Idoma Burial Process for Elders (A Case Study of Otukpo Community)

First Published

Burials in Idoma land are often carried out with several activities which are mostly followed by a series of traditional and socials events. These activities most times, commence at the announcement of the deceased`s death and would end three weeks after final interment.

Upon the death of an elder, the culture requires that the oldest man in the clan is the first person informed and it is then his responsibility to let the elders in the community know. The elders would convene and propose two to three burial dates to the deceased’s family for them to choose one from. This is done to avoid clashes in burial dates for other elders or other special events within the community. 

Three to four days prior to the burial date chosen by the deceased elder’s family, the young men in the community will commence together and set about digging of a grave. The grave of an elder in Otukpo is dug prior to burial day because it involves some sacred undertakings that the public are not privy to. During the period of grave digging, the in-laws of the deceased elder would cater to the food and drink needs of the grave diggers, though this provision of food and drinks is optional, most in-laws gladly undertake to do this as a sign of respect for their late in-law.

Taking of the corpse of an elder home from the mortuary is usually done a day prior to the burial and is a highly anticipated event because of the colourful procession of masquerades, people and cars accompanying the hearse in a carnival like display called Armora. Though not mandatory, the Armora is gradually becoming the norm in Otukpo community.

Upon arrival of the corpse at the elder’s residence, preparations for the wake start and continue until midnight when the wake itself begins. The commencement of the wake is heralded by gunshots using guns called Egbu’ja, after which dance groups will perform until circa 3am or 4am. At the end of the wake, the deceased elder’s family, kinsmen and in-laws will go round giving out gift souvenirs to the dance groups and also “spray” cash as a sign of the family’s wealth and affluence.

At mid-morning on the day of the burial, the elder’s corpse is bathed by the Odumu cult/dance group with women, children and strangers barred from witnessing the washing of the body. After bathing, the corpse is taken to the Itakpa and at this stage; women, children and strangers are allowed in.

The burial ceremony then commences with the congregation of the elders under O’opu (a special ground set aside for the burial activities) for an inquest, to find out the circumstances surrounding the death. This inquisition by the Chiefs and elders of Otukpo community, is one of the most important and interesting part of the burial process. After several discussions about the cause of death and conclusions are reached, all the dance troops will be allowed to showcase their performances with the final performance reserved for the Odumu cult dancers and masquerades.

After all the dance performances, the Alekwu cult then comes and performs some rituals on the dead body. This ritual is carried to make the passage from the land of the living to the land of the dead seamless for the deceased. The Achukwu cult, the most dreaded cult group, then follows to perform the final burial rites and interment. Only the men of the community are allowed to see the Achukwu and details of its activities cannot be shared publicly.

Post burial activities are usually held on the 3rd and 7th day, and depending on the status of the deceased elder and his age, post burial activities might be held on the 14th and 21st day after burial.