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Chinua Achebe's Burial Date: Is Ogidi Culture Observed

Published by Guardian on Sat, 04 May 2013

SELECTING the burial date of a prominent Ogidi man can be a complex and contentious affair. When the person is a 'big masquerade' the size of Chinua Achebe the problem assumes a humongous proportion. Demands of nuclear family members clash with those of Nigerian government officials; interests of international bodies collide with local religious bodies; involvement of professional associations tangle with those of traditional societies. This list can be long and unwieldy.The announced burial date for Ogidi High Chief, Chinua Achebe, is slated for May 23, 2013. For the uninitiated this Thursday will be a great day for such an important funeral. Achebe passed away on March 21, 2013 and for the gullible his burial is overdue. Some discerning voices might worry about the rains. The rainy season may have returned in full force by May 23.However, those who deeply believe in the metaphysics of rain-making and rain-dispersal would firmly counter, saying that the best rain 'doctors' will be engaged and no rain will fall on May 23. These musings, much as they provide lively debates and exchange of ideas, are not anywhere near the anticipated concern some Ogidi people may throw up about May 23.Some may predict that agwo no na akilika (a ferocious snake is lurking among the seemingly benign waste dry grass). The die-hard will intimate that there is trouble in the offing. May 23 is Nkwo market day in Igbo Calendar. Again, for a novice in Ogidi culture, this may seem unimportant and inconsequential. But is it' Both Thisday and The Guardian newspapers reported on Monday April 22, 2013 that the Chairman of the South-East Governor's Forum and Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi has announced the May 23 date.Thisday reported that 'The decision was reached after a meeting of the South-East governors with the family of the late Achebe.' It appears that this decision is now cast in stone. Was there any consultation with Ogidi Ndi-Ichie' Was there any input from the Ogidi Union of Nigeria'This writer has unsuccessfully tried finding answers to these questions. At best, the information available is convoluted and confusing.In Ogidi culture a titled man is buried on an Oye (Orie) market day. This practice is almost as old as modern Ogidi nation. Inquiring minds will like to know why Oye day is chosen. But to fully understand this issue you have to know that for some Igbo people there could be more than one burial for a dead man: there is the burial of the 'flesh' and burial of the 'soul.' The soul is also called mpkuluchi. In Onitsha customs the burial of the soul is called ido igbudu.According to High Chief Mike Areh, Ede Gbogbogaga of Onitsha, burial of the flesh can take place on any Igbo market day. It is the burial of the soul of the departed that should occur on an Oye day.Ede reminded this writer that even the great Zik of Africa, the Owele of Onitsha, Nnamdi Azikiwe, was buried on Nigerian Government appointed day, which was not an Oye day. That was just the 'flesh' burial. The ido igbudu, the soul burial, happened on an Oye day.But why is the soul burial reserved for an Oye day' Put this question to many Igbo people, even people who claim to be custodians of Igbo culture, and you will be surprised to learn that they lack clear, precise knowledge about it. One Ogidi chief said that they are buried on Oye day because 'that is the day they go.' This cannot be an acceptable answer. An inescapable follow-up question has to be: Why is it the day they go'An Igbo chief from Ufuma in Anambra State, Chief Vincent Obiano, Oku da ibibe, was the first person to point out to this writer that May 23 is an Nkwo day, not an Oye day. The eagle-eyed Chief Obiano, a devout Christian and versed in Igbo tradition, vehemently cautioned about making sure that Achebe's burial is carried out in accordance with Igbo custom.Quoting Ofo and Ogu metaphysics, Chief Obiano prognosticated that Igbo titled men are buried on Oye (Orie) day, because, according to him: 'You know the dead man is believed to be joining his ancestors, right' In Ofo and Ogu metaphysics, Orie is holy, like Sunday.Communication with deities and between the living and the dead is most effective and seamless on Orie.'Obiano could be talking about soul burial, or referring to a situation in his community if flesh burial and soul must jointly take place.Areh did some consultation and reported his findings to me on Saturday April 27, 2013. Onitsha people believe that Oye day is the day that the spirits from the land of the dead are on the prowl in the land of the living. It is their rest and free day; a day most convenient for them to commune with and receive new initiates to this realm of existence. It is the day the souls of the dead are most freely accepted to join their ancestors in the spirit world.Oye day is also significant because it is the day when titles are conferred on people with the approval of the denizens of the spirit world. The Igwe of Onitsha and Igwe of Ogidi, both perform their respective major ceremonies like Umatu and Ofala on Oye days, ostensibly a day most suitable for propitiations and appeasement of their ancestors.Let history be our guide. Soul 'burial' of Igwe Amobi I of Ogidi who died on December 18, 1925 was an Oye day. The soul 'burial' of Igwe Amobi II of Ogidi was on Saturday February 9th, 1974; you guessed it, on Oye market day. Igwe Amobi III of Ogidi joined his ancestors on Saturday, February 1, 1986 an Oye market day. Igwe Amobi IV of Ogidi was 'buried' on