable and poisonous powder” (ibid.) into their daughter’s food to make them witches. Marriages into families where women have been suspected of witchcraft tend to be avoided.
18.104.22.168 The Daughter as Witch
The problem of who is accused of being a witch is of concern in regard to the topic of the roles of women in religion. We regard witchcraft (as stated in Chapter One) as part of religion, having to do with supernatural powers that are either contrary to the basic values of society, constituting a theory of evil, or which directly reinforce basic values by punishing persons whose behavior falls outside the accepted moral code. In Onitsha, witchcraft constitutes a theory of evil rather than a form of retribution against those who break society’s norms, since the victims of the witch are most often thought to be innocent persons, notably children. Contrary to what might be expected theoretically, a woman in the role of Daughter may use “uncontrolled mystical influence” against members of her own patrilineage, as well as using it in her role as wife, against her children and husband (Leach 1961:23).
The Daughter, though she lives in her husband’s village, still retains rights and powers in her own patrilineage, having of course blood relations to its members, and is a frequent visitor there. It is believed that a Daughter may be more likely to use her witchcraft powers against her brother and his family rather than her husband’s, since in the latter case her husband’s family will send her back to her own people. (But it is also held that a woman may first kill her own children and then those of her brothers and sisters). Her own family has more limited options in regard to ridding themselves of her.
If, however, a woman is accused of witchcraft by the family into which she has married, she will usually be defended by her brother, since such an accusation is a stigma against her own natal family. When men speak about their sisters and witchcraft, they frequently say that the sister is more likely to attack the brother if she has quarreled with him. As Middleton and Tait have suggested, it is often believed that a woman need merely wish to harm her victims, or feel annoyance with him, for her evil psychic powers to be activated.
The difference between the Daughter and wife as witches are further elaborated in the statement of an Onitsha informant that a wife and husband are “strange” to one another, while a brother and sister share the same blood. Various Onitsha proverbs support this interpretation. For example, it is said “An animal cannot have sexual relations with another animal (of a different species)” (anu adagba anu ozo), meaning that a person from another village cannot harm you because you do not have close relations with him, and “if one of the house doesn’t kill you (i.e. one’s immediate brother or sister), you will live long with grey hair” (onye uno egbu onye isi achanya awo). Also, “the rat in the house tells the rat in the bush that the fish is in the covered basket” (oke nno nuno gwalu oke di nofia na azu de na ngiga), i.e. without your immediate relatives handing you over to the witches, you will not be killed. In a case in the Onitsha native court in 1910, the female defendant admitted to killing her brother, but said that she did not know what she was doing. She was also accused of killing her co-wives’ children. Her own family, believing her guilty, did not come to her defense.
It is important to note that the rites that women conduct in their own patrilineages are primarily “piacular” in the Durkheimian sense, in that they involve prurification after some unhole act has been committed, and symbolize the daughter’s rights in the house of their brothers, and their control over their brother’s wives. Sisters frequently dominate wives, hence it is not surprising that wives who feel they are oppressed will begin village gossip about the husband’s sisters, who can, it is believed, kill the wife’s children by witchcraft because of their descent tie to the husband. Of course this situation is exacerbated when the sister is divorced or widowed and living in or near her brother’s compound.
Although this dissertation has not focused on psychological interpretations of social phenomena, it may be mentioned that it is also credible that certain anxieties would exist in the brother-sister relationship. As seen in Chapter Three, the relationship is a close one, and in infancy the children play together as equals until each are pulled into their separate sex role activities. There is some evidence that erotic attachments between sister and brother remain strong, however, as seen in the proverb indicating that “when sister comes, lovers go away”, and in the popular opinion that sisters ordinarily display great jealousy against their brothers’ intended wives and their brothers’ lovers. Prohibitions against incest are strong, however, and it is said that “the touch of the sibling stings”.
5.1.2. The Wife/Mother as Witch
Although sisters are believed likely to be witches, the majority of court cases since the beginning of this century, and the majority of reported sasswood trials, have been held against women in their roles as wives, rather than as members of a patrilineage. Old barren women are highly suspect, for they are believed to be envious of those with children. This is especially so if these women are also wealthy. For example, in the Onitsha-related town of Oguta the town shrine which protects witches is said to have been given the blood of the wealthiest old woman of the town mixed with medicines. Elderly widows are especially vulnerable, and one may be asked to leave her husband’s compound if young children begin to die there. Elderly women who are active traders in the markets are often thought to be witches, and hence it is appropriate that the most frequent sites of alleged gathering places for the society of witches at night are in trees near the market where the women gather by day in their roles as traders.
As discussed in Chapter Three, there often tends to be a correlation between barrenness and success in trading; thus both facts reinforce the belief that the successful trader is a witch. The shrines to famous women, such as Atagbusi and Ojedi, are also meeting spots for witches. Interestingly, these women who at certain times protected the community and to whose shrines one may appeal for children, are also associated with the child-killing witches.
Mothers and grandmothers are frequently accused of using evil supernatural powers against their own children, grandchildren, or co-wives’ children. They are also believed to be able to make their daughters-in-law barren and their sons sterile. Often, according to Onitsha court case records, the original accusation is made, not by the husband or child of the woman, but by some other party, frequently a co-wife. At times, a woman confesses her witchcraft activities but tries to implicate other women by saying that they came to her in a dream and offered her human meat.
Young women may also be accused of being witches, though to a less frequent degree than older women. For example, when a woman has no children, she may go to a diviner, who, through use of afa, will tell her that her co-wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, or members of her own family, are causing the trouble. A man may send his wife away if her mother is accused of being a witch, because he and his other wives fear that she has the same powers as her mother. He may, however, use alleged adultery as the public reason for his dismissal of his wife (Weischoff 1941:307). A young woman so accused will be unlikely to remarry, but may remain living in her brother’s compound for the rest of her life. If, however, deaths which are deemed out of the natural order occur in that compound, she may be driven out of the town or required to take the sasswood ordeal (Weischoff 1941:308).
A man’s mother, while herself open to accusations of being a witch, may also suggest to her son that one of his wives whom she dislikes is a member of that society. The husband may then require his wife to swear her innocence. When a woman is suspected of being a witch, or when her mother has been so accused, her co-wives will refuse to eat food she cooks, and they will warn their children not to eat it lest they be poisoned or become witches themselves.
As seen in Chapter Three, the co-wife relationship is often fraught with tension, each wife wishing to further the advantages of her own children and jealous of any wife who is richer than she. She knows that her security in old age depends on having a son to care for her and she wants him to be stronger than his half-brothers. Although disputes are not common between co-wives, there are certain types of aggression which cannot be openly expressed, and these concern any invidious reference to children. One cannot say “our husband gives you favors because you have many children”, because the act of “counting” another’s children implies that one is “looking for their lives” (see Chapter Three).
Wealthy women, then, are doubly suspect, because they both tend to have few children and do not share their wealth with co-wives and the co-wives’ children. A woman with only one child who is, for example , the senior son, will almost certainly be fearful lest others hope to end her secure position; the other wives, with numerous children, may suspect this women, wondering why she has only one child, and he, though senior, a sickly one.
These doubts and aggressions find more circuitous expression though underground rumors in the village. Meanwhile none of the women involved will permit their children to eat from the others’ bowls, for each fears the other is feeding her children medicines to give them her evil power. Women will also go to native doctors to inquire probingly about barrenness or the death of children.
It is significant that witchcraft is thought to be passed intentionally by women as wives, as opposed to women as Daughters. That is, there are no accounts that I know of a sister deliberately feeding witchcraft powers to the child of her brother, though there are numerous cases of her being feared as liable to kill such a child. Clearly, the belief that witches “feed” medicine to their female children to give them supernatural powers strongly implies volitional activity.
A few words may be said about the reasons why sons may believe their mothers to be witches. Messenger has related this phenomenon to the resentment men feel against their wives’ independence. Furthermore, Messenger thinks such beliefs indicate that men believe that the power women have gained at their expense is purely through supernatural means (1953:107). Men do not, however, accuse their wives who are of child-bearing age ofwitchcraft as frequently as they do older women who are not immediately essential for the maintenance of the family (ibid.). They cannot accuse unrelated women without admitting that they have been having illicit sexual dealings with them. The old women, for their part, may or may not believe themselves to be witches, but they are thought by the more youthful members of the society to be envious of the young and to wish them ill.
Men chronically fear that their mothers will make them impotent, and this is a short step away from believing that they are witches, since if a woman can “eat” her son’s “child-seed”, she can also eat his children. Though a son will rarely initiate an accusation against his mother, those who gossip such accusation – his wives, for example, who may well be living under the dominance of the mother-in-law – may find him willing to suspect her.
On a psychological level, a male belief in the evil supernatural powers of women can be related to a reaction against male identification with women. Stephens, who has written on the subject, might carry this inference further and say that the long post-partum sex taboo in Onitsha, having accentuated the son’s sexual attraction to his mother, intensifies Oedipal anxieties which are reinforced through threats of castration by the masquerade society. Such factors make latent homosexuality more likely and, in turn, foster paranoid delusions of persecution (Stephens 1962).
This dissertation, however, is concerned primarily with the relations of religion to social structure, not religion to individual psychology, and hence this particular line of explanation will not be further explored here. It is likely, however, that motivating factors behind the linkage between son’s impotence and mother’s witchcraft lie in this direction.
22.214.171.124. Punishment of Witches
Witches are identified by male diviners using afa, who are told the names of the suspects by the victim or relatives of the victim. When the gossip about a major woman mounts, and the matter becomes a major problem to the men of the village, age sets and masquerades may demand that the woman be “tried” by sasswood ordeal at the King’s palace.
Before the matter reaches such a stage, it may have been brought to the chief of the village for discussion, to see if the charge has merit. If the accuser still maintains that the woman is a witch, the parties will go to the King’s court where the accused will take the sasswood, mixed with water.
The sasswood ordeal is the sole property of the King, no one else being permitted to administer it. If the alleged witch does not die soon after drinking the poisonous mixture, she will paint herself with white chalk, symbolizing her moral purity, and celebrate her innocence, ridiculing those who accused her. Furthermore, the King will require the accuser to pay a fine to the wronged party, to “wash him from his accusations” (owelu ego we nwanya aro).
Before the turn of the century, numerous sasswood trials were observed by Europeans and generally involved women, who were still living in their husband’s villages. In 1865, the missionaries reported that a woman’s sons wanted their mother to take the sasswood ordeal, since the sickness of the eldest son’s child had been attributed to the grandmother by a diviner. The daughters of the woman cried, and the sons “paid the king cowries for the draught”. In the evening, the woman’s head was shaved and she received her last dinner (Taylor 1865:147). In 1873 twenty elderly women were accused of being witches and having brought small-pox to the town. In order to prove their innocence, they were given the sasswood mixture (Erythrophleum suaveolens or guineense). Half of them died, thus proving their guilt (Crowther 1874:154).
Women generally agreed willingly to take the ordeal, and refused the missionaries’ appeals to come and reside near the church compound, since they preferred death to association with such a scandal and the loss of all right to “intercourse with everybody” (Strong 1884-1893: Aug. 31, 1888). This was especially so if the accused woman’s children agreed to give her an “honorable” lamentation, i.e. to kill cows and make a big dance”, and if their mother lived, they would dance triumphantly against her enemies (Strong 1884-1893: Feb. 4-10, 1889).
It should be noted, in regard to the degree of control that a woman’s marital village has over her, that women from outside Onitsha could not be given the sasswood ordeal without the consent of their own townspeople. It is very likely that no Onitsha woman could be given the drink if her own relatives strongly objected and offered to take her back to their village if she, herself, refused to be subjected to the ordeal. Banishment by the masquerade to the waterside area was the other avenue open to an accused witch. However, as shown above, many women voluntarily underwent the sasswood trial, believing themselves innocent, or, if guilty without their knowledge, better off dead.
If a person suffers misfortune and either does not know who is supernaturally attacking him or does not wish to make a formal accusation, he can, with the aid of a diviners, leave a sacrifice in the road to placate his tormentors. This sacrifice (aja ndiuchichi, “sacrifice to the people of the night”) generally consists of two hollowed-out shafts of plantain, plus some kola nuts, palm oil, and yam. Two shafts are used, since it is said that you never know who will be troubling you, the people on your mother’s side (represented by the left-hand shaft) or the people of your father’s side (represented by the right-hand shaft). After placing the sacrifice, the victim says “Those who are against me, let them eat this instead of harming me”.
5.6. Forms of Supernatural Attack by Men
5.6.1. Ogboma Another category of supernatural attack in Onitsha is that referred to as ogboma, sometimes translated by Onitsha people as “wizard”. However, the English translation is of no use in differentiating this category from that of ikunsi or sorcery (see below) and therefore will not be used. Ogboma refers to men who have the ability to transform themselves into fiery white beings that appear at night to frighten wayward kinsmen, especially sons. Their shape is said to be similar to that of the Tall Ghost (see Chapters Three and Four). There is variance between informants as to whether a man deliberately acquires the skills of the ogboma from a native doctor or whether instead they are inherited or passed on through the male or female line.
There are also two sides to the behavior of the ogboma. Some speak of them as almost the male equivalent of the female witch, who may cause the death of those they are angry with. It seems, however, that the more common belief is that ogboma are rather harmless, using their skills to protect the household and maintain paternal authority, and [are] not evil as is the witch. Ogboma have an aura of justified parental authority about them which may, nonetheless, get out of hand, and be used for strictly anti-social purposes.
5.6.2. Sorcery (Ikunsi)
Another form of supernatural attack is sorcery (ikunsi). The powers involved are obtained by a man individually from a native doctor and used by anyone who comes in his way. A person who already has the powers of an ogboma, may, of course, acquire these additional weapons, thus leading to some confusion between the two categories.
A most revealing description of a sorcerer occurs in a passage rom a novel by a strongly tradition-oriented Onitsha man. The Onitsha-born hero has arrived at the hospital deathbed of an elderly Onitsha man, whose adult son and daughter are also present. As they enter the room, they hear the dying man’s ravings:
Akbata, the old man now only a skin-covered skeleton, was muttering to himself. Soon his words became clear.
“Ha-ha-ha!” He made these sounds in an attempt to laugh. “Didn’t Emena say he was strong and wise? Did he not say he was powerful?… Yet he could not survive the simple test to which I put him…He could neither stop my magic arrow from entering his side or wrestle with it for long…Or is it Ikebundi, that man who was so proud after taking the ozo-title?…He has only breathed the air, which I set in motion with my leathern fan…and that sent him to his death two days later… Where is Oduanu?” he asked, and stared at Miriam his daughter long, without blinking. “Yes, it was you, Miriam… It was you that he beat. In revenge I touched him with my fan and that alone sent him to his grave”. “Ben”, he called, addressing his son. “You want to kill me, eh? You are too young; besides, you have no weapons”. (Nzekwu, Onuora, 1961:51).
All chiefs, titled men, and, of course, the King, are believed to use sorcery against competitors in the struggle for status and political power. When chiefs dance together in festivals, they are firing their magical, intrusive darts at one another, waving their medicine-packed ceremonial fans and horsetails at one another, and it is very dangerous for bystanders to remain close by. Sorcery is used for protection and attack in the realm of masculine achievement, and its practitioners are regarded with fear. However, it is a valid part of the prominent man’s aura of power, so long as it is used outside the lineage. But secondly, these old men may also use it to “suck the life” from their juniors, and even from their sons. By doing so, they upset the ascriptive patterns of seniority in birth and in death which the lineage demands; that is, they live on while the junior men who are to succeed them die. Informants have related how a famous sorcerer, an Onitsha chief in the 1940s, gave the most important members of his family to the “witches” (Messenger 1953:25).
If a man is accused by a member of his patrilineage of killing or making sick another member, he may be asked to swear his innocence on the village land shrine, or drink water that the invalid or corpse’s body has been washed in. No man could be forced to do either of these things, however. Messenger, quoting an Onitsha man, says that if a virtuous woman (an “aunt” in the case cited) confronts a sorcerer and lists the acts that she knows he has performed, his power will turn inward and destroy him (1953:36). It is also believed that when a sorcerer dies, the bad spirits that have been inside him fly out, and the ghosts of those he has killed force him to make a confession such as the one quoted from the Nzekwu book. [Editors’ note:] for more on the story told by Nzekwu, see this link in our current volume: Onuora Nzekwu’s Vision
After death, it is said that their bodies swell (or undergo other unusual changes) as an indication of their former abominable deeds. Several accounts concerning the activities of witches in Onitsha have stated that to kill her victim, the witch needs the help of a male “wizard”. Leonard wrote, “they are all the same incapable of executing their designs without the assistance of the male sex…” (1907:491) and Meek also found that a “witch cannot kill anyone outright unless she is assisted by a wizard” who kills his victim with his bow (1937:83). The mention of the use of the bow leads us to infer that he is speaking of the practitioners of ikunsi as opposed to the ogbama, who achieve their ends more by startling and frightening their victims. None of our informants, however, stated that men were in any way related to witches. The contrast was drawn, however, between the fact that witches have a society, while the practitioners of ikunsi operate singly. Whether or not there is a connection between the weapons used in ikunsi by men and the killing of a witch’s victims in Onitsha cannot be settled at the present time. I tend to believe, however, that contrary to the above accounts, in general Onitsha witches are believed to be able to kill without the aid of male weaponry, as, for example, in the numerous cases recounted of the victim dying when the heart was eaten, not pierced with a bow.
5.7. Summary: The Significance of Autonomous Ritual Activities of Women
This chapter has attempted to answer the question posed in Chapter Two: What autonous religious activities are available to Onitsha women? Intially it was noted that women can break kola nuts in the presence of men and offer prayer, although the circumstances producing such a situation are limited. Women are viewed in the social context of kola-breaking primarily in terms of their kinship roles, and only secondarily in terms of their sex. Achievement criteria, such as ozo title attainment, tend to supercede both sex and kinship. That women are able to pray with kola indicates that they can call on the High God just as men can. Women are also able to pray to the spirits, as is shown by the fact that the Town Women propitiate major shrines for the welfare of the community, while the Daughters of the lineage worship village ones.
5.7.2. Ownership and Propitiation of Shrines
Women are able to own most of the religious objects that are available to an untitled man, with the important exception of ofo which is held only by a male household head and symbolizes righteous paternal power (Chapter Two). However, the Head Daughter is given an ofo for her limited use in the conducting of purificatory ceremonies for the lineage (see Chapter Three).
Women possess chi, signifying their independent personal destiny, and can worship it when they like, independent of men. Although they do not obtain the objectification of chi until marriage or childbirth, they retain it after the death of their husbands. The question of whether women owned ikenga prior to recent times cannot be definitely established, though some evidence indicates that they did, especially those women who gained great wealth in the very early days of the Colonial period.
Women may become native doctors, i.e. herbalists, midwives, or diviners, either through inheriting the power from their parents or by experiencing a “calling” from the spirit, agwu, and then establishing a shrine to it.
A senior daughter is able to bring into her house shrines representing her father and mother, and thus “incorporate’ them, re-establishing the deceased in the family. A woman may also establish shrines for her deceased uterine senior sisters, her mother’s sisters and her maternal grandmother. A man has shrines not only to ancestral fathers, but to ancestral mothers. Further, he establishes shrines to the deceased Daughters of the patrilineage. All of these shrines are propitiated, both at the advice of a diviner and at regular periods during the ceremonial cycle. Although, for example, a woman’s shrine to her father is initially consecrated by the woman’s lineage priest, and that to her mother by the Head Daughter of the mother’s lineage, once these have been established, a woman may sacrifice to these objects at any time without going through men.
Shrines to women not only indicate kinship domains in which exogamy is demanded, but also serve as the avenue of propitiation of wrathful female ancestral spirits. It is believed that the spirits of deceased mothers and other maternal relatives can cause disease, sterility and death, and can make one equally as ill as those of paternal relatives. Spirits from the mother’s side can trouble a person even when the mother is still alive; the same is true for those on the father’s side.
It is believed that when the ghost of a deceased person of either sex reincarnates, it brings with it the ties to shrines that it had during its former existence. Thus people look for signs of the former identity of a ghost reborn in a new child, in order to discover what shrines may be troubling him or her.
