For this activity, I will be looking at the perspective of death within Nigerian cultures and the process of hosting a funeral ceremony. To start off, we know that different cultures hold different views on the experience of death. Susan Orpett Long touches on this in her article and explains some of the differences between American and Japanese approaches for example. The Japanese welcome death as a natural process, since all humans and living things will face this at one point in time. Americans, however, like to have a form of control over postponing the arrival of death at our door (Long, 2004). The hospitalization and close care of individuals that are dying in American culture indicates the need to fight and combat death.
The Nigerian perspective is a little more similar to the Japanese perspective compared to the one of America. In general, Nigerians believe that death is not the end, but a transition to another sort of afterlife (Omobola, 2014). This also depends on the religion of the individual, however; for example, Christian Nigerians believe after death a soul is taken to heaven or hell. Due to this overall belief that death is not the end, funerals and burials are perceived more as a celebration of the life lived by the deceased, which holds similarities to the Japanese belief. There are levels to the elaboration of the celebration that come into play though. One is seen to have lived a great life worth celebrating if they reached old age, had children, and regarded to be a good person. When individuals are regarded as thieves, cheats, and evildoers, many times their death is passed in silence. There are a few Nigerian communities, however, that do not celebrate the death of loved ones, because it is considered to be a great loss (Falola, 2000).
Nigerians don’t practice cremation in general, but different tribes have their own way of proceeding with burials. The Yoruba, one of the largest tribes in Nigeria, naturally bury the body in the soil so that the body may recycle naturally into the soil. At times, caskets are used, but only caskets that would somehow still allow the body to contact the soil (Omobola, 2014). Among the Igbo tribe, another large group in Nigeria, the process of burying a body may depend on the individual’s status within the community. For example, the book I looked into by Toyin Falola describes the burial of an Igbo king or chief, which is a bit more elaborate than the funeral of a common person. The body of the deceased king or chief is taken into a place called an oto kwbu, or a funeral compound, to be washed by water and washcloths that never touch the floor. The wives and sisters of the king/chief dress him up in special clothing to prepare for the ritual. The brothers and sons will take the deceased into the room where all of the shrines of their ancestors are housed, and loud drumming will be heard so the ancestors will be notified that someone great will be joining them soon. The wives, in order of seniority, sit around the corpse with a broken knife in hand, and the daughters/sisters will come join them. Throughout the night, guests will visit and pay their respects, while praises will be sung and performances will be given. The wife or wives will stay isolated in a room for three days, bodies thoroughly painted, singing special praises. When the corpse is buried, many materialistic things to be used in the afterlife are buried along. Cannons are fired to alert the spirits that someone will be joining them. After this lengthy period, mourning follows. During these next 10 months, mourning clothes may be worn. While widows and female relatives can wear black clothing or white baft, other relatives only wear baft (blue for men and white for women). The last part of this ceremony is called the kopinai, where friends and acquaintances are invited to feast and celebrate all of the great things the deceased did in his lifetime (Falola, 2000).
• Falola, Toyin. Culture & Customs of Nigeria. December 2000. Accessed July 23, 2015.
• Omobola, Odejobi Cecilia. “Influence of Yoruba Culture in Christian Religious Worship”. International Journal of Social Science & Education. 2014. Accessed July 23, 2015.
• Long, Susan Orpett. “Cultural scripts for a good death in Japan and the United States: similarities and differences”. Social Science & Medicine. 2004. Accessed July 22, 2015.