October 31, 1998, another Oye market day.By the way, notice that cautious use of the word 'burial' when reporting the departure of the above listed Igwes of Ogidi. It is strongly believed that the Igwe of Ogidi never dies; he merely joins his ancestors. The ceremony marking his departure is called the 'last Ofala'.Need I say more about Oye soul burial' Perhaps, yes. The remains of High Chief Ernest Nzeadi Amobi, Onowu II of Ogidi, was committed to mother earth on November 14, 2008. But that was the flesh burial. The soul burial took place the next day and it was an Oye market day. Professor (Chief) Clement Chibuzor Amobi, Ezeamalu of Ogidi, was buried on April 30, 2011 an Oye market day.Amobi received a combined flesh and soul burial on this Oye day. Ogidi custom for burying a titled man is akin to that of Onitsha. Ogidi people will allow 'flesh' burial on any day other than Oye day. However, for buoyant families of the departed, it is preferred that flesh burial is within four days to the next Oye day, when the soul burial can take place.Members of Ndi-ichie Ogidi, as a group, will come to pay their last respects to departed on this Oye day. Ndi-Ichie Ogidi, as a group, does not view the body of a deceased member, they merely commune with the soul of the departed during their brief ceremonies at the bed on which he is laid in state.It is, however, instructive that Oye day burial for titled men is not pervasive in all of Anambra State, or for that matter, in Idemili Local Government Area.In Abatete, no specific Igbo market day is reserved for burying titled men. Chief Laz Igbokwe, Chinyelugo, of Abatete stated unequivocally that any Abatete titled man could be buried on any Igbo market day.One notable wrinkle is that Eke day being the main market day in Abatete, most burials are shifted away from Eke day. He went on to clarify that if burial ceremonies were fixed on an Eke day, absentees will not be penalized for not attending.Chief Chukwudi Amobi, Ezeogo, on assignment from this writer, interviewed Chief Pius Chiezie, former President of Ndi-Ichie Ogidi on this issue. Chief Chiezie explained that the Oye day burial practice was introduced in Ogidi by Igwe Amobi I of Ogidi.The provenance of this ancient practice is not in doubt. Igwe Amobi I must have borrowed this custom from his association with Onitsha culture. As a onetime interpreter in the palace of Obi Anazonwu, the Igwe of Onitsha, it's little wonder that Igwe Amobi I transported this custom to Ogidi when he became the Igwe.Chief Theo Okonkwo, Nnanyelugo Chinyelugo of Ogbunike in Anambra State, a proud recipient of two titles, also weighed in on the Oye burial matter. He explained that the burial of a titled man in Ogbunike takes place on an Oye day.In Ogbunike the flesh and soul burial happens on the same day. Ogbunike Ndi-Ichie, as a group, will view the body of their departed member while lying in state.And now to the burial of Ogidi's illustrious son, High Chief Chinua Achebe (Ugo belu n-oji); May 23 is an acceptable burial date for his flesh. Security considerations, transportation and other logistic imperatives may have prompted the selection of this date.What the spectators will not see on May 23 is the colorful Ogidi Culture of soul burial by the Ndi-Ichie Ogidi.The soul burial by Ndi-Ichie Ogidi is quite a sight to behold. Before arrival of Ndi-Ichie Ogidi at the burial venue, one of their members will play 'John-the-Baptist.'He will arrive first and commence announcing and heralding, in loud authoritative but melodious tone, the coming of Ndi-Ichie Ogidi. He will demand absolute silence. This announcer will continuously warn that violators will be visited with heavy fines.The bellwether of the expected august procession will be toting a heavy bell some 25 meters ahead. This bell is rung with an uncanny and awe-inspiring cadence. Finally, a long line of chiefs, clad in brilliant-white flowing gowns with their heads adorned with bright-red caps, will file into the compound. It promises to be a very long procession; multitudes of Ogidi Ndi-Ichie will attend.Since Chinua Achebe was an Ogidi Ichie Ime-Obi member, his colleagues, fellow members of Ichie-Ime-Obi, will immediately follow the Indi-Ichie procession.Just as a house cat is different from the leopard; Ndi-Ichie and Ichie-Ime-Obi belong to separate leagues. Ndi-Ichie Ime-Obi will be attired in smart colorful long gowns wearing huge headgear festooned with colorful ostrich feathers.As the Ndi-Ichie and Ndi-Ichie-Ime-Obi file in; a loud silence will envelope the venue. Perhaps, it will be possible to hear the sound of a dropped pin. Perhaps, this eerie and palpable silence is required to usher in the ancestors from the spirit world in readiness to receive the soul of the departed.Absolute silence is demanded by the Ndi-Ichie and Ndi-Ichie Ime-Obi for the incipient solemn ceremony. The reader might conclude that the soul burial is a mere pagan or heathen ceremony; this is far from the truth. The president of the Ndi-Ichie will lead the chiefs in prayers. He prays to the ancestors to carry their supplications to God. He also prays to God to accept the soul of the departed. This ceremony is a harmonious symbiosis of Christian worship and Ancestral worship.If you attend the May 23 'flesh' burial of Chinua Achebe, it will be well worth it to also witness the 'soul' burial. If history can be relied upon, the 'soul' burial of Achebe will also take place; and perhaps on Saturday, May 25, an Oye day.By so doing, the Ogidi culture will have been fully and unequivocally observed.*Amobi, from Ogidi, wrote in from Lagos
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