These data are important, for they tend to refute those theories that view ritual sacrifice to ancestral shrines as primarily a dependent function of “holder-heir” situations (see discussion of Jack Goody’s arguments in Chapter One). It will be recalled that Jack Goody attributed the extreme rarity of sacrifices to maternal ancestors among the patrilineal LoWilli to the fact that maternal kinsmen are not a source of heritable wealth and therefore are not a source of anxiety. Such a view of ancestor worship makes sense in terms of Goody’s materialism and his highly pragmatic definition of religion as the propitiation of non-human agencies on a human model, but it does not account for the Onitsha case. In Onitsha, maternal ancestors are regularly propitiated although significant wealth is not inherited through women.
Such worship must be regarded, on the one hand, as a coherent part of a much broader system of value and belief that grants broad similarity between men and women. On the other hand, it must be seen in light of the essentially moral relationship of a man or woman to his mother’s people. This view of religious beliefs accords with the definition of religion developed in Chapter One. Not only do individuals worship maternally-related shrines as well as paternally-related ones, but some important Onitsha shrines derive from women, as, for example, when an ogwugwu shrine brought by a woman to her marital home becomes renowned for its powers and eventually is incorporated in the ritual the rituals of the husband’s patrilineage. A woman may also invoke a famous shrine of her own village to take revenge on her enemies, by merely praying to a piece of chalk taken from that shrine.
Women are viewed as prophets, and are believed to have a special affinity with the spirits in their sensitivity to the latter’s desire for sacrifice, the wishes of the spirit being revealed to women in their dreams. Women are regarded as especially eager to have the shrines propitiated in order to protect their families. It is recognized by men that women’s prophetic sensitivity performs an indispensable public service.
There is a negative side, however, in regard to women’s orientation to shrines. Men fear that women will pray to “foreign” shrines and use medicines to bring about their own wishes in their marital household, even to the point of killing co-wives and their children. Although it is forbidden for women to bring in “strange shrines” and medicines, they continually do so, secretly reflecting, in part, the high degree of household tension in the polygynous family, which the husband is ill-equipped to deal with.
Not only do individual men keep shrines to lineage daughters in their houses, but there are village shrines dedicated to certain Daughters, shrines which often have a double-edged quality, being believed to bring children and other good fortune when propitiated, but also being the haunts of witches at night. This corresponds with the tales told of many famous Daughters when alive, that is, they might be asked to use magical powers to bring children, but that they would also be feared, as witches, who would kill children.
Further, shrines to famous patrilineage Daughters are often located at their putative grave sites in their natal lineages. This suggests that these women left behind [no sons in their marital villages], thus failing to fulfill the most valued role for women in Onitsha society.
The rituals performed for the lineage by the Head Daughter are of a purificatory nature, as are the rituals performed by the Town Women in driving sickness and abominations from the town. Women are regarded as the Daughters of certain town shrines, and, indeed, they act in regard to them to some degree as they do toward their own lineage members, purifying them of pollution, performing funeral ceremonies, and mourning them.
It is symbolically appropriate that the leader of the Town Women, who is not only respected but also feared for her possible activities as a witch, should be the person to lead sacrifice to appease the major community shrines, for these shrines are said to express their anger at the number of witches in a community by sending misfortunes to the town. Finally, some of the major shrines regarded as protecting the community are primarily, if not exclusively, sacrificed to by women, and some are regarded as originally established by “ancient women”.
5.7.3. Roles Played in The Ceremonial Cycle
Concerning these, it is important that not only men’s crops (yam) but also women’s (cocoyam) are regularly saluted and their abundance prayed for by the householder. Both major staples are offered to ritual objects, although less elaboration of belief occurs concerning the women’s crop than the men’s. On each of the major ceremonial days, women have duties, as wives, to prepare for the feast; on ajachi to chalk or purify the chi, on umato to symbolically sweep hunger out of their houses, and at all ceremonies to present kola to their husbands and receive, in turn, their prayers and blessings. Women may also, however (especially at ajachi and owaji) pray to their own shrines located in their kitchens, asking for a good year and health for their children. In their prayers they ask the major spirits of both their husband’s and their own village for protection. They do not, however, have the right to sacrifice an animal to their shrines and shed its blood, although they may present a living animal or cooked food to them.
As seen in Chapter Three, a woman is under the influence of two ofo, that of her father or patrilineage priest, and that of her husband and his patrilineage priest. This is reflected in the fact that during the ceremonial cycle, women go to both priests, bringing kola nuts and asking for prayers to be said for their welfare. The activities of women as wives and daughters on ceremonial days, as in sending food to patrilineage members at ifejiokwu and owaji, and in visiting, especially at owaji, tie Onitsha together in an intricate communication network, entailing a great variety of exchanges of goods and services.
Just as a woman has certain duties in regard to her natal patrilineage, a man, as “daughter’s child”, has a duty to offer a sacrifice to his shrine to his mother on the day his mother’s patrilineage celebrates owaji and to send a wing of the sacrificed chicken to his mother’s patrilineage priest as a tribute. He may also go to her village during that time and receive blessings.
Ceremonial duties of the Head Daughter during the annual cycle include purifying the houses of patrilineage males prior to feasts on umuato, owaji, osisi-ite, or itu ukpukpu. Women are indispensable to their patrilineage in their quasi-sexless roles as cleansers and mediators, but there is an ambiguous quality to the way they are regarded by men and by young women, partly due, perhaps, to their contact with the “hot”, and the dangerous. It may also be related to the sexless quality itself.
5.7.4.Witchcraft and Other Forms of Supernatural Attack
As mentioned in Chapter One, Middleton and Winter define witchcraft as a mystical, innate power which is an inseparable part of one’s being; sorcery, on the other hand, is a technique, using medicines which anyone may acquire (1963:8-9). They further conjecture that accusations of witchcraft against specific women tend to occur only in those patrilineal societies characterized by the presence of the house-property complex. In such societies, men inherit from their fathers through their individual mothers, the true levirate is mandatory, divorce is disapproved of and of low incidence, and children are allocated to the pater, not the genitor.
In societies having the house-property complex, a woman’s status “in the lineage into which she marries becomes an inalienable part of her social personality, and notions of witchcraft conceived as inherent and perverted tendencies of persons in ascribed positions become relevant” (ibid:16). Where there is no house-property complex, accusations of witchcraft become irrelevant and are replaced with accusations of sorcery (ibid:16).
Onitsha falls into a middle range between those patrilineal societies in which the status of the wife is fully ascribed and those in which marriage is merely a contract easily broken (see Chapter Three summary for details). Although inheritance is not allocated to sons through their mother, the levirate is not mandatory, and the divorce and separation rate is moderately high, children always belong to the lineage of the pater, not the genitor. The roles of women as wives, therefore, are midway between that which is fully ascribed and that which is fully achieved.8 The wife/mother role mediates between the two extremes, for in this combined role a woman approaches incorporation in her husband’s lineage without, however, relinquishing rights in her own lineage.
Although Onitsha does not have the pure house-property complex, women as wives and mothers are the persons most frequently accused and punished for witchcraft. Onitsha witchcraft, though not inherited, does appear to fit the criteria of “innate”, in the sense that once the “witch” substance has been given to a child, a craving for human flesh develops and the transformation into a witch is complete and irreversible. Although witchcraft in Onitsha seems to be largely on a non-volitional level, this appears not to be true in the case of witches in the role of wife/mother, who deliberately put substances to induce witchcraft in their children’s food. Wives are also accused of the deliberate use of poisonous medicines, which, according to Middleton and Winter, would classify as sorcery.
Viewing Onitsha as a “middle-range case” for this argument, it can be seen that the wife, having both ascribed and achieved aspects to her role, is believed to use both ascribed, inherent mystical power and also deliberately employed medicines.
It is interesting that Leach has differentiated so called “witchcraft” into two separate categories: “uncontrolled mystical influence” and “controlled supernatural attack” (1961:25). Problems posed by this hypothesis will be discussed in Chapter Seven. Returning to the discussion of witchcraft in Onitsha, another fact must be considered. Women as Daughters may also be accused of witchcraft and, whether or not they are openly accused, they are often thought to be such. Women as Daughters are not believed to deliberately pass on witchcraft to their nieces, nor to act consciously against their lineage mates. This, of course, correlates with their ascriptive roles in their own lineage.
Concerning Daughters as witches, it has been pointed out that they are the likely target of wives’ witchcraft slanders since they tend often to dominate their brothers’ wives, accuse them of infidelity, etc. If the Daughter is living in her brother’s village, due to separation or divorce, there are likely to be more conflicts between her and her brother’s wives, and hence, more witchcraft gossip. Further, brother and sister are required to share in the innermost secrets of familial strife, never betraying them to outsiders. Conflicts between brother and sister are structurally difficult to resolve, since each needs the other, especially for ritual purposes. Also, as mentioned above, the older Daughter’s contact with dangerous, polluting forces and her ambiguous sexual role make her to be regarded with not only awe, but fear. Further, unconscious projection of hostility due to personality differences may lead to reinforcement of witchcraft beliefs against women as Daughters, even though men hesitate to openly accuse a sister since it reflects ill on the entire family.
It has often been pointed out that where the residential unit is based on the patrilineage, and where most corporate and cooperative activities depend upon lineage ties, accusations of witchcraft within the patrilineage would be highly disruptive (Middleton and Winter 1963). Witchcraft accusations directed against the uterine line, it is argued, do not implicate the lineage. The Onitsha material poses certain problems: men do believe that lineage Daughters may be witches and may attack their brothers’ children as well as their own. Unless these women live in their brothers’ compounds, are elderly, and extreme scandal develops as to their witchcraft activities, however, brothers are unlikely to demand the sasswood ordeal. On the other hand, brothers are reluctant to have an elderly sister who has been openly accused of witchcraft in her marital village return to live with them. Such reluctance may force the women to attempt to clear themselves by taking the sasswood ordeal.
The argument that witchcraft accusations would be disruptive within the lineage cannot be denied; but that is not to say that beliefs in witchcraft practiced within the lineage, just as those concerning sorcery used by patrilineage members against each other, do not exist. Most elderly men whose sons and daughters have pre-deceased them are thought to have used sorcery to prolong their own lives at the expense of their children. Few accusations are made, however; instead conflicts with such men tend to be avoided. The Onitsha lineage system contains numerous “disruptive factors”, the most profound one being the extreme achievement orientation of its members, especially in regard to ozo-title taking. Nonetheless, the system has persisted, making adjustments in regard to these structural tensions.
Concerning witchcraft accusations against women in the roles of wife/mother, Messenger has hypothesized that although the witchcraft beliefs are activated by men’s fear of their independent wives, this fear is projected onto its structurally relevant females, the older women (1953:107). Another factor [which is undoubtedly] involved in witchcraft accusation is the hostility and tension between co-wives. Levine found that if polygyny does tend to generate “sorcery” (or witchcraft), the effect is greater when wives live in one house than when they live in separate ones. Whiting and Child noted that ninety-three percent of societies with polygynous households where wives live in the same house are high on sorcery (Levine 1962:43). As discussed in Chapter Three, all Onitsha wives live within their husband’s main compound, unlike the situation in many other Ibo areas where they have separate huts. Talbot rates Onitsha as an area high on witchcraft, more similar to Western Ibo than to Ibo groups to the east and south (1926:201). Although many other factors may enter here, an interesting investigation could be made within the Ibo area, attempting to relate strength of witchcraft beliefs to co-wife hostility and housing patterns.
5.7.5. Ogboma and Ikunsi
Clearly, Ogboma engage in behavior which could be referred to as “controlled supernatural attack” (Leach 1961:25). They are believed to punish miscreants within their own lineage. Their behavior is viewed as more involving righteous authority than is that of the user of ikunsi, translated here as sorcery. The powers of the sorcerer, in Onitsha, are thought to range across family ties, unlike the powers of the witch, thus reflecting the fact that men’s rivalries extend throughout the wider society while women’s are largely focused on the domestic scene. Although the use of sorcery within the lineage is negatively sanctioned, its use outside the lineage against political rivals is regarded as a valid component of a competitive man’s power, and it can only be combated by retaliatory sorcery or ghostly vengeance. There are no trials or ordeals resulting in banishment or death for men suspected of such activities.
CHAPTER SIX: ONITSHA WOMEN AND RITUAL: PART TWO: ONITSHA FUNERARY RITUAL
6.1. Ideas Concerning Death
The greatest ceremonial activity in Onitsha revolves around death, and funeral rites are more culturally elaborated and intentionally symbolic than any others in the society. No other ritual event mobilizes such large numbers of people, cross-cutting village, lineage and social ties, in a common activity with which all participants have some familiarity. These ceremonies, therefore, seem an appropriate major focus for a study of the role of Onitsha women in religion.
Furthermore, mortuary institutions, as Gluckman has noted, cannot be considered merely as “religious phenomena in the sense of ways of acting associated with the supernatural world”, but must be viewed in the light of their interdependence with other social institutions (Goody 1962:29). Funeral rites serve to spell out the social statuses of the living and dead participants and restate an individual’s past roles and conduct. This public reformulation of social norms serves as a sanction on behavior (ibid: 30). The primary emphasis in this chapter will be to set forth details of ritual that can be related to the earlier chapter on Onitsha social structure. The belief system, however, is also important and will not be ignored.
Beliefs which formulate distinctions and similarities between men and women, and between women in their distinct roles as wives and Daughters in the religious sphere, will be given special consideration. Through the analysis of funerary ritual, it will become apparent how Onitsha religion relates the problems of death to generate conceptions of the meaning of life, and how much ritual not only helps to explain the paradox of life and death, and the associated problems of evil, but also enables individuals to manage the sheer emotional pain of bereavement. Furthermore, the religious beliefs that serve to structure Onitsha funeral activity will be seen to commit men to social action in terms of the general solutions that they provide. In order to avoid a biased presentation of data which might over-emphasize, or under-emphasize the role of women, it has been necessary to present a rather detailed account of funerary ritual.
6.1.1. Death Concepts and Attitudes
In Onitsha belief, death (onwu) occurs when the spirit which has been reincarnated in the individual (nkpulobi) leaves his body and goes to the world of the dead. This may also be referred to as mmuo efepu: “the ghost has flown out [of the body]”. The afterworld, located underneath this world, has been described as similar to it, with the land divided into towns and villages where men have the same statuses they had in life, depending upon the performance of their proper funeral ceremonies. Although all deaths are believed to have what may be interpreted as both efficient and final causes, some are accepted with more equanimity than others and indeed almost welcomed.
This is especially true for an elderly titled man who has achieved the significant status positions of Onitsha life and who has been survived by his sons. Informants state that a man who is buried by his children has died a “glorious death”. One of the major reasons to welcome such a death is the realization that the reverse condition, i.e. that of a father burying his son, is both shameful and tragic. In the latter case, there are two major ways in which death is explained: the son is an ogbanje, one who is predestined to die due to his own choice prior to birth, or that the father or mother has magically sacrificed his child to prolong his or her own life. It is wealthy, powerful men, especially chiefs, who are thought to be most likely to obtain medicine to lengthen their lives at the expense of others.
While the elderly, successful man’s death will be, in a sense, welcomed by the community as an indication of his good intentions, the man who is a failure by Onitsha standards, who has not taken a title or who has no living sons, should welcome his own death. Such a man not only has no money to obtain medicine to prolong his own life, but he will have nothing to enjoy in his old age, especially if he has no children. The more important the individual who has died, the more will be the talk of what has caused his death. As an elderly informant said, “If a person dies and there is no complaint about what killed him, then you know that he was quiet and plain in his lifetime”.
Indeed, one of the initial themes of any Onitsha funeral ceremony, and one that reoccurs throughout the Burial and Lamentation ceremonies, is the directing of attention away from the facts of loss and, instead, on the fixing of blame for the death. For any death, the kinsmen of the deceased may consult a diviner to determine who or what is responsible for the event. However, this process is not mandatory and does not reach the proportions that it does in some other African societies. Great anger is expressed at the death of a young man who has not fulfilled his proper adult roles. Especially violent and aggressive masks, worn by young men, appear at the funeral. There is also a certain shared resentment expressed toward the individual who has died, and he may be referred to as having committed an abomination by dying in an improper order. The problem of the proper order of deaths in relation to lineage inheritance, discussed in Chapter III, permeates the funeral of a youth. Not only are certain minor modifications made in the funeral ceremonies, but the father is not permitted to take active part in the rites since “he cannot inherit his son’s property”.
6.1.2. Final Causes of Death
Although Onitsha people recognize that there are immediate physiological reasons why people die, they look for a further explanation of why one man should die while another remains healthy.9. Four major categories of final causes of death may be distinguished: a). Deaths that have been predestined; b) Violent deaths directly brought about by spirits acting through individuals or physical objects; c). Deaths due to the actions of other persons through sorcery or witchcraft; .d) Deaths caused by the anger of deities, nature spirits or ancestors, because of infractions of their sacred rules.
126.96.36.199. Predestined Deaths
The first type of death has been mentioned in our discussion of the role of predestination and chi in Onitsha religion and need not be dealt with at length here. It is common in Onitsha to attribute the deaths of children and young adults to such a cause. However, deaths of elderly men which are described as “natural” are also attributed to the deceased’s chi (onwu chi: death chi) and indicate that prior to birth the man chose to succeed in life and die at an advanced age. Whether an elderly man’s death is thought of in these terms or in more sinister ones depends on two factors: 1) the type of death, i.e. what changes it produces in the body; 2) the general social milieu in which the death occurred, i.e. whether the deceased was involved in disputes prior to his death, and what particular interests other persons have in defining the meaning of the death.
188.8.131.52. Violent Deaths
Violent deaths such as those by accidents, warfare, murder and suicide comprise the second category. Included also are the deaths of lunatics and those of women in child-birth. Such deaths are considered to have an especially evil portent, so much so that the body of the victim is buried in the bad bush and not given proper funeral rites. Not only would the spirits that caused the death attempt to take more victims from the funeral mourners, but the deceased’s spirit is also believed to become one of the “bad dead” (aja mmuo) and to be equally dangerous to the living (Noon 1942:651-652; Stuart-Young 1917:152-154). There appear to be two explanations for such deaths, the first relating to the concept of ogbonuke (see Chapter II), and the second to the spirit of ekwensu. In the first, the spirits of one’s deceased age mates with whom one agreed, prior to birth, upon a common time of death, are believed to expose the living to dangers in order to make them join their ghostly company. Sacrifices are made to ritual objects representing ogbonuke to appease their anger.
The second cause of violent deaths is the spirit of killing, ekwensu, regarded in some Ibo areas as the “Spirit of Head-Hunting”, who instigates men to murder (Meek 1937:39). Although ekwensu has no shrine, there are indications that it was propitiated at sacrifices to ogbonuke (Basden 1966:38). Since [European] contact, beliefs about the meaning of ekwensu have been severely modified due to the Christian missionaries’ equating of ekwensu with the Devil. There is, however, a connection between ekwensu and the spirits of the “bad dead” who died through warfare or murder, were denied proper burial rites, and who seek vengeance on the living by causing similar deaths. It must be noted, also, that deaths by onwu ekwensu and onwu ogbonuke are frequently regarded as punishments; there is an Ibo proverb, “The innocent is not lost in the war” (emetarom adefu na-agha).
184.108.40.206. Deaths caused by Witchcraft and Sorcery
In Onitsha, it is believed that a witch kills her victim by eating a spiritual element of his body parts. If a person falls ill after quarrelling with an elderly or barren women, he may be taken to her with these words: “If you kill him, eat him, if you can cure him, do it”. Since it is believed that witches consume the victim’s body little by little, long wasting illnesses where no obvious physical cause can be discerned are very likely to be blamed on them. They may also be accused of causing fatal accidents. (The activities of witches have been discussed in detail in Chapter Five).
Deaths may be attributed to two kinds of male supernatural activity. Men called ogboma are generally believed to use their awesome powers to maintain discipline within their families. At such times, however, they may be blamed for more serious events such as the death of a child soon after he has been rebuked by an ill-tempered elderly man. Sorcerers, practitioners of ikunsi, acquire from diviners medicines which they use against other men in the struggle for status and political power. However, such medicines may be used within the lineage, and when younger members of a family die while the elders live, it will be whispered that the latter are sacrificing their children and lineage mates to prolong their own lives.
