Itsekiri, Urhobo: The Use Of C atafalque In Burial Ceremony

BY FELIX OGEDEGBE
Itsekiri people, like their Urhobo compatriots, are brothers and sisters. They are also neighbours who dwell in Delta state, in the populous oil –rich region of the Niger Delta. They are interrelated in most of their socio- economic and cultural aspects of life. They believe in using Catafalque(agbreren) in funeral ceremony. The Urhobos call it agbreren. Catafalque:It is a platform used to display or convey a coffinduring a funeral, often ornamented. It can also be described as a decorated platform on which thedead body of a famous personis placed before a funeral.Ornate is an elaborately ornamented, often to excess, or flashy, flowery
or showy.
T
he Itsekiripeople believe that the spirit life continuous,
so when a person dies, they consult the oracle to find out, whether the man or woman is clean or not, it means to ‘’check’’ if the dead person when he was alive did not commit his or her self to atrocities or evil things because if he was a wizard or a witch and committed
abominable things then the person is never buried.
The people will take the corpse and throw it into the evil forest, because by the Itsekiritradition, a person
who is a witch or wizard is not entitled to burial ceremony. They don’t put the body under the earth but throw it away into the evil forest. If the person after the oracle’s(ifa), declaration and they feel the man is pure, he is not a wizard or did not committed any evil thing then they now commence the ceremony of burying the person according to the rites and customs of the land. By the time the person is being buried then they prepare
a catafalque as a way of severing the departed soul from those that are living.
Studies have shown that it is not only the cases of witches and wizards that are not buried, for instance, when a person is sick and is inflicted with sours all over his or her body, that person is not buried, but also thrown into the evil forest, that is when the sour is treated severally
and it does not heal, the person is thrown away. When the person dies and is pure, the person is put in a “mat”. This is according to the Itsekiri tradition from the origin. Nowadays,because of modernization has comes, caskets are being used, but by tradition even with the casket, when the person is about to be put in the grave, they will make an opening in the casket. They don’t just make an opening in the casket, they leave it open. The casket is left open, because, they believe that they should enable the spirit have the freedom to move to the world beyond, they are not going to cage the person, and not to imprison the spirit of the person by locking it in the catafalque
According to a reliable source, the catafalques are meant for people who are grown up and are married with children and worthy fellows of dignity, but for young men who are not married, no wife and no child, such tradition is not done for them. In the case where the dead person is a Christian and a Christian burial is done, the tradition does not take place. The Christians do not take part because they do not ‘play oracle’. But even when a Christian dies and by some reasons the oracle is consulted and it is found out that the person’s hands are not clean, the person will not be buried in Itsekiri land, he may be buried in other places. The burial ceremonies can be permitted in Itsekiri land but not his burial.
The Urhobo and itsekiri People have certain things in common. In history, this is called intergroup relations. They have many things in common. Kind of foodsand theirdressing codes are about the same. There are alot of similarities, even in vocabularies. There are some words that they borrowed from each other, vice versa. If an Itsekiri man dresses traditionally and an Urhobo man dresses traditionally, a Benin man would not know the difference. It is only an original Itsekiri man or Urhobo man that can recognise the difference.
It is a mark of honour for an adultwho lived a full life with children to be buried well, in a dignified manner. So they celebrate it as a mark of honour, also as a symbolic separation between the spirit of the dead and the living. The reason for this is that in some families want the traditional way of doing things but the children will say that they are Christians and they will tell the children to go and do their Christian faith, but the elders will also say they want to give their brother the full traditional rites of burial, so you find that most of them when they have finished the Christian burial rites now, the people , that is the elders as the case may be, will fall back to those traditional aspects especially if the “IFA” oracle says the person was satisfied tobe clean. If he is not clean, the traditional rites will not be done.
The tradition is still in vogue,they still do it till tomorrow.
Burial ceremonies have taken the second dimension
for those who are Christians. There is a public show for burial, the bishop, priest, all of them will come and do their burial and go but the burial ceremony will last for seven days, but for the Christians, they will just do their own one or two days. Service of song, burial and they go but traditional burial rites will continue to fulfil all those things, especially those who died at the very ripe age, this where the catafalque comes in.
When it is marriageceremony; the woman is mandated
to totally submit to the husband. Then thing like adultery is strictly forbidden and if she is found to have committed adultery, she has to go for sanctification or purification rites, before she can be accepted back into the marriage. Also when a woman is ovulating during her menstrual circle, some itsekiri andUrhobopeople will not allow the woman to cook their food, so it is in most parts of the states in the Niger Delta, and beyond, they see the woman as not being clean. In those days they have a place where the woman is separated from where the man is living, but Christianity has changed all these now. They still live together, but they are certain
things the man has to avoid. It is not peculiar to Itsekiriand Urhobo people alone.
T
he way we can move forward from crisis has to come from a total re-orientation because from the beginning, the Urhobos, the Ijaws and the Itsekiriswere very close, but the economy, capitalism, and politics have created division, when you ask why the fight you find out it is just because of the money and power, but as they fight because of money and power, but their children are still inter-marrying. So you now find out that the problem between
these children is being orchestrated by the elites with selfish ends. The ordinary itsekiri man or urhobo man or woman don’t have quarrels with their neighbours,
the problem is with the elites who are struggling for political power and economy that are using the poor masses people as their shied
I ‘m optimistic that there will be an end to Warri/ Urhobo/Itsekiri crisis .
There is nothing that has a beginning that doesn’t have an end because right fromthe beginning this crisis was not there. So the way it started, one day it will end because people are now getting enlightened, educated and updatedevery day. For instance, when there is crisis between the Itsekiri man and an Urhobo man, one will not expect him to allow his child to be part of the fight and so people will begin to educate their children to avoid death and so people will begin to understand and refrain from violence. The violence cannot continue forever.
The more people are getting educated and abreast of development, the more they begin to understand issues
in the right perspectives and the more they begin to take to dialogue.