The complex belief system concerning witches, ogboma, and sorcerers has been explored in Chapter Five; the primary concern here is how the living define deaths and what steps they take after a satisfactory “cause” has been ascertained. First, it must be said that in most cases, no direct retaliation is practiced. However, in the case of a woman who meets the various sociological criteria for being a witch, and in whose family a number of deaths have occurred, two steps may be taken: 1) she may be send away by her husband to her brother’s home, 2) she may be ostracized from the town or given the sasswood ordeal. In all cases, before any action is taken, diviners will be consulted. Although it is not common for men to be publicly (as against privately) accused of killing one another through sorcery, such accusations do sometimes occur, and the [man] may be required to take an oath to proclaim his innocence.10
220.127.116.11.. Deaths Caused by Ancestors and Spirits
Finally, deaths may be considered to be the result of offenses against the ancestors or violations of native law and custom. Deaths are frequently attributed to deceased parents or more remote relatives believed to be angry over the delay in completing the full funeral rites or other ceremonies. Indeed, it is not always thought that the ghosts of the dead are justifiably angry. For example, the ghost of a man who committed an abomination and who died a bad death, may revenge himself on his kinsmen for following the custom and not according him an honorable burial (Noon 1944:638-643).
Deaths due to violations of native law and custom may result from severe acts against the earth (alu) or from more minor acts such as adultery by a man’s wife. In the most serious cases, the state of the corpse is regarded as evidence of sin, e.g. the peeling skin of the leper, the thin, wasting away of the consumptive, or the bloating of the body due to diseases such as dropsy. In cases of “bad deaths” (ajo onwu), proper burial will not be performed at the time of death, primarily due to fear of spreading the pollution, both physical and spiritual, to those who might attend the body. The corpse will not be interred near its house, but in an area reserved for polluted things, the bad bush. Simulated funeral ceremonies may occur at a later time, thus providing the deceased an appropriate status in the afterworld.
Many deaths are attributed to violations of custom without such physical indices, and it frequently becomes expedient for a person to try to deprecate his rival’s death in such a manner. Not only for the sake of the deceased, but also to uphold family honor, full burial ceremonies are conducted unless gross symptoms of abominations are evident. It is also believed that certain sins against the land can cause deaths among succeeding generations of descendants.
It is evident from the four categories of death-causation discussed above that what is involved in determining the reasons for an individual’s death is not merely an examination of physical symptoms and immediate factors bringing on death, but also an elaborate social process in which men strive to attribute a satisfactory meaning to the event in terms of their own hopes and fears. The degree to which any given definition of death is accepted by the wider community depends a great deal upon the status of the deceased, his family, and his enemies.
6.2. Death and Burial
6.2.1. Overview of Onitsha Funerals
Onitsha funeral ceremonies are divided into two major parts: 1) the “announcement of death” (ikposu ozu), which includes “burying the corpse” (ini ozu), and 2) “lamenting the corpse” (ikwa ozu). Hereafter, the first part of the funeral ceremony will be referred to as the Announcement and Burial, and the second part will be referred to as the Lamentation.
Although the corpse may be kept for a few days before a formal announcement is made, once this step has been taken, burial will occur the next day, and on the following day there will be further dancing and feasting in honor of the deceased. Delay in making the Announcement usually reflects the status of the deceased and the difficulties the family faces in raising funds to finance the elaborate ceremonies and entertainment. Burial rites and accompanying activities traditionally occur in or near a deceased man’s compound. Married women without living sons are buried near their father’s or brother’s compound.
There is no fixed date for the second part of the funeral, the Lamentation, but it is often performed within a year after the burial. Although in the case of an ozo titled man, initial arrangements take several days, the formal Lamentation should occur on an oye day, eight days after the division of sacrificial cow meat. Ceremonies will then continue for at least three more days. For a non-titled person, the entire proceedings occur within a shorter period of time. All Lamentation rites take place in the vicinity of the burial place of the deceased.
For untitled men and women and boys and girls, it is possible to begin funeral ceremonies with the Announcement on nkwo night, bury the corpse the next day (eke), and prepare for the Lamentation rites which will then be completed the following day (oye) This shortening of the ceremonial procedure is referred to as “crying at once” (ikwa ozibo). For children, the entire Announcement, Burial and Lamentation rites may occur on the same day. Children who die within a few years of birth are buried without ceremony.11
No Lamentation rites are given boys and girls under the approximate age of fifteen or sixteen unless they have proven their commitment to this world by encouraging other spirit children to be born as their siblings. To proceed to the description of funeral ceremonies in detail, it will be noted that the chronological sequences are well demarcated by descriptive terms. Also, status distinctions are indicated by the length or brevity of the ceremonies. However, for each human being, regardless of status, there are certain minimum requirements that must be met if both the living and the dead are to avoid disgrace. The commitment that the living owe to the dead to see that they are properly buried is reinforced not only by the fear of disgrace and the more ominous fear of ghostly vengeance, but also by the fact that important status positions in the society are closed to individuals who deny their parents full funeral rites. In the following discussion we will deal first with the death Announcement and Burial rites for titled and non-titled men, then titled and non-titled women.
6.2.2. Announcements and Burial Rites for Men
18.104.22.168. For Titled Men
22.214.171.124.1. Announcement sequence: Actions Taken Immediately After Death
Soon after the death occurs there will be a meeting of those persons who are closely related to the deceased and who share rights in the estate of the most immediate ancestral house (Iba). Present also will be members of the next senior lineage “house”. In addition, there will be representatives of the deceased’s mother’s patrilineage, who are viewed as totally committed to serving their “child’s” best interests and preventing any untoward shortcuts being taken by the deceased’s patrilineage. The assembled group will examine the state of the corpse and discuss the cause of death. Their decisions as to whether or not a bad death or one referred to as onwu ekwensu, onwu ogbonuke has occurred will determine whether the death is announced and the funeral proceedings carried out in the usual manner, or whether the body is cast into the bad bush and an Announcement made either at a later date or not at all. If this group is puzzled by the death, they may consult a diviner to reveal the source of the misfortune and be advised on appropriate steps to take to avoid further trouble and/or punish the culprit.
Assuming that a formal Announcement is to be made, a second major problem facing the members of the ancestral house is the determination of who shall be the Head Mourner (onye isi ozu) and how the funds are to be raised to meet the expenses of the forthcoming funeral. The priest (okpala) of the deceased man’s immediate lineage segment acts as the Head Mourner and “sits by the fire” (ino usokwu) while being saluted by the mourners. He is also responsible, in general, for making or overseeing funeral arrangements.
Complications arise when deaths do not occur in the proper order, that is, when junior men die before senior ones. As has been observed, such deaths are the subject of much speculation and even accusations of witchcraft or sorcery. Consequently, if a man’s son dies while he is still living, the father is socially contaminated and takes no part in the rites, the Head Mourner being the father’s full senior brother or the lineage priest of the deceased. Similarly if a junior brother dies, the senior brother cannot bury him, but only give him cloth and offer drinks to funeral guests.Although the lineage priest takes on the formal role of the Head Mourner, it is usually the deceased’s son who “stands at the foot of the okpala” and pays the greatest part of the funeral expenses. The son is freed, however, from the onerous role of Head Mourner and instead becomes the main celebrant, entertaining guests and dancing in the regalia of his father.
Formal Announcement of Death
When a man has attained either ozo or chieftaincy titles, a ceremony known as ewu izuzu “goat for the conversation” or ewu na aru na anwu “goat [to notify] that the body is suffering” is performed prior to the Announcement. In this rite, which occurs in the deceased’s house, all participants act as though the status quo were still operative. Although most of the men present are members of the deceased’s patrilineage, titled men who are children of Daughters of the deceased’s lineage may also be there. The assembled titled men place their own staves near the staves and other ritual objects (i.e. ikenga, chi, chi tray, treasure box) of their absent lineage mate. Kola is presented to the presiding senior lineage priest who places the “heart of the nut” (isi oji) on the “invalid’s” chi sticks and then summons the Head Mourner. The Head Mourner announces to him that the deceased is seriously ill, after which the priest eats a piece of kola, spits the pieces over the sick man’s staves and treasure box and prays to all the ancestors and gods of the village to take the essence of the nut and protect the living from anything harmful in it. When kola has been distributed to all present, palm wine is offered, first by the priest to the Head Mourner and then by the other titled men to those junior to them. Gin is similarly distributed.
At this point, a goat is led out to be sacrificed for the welfare of the invalid. The senior priest, holding a knife in his right hand and his staff in the left, knocks the staff four times at the head of the goat, saying “An important member of our family is sick. If someone is going to die, let it be a goat, an animal, and not a human and member of our family”. While the village youths hold the goat, the priest cuts its throat, directing the spray of blood over the assembled staves and treasure boxes.
The division of the meat proceeds in this manner: to the Head Mourner go the head, bowels and legs. He in turn keeps one of the legs himself, and gives the senior presiding priest a leg and skin, the titled men a goat leg, and the Village Wives (who are not present at the ceremony) the final leg. Adult untitled men take the ribs, while the Daughters of the lineage receive the “waist”. The liver and blood are cooked and divided among the men present, including sons of lineage Daughters. Some food is offered to the same ritual objects that were fed blood earlier.
At the final phase of ewu izuzu, the Head Mourner presents gin to the senior priest, saying “I have done all I can, I am finished”. As the elders and priest take their titled staves, the priest repeats his prayer for the speedy recovery of the invalid and for the long life of the Head Mourner. After beating their staves on the ground, the men depart.
Some informants have indicated that this ceremony of ewu izuzu was actually performed in the past when a person was seriously ill. Whether or not this is true is not known, but certainly when a man is very sick, relatives do make sacrifices, some of which involve killing goats to the ancestors and any shrines that a diviner tells them may be causing the trouble.
The “calling of the patrilineage” (nkata umunna) by the Head Mourner completes the ceremonies of notifying the patrilineage of the recent death. At this ritual, which occurs in the deceased’s house immediately after ewu izuzu, the patrilineage members who have just left the premises are summoned by the Head Mourner and told that there have been new developments. This time, however, they do not bring their titled staves.
Placing a few shillings in a dish before the priest, the Chief Mourner announces that the “sick person” has died. The priest then begins a song of praise to the deceased. The group which has assembled for the nkata umunna has numerous arrangements to make. After inquiries as to the financial status of the Head Mourner, they determine how much assistance he will need from the rest of the patrilineage. Also, patrilineage members will be assigned responsibilities for cooking the food to be provided for the various groups of lineage Daughters who will attend the Burial rites.
It is also the responsibility of the deceased’s lineage mates to inform his kinsmen on both the father’s and mother’s side of the death. The patrilineages of the deceased’s mother, the deceased’s father’s mother, and the deceased’s father’s father’s mother will all be expected to send representative Daughters to the Burial and also groups of drummers. Entire patrilineages are not involved in the more remote cases, but rather the immediate relatives through the different matrifilial links. When they come, they will be given food and drink in accordance with their closeness of relation.
Close relatives of the wives of the deceased will also be present to stay with the widows, the men visiting, and the women cooking. These latter women do not seat themselves with the Daughters of the deceased’s family or with those to whom the deceased was a Daughter’s child. After the booming of cannons has formally announced the death to the general public, the Head Daughter of the deceased’s lineage segment arrives at her late “brother’s” house and signals with a cry that the release of emotions is now permissible. Other women begin to wail while the men start the dancing and drumming of the Burial eve. Throughout the night, Daughters of the patrilineage sit with the corpse (ichi ozu: to watch the corpse), for which service they receive, at present, a bottle of gin.
During the night of the Announcement, members of the deceased’s patrilineage at the highest level, those who control a critical masquerade object, the Tall Ghosts (mmuo ogonogo) are summoned by the ekwe drum. The men gather in front of the house where the corpse lies, to dance around the village, carrying machetes and proclaiming their anger over the death of one of their senior members. This dance (igba oziza: to run in anger) is related, by some informants, to the days of warfare: the carrying of machetes is explained as an attempt to fight and defend against death. In this connection it may be noted that the ekwe drum, which is used in warfare to warn of danger, is used in peacetime only to signify a man’s death.
After proceeding around the village and town, in the case of the death of an important man, the village men return, carrying sticks grabbed from bushes en route, and the dancing continues. The men dance within a circle, although anyone may break off to perform an individual step or cry anew in anger. In the songs, the question asked repeatedly is “Who has killed our son?” As the dancing continues, the men become more excited, brandishing their machetes and striking their staves upon the ground. Some appear to go berserk, and [informants say], in the past, they might tear down one of the deceased’s houses in their rage. A dance of mourning is meanwhile performed by the Village Wives, with the women moving in a circle around a lead singer. Although some may enter the circle of the men, their dance is generally separate, accompanied only by a few young men who, having wrapped white cloth around their heads to imitate women, clown and dance in the circle. The women’s sons also express anger at the death of an important community figure. While the dancers perform, the sons and daughters of the deceased present them with pennies.
Large groups of women, both Daughters and Village Wives, may be seen gathered near the house of the deceased, sorting white cloth which they will later place over the door and windows of the room in which the corpse lies, and on his bed while he lies in state. This cloth, which is not placed in the grave and which may be re-used at other funerals, is regarded as a beautiful decoration of the “Death house” (uno onwu) to honor the corpse and wish him well in his journey to the world of the dead.
During the night of the Announcement, the widows sit in their rooms in their husband’s compound, accompanied by groups of Daughters of their own patrilineages who attempt to console them. Basden reports that an Ibo woman, bereaved of her husband or child, is likely to work herself into a state of frenzy and cannot be left alone lest she injure herself or even commit suicide while temporarily insane (1966:270). The widow’s female relatives, some of whom make themselves useful by helping to cook for the assembled crowd, are fed by the widow’s daughters for several days. The widows, however, are forbidden food from the time the husband dies to the time he is buried. If they disobey this injunction, they are not allowed to eat until the Lamentation rites.
126.96.36.199.3. Preparation of the Body, and various Pre-Burial Rites Conducted by Women
Throughout the funeral rites, various groups of Daughters, especially those of the deceased’s immediate lineage segment, play critical roles. For the Burial Rites, the most important of these occur on the Announcement night, as just noted, and on the following morning. Before dawn on the day of Burial, the Head Daughter of the deceased’s lineage segment, and the Daughters who are assisting her, perform the ritual of washing and shaving the corpse (iwu ozu aru: “to wash body of corpse”). For this, they use a clay pot and a calabash provided by the widow. In the past, the body would be rubbed with camwood (ufie) as a preservative measure, and its orifices stuffed with tobacco to prevent bloating. To avoid contamination through contact with the corpse, the Daughters hold egbo leaves in their teeth and place more of these leaves in the water which is used to wash the corpse. These leaves are believed to prevent the Daughters and also the Youths, who dress a deceased man, from “losing their memories and becoming like the corpse” (Okala 1953:643). All the deceased’s attendants wear old clothing which can be discarded to rid themselves of impurities connected with their association with the corpse.
The Head Daughter also has further responsibilities in regard to the deceased. It is she who calls on the widows to bring yards of cloth (ijebe di akwa: “tie cloth on husband”) which is used to decorate the death bed and later placed in the grave. This gesture on the part of the widows indicates that reliance is placed on them to prevent their husband from dying naked and alone. The Head Daughter also puts the tie-cloth around the corpse’s head, into which titled men later in the day put eagle feathers as a final tribute to one of the members of their society. Later in the morning, after the ceremonial washing and dressing of the corpse, Head Daughters and their companions, representing other patrilineages to which the deceased was related, may come to the deceased’s house.
It is the duty of either the Head Mourner or the deceased’s adult children to be the first to feed these women, and this is done by providing separate portions for each group. The immediate family Daughters receive the largest share, then the Daughters of the deceased’s mother’s patrilineage segment, the Daughters of the wider patrilineage to which the deceased belongs, the Daughters of the deceased’s father’s mother’s lineage, and finally the Daughters of the father’s father’s mother’s lineage who receive the smallest part. The Daughters of the deceased’s own lineage will sit closest to the corpse if it lies in the large courtyard of the house. If the body is in a smaller room, they may be the only Daughters present and the only ones who eat in its presence.
At midmorning, the Daughters of the deceased’s lineage gather in the room where the deceased lies, for a ceremony which proclaims their innocence in the death. For this, the Head Daughter is provided by the Head Mourner with kola nuts and a spotless chicken, in addition to the calabash and clay pot used for the washing of the corpse. Taking the kola nut, the Head Daughter prays to the ghost of the deceased, telling him that she did not know what caused his death, but that whoever killed him should follow him in death. She states that the Daughters of the patrilineage are not responsible for the death, and asks that their own lives be spared. Upon breaking the nut, she throws it to the ground instead of presenting it to the assembled women as would normally be the custom. With her left hand, she touches the chicken to the corpse and then to the water pot and calabash used in bathing the body.
Some informants indicate that while the calabash is the one used in the morning washing ceremonies, the clay pot represents the one used to carry water to the deceased during his sickness. In any case, these articles used in the sickness and death are broken, and the fowl is torn to pieces and roasted without oil or seasoning. Every Daughter present must take part in eating it. If they have caused their Brother’s death, it is believed they will die soon after taking this food.
After this ordeal, food (nni itu aka: “small food”, lit. “food taken in hand”) is cooked by the deceased’s widows, aided by their daughters, the senior wife preparing the largest number of portions of pounded yam and presenting them to the Daughters of her husband’s lineage before his other wives. This food, the last that the wives cook for theirhusband, is consumed by the Daughters, who, as noted in Chapter Three, are called “husband” by the wives of the lineage.
After most of the food has been eaten in the presence of the corpse, some of it is presented to him as his last share.
If there has been a serious dispute between the husband and wife, especially one which has resulted in a wife leaving her husband’s house, and if no formal reconciliation or bridewealth refund has been made prior to the husband’s death, the Daughters, by refusing to eat any food prepared by the widow for her husband’s funeral, will prevent her from properly mourning her husband in his house.
To rectify the situation, the wife must undergo a reconciliation ceremony with her late husband, conducted by the Daughters, for which she must provide a fowl, kola and palm wine. After touching the chicken to the body of the deceased and then circling first the corpse and then the widow with a glass of palm wine, the Head Daughter announces that any disagreement between the husband and wife has now been settled. The wine is poured outside the house, and the chicken, which has taken up the anger of the corpse, is cut in two, one part being placed on the right hand side of the deceased’s family square, as a sacrifice to the living, the other on the left hand side, to the dead.12
There are two major reasons why it is important for an estranged widow with children to mourn for her late husband. The first applies to a woman, separated from her spouse, whose children have not been claimed by him prior to his death. Unless the woman goes through the mourning rites, these children will not be eligible to inherit from the deceased. The second reason involves the Onitsha belief that the ghost of the ignored husband will take vengeance on his children and cause their deaths. After the reconciliation ceremony and mourning period, the widow is re-assigned a house in her husband’s village.
A further ceremony concerning both Daughters and wives, performed prior to burial, occurs if a woman is accused of killing her husband purposefully through poison or witchcraft, or inadvertently through adulterous acts. The widow is made to drink water with which the corpse was washed (ila mili ozu), presented to her by the Head Daughter. Not only do Daughters care for the corpse and conduct various purificatory rites, but they may also symbolically represent characteristics for which the deceased’s village is known. Two examples of this type of funeral activity may be mentioned here. In the village of Isiokwe, younger Daughters, deputized by the Head Daughter, proceed around the village chalking member’s lower legs to celebrate the reputation of the village as the home of native doctors. The Daughter holding the chalk pot puts palm leaves (omu) in her mouth to indicate that she is not permitted to talk, and also tucks these leaves into her husband. Palm leaves are used on such occasions to show that a profane act is prohibited, as when they are placed across a house which is banned to the public.13 In the village of Obikporo Daughters carry canoe paddles when they accompany a corpse home for burial, to indicate the village’s fame as fishermen and their origins from a riverain area.
188.8.131.52.2. Other Burial-day Activities
During the morning of the day of Burial, objects which the deceased used during his lifetime and which symbolize some of his major life roles are placed outside his house under the ani ezi, a tree closely associated with his chi (see Chapter Two) which is planted when a man establishes his own house. Work instruments and items of personal wealth, including money, are put near the tree and later thrown into the grave. It is believed that all of these items will be needed by the deceased in the afterlife in his pursuit of his occupation and for maintenance of proper dignity.
For all men, a yam and a chicken (okuku ifejioko: “chicken for the yam god”) should also be placed near the ani ezi to indicate that the decased has concluded his days as a farmer. After the Burial ceremonies, adult members of the lineage should cook and eat the chicken and yam.
If the deceased was also a member of the hunter’s society, whose members are celebrated for having killed large animals or human beings, he will also be honored by having a ram tied to the ani ezi. This animal will be killed only after the burial ceremonies, and the meat will be shared among the hunters and the members of the deceased’s family.
Also placed outside the house are certain ritual objects that belonged to the deceased and which have had blood sprinkled on them during the ewu izuzu ceremony. These include okposi, representing the deceased ancestors, the man’s ikenga and possibly his father’s, his iron-ringed titled staff, his treasure box, and, occasionally, some ivory bracelets. Only after the conclusion of the entire funeral ceremony, including the lamentation rites and the formal “rubbing of the grave” (ite ini) may these objects again be brought into a house and worshiped.
As a further tribute to the deceased, cloth is brought to the deceased’s house to be laid on the top of the coffin as it is placed in the grave. This cloth, “to cover (with) cloth” (ikpu akwa), which lies like a “blanket”, is to be distinguished from the cloth “worn” by the deceased (ijebe di akwa) which is provided by the deceased’s spouse. The cloth that covers the coffin is, today, purchased by the Head Mourner or the primary financier of the funeral, but it is incumbent upon husbands of daughters of the deceased to present money to the immediate mourners to pay for the cloth. Failure to meet this obligation is grounds for divorce by the wife.
Others, such as relatives of the deceased’s mother and friends, may also present money for ikpu akwa. Unlike those who have married daughters of the deceased, the children of these daughters are closely identified with the mourning group and with the deceased’s own children. They may carry a horsetail as a sign of bereavement and even, on occasion, receive money for ikpu akwa. Traditionally, all the people who now present money to the Chief Mourner for ikpu akwa would present cloth instead. In return, they would all receive palm wine. Friends and relatives also honor the decease by placing money for the corpse in a plate near his body. Most of this money goes to defray funeral costs, but some is taken by the Head Daughter for formal presentation to groups of dancers on the day of Burial.
Throughout the late morning and early afternoon of the Burial day, many persons gather around the deceased’s house to dance in his honor and to offer condolences. The situation is not highly structured and many activities may occur simultaneously. Important among the attending groups are the age sets of the deceased’s children, led by the children themselves, carrying horsetails and wearing pieces of their father’s apparel, indicating they have, at least temporarily, assumed the privileges of his roles, if not the responsibilities. In a sense, the attitude of the children is defined as one of publicly rejoicing that they have outlived their father, for, as we have already seen, it is regarded as unnatural for a man to outlive his children, and clearly right that he should die while they are alive. If the deceased has unmarried adolescent sons or daughters, they will also lead groups of boys or girls of their approximate age. Girls, for example, will be accompanied by their age mates beating pots and clapping.
Also prominent in the dancing will be the age set to which the deceased belonged. The men of this group pantomime the exploits for which the deceased was known or for which his village is recognized, such as hunting and fishing. Men married to daughters of the deceased are expected to bring members of their villages to accompany them with drums to funerals, and this is also expected of men from the villages of the deceased’s wives. In recent times, since the formal organization of female age sets, age sets of the deceased’s wives attend, coming to their members’ assistance especially in cooking. However, they do not dance, since the widow is not expected to be “triumphing over her husband’s death”, nor celebrating it; she is in mourning.
Another dancing group consists of the Village Wives of the deceased, who perform in front of the house, led by a singer. Relatives of the deceased and other spectators give them money for their individual performances which is later shared among them.
Perhaps the most vigorous dance is the oziza ikwunne, the ritualized show of anger by the men of the patrilineage segment of the mother of the deceased. This dancing is expected to take on a frenzied quality. On the occasion of the Burial of a third-degree chief, the oziza dancers of his mother’s group, led by the chief’s son, tore some of the thatching off the roof of the house and destroyed some of the garden crops. Informants said that in the past even more damage was done, guns were shot off, and men ran amuck, behaving as though drunk. The anger described in the songs and cries is due to outrage upon viewing the corpse and realizing their loss. Another reason for their frenzied behavior has been cited in the work of an early colonial observer: “We fire guns, shout, and make plenty of noisy play, so as to frighten away the evil spirits, who might otherwise molest the newly dead or entice it away from its honest mission” (Stuart-Young 1917:156).
184.108.40.206.4. The Rites of Actual Burial
In late afternoon, the titled men perform the ceremony of ewu akpa (lit. goat bag) with which they formally sever all ties with the deceased. For this ritual, the titled men bring their ossissi staves to the room where the deceased lies in state. When a village Youth cuts the throat of a male goat, blood is directed onto these crossed staves. Unlike the ceremony of ewe izuzu performed when the deceased was still officially alive, in this rite his titled staff is not included. After the goat meat has been divided into two equal parts, some of it is put into a leather sack along with money to represent the last share of meat the deceased will receive from his colleagues as a titled man. He is notified in a prayer that after this time, he will no longer share anything with the ozo men in affairs regarding title. Then his undecorated ozo staff is cut in two by a Youth and put into the grave, unlike his iron-banded staff which should be kept by his descendants. The other part of the meat is taken by the Village Youths, since titled men may not eat and animal killed by a Youth. Youths are chosen for the ritual act of goat-killing because they are believed to be innocent of any stain of abomination.
The placing of the corpse into its coffin occurs during the ceremony of “ghost buries corpse” (mmuo ini ozu). The Tall Ghost, wearing a high peaked robe that covers all parts of the body, represents a reincarnated deceased titled man, and acts on behalf the masquerade society of the deceased’s village, the one in which he was initiated as a young man. Actions by the Tall Ghost carry the most fearful sanction of the village, and , at burial, serve to sacralize and validate the rite. The very presence of this masquerade relates the deceased to his new role in the spirit world.
While the Tall Ghost leans over the corpse, squeaking and singing, an assistant takes a small chick and splits its back, letting its blood fall on the deceased’s eyes. This chick is a gift from the Tall Ghost to a brave man who has been initiated into the masquerade society. The chirps of this chick, as it hangs above the grave until it dies, emphasize the sadness of the occasion. A cock, which is also killed by one of the masquerade’s assistants at this time, is believed to signify by its characteristic crowing that the day has come for burial and the deceased should make himself ready.
After these sacrifices, the Tall Ghost informs the corpse that the cock will lead it to the spirit world, and adds in farewell, “It is as if a brother does not know his brother” (Ife dika nwanne oye amazia), i.e. there are no brothers as far as death is concerned. Here again, as in the ceremony of ewu akpa, there is a formalized breaking of all ties between the living and the dead, in this case even between lineage members. Also present at this rite may be the Tall Ghost of the deceased’s mother’s village, if it has been invited by the Chief Mourner or the deceased’s children to salute “its child” before he is buried.
A grave is prepared by the Village Youths in one of the rooms of the deceased’s house, usually his private room. The corpse, wrapped in Hausa-made mats, is placed into a crude coffin and thence into the grave (see Basden 1966:272). This completes the formal rites of the day of Burial. On the night of the actual burial or even several nights later, the ayakka, which are ghostly representations, unmasked but in distinctive warrior costumes (see Meek 1937:71), appear at the homes of various members of the deceased’s lineage, especially that of the senior relative. After various dances and songs in which the deceased’s voice is impersonated, the ghosts demand that the senior relative obtain gifts for them from the female mourners in the house where the corpse was laid in state (Meek 1937:75). They may also demand gifts from any other relative of the deceased that they visit.
220.127.116.11.5. Funeral Activities on the Day after Burial
On the day after burial, the formal array of expensive cloth still lies on the deceased’s bed, and elderly women of his own village and that of his mother’s remain near it. Groups of Daughters from the deceased’s mother’s family, especially those who are of middle age or younger, may be seen dancing in a circle near the house, or sitting at neighboring houses, watching the proceedings. Meanwhile, a group of Daughters from the deceased’s village numbering, on occasion, up to fifty or more, run around the village singing praises of their late Brother, a rite known as “to run around the square” (igba ilo).
As may be surmised, the cost of feeding the groups of Daughters present throughout the ceremonies, comprises a large part of the total funeral expense. For example, three day’s supply of pounded yam must be provided for the elderly Daughters who remain in the deceased’s house, two days supply for those who gather outside but do not stay overnight. Aside from the Daughters related to the deceased agnatically or through his mother, the women remaining inside the deceased’s house include the wives of the late titled man, each occupying a room of her own and accompanied by Daughters from her own village. The latter are fed more out of courtesy than out of duty.
Age grade dances and masquerades also play a prominent part on this day. In addition, friends and relatives continue to come to the house of the Chief Mourner, near to the deceased’s house, to give their condolences and receive kola nut and palm wine.
The more prominent the deceased has been, the more numerous will be the masquerades which appear as a farewell and tribute to him. Which Masquerades come vary greatly, but there does tend to be a loose correlation between the types of masquerades present and the status of the deceased in his lifetime. For example, the more elaborately decorated ones, which represent adult men, do not appear for a young untitled person, or for a woman. These would include oliakata, a large ulaga-type masquerade, and agaba which is brought by an older age set and only appears at the funerals of very old or prominent men.14
However, there is a great deal of overlap: a masquerade representing a young lady (abogo mmuo) or one described as the “running or harmless man” (ogolo) or one known for its singing like a bird in the bush (nnu-nuozala) may appear at the funerals of adults of varying status. The ikwunne or lineage of the deceased’s mother may also bring any of the above masquerades depending on the prestige and popularity of their dead “son”.
18.104.22.168.6. Mourning Restrictions
Before concluding the examination of the Burial rites of a titled man, further attention should be directed to the role of the widow. Before the reforms of the late 1930’s, a widow theoretically had to remain in seclusion without changing her clothing or cutting or washing her hair until several months after the Lamentation. If this situation continued for several years, however, her family could insist that her husband’s relatives complete his funeral rites. If they refused, her family could then petition the King, who would summon the accused family and request them to perform the Lamentation for their son. As an informant stated, “If my sister is in dirtiness, I cannot be pleased; and if she dies in that state, it is a shame to our family”. Probably this is the reason why, during the period of memory of most informants, widows were required to remain in this state of mourning for only one year after the burial of their husband, if the Lamentation was not performed immediately. At this time they were free to wash and go to market, but not to mingle with other people as before, i.e. they could not attend women’s meetings nor go where chiefs might be.
Throughout the mourning period, the widow’s duties were sharply delineated and her activities severely restricted. After the burial of her husband, the widow was moved to a small hut near her husband’s house, made of the same kind of mats (utagini) as were used to wrap the corpse. At the first cock crow she expected to wake and wail loudly for her husband; the wailing was repeated at sunset. If she failed to cry at the appropriate times, the Daughters of her husband’s lineage might accuse her of having killed her husband. A fire was to be kept burning in the hut throughout the day and night. If it went out, the widow had to cry until someone relit it.
Few comforts were provided, and the widow had to sleep on the bare ground or “in actual ashes” from her fire (Crowther and Taylor 1859:322). However, the earth upon which she sat would be painted with red mud in the morning and evening to make it smoother. The only clothing the widow wore was a narrow strip of coarse cloth around her loins.
Since the widow could not cook for herself or go to market throughout most of the mourning period, her food was brought to her by Daughters of her own lineage, some of whom remained nearby to care for her. Contact was minimal with any persons other than Daughters of her own or her husband’s lineage.
Widows were permitted to eat only at dawn and sunset. No man was permitted to see the widow, speak with her, or eat with her, including male relatives. For at least 28 days (izu isa) the widow held a stick, burned at both ends, to drive away the spirit of her husband. This stick (onokonkwo) is similar to ones used in an annual ceremony performed by women to drive evil from the town. Secretly, the widow was allowed to make brief trips outside the compound in order to relieve herself. A special opening was made in the wall for her since she was not permitted to go through the main gateway of the courtyard (Basden 1966:279).
Writing about an unspecified Northern Ibo area, Basden concluded that after the burial ceremonies and initial mourning period, the widow would break her necklaces and ankle cords symbolizing that all connections with her former husband had ended. A black cotton thread would be worn in their place to show that the woman was a widow; this would not be removed until ceremonies were performed at the conclusion of the Lamentation period which freed the widow to remarry.
Some of the symbolism implicit in the restrictions on the widow is difficult to interpret. There are, however, some clear motifs. The widow is in danger from her husband’s spirit, who wishes to continue his life with her by taking her to the underworld. It may be that the widow’s unusual behavior is seen as protecting her from her husband, since he would be more likely to recognize her if she behaved normally, i.e. performed household tasks, etc. Because of her spiritual tie with her late husband, the widow is dangerous to other men. It is almost as though she is a person between two worlds, a fact emphasized by the prohibition on normal activities.
Along this line, an interesting parallel may be noted: The wicker box igbudu, representing the coffin of the deceased man at the Lamentation, must not go through the ordinary gate of the compound, but rather has a special hole in the wall made for it; the same is true for the widow during the mourning period.
Another point is that, of all the mourners, the widow is the one most expected to exaggerate her grief. Any deviation from this mourning pattern would indicate that she had wished her husband’s death or had actually caused it. Thus the mourning restrictions may also be viewed as ordeals through which only a devoted woman will be able to pass. Until the conclusion of the mourning period the woman is on trial, for if she dies prior to the final ceremonies, her death is not only an abomination, but also indicates that she killed her husband.
In the past, if a woman conceived after the death of her husband and before the conclusion of the Lamentation rites, the birth had to occur outside of town, and the infant was often cast away (Basden 1966:291). Since a widow could not give birth during the mourning period, if she were pregnant at the time of her husband’s death, funeral ceremonies would have to be completed in time for the birth (Basden 1966:290).
At present (1970), mourning regulations for widows have been modified, and a woman stays only one month without washing or changing her clothes if the Lamentation promptly follows the Burial. Instead of going to a mourning hut, she remains in a room in her husband’s house. Many of the proscriptions mentioned above are still observed, but for a briefer period of time.15
If the Lamentation is not performed immediately, the widow must remain in relative seclusion for one month and return to seclusion for another month when the final funeral ceremony is completed. For three or four days after the death, a number of Daughters from her own patrilineage will remain with her, trying to console her, but after this period, only her immediate sisters will stay and cook for her. If a woman has, prior to her husband’s death, confessed to adultery, her husband’s lineage Daughters will double her mourning period.
Both in the past and at present, some type of mourning is necessary for women who are separated from their husbands, in order to prevent the angry ghost from killing the negligent widows and their children. There are, however, no formal obligations incumbent on a woman who has refunded her brideprice to her former husband, but she is expected to stay in her present husband’s house one night or two, keeping quiet, refraining from household tasks, and remembering the deceased. If the bridewealth has not been repaid, a reconciliation ceremony must be performed as was outlined earlier in this chapter.
In spite of the severity of the mourning regulations, it is unheard of for a widow who has been living with her husband to refuse to perform them. To do so might bring on accusations of witchcraft by the Daughters of her husband’s lineage. Formerly other members of the household of the deceased remained in mourning for three Ibo weeks (12 days) and did not wash either their persons or their clothing (Basden 1966:279). Even today the priest of the deceased’s immediate patrilineage segment, who is the nominal Head Mourner, may refrain from the forthcoming annual ceremonies because he has lost a kinsman. However, he wears no special clothing and no particular mourning behavior is prescribed for him.
Depending on the closeness of their ties to the deceased, Daughters of the lineage segment may wear dark clothes and restrict marketing and other activities outside of their own household for 28 days. At the end of this period, if it coincides with the end of the Lamentation rites, they may go to the waterside marketplace as a group to show that they are now returning to normal activities. Actual daughters of the deceased are under no restrictions, since they must attend market and provide supplies for their widowed mothers.
In the past, brothers of the deceased were expected to refrain from farming for a few weeks, during which time they entertained visitors who offered condolences. Currently, men rarely take off more time from their jobs than is necessary to complete the proper funeral ceremonies.
22.214.171.124. Burial Rites for an Untitled Man
Compared to the Burial rites for a titled man, those for an untitled person are much less elaborate, and certain ceremonies are entirely omitted. In general, however, the arrangements concerning the death, the designation of the Head Mourner and the ceremonies themselves follow a similar outline to that for a titled man. As noted earlier, there is no ewu izuzu (“goat for the conversation”), since the titled men of the village do not need to be first informed of the “illness”. Formal rites begin with the Announcement, made by the Chief Mourner to the priest and members of the lineage. Wailing can begin immediately after the death. Cloth, but no eagle feathers, will be given as a tribute to the deceased.
In some respects Burial ceremonies of untitled persons may be differentiated as to whether the deceased was married or unmarried, an elder or a young man. Whereas a titled man or lineage priest, both of whom would necessarily be married, will be treated as an elder in regard to his funeral rites, even if he is under forty years of age, a married, untitled man who has not inherited the position of lineage priest may be considered a youth until he is well past forty. Distinctions based on age and marital status are evident in many phases of the burial rites.
On the night of the Announcement, titled men do not come to dance as a group. If the deceased was a youth, young men will do a large part of the dancing and drumming, whereas if he were an elder, older men, titled and untitled, would participate more actively. For all married men the igba oziza, the dance of anger, is performed, the ekwe drum is beaten and cannon sounded to announce the death to the wider community.
While Daughters of the deceased’s village will stay for only one day after the burial of an unmarried man, they will remain for two in the case of a deceased married man, no matter what his age. The latter is accorded this respect because he is said to have “entered his house” and is no longer a child.
The types of masquerades that appear at the funeral ceremonies also tend to reflect the age and marital status of the untitled man. If a young man has died, the masquerades that are brought out by his peers are of a violent nature. For example, otuiche and ulaga run about the town, chasing and occasionally beating unlucky passersby, while singing their outrage at the death. 16 Even old men will stay out of the path of these ghosts when they are exhibiting violent anger. If the deceased was married and prominent, an even fiercer masquerade, the ayakka, may also appear several nights after the burial. Other masks which may be present are agbobo mmuo, ogolo, and nnunuozala described above. Any of these may also appear at funerals of titled men.
The distinction between elder and youth occurs most importantly at the actual burial, since the Tall Ghost will appear only for an elder. In his place, the ulaga or otuiche may be present, though the sacrifice of the chicken by the masquerade is not performed. Unlike the burial of a titled man, there is no final separation rite cut off a man from his comrades.
A married man who has his own house will be buried inside, while an unmarried man will be buried outside his father’s compound. If the deceased was not prominent, it is unlikely that the Daughters will dance around the village or town after the burial; for a young man, however, there may be similar dances performed by adolescent girls.
The parents of a deceased untitled man will wear dark clothes and restrict their activities for at least 28 days. The mother is expected to grieve more than the father, and one account indicates that mothers would lie down in ashes at night (Crowther and Taylor 1859:309). If a parent is deeply upset by the loss, he may decide not to conduct his annual religious ceremonies.17
Mourning restrictions on the widow of an untitled man are similar to those already discussed.
6.3.3. Announcement and Burial Rites for Women
126.96.36.199. For Titled Women
188.8.131.52.1. Arrangements for the Funeral
In Onitsha, a woman is considered titled if she owns leg or arm ivory bracelets, if she has purchased slaves, if she has financed the major part of her husband’s ozo title taking, or if she is the mother of a titled man (see Chapter Four). In these contexts, her Burial is similar to that of a titled man’s.
Depending on the marital status of the woman, primary fniancial responsibilities may fall on either her husband, her son, or her own lineage members, especially her brother. If a husband and wife are living together, or if they are separated due to the man having driven his wife away, it is the husband’s responsibility to provide the final cloth to cover his wife’s coffin. He should also provide gin and food for the Daughters who watch the corpse, and a pot, calabash and chicken for the proclaiming innocence ritual. If he refuses to perform these ceremonies, as he may if he and his wife are separated and if she has been childless or had borne him no sons, the wife’s own lineage members will provide the necessary ritual objects and finance the burial. In this case they, not the husband, will inherit any property the woman may have owned.
Even if a couple have been living apart, the husband should send cloth at her burial as a minimal token of esteem. If the wife, however, left her husband of her own accord, he is not only morally free from any funeral expenses, but he may also demand the bridewealth back from his father-in-law.
When a woman has children, they may provide the food for the patrilineage Daughters and pay a large part of the funeral expenses. If a widower with young children assumes the major financial responsibilities, he is seen as acting in the name of his children.
Some Onitsha informants state that traditionally the nominal Head Mourner for a woman is a male member of her lineage, and that even when a son performs the funeral ceremonies for his mother he is “standing at the foot of her brother”. In this case, as with that of a man, the Head Mourner would not be expected to pay funeral costs, but rather to make the Announcements to the woman’s patrilineage and sit by the fire in mourning. It is not possible, however, to adequately substantiate this view, and many Onitsha people today assert that the Head Mourner for a woman is her husband, especially if she has borne him children.
Announcement of Death
Upon the death of a woman her husband or her children inform the chief priest of their own lineage and make arrangements to relate the news to the deceased woman’s patrilineage. This consultation may be referred to as nkata umunna, “calling the patrilineage”. A representative of the husband then takes wine to the woman’s father or her lineage priest “to (notify) that the body is suffering” (mmanya na aru na anwu). When the father has been told of the “illness”, he requests that his son-in-law find a native doctor to assist his daughter. This, however, is just a formality, for soon after leaving, the son-in-law returns with another bottle of gin “wine for sitting beside the fire” (mmanya usokwe) to be used by the father while sitting by the fire during the mourning period. Part of this gin is used by the father to inform other relatives of the death.
Upon hearing that their Sister has died, the Daughters and some of the men of the deceased woman’s patrilineage go to her husband’s compound and examine her body to ascertain that she has not died a bad death which would exclude her from proper Burial rites.
If there is agreement between the woman’s patrilineage and that of her husband that the death should be formally announced, delegates from the woman’s lineage, including the lineage priest, assemble in her kitchen for the ceremony of ewe izuzu (see above). If the titled woman has children, one of them will announce to the group that his mother is sick. If a woman’s children are too young to perform this role, a member of the husband’s lineage may do it in their name. If she is childless, her brother will make this announcement. After the illness has been announced, the priest will sacrifice a goat and pray for the sick woman’s recovery. The goat’s blood will fall not only on the staves of the titled men present, but also on the woman’s shrines to her father and mother. After a brief interval another nkata umunna is performed.
The same degrees of kinsmen are notified at a woman’s death as at a man’s. That is, the woman’s father’s village (that of her own patrilineage) wll be represented by Daughters and drummers, also her mother’s villlage, her father’s mothers’s village, and her father’s father’s mothers’s village, though the last two groups mentioned will be represented by only a few people. As with all other married adults, Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage have may duties in regard to the corpse, including keeping vigil over it.
The death is announced to the wider community by the booming of cannons, as is appropriate for all adults. However, the ekwe drum, associated in the past with warfare, which is used to inform the patrilineage of a man’s death, is not beaten for woman.
184.108.40.206.2. Preparations and Ceremonies prior to Burial
In the early morning of the day of burial, the corpse is washed and dressed by the Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage. The husband may provide cloth to decorate the bed or “tie” around his wife, but this is not compulsory as it is when the roles are reversed. An English observer, writing in 1904 about Onitsha or a neighboring Ibo town, described the following:
When a woman dies, all her relatives gather in the house and wail for some hours; food is cooked, and the deceased woman’s eldest daughter takes a small piece, divides it into four and throws it into the place where her mother used to wash. Water is brought in the woman’s own water pot and calabash; the corpse is washed, wrapped in cloth and laid in the house. The calabash and pot are broken on the spot and a hen or chicken is sacrificed for the above ceremony and eaten by the women (Wilson 1904:753).
The ritual items and the food used are provided by the deceased’s son or her husband, if he has been living with her. The children of the deceased cook the “food taken in hand” (see above) which is eaten by the Daughters. During the day, relatives and friends bring expensive cloths to lay on the corpse as do many Ivory-Wearers. A man married to the deceased’s daughter is obliged to bring cloth as a tribute to his mother-in-law just as he does at his father-in-law’s death. In the afternoon, drummers from the woman’s own village, that of her husband, and of her daughters’ husbands will attend the funeral, as will any drumming groups to which her sons belong. Also, at the present time, her own age set as well as those of her husband and children will dance as a final honor to her. The Village Wives of which she was a member will also dance, and her own Daughters will perform a pantomime of the activities for which she or her family were known.
Permanency for marriage ties depends on whether a woman has borne sons. If she has, she is regarded as a wife-mother, incorporated into her husband’s lineage, and buried in her son’s compound, or on the site assigned for his house when he is mature. Even if a woman has remarried, it is the prerogative of her first son, by her first marriage, to bury her in his house. If she has no living sons, her body is carried back to her own village for burial after all other rites have been performed in her husband’s house. Once the body has left the village of the deceased’s husband, financial repsponsibilities for the feeding of lineage Daughters and other guests rests entirely upon the woman’s own village. Lineage Daughters will remain overnight after the burial in a house in this village, not the husband’s.
If the deceased has been initiated into the masquerade society as Mother of the Ghosts, the Tall Ghost will perform the ceremony of “ghost buries corpse”, involving the sacrifice of two chickens, one of which, it is believed, will lead her to the spirit world. After a woman has been buried, her dishes, calabashes and pots are placed outside her house and broken to enable her to use them in the next world.
Unlike the burial of a titled man, there is no ceremony such as ewu akpa to cut off the deceased woman from others who hold title. The reasons for this will be considered later.
220.127.116.11.3. Funeral Activities on the Day after Burial
The dancing and drummng on the day after burial occur near the compound in which the deceased has been buried, either her son’s or her brother’s. At whichever site the activities are held, groups representing both the patrilineage into which the woman was born and the one into which she married will be present. For example, the villages of the deceased’s father and that of her mother will bring any drums or dances for which they are particularly renowned, as will the vilalge of the woman’s husband. The Village Wives of the deceased’s husband are particularly active singing songs both the praise their late member, i.e. “We have come to lament a noble person who worked well”, and to honor the village into which they are married, i.e. “We of X Village) have lived for ages; we don’t hear what others say” (we are not submissive to others), or “We are patient and cannot be provoked to rash argument”.
Certain masquerades may also appear to honor a prominent woman; among these are ogobomaw and nnunuozala mentioned earlier.
18.104.22.168.4. Mourning Restrictions
Traditionally, a man must mourn his wife for seven market weeks or 28 days, during which time he restricts his activities to his compound enclosure (Basden 1966:271). He is not expected to take an active part in the funeral proceedings even though he may be financing them. Some informants state that in the past a man would sit on the floor and stay in one place, wearing only dark clothes at this time. The phrase “to sit by the fire”, which we encountered in the description of the obligations incumbent on a man’s Head Mourner, and on a woman’s father, is applicable also to a woman’s husband. It refers to the fact that the mourner is considered unwell, and sits by the fire as do invalids.
He is not, however, regarded as a dangerous, impure person and is able to entertain friends who come to visit him. Until the conclusion of the Lamentation rites for his wife, he will not perform any sacrifices, since the ghosts/spirits which should protect his household have, instead, taken one of its members. In most cases, however, the period of abstention from sacrifice is longer for a man at the death of his child than at that of his wife.18
The restrictions surrounding a husband are relatively minor compared to those assigned to a widow, and this is in large part a reflection of the fact that a husband is much less identified with his wife, in life, than she is with him. For example, while they are both alive he is free to have sexual relations with other partners, while such behavior on her part can cause his death. In a sense, because of the dependency relationship that a woman has occupied vis-a-vis her spouse, his ghost is believed more likely to try to maintain the network of social relationships that had surrounded him during his lifetime (Jack Goody 1962:183-197).
Certainly, there is less fear that a woman’s ghost will try to seize her husband, either to continue the relationship, or to punish him for having been responsible for her death. Although present-day informants agree that a widower who fails to restrict his activities for a month after the death of his wife risks being accused of causing her death, they deny that a man’s death during the mourning period will result in his body being unceremoniously thrown into the bad bush. They claim that whether or not the death is defined as a bad one depends on the age of the deceased and the advice of a native doctor after consultation with the afa divining shells. Also, it must be taken into account that since the mourning period for a widower is much shorter than that for a widow, and performed under fewer unhealthy conditions, chances for such an ignomious death are greatly reduced.
22.214.171.124. Burial Rites for an Untitled Woman
These rites can be concisely dealt with since, in most regards, they are similar to, but less elaborate than those for titled women. There will, however, be no ewu izuzu performed prior to the Announcement, and titled women will not come in large numbers to the ceremonies. The duties of a husband to his wife are the same whether or not she is titled, and the determination of who is to make the Announcement or finance the funeral follows the procedure outlined above. Although it is unlikely that a woman would be an initiate of the masquerade society if she neither took title nor had a son or husband belonging to the ozo title society, the roles of Mother of the Masquerade and Ivory Wearer are clearly separate; if a woman is a masquerade initiate, she is buried by the Tall Ghost. Unless a woman is Mother of the Masquerade or her children want to give her special honor, masquerades such as agbogo mmau or nnunuozala will probably not dance at the funeral; however their attendance is not forbidden. In general, though many of the same groups that attend a prominent titled woman’s funeral will offer at least token representation, the whole event will be on a much smaller, less extravagant scale.
As with men, distinctions exist between the funerals of married and unmarried women. For a young unmarried girl, her patrilineage will be formally informed in the usual manner. The parents of the girl will not take an active part in any of the funeral proceedings and the corpse will lie in state in a house other than theirs.
In the morning of the day of burial, the ceremonial proclamation of innocence is performed by the Daughters, as it is for a married person. As the body lies in state, mourners place pennies near it which are later distributed by the Head Daughter to the other lineage Daughters, after she has taken the largest share. Unless it is brought by the girl’s age-set, there will probably be no cloth to cover the coffin.
While the adult married Daughters of the lineage are not active in dancing and mourning a deceased unmarried person, their roles are assumed, to some extent, by the unmarried young Daughters. These girls, for example, perform the igba ilo, a dance similar to the one of the same name done by adult Daughters on the third day of an adult married man’s funeral. In it, however, the girls carry green twigs to “fight death” and sing such verses as “Do not kill a person, do not hang for killing him”.
The Wives of the Village of which the deceased was a member cook for the Daughters and other funeral participants, but they usually do not dance, since an unmarried girl is, by implication, an unimportant one. Notably absent at Burials of young women are the violent masquerades which appear at the deaths of young men. In fact, the violent anger at death appears to be restricted to men’s funerals.
These are comparable to those done for titled women.
6.3. Summary Overview of the Burial Process
Before proceeding to a description of Lamentation ceremonies, let us review some of the major themes of the Announcement and Burial and discuss the roles of women in this part of funerary ritual.
The more important a man or woman has been in life, the longer will be the delay in formally announcing the death, and the more reluctance is shown In even admitting that the concept of death applies. At the death of the King, the announcement may occur one month or even one year afterwards. Since the King is regarded as already beyond the bounds of mortality, various euphemisms are used instead of the word “death” The chiefs are also ceremonially shielded from death; when the King or chiefs are informed of an impending funeral, again the word “death” is not used, but a phrase such as “he has departed”. Nor should the King or chiefs respond with sadness. During the funeral ceremonies, they are not to see the body. Both of theses categories of persons may be viewed as having approached, through the various installation ceremonies in attaining their titles, a quality of “ancestorhood” while they are still alive. In a more limited sense, this can also be said of the ozo titled man and helps to explain the fact that his death is not immediately announced, and that the titled men of the lineage are initially informed only that he is “ill”. It is only when they return after the ewu izuzu ceremony without their titled staves that they are actually informed of the death. Also, titled men are prohibited from taking care of the body or burying the corpse.
The privileges that are given a woman who is regarded as titled are based on a metaphorical extension from the men’s titled system. The woman’s title-taking ceremonies, unlike those for men, are almost devoid of religious content, though they share with the men’s the feature of wealth distribution.
Common elements in all Onitsha funerals are fear of contagion from the corpse and anxiety about contact with the ghost. Contagion is counteracted by the use of special leaves to protect those who deal with the body, e.g. when the Daughters wash and dress the corpse, and by the destruction of objects closely associated with the deceased during his last sickness, e.g. the waterpot and calabash.
The statement is clearly made that the deceased must not be allowed, as a ghost, to continue holding his usual rights. Ties that the deceased had to social groups such as the title society, masquerade society, patrilineage segment, and to occupational roles such as farmer, hunter, cook, must be formally severed. Representative objects used by persons in these roles are destroyed, not only so that they may be of use to the deceased in the afterlife, but also that they will not by their physical presence tempt the ghost to try to carry on his former activities in this world. Every group to which the deceased was a recgonized member, including kin groups, age grades, associations of Village Wives and Daughters, appears at the Burial ceremonies to pay a final tribute and to make a formal separation.
The major ritual phases of both men’s and women’s funerals are the same, differing primarily in the presence or absence of symbols of war, ozo title and the masquerade. There is a greater difference between the funeral of a titled man and an untitled man than there is between that of a titled woman and an untitled woman, presuming both are married. While for women marriage followed by child raising is the primary attainment of life, for men it is only a necessary prerequisite to title-taking, an activity in which primary reliance must be placed on one’s own achievements. On the other hand, whether a woman becomes the wearer of ivory frequently depends on the generosity of her sons and the esteem which they want to show to her rather than on her own wealth. Whereas the attainment of the title by a man determines that he will be recalled as a named ancestor by future generations, any woman who has children will be remembered by a shrine dedicated to her by them.
When a woman has had sons, she approaches incorporation into her husband’s lineage, and her husband and children assume major responsibility for the funeral rather than her brother. Although the Daughters of her own lineage are not replaced by those of her husband in their critical ceremonial activities, the men of her lineage relinquish many of their funerary duties to those of her husband’s family. It should be noted, however, that the ewu izuzu for a titled woman is conducted by members of her own lineage, not her husband’s.
The burial of a woman’s body near her son’s house ensures that her ghost will reincarnate in a member of her marital lineage. If there are no living sons, part of the funeral is performed in her husband’s village, but the primary financial responsibilities may be undertaken by her own village and it is there she is buried.
The mourning rites after the death of a man concentrate not only on degrading his widow, but also on disguising and protecting her from her husband’s ghost. Neither of these symbolic aspects is of much significance in the case of a widower. However, although a deceased woman is not believed to be dangerous to her husband, she is thought to be dangerous to her children, and before she is buried, relatives cut her hair and nails, wrap them in black cloth and tie the bundles around the ankles or wrists of her young children to protect them from her ghost. Smaller children may even have bells tied to their legs or arms to warn members of the household should the child toss in its sleep from dreaming about its mother. Protective measures may also be taken against the ghost of the father, but they are less common.This is probably due to the fact that a mother is viewed as being more attached to the child than is the father, her intimate domestic relations with the child in everyday situations being symbolically recognized.
In regard to mourning restrictions, a notable difference is evident in the behavior of the husband’s Daughters to his widow, as contrasted to that of a deceased woman’s Daughters to the mourning husband. The wife is regarded as an outcast whose behavior is carefully observed by her husband’s Daughters; if she breaks any of the restrictive customs concerning the mourning period, she may be accused of having murdered her husband. Also the Daughters have the power to extend her mourning period if they think she was unfaithful to her husband during his lifetime.
The Daughters of a deceased woman’s lineage do not watch a man for behavior suggesting that he murdered his wife, nor do they have the power to extend his mourning period. If, however, they believe that a widower treated his wife badly during her life, they will make excessive demands on him at the funeral for food and drinks.
When examining the activities of Daughters at a funeral, a threefold distinction must be made between actual daughters of the deceased, younger lineage Daughters and older ones. Children of the deceased are not accused of causing the death, and they do not partake of the privations of the wife or the official mourning of Chief Mourner. Both sons and daughters lead their age groups in dancing, and daughters may also bring the Village Wives’ group from the residential unit to the one to which they belong by marriage. They are celebrating the death of a parent who has lived an honorable life and been appropriately survived by his children. Aside from these festive moments, daughters have many responsibilities in regard to their widowed mothers, such as bringing them food, caring for them, etc., during the mourning period.
Younger Daughters of the deceased’s lineage, even immediate sisters of the deceased, may also bring their age sets and Village Wives, and they behave in sharp contrast to the deceased’s wives. They also run around the square armed with sticks to show their anger at the death in a similar but less violent manner than their patrilineage Brothers. Although younger Daughters may be present during any of the rituals mentioned in this chapter, they generally do not eat with the corpse, wash the body, sit overnight with it, or remain in the deceased’s house after the burial. Although several explanations are given for this, such as the impropriety of young women seeing a naked male corpse, and the fact that young married women are more needed in their own households than are older women, the primary reason is probably that young women efar the ghost that lingers around the deceased’s house. Such a fear is stronger among those who have not been “cooked” (osili ye ite: “to cook in pot”) and “hardened” by protective medicines.
However, the Head Daughter, and the other older women of the lineage who are the leaders in the ritual activity involving the corpse, do not bring their age sets and Village Wives to add to the richness of the occasion. Instead, they are involved in attending to the corpse and appeasing its anger. The touching of the corpse with a spotless chicken is a form of ceremonial oath-taking. As shown in the previous chapter, when effecting a reconciliation between a widow and her late spouse, and when purifying a man’s house prior to a ceremony, daughters use a chicken for their rituals’ however, on none of these occasions do they eat the chicken that has absorbed the pollution. The fact that they do eat it at a funeral indicates that they are swearing to their own innocence of having caused the death. It should be observed that while mature and elderly Daughters routinely swear their innocence at a death in the family, men are only called upon to do so in unusual circumstances.
The reason why Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage are called upon routinely to swear their innocence may relate to the fact that while men fear that their wives, not their sisters, may poison them intentionally or by the magical effects of socially deviant acts, they fear their sisters more than their wives as practitioners or witchcraft. As discussed in Chapter Five, a woman is believed more likely to attack her brother than her husband with this evil, but not necessarily intentionally-employed, spiritual power.
Another reason why certain elderly women of one’s lineage may be feared is that as holders of ofo they have the righteous power to curse anyone who has offended them. However, since ofo is believed to rebound on anyone who uses it unjustly, there is no need to swear innocence of using it to kill someone. Another notable quality of the older Daughters’ activities at a funeral is their aggressiveness in demanding food from the Head Mourner, even when he is a member of their own lineage. They are also secretive about their rituals, excluding all men, and, in some villages, they sit at the doorway of the house to exclude those female relatives of the deceased who come from other lineages.
There are, therefore, many complex aspects to the rituals performed by Daughters at funerals. Not only are these women the sole actors able and required to cleanse the corpse, to reconcile differences between the widow and her late husband, to eat (as representatives of the husband) the last meal cooked by the widows for their husband, and to supervise the widow’s mourning behavior, but they are also themselves open to suspicion in regard to the cause of death. The males of the deceased’s lineage, who are potential husbands to the widow, have nothing to do with her while she is in mourning. The lineage is represented to the widow by its female members acting in their gender roles.
The Daughters of the deceased’s lineage are not the only ones present at the funeral; there are also some who represent the lineage segments of the deceased’s mother, deceased’s father’s mother, and deceased’s father’s father’s mother, groups into which a man cannot marry without ceremonially cutting these kinship ties through women. Women from the lineage of the deceased’s mother’s mother should also be invited, but generally they are less in evidence and less often mentioned. To members of all these lineage segments, the deceased stands as a sister’s or Daughter’s child while they are his maternal grandparents. Of these, the deceased’s mother’s people are the most important, and Daughters from that lineage will stay in the deceased’s house several days.
Daughters from lineages other than the deceased’s own do not take part in the cleansing of the corpse nor in the rituals concerning the behavior of widows. Nor is it so important for them to swear their innocence of their child’s death, even though these Daughters, especially those of the deceased’s mother’s lineage segment, are capable of killing their Daughter’s child through witchcraft. Also, since these women do not hold ofo power over their daughter’s children, they are not regarded with the same mixture of fear and respect due to the Head Daughters of one’s own lineage.
The people representing the lineage of a man’s mother guard his rights to a proper burial, especially if he has no living children, and they are the ones who most violently express anger at the loss of their child. As has been detailed earlier, the maternal grandparents take a nuturing and protective role toward their Daughter’s child. While maternally-linked shrines can cause sickness and even death, they are not thought to be as dangerous as those belonging to the patrilineage.
When a member of the lineage segments to which one stands as a Daughter’s child dies, it is appropriate to behave in some respects like the deceased’s child, that is, to dance carrying a horsetail and even, occasionally, to receive money for the “cloth to cover the corpse”, as does the Chief Mourner or the actual son. The lineage of the maternal grandparents may bring this cloth for their child, but it is not mandatory as it is for those who have married a daughter of the deceased. Some infomrants state that in the past all those people who recognized a common maternal ancestral shrine would bring cloth to one another’s funerals.
This description of the first part of Onitsha funerary ritual has illustrated some of the important points made about the theory of religion in the first chapter. Through these ritual processes one can see the importance of those aspects of religion stressed by scholars such as Geertz. Beliefs concerning death and the afterlife explain otherwise baffling events, show people how to handle the pain of bereavement, and define the death in dimensions of good and evil.
Quite clearly, the problem of defining the meaning of death in Onitsha society is no simple matter of expressing property relationships, nor is it merely a matter of ignorance and error through which the people “explain” death by reference to supernatural deities. The Announcement and Burial procedures are fundamentally moral in tone, for they restate as morally-significant categories the various roles that the deceased played in life, and they aim at a definition of the moral meaning of his or hear death for the rest of the community. Funerary ritual, through its presentation of ideal models of behavior, especially through its emphasis not only on proper kinship relations, but also on achievement-orientated activities, may be viewed as motivating persons to reflect these ideals in their everyday behavior.
Beliefs expressed in funeral ritual may also be seen as handling some of the ambiguities felt toward women. Though women are feared, especially in the role of elderly Daughters, their activities associated with the corpse not only express the fear that they may have been responsible for the death, but also give them a form of communion with the corpse that is unavailable to male lineage members.
6.4. Lamentation (Ikwa-Ozu)
6.4.1. Indigenous Interpretations of the Meaning of the Ritual
To Onitsha Ibo, the primary purpose of the Lamentation is to end a period when the deceased wanders between this world and the next, unaccepted by the ancestors and cut off from human fellowship. Ghosts for whom no Lamentation has been performed remain in a place called ama-nri (apparently referring to an area in or near the neighboring Ibo town of Nri) subsisting on a leaf called okazi (Stuart-Young 1917:156). When the cannons are fired signifying the beginning of the final funeral rites, the spirit says goodbye to the other unfortunate ghosts and goes to the land of the dead, taking with him objects from his deathbed, clothing, eagle feathers, tools, etc., and in the case of a titled man or woman, the meat of a cow sacrificed at the initial stage of the Lamentation rites. The afterworld is potentially accessible to all persons regardless of wealth or position19, but those who have attained high status in this world should carry it over to the next, hence the sacrifice of a cow at the Lamentations of titled men and women to indicate their worldly riches and add to their prestige in the land of the dead.
It is the ghost (mmuo) inside the man which leaves his body at death and goes to amanri, and, after the Lamentation, to the land of the dead. While in amanri, the ghost, which can be communicated with only be native doctors, is believed to complain that he has not yet been welcomed into his house (Basden 1966:285-286). Once the Lamentation has been performed, one aspect of the ghost can be invoked by a lineage priest into the okposi (see Chapters Two and Five) which are kept with the other objects representing the dead.
Because of the fact that the Lamentation transforms an unincorporated ghost into a recognized ancestor whose ritual objects may be worshipped and with whom direct communication is possible, it takes on great importance in Onitsha life. No man may take the ozo title until he has completed these ceremonies for his deceased parents, nor may a senior son move into his father’s house prior to the performance of the final funeral.
Until completion of the Lamentation, children of the deceased will fear the misfortunes which may be sent by an irate parent. For example, a man would be afraid to travel by canoe for fear of an accident. If an individual expresses anxiety and seeks a diviner’s advice, he will be told to perform the ceremony immediately.
Lamentation rites may be performed immediately after Burial rites during certain periods of the annual ceremonial cycle, or they may be postponed for a year or more, depending on the financial status of the deceased’s family.
For a free-born Onitsha citizen Lamentation must, however, begin on eke night and continue through the Ibo weekday, oye, and, often, the following days, afo and nkwo. In the rest of this section, English phrases such as the “first day” and “second day” will substitute for the Ibo terms for the days of the week in reference to Lamentation rites.
Lamentations are prohibited from the time of the umato in July or August when the newly-harvested corn is eaten, through the period of the new yam ceremonies, until after ossisite in early November which marks the end of the farming period. The largest number of Lamentations are performed from November through March, before the heavy farming season and the months of hunger (ogani). During the period of intensive agricultural labor, men are too busy and too hungry themselves to feed the ghosts o the dead, and the latter are believed to be too occupied with their own farming to participate in such ceremonies. It is also evident, however, despite indigenous explanations, that the calendar is ordered in such a way as to distinguish between major harvest feasts when deities and the incorporated dead are propitiated, and periods, indeed lulls, in the ceremonial cycle, which are the times when the rituals are performed which transform the unincorporated dead into ancestors.
One of the central foci of the Lamentation is the erection of the igbudu, a box made of mats which represents the coffin that contained the corpse. It is made of the same material as the burial mats (utagini). The igbudu has been described as a home into which the deceased’s ghost is invoked, given gifts of money and food for use in the next world, and told to kill anyone whom he knows has killed him. Those present swear that if they have brought evil into the compound, they shall die. After final homage, the igbudu is buried or crushed into the ground at the site of the original grave.
In earlier times the igbudu may have been a wicker dummy of a similar size to the deceased which was covered with a grass mat and cloth (Basden 1966:290). In 1887, the igbudu of the deceased Omu of Onitsha was described as “a sort of image manufactured to represent the corpse of the deceased queen and…laid out for public exhibition” (Strong 884-1893). Even today, a short limb of the bombax tree (Ceiba petendra) is placed inside the Igbudu to represent the corpse.
Lamentation is also an occasion for the living to ask the dead to distribute food and drinks among other spirits and to pray for their children on earth. It is a time for feasting and celebrating the rebirth of a kinsman and one’s own potential rebirth. During the final stages of the ceremony for a prominent deceased man, the ghost will return in the form of a masquerade to his former village and show that he has been resurrected into the community of both the living and the dead. An Ibo saying reflects part of the mood of the participants and onlookers: “[on the] day one laments a person, that [day] he laments himself” (mbosi onye kwalu madu ka okwalu onweya). It is as though he were “partaking of the feast of his own death and rebirth in advance” (Ifeka 1962:3).
6.4.2. Lamentation Rites for Men
126.96.36.199. For Titled Men
Before any definite plans are made, the Head Mourner consults with the children of the deceased and with others who share rights in the estate of the most immediate ancestral house in order to arrange financial assistance for the performance of the Lamentation, and to set a date for its initial phase. Also consulted are members of the patrilineage of the deceased, who give assurances of their willingness to help materially and financially in the Lamentation rites.
Moving out from the patrilineage to the wider village and inter-village sphere in which the deceased titled man operated, the Head Mourner takes gin to the King and asks him to send his representative to kill the cow recently purchased for the beginning stage of the Lamentation. Unlike the Burial ceremonies in which the King plays no part, his official killing of the cow to honor a deceased titled man reinforces his position as the individual who holds the object of ritual purification essential to the ozo title taking, the nze. The killing of the cow may be viewed as a symbolic re-enactment of the deceased ozo man’s initiation rite, in which the King directs sacrifice of an animal presented to him by the candidate. In non-royal villages at ozo title-taking ceremonies, candidates fomerly sacrificed at the nze of their own Hidden King (eze idi) (Orakwue 1953:22). Consequently, it was the Hidden King, not the King of Onitsha, who killed the cow at the non-royal ozo man’s lamentation (Onitsha Native Court 10/2/38: Case no. 4).
On the prescribed day for sacrificing the cow, the King’s representative comes to the deceased man’s compound to preside over the ceremony. As he sits on the deceased’s throne, the representative receives kola, palm wine and yams from the Head Mourner. The kola is broken by the representative who then passes it to the Prime Minister who offers it to those in the crowd whom he wishes to favor. The same procedure is followed for palm wine and schnaaps. If all the Senior Chiefs are present, they will follow in order of precedence after the Prime Minister. Also present at the ceremony are titled men of the village of the deceased, elders and patrilineage mates, Daughters of the lineage, and some elders from the deceased mother’s village.
In sacrificing the cow, the King’s representative makes only one mark on the animal with his ceremonial sword, and the beast is then killed by aides. The cow is then dissected. Its hump and liver are placed in the King’s pan, after pieces have been cut from the former and presented to each man in the room. Meanwhile, the Daughters of the deceased’s lineage are given the “waist”, the Head Daughter taking half, and leaving the rest for the others present. The rib cage is cut up to be divided equally among the Senior Chiefs or their representatives. One hind leg and the heart go to the deceased’s village, to be distributed equally among them. Another hind leg is reserved for the second and third class chiefs. The Head Mourner takes the two forelegs, the head and the skin, later presenting some of the meat to his senior patrilineage priest and reserving the rest for use in feeding the funeral visitors. The men of the deceased’s mother’s village receive the intestines and other relatively uncherished internal parts.
For a titled man, the next phase of the preparation for the Lamentation is called “food for announcing the death”, or “food for setting the funeral date” (nni ika ozu). On this occasion the Head Mourner presents goat stew, palm wine, and pounded yam to the titled members of the deceased’s partilineage, and together with them decides on a forthcoming ritually correct day for the burial of the igbudu. Also invited is a chief of the deceased’s village for whom a special portion of the meat is reserved, and it is he who formally announces (ika ozu) the date of the forthcoming funeral. All of the chiefs must be notified of this date and invited to attend the ceremonies.
The role of chiefs at Lamentation ceremonies, in contrast to their relative absence at Burial rites, should be clarified. As we have seen in Chapter Four, chiefs are (at least theoretically) viewed as warriors, and the senior ones hold war drums which are used to accompany dances prior to warring expeditions, and to celebrate on occasions when warfare is recounted. These drums must be beaten during the Lamentation rites for titled and untitled married men and for titled women. The connection between the war drums and the funerals of mature men and women is that the drum reenacts, in the funeral context, the association of the deceased with great events, such as warfare. Some informants trace the custom to the honoring of men who died on the battlefield.
Several days prior to the beginning of the ceremonies, the Head Mourner (or his representative) goes to the Senior Chief of his village and arranges to have the latter’s drummers bring his war drum on the eve of the Lamentation and for the following days of the funeral. For this, the Senior Chief receives a small amount of money and an additional sum to give his drummers. The Senior Chief, however, has the power not only to withhold his warm drums, but also to prevent the formal announcement of the Lamentation if he wishes to punish a troublesome villager or force dissident groups into allegiance to him.
The chiefs, especially the senior ones, are not active at the Burial rites, may not see a corpse, and may not act as mourners. The fact that they are present at the Lamentation points out a major difference between that ceremony and the Burial. At this final funeral activity, the emphasis is not so much on death but on the incorporation of the ghost as an ancestor. It is only after this ritual that one aspect of the ghost can be reborn and another can be invoked into a lineage shrine. Such dead take on significance beyond the family and are of interest to the whole town. The performance of the Lamentation indicates that the deceased individual has achieved a certain minimal status for which he should receive the respect of the wider community. The more influential the individual has been outside purely kinship relationships, the more actively and fully will the chiefs (who represent non-familial achievement) be represented at the Lamentation.
Once the date has been fixed for the Lamentation, it must be announced to the many groups that will attend the ceremony. Important among these is the patrilineage of the mother of the deceased, whose priest is given several pots of palm wine and a small amount of money by a representative of the Head Mourner in a rite called “announcing the death to the mother’s kinsmen” (ikalu ikwu nne ozu). This priest, in turn, informs the relevant members of his village, who will decide in what strength they should attend the Lamentation and whether they should make it more festive by bringing their masquerades.
Whatever their decision, a group of men representing this patrilineage are obliged to go to the final funeral with their dances and drums. If the deceased was titled, they should also bring their Tall Ghost. Daughters representing the patrilineage of the deceased’s mother will sleep at the deceased’s house for several nights. Patrilineages of the deceased’s father’s mother, father’s father’s mother, and mother’s mother will also be informed. Head Daughters of these patrlinineage subunits may attend the Lamentation, as may representative groups of male members, much as they did at the Burial rites.
Yet another group to be informed are the sons-in-law of the deceased. While being told of the date of the Lamentation, the sons-in-law each receive a pot of palm wine. On the second day of the final funeral (oye day), they must each bring a goat (ikpuga ewu ogo: “in-laws take goat to in-laws”). On the same day, they should also bring groups of village drummers to the ceremony. Parents-in-law of the deceased’s agnates, on the other hand, are not required to bring groups of drummers. Others who are formally notified of the Lamentation date include Daughters of the deceased’s own patrilineage, the Wives of his Village, and the members of various age sets.
188.8.131.52.2. The First Day (eke) of the Lamentation
When all the important participants have been notified and the ceremonial arrangements completed, the Lamentation formally begins with the firing of cannons and the beating of the ward drums on the evening before the burial of the igbudu. The war drum, the most presigious in the funeral, is beaten not only as a form of general announcement, but also when chiefs dance, and when the masquerade representing the reincarnated spirit of the deceased appears. On these occasions others may dance to the drums also, in the same manner that they may wear the attire of the deceased, even though such acts suggest a status they have not really attained. Informants have stated that the sound of the war drum is a joyful one, signifying that mourning is ending and friends and relatives should come to enjoy themselves. The chief’s drummers are paid with palm wine and a small amount of money; the eldest daughter of the deceased has the special duty of presenting them with an additional sum on the day that the igbudu is buried.
The whole night prior to the burial of the igbudu is primarily devoted to activities glorifying the deceased, such as ritualized dancing and praise singing by individuals and groups. Among those who honor the deceased by songs and dances at this time are the Village Youths, the Village Wives, the married men and titled men. Daughters of the deceased’s village may reward individual performances by the presentation of coins.
The importance of the presence of the Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage should be emphasized. The Lamentation ceremony cannot begin without the presence of the Head Daughter, for she initiates the proceedings with a song a dance in praise of the deceased. Throughout the evening, other Daughters do likewise.
During the evening, while the war drums are beaten, female children of the deceased titled man and Daughters of his lineage segment decorate his throne with expensive cloths which they have bought. Other Daughters sit near the igbudu which has been recently constructed by the men of the patrilineage. Late in the night, the Head Daughter of the deceased’s patrilineage segment puts kola nuts and money into the igbudu for the deceased’s use in the next world. Traditionally it was obligatory for representative Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage segment to stay in the deceased’s house for one Ibo week of four days, beginning on the first day of the Lamentation. Since the Lamentaion rites roughly parallel those of the Burial, the rationale for the Daughters’ presence may be viewed as similar to those at the earlier funeral ceremonies, with one major difference: the Daughters are not wailing as before, but are in a more joyous mood. 20 They do, however, keep watch over the igbudu much as they did over the actual corpse, and they also give food to the deceased by putting it into the igbudu, thus re-enacting their final “feeding” of the corpse on the day of burial.
Also in attendance at the initial stages of the formal Lamentation are representative Daughters of the deceased’s mother’s patrilineage, Daughters of the deceased’s father’s mother’s patrilineage, Daughters of the deceased’s fathers’ father’s mother’s patrilineage, and Daughter’s of the deceased’s mother’s mother’s patrilineage. As old women enter the compound, they seek out their respective groups. Younger women are allowed to go home late in the night, but elderly ones are expected to stay overnight at the deceased’s house.
184.108.40.206.1.3. The Second Day (Oye) of Lamentation Rites
Ritual Goat-killing Early in the morning of the day when the igbudu is to be buried, the rite known as “Youths Kill Goat” (umuilo igbu ewu) is performed under the supervision of the Head Daughter and the elders. In it, the Youths slaughter two goats provided by the Head Mourner, and dash some blood on both the igbudu and the deceased’s previously blood-free personal god (chi). Putting blood on the igbudu is a means of “feeding” the ghost, but giving blood to the “personal god” also indicates that the life-giving and destiny-defying pact between the god and the reincarnating spirit is now broken (see Chapter Two). The personal god which has represented the living man is soon discarded, but when the Lamentation rites have been concluded, an ancestral shrine which resembles it in several respects may be set up in the house of the deceased’s son or daughter.
Another important consequence of the ritual killing of the goats is the distribution of their meat among various concerned groups, including any chiefs present, one of whom is considered the nominal “killer of the goats”. Precise division of the meat is required, since each person who receives a share will complain loudly if he feels his share is not sufficient. Indeed, if a chief perceives a mistake in the division, he may refuse to take his portion and fine the Chief Mourner five pounds, and force him to begin the entire Lamentation ceremonies again.
The chiefs, who may come from any and all of the Onitsha villages, arrive in the late morning or early afternoon to dance to the war drum in the deceased’s compound. After this, they are shown their share of the ribs of the goats (ike anu ndichie: “shares of meat [for the] chiefs). The first son and first daughter of the deceased each present the Senior Chief with a number of kola nuts which are referred to as “money for goatskin bag [of chief]”, or “money [for killing] goat” (ego akpa ewu). Some of these nuts are ritually broken by the Senior Chief and thrown on a plate, which is later placed inside the igbudu for the enjoyment of the old men in the next world. Many of the nuts which the daughter gives to the Senior Chief have been collected from patrilineage Daughters who wish to have their ancestors pray for them while breaking kola in the land of the dead. Those nuts which are not put in the plate near the igbudu are regarded as payment to the chiefs for “killing the goats”, and are distributed to them as a group, the most senior chiefs receiving the greatest number.
The actual distribution of the meat may occur at another titled man’s compound nearby at which the chiefs convene. While at their host’s house, the chiefs are given a bottle of gin and a small amount of money, which have been provided by the Head Mourner. Later each chief takes his portion of meat to his own home and divides it as he likes. Later in the afternoon the chiefs return, and, again, dance to the war drum. Since the deceased was a titled man, many of the chiefs of the town will attend the Lamentation on this day.
After the chiefs have received their shares of the meat, the remainder is distributed in the following manner: The groin is reserved for the nkpalo, men of the village who have completed the ikpo mmuo ceremony but not taken ozo title. The two goats’ heads are given to the Daughters: those from the patrilineage of the deceased taking one, leaving the other for Daughters from other patrlineages. Intestines and internal organs are left to the Youths. The rest of the meat is put aside to be used by the wives of the male members of the patrilineage in cooking for the various groups of Daughters present at the Lamentation rites.
Dances and other Activities Prior to the Burial of the Igbudu
Aside from the groups already mentioned as formally invited to the ceremony, many different companies of dancers arrive, together with individual friends and relatives. Age sets, gaily attired in their “uniforms”, are one of the most prominent features of the day’s activities, and they are often led by a son or son-in-law of the deceased.21 The deceased’s own age set, and any age set to which he acted as an advisor and patron, will also come and dance.
Titled men do not come in one unit, but rather accompany their respective age sets, carrying ivory tusks and wearing their titled regalia. Age sets, groups such as the Town Women, and drummers from outside of the town are generally requested to come to the final funeral by a relative of the deceased, and are formally given some drinks and kola in advance. Groups receive differing amounts of drinks, e.g. the Town Women may be given, as a token of appreciation for their attendance, a moderate sum of money and several bottles of schnapps, while the Village Wives of the deceased, who must dance at the Lamentation, receive only a few pots of palm wine and a token amount of money. 22
Masquerades are also in evidence on the day of the burial of the igbudu, for any that were present at the Burial rites may also attend the Lamentation. For a titled man or an elderly married man with his own house, the Tall Ghost appears on the second day of the Lamentation in a ceremonial re-enactment of his role in the actual burial. Just as he is viewed as burying mature members of the masquerade society, he is also believed to give them a final salutation at their Lamentation rites. The Tall Ghost who appears at this time will represent the reincarnated spirit of a first son of a founder of the deceased’s patrlineage sub-segment, one who lived long, took title, and died “naturally”.
At first, the Tall Ghost goes to where the Daughters are sitting, next to the igbudu outside the deceased’s house. After these women throw money at him, he returns, with his male escorts, to the secret maquerade room (okwule) from which the ghosts pass to and from the underground. However, he soon reappears, again approaches the igbudu and, having saluted the corpse for a second time, disappears for the day
Burial of the Igbudu
In the early evening of the second day of the Lamentation, the Head Daughter and an ozo titled man perform a ritual, itu uni, the stated purpose of which is to exhort the deceased to go now to the other world in peace. It is also a prayer for both the living and the dead to be happy in their respective worlds. While the ozo man stands with his titled staff in his right hand and a goat skin in his left, the Head Daughter, seated beside the igbudu and surrounded by offerings of food and drink, breaks kola nuts and prays to the deceased, who has been invoked into the igbudu by a titled man.
There is some variation in what is said during this prayer, but certain elements are essential. The Daughter tells the deceased that what she is doing is what her forefathers did, and ahd then prays that all who take part in the ceremony will have good health and be free from trouble. Finally, she asks the deceased to go back safely to the other world. If there has been any suspicion about the cause of the death, she will also proclaim an oath, ini anwa: “whoever killed you, let him die”. While the Head Daughter speaks, the titled man stamps his staff on the ground, so that the message will be conveyed to the land of the dead. Yams are then cut into pieces and put into the igbudu together with kola nuts. In doing this, the Daughter uses her left hand, a hand which is considered unclean and never used to present food to free-born, living persons. In giving objects to the dead, however, the left hand is the appropriate one to use.
After the food has been placed in the igbudu, every member of the patrilineage segment, male and female, touches money to his/her forehead, and lets it drop on the goatskin saying, “Anybody who killed you, let him die”. The titled man lifts the goat skin, pounds his titled staff three times and says, “Your life, your life, your life” (Ndui, ndui, ndui). Just before the igbudu is carried back to the deceased’s house, a white cloth, previously laid on top of the box by the Chief Mourner, is torn in two. At the same time, the Head Daughter pours wine and then water four times on the igbudu as the titled man stamps his staff on the ground. This is an act whereby the deceased is separated from his house. The part of the white cloth which is not reserved for the deceased’s use in the land of the dead is tied loosely on one of the sticks used to support the igbudu, in such a way that it will fall down easily. When the cloth falls, it is interpreted as a sign that the deceased is casting off the cloth he used in this world in favor of that which he has in the other. When he has made this choice, it is time to take the igbudu to the grave. 23
The igbudu is carried toward the house where the deceased has previously been buried, and it is knocked three times on the wall to proclaim its arrival, while the titled man again stamps his staff on the ground. If the deceased has been titled, the igbudu is then thrown over the wall into the compound. A small hole is made in the wall of the house, through which the Head Mourner leans three times and then enters, to welcome his father. The reason given for the Head Mourner not using the main door to the deceased’s house is that the different entry ways show their new and radical social separation.
Only Youths may carry the igbudu and bury it. They are chosen for this task not only because they are innocent of possible abominations, but also because they, unlike the titled man, have not gone through rituals to [figuratively] “wash their hands of any forbidden thing”. The igbudu, once prepared, stands as a corpse. It is buried or crushed in an opening at the head-part of the original grave, making it easier, so it is believed, for the deceased to consume its contents.
220.127.116.11.4. Dances and Rituals on Days Following the Burial of the Igbudu
On the day after the burial of the igbudu, more groups come for dancing and drumming, including the hunters’ society, if the deceased was a patron or member of this group. Groups from rural areas outside Onitsha whose members have some relationship with the deceased or his family may also be notified of the Lamentation and choose to attend with their local drummers and dances. Also, some of the Senior Chiefs may come for several afternoons to dance to the war drum and receive gin and small amounts of money. The son of the deceased continues to dance during this period, wearing his father’s titled apparel.
Tall Ghosts and Reincarnation of the Deceased Beginning on the day after the burial of the igbudu and continuing four days hence in the case of a chief’s funeral, one or more Tall Ghosts of the deceased’s village appear in the morning and evening, often accompanied by other Tall Ghosts from the patrilineage of the deceased’s mother. These ghosts, identical to those described for the Burial rites, are dressed in long, dark, high-peaked garments and hold between their teeh a reed (okpili or igwe) which vibrates, giving the voice a supernatural sound. Masquerade regalia and rights to appear in public are not limited to any set of individuals, but are common to the masquerade unit within the patrilineage.
On the fourth day, these “older” ghosts go to the deceased’s grave and escort the weak, tottering ghost, representing the newly deceased titled man, from his house, into the company of his relatives who shout and set off firearms to welcome him. This masquerade is similar to those just described, but wears a favorite cloth of the deceased and appears mud-stained and exhausted by its travels in the underworld (Basden 1966:295). On the fifth day, the masquerade reappears, walking freely, and mingling with his kinsmen and wives. During this time, he displays some characteristic behavior of the deceased, e.g. aggressive men will be represented by fierce masquerades. He then returns to his house and sits on the throne while his daughters bring him presents of palm wine and cowries (Basden 1966:295). Later he goes around in a circle enclosed by a rope, bidding goodbye to all. Some of the participants dip their hands in pots of herbs and water, and fling the mixture on others in the circle as a type of blessing. According to Basden, the Tall Ghost also visits women of the village, and parades around giving counsel and receiving presents before he departs to the land of the dead permanently (1966:295-296). The ceremonies involving the resurrection of the deceased in the form of a masquerade were, traditionally, reserved for chiefs or elderly titled men whose fathers had long been deceased. When performed for non-chiefs, the ceremony is shortened to two or three days (Basden 1966:294-6).
Ososo The Lamentation period formally ends with the ceremony of ososo which takes place a few days after the burial of the igbudu. For this rite, the Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage go about to all male members of their lineage and collect fish, yams, and other foods for the last feast of the funeral, ososo, which is undertaken to separate these women from the deceased. After the Head Daughter breaks kola and prays for the good health of all the Daughters, they all eat a portion of the food. What remains is buried on the deceased’s grave. Next, the women take sticks [?] and sing. When any Daughter leaves this place, she must go directly home, without speaking to anyone or turning back. This restriction is similar to the one women observe on their way home after having “driven evil out of the town” (see Chapter Five).
Ite Ini After conclusion of the Lamentation period, a final ceremony is performed at the grave of a titled man, “to rub the grave” (ite ini). It is viewed as both a consecration anof the grave and, in a sense contradictorily, as a final leveling of the burial spot which makes the house inhabitable again. This rite must be performed if the senior son of the deceased titled man wishes to reside with his family in his father’s house. It may be hypothesized that the ceremony relates to the proscription against sexual intercourse being had in the house by any persons other than the titled owner of that house and his wives, lest it pollute the ritual objects which represent title-taking. Thus ite ini may be regarded as a ritual which separates the ghost of the deceased titled man from the new residents of the house who have not attained his purified state.
In the morning of the chosen day, Village Youths dig out some of the earth over the grave, make a new incision, and place in pieces of the broken, un-ringed titled staff alongside the igbudu. At the instruction of a titled man, they then cover these over with earth. As a goat is sacrificed, some of the blood is sprinkled on the grave while the rest is conserved. The goat meat is divided, with parts going to the lineage priest, the titled men (for use in sacrifices to their shrines) and to the deceased’s senior son. The rest of the meat is cooked for the afternoon feast.
No Daughter takes part in this ceremony, nor do any of the deceased’s wives, though they may be given pieces of meat as spectators. In the afternoon, titled and non-titled men of the patrilineage gather and share kola nuts, after a prayer has been given by the senior titled man. Palm wine is offered in the usual manner, with the titled men calling the non-titled to come and drink. Then food and more drinks are measured out to the participants.
The peak moment of the ceremony occurs when the officiating titled man walks over to the grave and brushes its surface a few times. Then the deceased’s son addresses each of the elders according to rank, speaking about the consequences of the ritual. He is followed by others who state that titled staffs and treasure boxes of the deceased man now belong to his senior son who may now reside in his father’s house.
Before the son can worship any of his father’s ritual objects, however, he must perform the ceremony called “to bring in the Spirit” (see ChapterTwo). Until he has taken the ozo title himself, he may only worship those objects such as ofo and ikenga which do not pertain to title-taking. The titled staffs and treasure boxes that belonged to the father must either be placed outside the house in a special shed, or handed over to a titled man of the patrilineage whom the son deputizes as his representative lineage priest.
Conclusion of the Widow’s Mourning Period
The last stages of the widow’s mourning period occur after the conclusion of the formal Lamentation rites. They involve the Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage in their crucial role [as] purifiers. Near the end of the widow’s confinement period, a ritual, “to bury the dangerous ghost” (ini uluchi or ini uruchi)24 is performed to cut off the woman from her deceased husband and make her fit to return to normal activities, including remarriage. Uluchi refers to a troublesome siprit, and the ceremony implies burying the spirit of the deceased husband. All Daughters of the husband’s patrilineage assemble in the widow’s mourning hut, led by the Head Daughter, who brings her symbol of righteous power, ofo isi ada, and a kind of green leaf (inini ogwu) with thorns on the stem, which has been squeezed and mixed with water and chalk. The Head Daughter shaves the widow’s head and rubs the leaf-chalk mixture all over he body. The latter act is referred to as “wash the body” (iwu aru) and represents a symbolic cleansing. Finally, she breaks a kola nut and prays for the widow to come out of her confinement in good health. Yams are cooked and eaten by the Daughters; any remnants are buried with the leaf mixture in the ground nearby.25
Soon afterwards, the final “coming out of mourning the dead” ceremony (iputa na ikwa ozu) is performed. This feast is given by the senior son or the brother of the deceased, if the son is not of age. A female goat, a fish (azu isi), used in other rituals, and twelve balls of pounded yam are cooked by the Daughters of the deceased’s patrlineage and eaten by the widows. In the past, a few pennies were given to the Head Daughter and the senior lineage priest. At this ceremony the widow leaves the mourning shed, removes the mourning cloth, washes herself, and puts on dark clothing. The discarded cloth is then burned by the Head Daughter. In the past, as a prerequisite for a widow re-entering her husband’s house, the lineage priest would “show her the titled staff” to cut off relations of the widow to the deceased titled person as they have already been cut off from living titled men of the community.
When a widow returns to live in her deceased husband’s house, she does not o back to her former room where her husband had visited her, since it is believed that when the husband’s ghost wanders through the house, he will seek his widows in their former compartments. As long as he does not try to find the woman, he cannot trouble her or try to take her with him to the land of the dead.
The same period of mourning is not prescribed for all widows, and exactly how long it should continue is decided by the husband’s Daughters during the Burial period. Those wives who have previously gone through the ceremony of adultery confession (which is conducted by the Daughters of the husband) are believed to be more likely responsible for their husband’s death than those who have not. Consequently, they have to remain in mourning a considerably longer time than other wives. Special ceremonies, led by the Daughters, will attend their final “coming out”, at which time they will say that all they did in their husband’s lifetime is now forgotten.
If the Daughters of the husband’s lineage feel that a widow did not properly fulfill her role as wife while her husband was alive because she was lazy, quarrelsome, unfaithful, etc., they may try to extend her mourning period, even though she has never made a formal confession of adultery. On this point they may clash with the woman’s son, who will, however, usually give way to their demands, fearful lest they refuse to perform their necessary ceremonial duties.
In some cases, a widow may remain in semi-mourning for as long as a year after the “coming out of mourning the dead” ritual, wearing dark cloth and a necklace (ame) to show that she is still grieving at the loss of her husband. When she decides to return to a normal way of life, she may go to the waterside, the site of the market, accompanied by relatives, and walk around, receiving gifts from some of her friends. After this, the widow discards her black clothing and mourner’s necklace. This final indication of a return to a normal state is not reserved for the widows.
The Daughters of the deceased’s lineage may also go to the market after completion of their Lamentation rites and in some villages they may even wash their feet in the Niger river as a symbolic means of cleaning away the past. If a man has been popular in life, other groups of relatives, such as children and sister’s children, may also go to the waterside at the conclusion of his Lamentation.
18.104.22.168. Lamentation for Untitled Men
Lamentation rites for an untitled man resemble those for a titled man in most regards. There are several major differences, however. At the meeting of the patrilineage to decide the time for the Lamentation, the Head Mourner presents a small amount of money and some palm wine to a chief of the village in return for his formal announcement of the funeral. Goat stew is not prepared for this occasion. Also, the King is not called upon to “kill” a cow for untitled person.
A Tall Ghost will salute the igbudu of an elderly man on the day of its burial, but on the following days there will be no reincarnation of the deceased as a separate Tall Ghost. Formerly the ceremony would go on for four or five days during which the same masquerades such as agbogo mmuo and ugo nabo which had appeared at the burial rites would reappear. 26 Two goats will be sacrificed on the igbudu on the second day (oye) as they are for all married persons, and the chiefs may attend the rites and receive their portions of meat. However, fewer chiefs of high rank will attend the Lamentation of an untitled man as compared to a titled one. Chiefs attending will not take their shares of goat meat in the deceased’s house, but rather in the house of a neighboring titled man. Any married man will have the war drums beaten as the chiefs take their meat. Daughters of the deceased’s lineage will remain for at least two nights (eke and oye) as compared to four nights for a titled man.
The ceremony of “rubbing the grave” is not performed for non-titled persons largely because there are no ritual proscriptions against a senior son moving into his non-titled father’s house. Also, the sacrifice of a goat and the “feeding” of it to the deceased is an honor worthy only of titled men.
Lamentation rites, like Burial rites, are simplified at the death of an unmarried person. Only one goat is killed over the igbudu on the second day of the final funeral, and only a chief from the deceased’s immediate village is likely to attend the ceremonies. The same masquerades that were present at the Burial may reappear. Daughters will remain for only one night during the Lamentation. Mourning restrictions on a widow, however, are generally the same whether or not the late husband is titled.
For untitled men and women and young boys and girls, it is acceptable to begin the funeral ceremonies on the night of the fourth day (nkwo) of the Ibo week, bury the corpse and make its igbudu on the next day (eke), and complete the Lamentation rites on the following day (oye). This procedure is referred to as “crying at once” (ikwa ozibo).27 Frequently, when a youth dies, Burial and Lamentation rites are performed on the same day. More honor is conferred on the deceased, however, if the two ceremonies are performed on separate days.
Any child, no matter how small, who has had a sibling born to his mother after his own birth and thus has attained the status of nwa-solu-nwa, is entitled to Lamentation rites, including the sacrifice of one goat on the igbudu. This is due to the belief that a child who enjoys this world and wishes to stay in it will call other spirit children to come and be born into his family. Consequently, if no children follow, it is suspected that the last child has not intended to live long. If he then dies, he will be regarded as a non-human creature who has been chosen before birth to die young, and will not be accorded a final funeral.
6.4.3. Lamentation Rites for Women
Married Women Beliefs about the after-world are the same for both men and women, and consequently women’s ghosts are also thought to wander aimlessly in amanri and to be a source of potential trouble for their kin until the funal funeral is performed. The Lamentation rites occur in the village where the body was buried, and primary financial responsibilities fall on the deceased’s relatives in that village. If a woman has living sons, they should ensure that her full funeral rites are performed prior to her husband’s if she has predeceased him.28 If a woman has no living sons, her own immediate family, her daughters, children of her brothers and sisters, may all help to finance the Lamentation.
If the rites are not performed, illness within the consanguineal group will be attributed to the omission. Furthermore, final funeral ceremonies may be ordered by diviners prior to any of the family members taking title. The husband of a childless woman may also be required to finance her Lamentation rites, prior to his own title-taking.
In general, Lamentation rites for women are approximately the same as those for men, with those for titled women resembling those for titled men in several respects. A woman who has had an ozo-titled son, or who wears ivory, or who has owned slaves, is entitled to a final funeral which includes the formal announcement being given by a chief after he has been presented with goat meat, the slaughter of a cow by the King’s representative, and the beating of the war drum at the ceremonies, especially when the chiefs come to dance. Preparations for such a funeral will be more elaborate than those for an untitled woman and many groups will be in attendance at the funeral, including numerous ivory-wearing women.
The announcement of the death of an untitled woman is made by a chief after he has been presented with palm wine. No cow is killed, nor is the war drum beaten. In all other respects, however, funerals of married women, titled or untitled, are the same, varying only in the elaborateness with which the basic rites are carried out. The latter depends not only only on the financial condition of the deceased’s family but also on the family’s judgement of the woman’s life – a judgement which is considerably enhanced if the woman has living children.
For all married women, two goats are killed on the morning of the day of the burial of the igbudu. Some of the goat’s blood is sprayed on the igbudu and on the woman’s “personal god”. Limited observation, however, indicates that blood is not “given” to the igbudu unless the deceased is a son or Daughter of the village in which he or she is buried. Igbudu which represent deceased women with living sons would thus be excluded from this aspect of the goat-killing rite. In all cases, a chief, or his representatives will appear briefly to receive parts of the meat.
Prior to the burial of the igbudu at the site of the site of the original grave, the ritual of iti uni is performed by the Head Daughter of the deceased woman’s patrilineage and a titled man. The titled man may be from the woman’s husband’s village, if it is there that she has been buried. Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage may stay near the site of the grave for two nights during the Lamentation. The ososo ritual formally ends the Lamentation rites.
The only women who will have a Tall Ghost salute their igbudu are those who attained the status of Mother of the Masquerade, or those who are Daughters of ceratin Igala-derived villages. There are no reincanation masquerades which represent women, however. Also, the rubbing the grave ceremony is not performed at the burial site of a woman. The house in which she is buried may be lived in after the death without special ceremonies, and her religious objects, including her ikenga, are not regarded as inheritable, and are therefore destroyed. Shrines may, however, be set up to deceased mother’s by their children after the conclusion of the Lamentation rites as was seen in Chapter Five.
Mourning Restrictions When a woman’s Lamentation follows soon after the completion of the Burial rites, the mourning restrictions described earlier in this chapter are generally applicable. If the Lamentation rites do not occur until after an interval of several months or years, the husband is under no stringent restrictions, except that he should not perform sacrifices, marry a new wife, or appear at the King’s court. During the final funeral, his role is similar to that at the Burial: he remains apart, receiving condolences from friends. If he wishes to demonstrate his fondness for his late wife, he may restrict his activities for a few weeks to a month after the Lamentation. At the end of this time, his head is shaved by the Head Daughter of his patrilineage. Evidence of purification rites, similar to those performed by a widow, was not found. Although Daughters of the patrilineage of the deceased woman may, if they like, go to the waterside at the conclusion of the Lamentation rites, the husband will not go with them, or with any other group.
Unmarried Women Burial and Lamentation rites for an unmarried woman are usually completed within twenty-four hours from the time of death. The Lamentation ceremony is similar to that for an unmarried man, with, of course, the absence of masquerade activity. The rites may begin soon after the Burial, with the patrilineage priest, surrounded by men of the deceased’s lineage segment addressing the ghost of the girl in the following manner: “If anyone killed you, go after that person”. The igbudu is then constructed. After the igbudu is completed, it is carried into the house where the deceased lay prior to burial. Inside the house, also are the Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage, who have recently finished their part in the Burial rites. After a brief period, the igbudu is again carried outside; newly carved sticks representing the deceased girl’s personal god are placed near it, kola is put on these sticks, and blood from the one sacrificial goat is sprayed on them. Both the sticks and the igbudu are then destroyed. The itu uni ritual, conducted by the Head Daughter, does not appear to be performed for unmarried persons.
One goat is roasted by the Youths and cut into pieces, part being reserved for the chiefs, though only those of the lower grades will attend. The entire ceremony is soon concluded and no Daughters spend the night in the deceased’s house. If, however, the Burial rites have been completed prior to the day set for the Lamentation, a few Daughters will stay over one night.
Although rudimentary in form, Lamentation rites for an unmarried girl follow a basic pattern which also applies to all titled and untitled persons. The number of persons concerned, however, including not only relatives, but also dancing and drumming groups, is much smaller, and the care taken with ritual acts is less precise.
6.4.4. Summary of Lamentation Rites
It is clear that the Onitsha Lamentation is modeled on the Burial and consciously imitates the latter at various points. For example, the same type of mat which is traditionally used to wrap the corpse for burial is also used to make the igbudu. On the eve of the burial of both the coffin and the igbudu, the Head Daughter signals formal opening of the proceedings, and Daughters of the deceased’s patrilineage then decorate the deceased’s house with expensive cloths. During the night, the Daughters keep a vigil over both corpse and igbudu. At both ceremonies, the Head Daughter “feeds” the deceased: at the Burial rites, by putting food on a cloth in his compound; at the Lamentation, by putting food into the igbudu. Later, she buries remnants of the “Daughter feast” (ososo) on his grave.
Also during both ceremonies, the Head Daughter is among those delegated the ritual responsibility of telling the deceased to kill anyone who killed him. Daughters stay approximately the same length of time at both the Burial and the Lamentation. Prior to the announcement of a titled man’s death, and also prior to the announcement of the date for his Lamentation, a goat is killed and the meat shared by the men of the deceased’s patrilineage, especially those who are titled.29
The same group of relatives, age-mates and masquerade companies invited to the Burial also attend the Lamentation, and many of them dance on the second day of each of the two funerals. Children of the deceased are prominent participants in both funerals, often wearing their father’s titled regalia. For a prominent man or for a woman who is Mother of the Masquerade, a Tall Ghost will come to salute both the coffin and the igbudu prior to their burials. Before interement, both coffin and igbudu are covered with white cloth which, in other Onitsha ritual contexts, signifies ancestral purity.
Both ceremonies for titled men are pervaded with symbols of war, ozo title and the masquerade. Some of these symbols are also represented at Burials and Lamentations of titled women. Ceremonies for untitled persons vary according to whether the deceased was married or not.
However, Lamentation is not merely a copy of Burial. Examination of some of the major points of divergence will help to clarify the meaning of the rite. As mentioned earlier, one of the major differences lies in the ritual prominence of chiefs and King. Unlike the ceremony of “goat for conversation” in which only titled men of the deceased’s patrilineage participate, in the “food for setting the funeral date” rite, a portion of goat meat is reserved for a chief, and it is he, not the Head Mourner, who formally announces the date of the Lamentation. He also ritually “kills” the goats whose blood is put on the igbudu. The chief’s presence, thus, elevates the final funeral from a patrilineage level to that of the town as a whole.
Although the King is prohibited from seeing a dead body since this would remind him of his mortality, at an early stage of the Lamentation, he sends his representative to the cow-killing ceremony and the King himself receives a share of the meat. The King’s role in the Lamentation leads to a re-enactment of the most prestigious act of the deceased’s life, title-taking.
While at the initial Burial rites the deceased is regarded primarily as both an object of danger and of pollution, at the Lamentation he is elevated to a status close to the ancestors. The contrast between these two views is seen, for example, in the manner of feeding the ghost at the Burial and at the Lamentation. During the rite of “goat bag” (ewu akpa) prior to the placement of the corpse into the grave, a portion of raw goat meat is given to the late titled man and placed in the grave with him. However, during the Lamentation rites, the deceased receives only gifts appropriate for the ancestors, e.g. during the ritual of “Youths Kill Goat”, [and] goat’s blood, not meat, is fed to the igbudu. Nor is the ghost presented with any of the meat from the cow whose sacrifice ostensibly glorifies him in the eyes of his peers in the land of the dead. At other times during the final funeral, the deceased is presented with palm wine, water, kola nuts, all of which are suitable as offerings to ritual objects.
At the Burial, most of the deceased man’s ritual objects receive sacrificial blood, i.e. the sticks representing deceased ancestors, the titled staffs, and ikenga. One of the titled staffs is broken in the ceremonial severing of the man’s ties with the titled society. However, at the Lamentation, the “personal god” which represents the deceased’s prenatal choices as to his course in life, and which never receives blood during the life of its owner, has blood splashed on it, signifying that its owner is now in the land of the dead and takes blood sacrifice, and that his personal god has departed. While the personal god still exists, bloodless, the deceased can be viewed as possessing at least this elemental personification of life and destiny. After the conclusion of the Lamentation, however, the personal god is destroyed. Before reincarnating as a new individual, the deceased’s spirit will take a new personal god.
It must be noted that unlike many of a man’s ritual objects, none of those used by a woman are physically retained by her children. Not only is her personal god destroyed, but also her ikenga. And the ofo of the Head Daughter is returned to the lineage priest from whence it came. Sticks representing deceased ancestors that have been kept by a woman will be thrown away. Those kept by a man may be retained by his descendants, though they are usually discarded. To explain the fact that a woman does not leave her tirual objects to her children, informants say, “A daughter does not live in her father’s house”, i.e. a daughter cannot inherit (Nwanyi ada ebi chi iba).
The Tall Ghost which represents the resurrected spirit of the deceased is reserved for elderly titled men and chiefs, persons who have officiated before ancestral shrines. Even those few women who have become Mothers of the Masquerade and who are bid farewell by a Tall Ghost are not commemorated with a mask of personal resurrection. This follows from the fact that the masquerades represent ancestral spirits whose primary concern is to maintain the proper customs, especially those “which uphold the distinctiveness of masculine roles” (Henderson 1963:385). Also, their activities are oriented toward keeping women in a subordinate position.
After the conclusion of their funeral ceremonies, Yoruba women are denied personal resurrection as a named egugun masquerade, a masquerade with similar functions to those of the Onitsha Tall Ghost. Morton-Williams has asserted that after menopause Yoruba women become disoriented and hostile, partly due to their impending “individual extinction” (1960a:37). Evidence does not indicate that Onitsha women believe that individual immortality is unavailable to them because they similarly lack a specific resurrection mask to represent them. Indeed, most Onitsha men do not receive this high tribute. And in the cases of men who do, once the Lamentation period is over, their Tall Ghosts may well be unrecognized by their descendants, and generally are not referred to by the personal name of the deceased. All men and women, however, who are survived by living children, may be “brought into the house”, called upon in prayer, and offered sacrifice. This is a more enduring type of memorial than is the dedication of a Tall Ghost.
When the Lamentation ceremonies are completed, the senior son not only worships his father’s ofo and ikenga, but also “brings in the father” by establishing a new shrine to his deceased male ancestors. For a man, the ceremony is viewed as a first step to ozo title-taking. It takes place at the altar of the son’s own or his father’s house, with the titled patrilineage priest, who has assumed the ritual duties of the deceased father, officiating. During the ceremony, the newly cut sticks representing the ancestors are sacrificed to. Afterwards, these objects are placed in a box beside the son’s own ikenga and are used to invoke the spirit of the deceased father. As mentioned in Chapter V, a senior daughter of a deceased man may also “bring in her father” in the form of okposi sticks.
Senior sons and senior daughters of a deceased woman may also “bring the mother” into the house (see Chapter Five). Because of their use in controlling exogamy, shrines to the mother are quite important in Onitsha life. Native doctors frequently advise clients to set up such shrines to avoid the anger of the deceased mother.
Not only are Lamentation rites an essential prerequisite for the establishment of an ancestral shrine to the father, but their completion is a necessary condition for the distribution of the deceased’s property such as house, slaves, trees. How this succession and inheritance is accomplished has been outlined in Chapter Three. It is sufficient to note here that the desire to control the estate is a further spur to the completion of the Lamentation, and that the primary financier of the funeral proceedings (usually the senior son) is the major successor.
If the wish to succeed to property were the major factor in the performance of Lamentation rites, one would expect to find those rites neglected at the death of poor people, especially women without living children. Although there may be some correlation here, flagrant omission of Lamentations is inhibited by the fact that titled positions are closed to persons who do not perform full funeral ceremonies for both their parents. Also, illness and other misfortunes within the group of persons sharing responsibility for financing the Lamentation rites will, often, be attributed by a diviner to the wrath of a neglected ghost, whether male or female.
Having considered some of the major similarities and differences between Burial and Lamentation rites, attention can now be focused on the role of women at the Lamentation. Food for the Lamentation rites must not be meager in quantity; the Head Daughter of the deceased’s village tests each pot of fish and meat by pushing a ladle down into it, and if the stick touches bottom, the host is fined by the Daughters. The Daughters of the deceased’s lineage segment and those representing lineage segments of the deceased’s mother, of the deceased’s father’s mother and mother’s mother, are fed as a group, though they sit apart from one another. The food is placed before the Head Daughter of the deceased’s lineage segment, who distributes it, giving a plate to each group. When drink is being divided, one large share goes to they Daughters of the deceased’s lineage, and another to those of his mother’s lineage, these being the largest groups of representative Daughters present.
Daughters from lineage segments of the mother’s mother and father’s mother are generally few in number and receive only a small amount of food and drink. Not only living Daughters, but also those who have died, are regarded as participants in the funeral feasts. Informants say that “All the Daughters underground will come up and enjoy the food provided for the rites”.
The meat which is cooked for the Daughters comes mostly from portions reserved from the sacrifice of the cow and, later, the goats killed over the igbudu. In some Onitsha villages, at present, each married man of the patrilineage segment is expected to provide food for some of the Daughters each day. If a man refuses to cooperate, he will not be able to rely on his lineage mates’ assistance when a death occurs in his family.
While the participation of the Daughters in both funerals is obligatory and essential to patrilineage activities, Daughters also constitute a coherent interest group whose demands are sometimes at odds with their male patrilineage mates, especially the Head Mourner at a man’s funeral. Their aggressive insistence on a large amount of food is evidence of this. While the goal of the Head Mourner and the deceased’s children is to achieve both glorification of the deceased and maximal enhanced prestige for themselves at the least possible expense, the rewards that the Daughters receive for their vigil lie more in the realm of the material satisfaction derived from plentiful food supplies.
As has been shown in Chapter Five, food plays an important role in most Onitsha ritual. This is especially true for funeral ceremonies where the theme of the Daughters of the patrilineage segment being supplied with food by the male members of the lineage and their eating of this food in the presence of the corpse, the igbudu or the grave runs throughout the entire Burial and Lamentation period, as does the corollary of their feeding some of this food to the corpse. Indeed their final act at at the close of the Lamentation rites consists of sharing food with the deceased and then leaving the grave site without turning back or speaking lest the ghost follow them.
Although men also share food with the ghost (e.g. at the Burial by putting meat in a sack for a titled man; at the Lamentation by shedding goats’ blood on the igbudu) this particular means of communicating with the corpse is a more specialized activity among female members of the patrilineage. The only ceremony of the funeral period during which men ritually eat food in the presence of the grave is “rubbing the grave”, one of the major consequences of which is the returning of the deceased’s house to an inhabitable condition.
As mentioned earlier, titled men are prohibited by the fear of pollution from attending or burying the corpse or the igbudu. But it appears that all men, not merely the minority who are titled, refrain from eating in the presence of the corpse until the house has been returned to a normal state. Afterwards, when the relationship of the living with the deceased has been formalized by the establishment of an ancestral shrine, men share token pieces of food with the spirit and eat in its presence more than do women.
Men regard the Daughters’ eating in the proximity of the corpse (and perhaps, by extension, the igbudu) with disgust; yet the women jealously guard their prerogatives at funerals, and view their eating near the corpse and “feeding it” as a collective prerogative. That the Head Daughter is able to perform these rites in regard to the deceased indicates her power as rightful holder of ofo isi ada. She, and the other senior Daughters, may be regarded as having a privilege relationship with the deceased, one which is not available to male lineage members.
Sharing of food with the deceased, however, has other implications, for it may also be regarded as an indirect type of oath: if one shares food with a ghost and has also been in some way responsible for the former’s death, he will die. The most conspicuous type of “oathing” during the Lamentation occurs at iti uni prior to the burial of the igbudu, when the Head Daughter of the deceased’s patrilineage segment ritually exhorts the deceased to curse anyone who killed him. All other male and female members of the patrilineage segment who are present follow with a similar oath. Thus, many of the Daughters’ acticities are proclamations of innocence in which the women members of the lineage represent the lineage as a whole. The fact that women are chosen for this type of indirect oath may not merely be a consequence of sex role differentiation, but may also express the ambivalent way in which Daughters are regarded by other members of the lineage.
Another way in which Daughters demonstrate their ritual powers during the funeral rites is through their ability to purify the deceased man’s widow and separate her from him. For these purposes, the Head Daughter carries her symbol of righteous authority, the ofo. During the rite referred to as “burying the dangerous ghost”, the Head Daughter of the deceased’s patrilineage cuts each widow’s hair and symbolically cleanses her body to protect her from the ghost of her deceased husband. Cutting of hair, in Onitsha, signifies movement to a new social position, e.g. shaving the head of the corpse, or the new initiate to title-taking or kingship. Washing indicates clearing away pollutions of the past. 
Food prepared for this rite is eaten by the Daughters and the remains are buried along with what is left of the herb-chalk cleansing mixture. The burial of these items may be interpreted as both a feeding of the ancestors and a means of communicating to them the new separation of the widow from her husband.
At the widow’s final re-emergence ceremony, a reversal of this ceremonial feeding pattern occurs, with the Daughters preparing goat stew and pounded yams for the widow to eat. This act may be interpreted, in light of similar evidence from other parts of West Africa (see J. Goody 1962:188) and in view of the general relationship between the daughter and the Wife in Onitsha, as a final test of the woman’s innocence of her husband’s death. At the conclusion of this rite, the widow’s coarse loin cloth of mourning is burned by the Head Daughter in yet another act of separating the widow from her late husband.
The position of the widow during the funeral period has been detailed earlier and need not be repeated here. The use of the same kind of mat for wrapping the corpse, building the igbudu, and constructing the mourning hut, indicates a strong symbolic identification of the widow with her deceased husband. Just as there is fear of contamination from the corpse, so there is fear of contamination from the mourning widow. The treatment of the widow may be regarded as a transition rite at the conclusion of which she formally disengages herself from her former life and publicly moves to a new social position.
Although a widower is considered unclean and is therefore somewhat restricted in his activities until the completion of his wife’s Lamentation, he is much more actively independent of his deceased wife’s ghost than is a widow of her husband’s ghost.
Lamentation may be viewed in part as a symbolic restatement of the Burial, and in part as a process through which the deceased man is elevated to the state of ancestor and the statuses of his kinsmen are thus redefined. This is also true to a lesser degree for women, although their personal ritual objects are not retained. Lamentation rites must be performed prior to redistribution of a deceased man’s or woman’s property, and there can be no doubt that such “materialistic” interests have importance in motivating the eventual performance of the Lamentation. However, these interests are definitely secondary to two other dominant concerns.
First is the concern with the long-range achievement goals of the person’s survivors. Since none of the survivors can pursue a title until the Lamentation is completed, this fact serves as a powerful incentive. Second, however, is the fact that this “completion” of the funeral depends in turn on the attaining of the major goals of the funerary process, and the overwhelming aim of this process in its entirety is to define the meaning of the death in publicly clear moral tones. The roles of the Daughters exemplify this moral emphasis. Although they do not represent groups which receive wealth from the deceased or give it to him, they are highly important in neutralizing the danger of the ghost and in establishing the guilt or innocence of the survivors.
- Taylor observed an Aboh woman in Onitsha sacrificing to her chi, offering goat meat, kola nuts, rum, palm wine, and asking for protection from witches (Crowther and Taylor 1859:343). Return ↩
- The Ika Ibo, of whom Agbor and Asaba make up a part, pray to Ikenga for success in trade, war, hunting and farming. The heads of all leopards and of every enemy are offered to it. “Each adult man and woman possesses [it]…Different kinds of images are made for ‘doctors’ women and men, but any of these can have either one horn or two” (Talbbot 1926:142). Return ↩
- Oma shrines are found widely in the Western Ibo area. Northcote Thomas speaks of the oma as a mud image representing a dead mother in the house of her eldest daughter (1914:52). The situation in some parts of Western Ibo appears to be more complex than Onitsha: While the eldest daughter serves the eldest female maternal relative, the younger daughters serve their mother or eldest sister (ibid). Return ↩
- Leonard noted that women have a deity with “an emblem of mud” called “umu-ada” who “represents the interests of all the women of the house or village…the collection of the spirits of departed females” (1906:431). Return ↩
- “Before a ‘dibea’ can be initiated, he must obtain the fetish peculiar to the order, namely the ‘agwuisi’ [ed. note: agwu-isi: “head of the agwu”] Return ↩
- It cannot definitively be said that the use of afa by women is a traditional practice in Onitsha. Leith-Ross noted that some women diviners “cast shells” to invoke “agwu or spirit of divination” and foretell the future in Okigwi division. Return ↩
- For details of this ceremony and others connected with owaji see Henderson 1963; 72:392-400. Return ↩
- There appears to be a generally higher achievement component in women’s roles in West Africa than in the east African areas Middletown and Winter are discussing. Return ↩
- For an example, recall Evans-Pritchard on the Azande view regarding this “evil”. Return ↩
- In some cases an entire group may be required to do so: See the Nigerian Spokesman 1965: 12 March, page 4, for an official public announcement of such an event, including a full list of participants. Return ↩
- According to Taylor in 1857, children who died before the age of six years were thrown into the “bad bush” (Crowther and Taylor 1859:308). Return ↩
- Different villages in Onitsha may vary as to the disposal of the chicken. Return ↩
- Palm leaves are also placed in front of the doorway of a house where there is newborn baby, to keep away witches and others who might harm the child. Return ↩
- Boston describes ulaga masquerades as “a bird-like figure with a small carved head-dress and a flowing cloth costume. The head-dress represents a hornbill and incorporates a conventionalized human face, looking upwards (1960b:56-57). Agaba is described as a “horned mask” (59). Return ↩
- Basden described certain of these restrictions and deprivations as being limited to only the first few weeks of the mourning period (1966:278-279). Our evidence indicates they were imposed for a much longer period of time. Return ↩
- Otuiche is a youthful masquerade famous for throwing rotten fruit. Return ↩
- Some fathers have been known to mourn their children for as long as four years, by continually wearing black and refusing to make sacrifices to their ancestors. Return ↩
- Basden observed that the corpse of a man who dies during the mourning period is not given proper burial rites but is thrown into the bad bush (1966:276). Return ↩
- All ghosts have an after-life, but not all are given Lamentation rites entitling them to go to the land of the dead (ani-mmuo). Return ↩
- Talbot states that the “second burial” is usually performed within a period of one year after death and that it is done primarily because the sons fear for their lives and those of their families, so the joyousness of “Lamentation” is definitely understandable (1926:491). Basden describes it in a similar fashion: “On the first day, the ‘umu-ada’ (first-born women) visit the bereaved house to express sympathy and to keep vigil (‘iche abani’). For this reason, they dress as elaborately as circumstances permit. It resembles feasting rather than mourning, inasmuch as they dance and sing and generally make a great noise (Basden 1966:289-290). Return ↩
- Today, they are also led by daughter and sisters of the deceased, although traditionally women did not form age sets. Return ↩
- At present [1960s], attempts have been made to cut the Lamentation expenses, and much of the food, which formerly was lavishly provided, has been eliminated. Return ↩
- Basden reported that during the “Itu-ani” ritual
The first-bon son (‘Okpala’) places a piece of white cloth upon the ‘Chi’. The cloth having been consecrated, it is removed by the ‘isi-ada’ (chief woman) of the clan or village, who proceeds to tear it into strips for distribution among the dead man’s daughters. The strips are girded round the waists of these women and indicate to the public that the final ceremonies for the glorification of their father’s spirit have been duly performed (1966:292). Return ↩
- Northcote Thomas refers to uruchi as “vaguely associated with ancestor worship” (1914:27). Also, “In the case of women, uruchi appears to be associated with the the husband, at any rate at Iselse Asaba, and is put by the widow in the house of any brother of her late husband (ibid). Return ↩
- Ini Uluchi is not often performed at present, and the information given here may not be entirely correct. For example, some informants suggest that it was only performed by women who had previously confessed to adultery. Return ↩
- The Lamentation period has now been cut to two or three days depending on the finances of the deceased’s family. Return ↩
- This procedure is often preferred today since it shortens the widow’s period of mourning, limiting it to 28 days after the Lamentation. If a widow dies during the twenty-eight day period after her husband’s Lamentation rites, she is given a proper funeral which she would be denied if she died prior to the conclusion of these rites. Return ↩
- In 1953-1954, The Town Women of Onitsha (ikporo-Onitsha) complained to the ruling age-set of the neglect of husbands in performing Lamentations for their wives. An edict was issued by the ruling age set attempting to rectify this situation. This it is unclear whether it applied traditionally. Return ↩
- Unfortunately our data are incomplete on this point, and distribution of meat at the two ceremonies cannot be adequately compared. Return ↩