“The Spirit Of A Dead Nnewi Woman Does Not Rest In Peace Until She Is Transported To Her Father’s Home”
As I sat with my mother’s people in the compound of one of the best sons-in-law any parent could ever wish for, to perform the final and the most important aspect of the funeral rites of my cousin, Mrs Ngozi Akachukwu, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic on how things used to be and how a lot have changed.
Though my cousin had already been buried in accordance with her Catholic faith, we, the relations of her father had assembled in her husband’s house to take her home.
Yes, we would take her back to her father’s house for she had accomplished the task of marriage which end of tenure was determined by her death.
A woman, in my town only marries to help her husband extend his generation and must be returned to the father’s house upon finishing her marital assignments.
The marital assignments include bearing children for the husband, warming his bed or mat, cooking for him and raising his kids.
An Nnewi woman is said to have gone on a marital journey i.e. “ogalu ije di” and must return home as “onye ije nwe una” meaning that “a visitor must return home”.
Before now, the husband of a dead Nnewi woman must return her corpse to her father’s house for burial but this has changed over time as we evolved.
In place of the corpse, the in-laws would now return to the dead woman’s father’s home, her “Ngiga” or a smoke-coloured basket woven with materials extracted from the heart of the palm fronds.
Ngiga is one of the key traditional wedding gifts a bride is given by her parents and it is this Ngiga or its replacement that would be returned to her father’s house upon death.
While in her husband’s home, Ngiga is usually hung atop the cooking spot and is suspended by a rope tied to the roof of the woman’s kitchen.
A new Ngiga is usually brownish but would turn black as it gradually gathers the smoke from the cooking activities.
The smoke and the heat emanating from ekwu help preserve the contents of the Ngiga.
A woman’s Ngiga is the store where she keeps food condiments like dried fish and meat, ogiri, ose etc. Nobody touches a woman’s Ngiga without her permission.
Again, return of Ngiga in lieu of the corpse of a married sister or daughter has become outdated as my townsmen have embraced modern architecture and lifestyle as cupboards, refrigerators and kitchen cabinets have conspired to dub Ngiga an antique.
Nowadays, families of a dead married daughter gladly accept her enlarged and framed picture in place of her dead body or Ngiga.
The setting at my cousin’s husband’s compound was a bit different from how it was when Alice, the wife of my father’s uncle died 30 years ago and when her Oraeri people arrived our compound to take her home.
Even the food and drinks that Dona Akachukwu and his relations presented us were different from what it would’ve been years before now.
The kind of wines and various types of food or dishes our illustrious in-law presented to us were temporarily able to dap our tears and temper our deep sense of loss over the short but memorable life of our sister, Mrs. Ngozi Akachukwu (nee Enumah).
Assorted wines from different species and grades of palm trees namely: ngwo, nkwu enu, iti etc. have been dethroned by products from Nigerian Breweries, Guinness, Nigerian Bottling Co. and various wineries all over the world.
Our native delicacies like Akidi, Ona, Abilika, Nsise, Utara Ede, Mbili, Fiofio have also given way to continental dishes.
The only dishes that have refused to give way are Ukwa, Ofe Onugbu, Oha and Rice Ofe Akwu. But they have been made sweeter by foreign condiments.
My people and our ways of life have greatly changed by daily encounters with new beliefs and cultures from other climes. But, Nnewi people and largely the Igbos resident in Anambra state, have retained or modified their ancestral practices.
In a peaceful working agreement between all the churches in Nnewi and the citizens, our traditional practices have been baptized and they have become Christian.
The funeral rites of a married daughter in Nnewi are same in all the four villages of the town.
On the day of the funeral of a married daughter, her corpse is taken to her father’s compound for a brief lying in state for her relatives to view her for the last time.
The head of deceased father’s family who could be her father or the eldest brother would welcome her home and prays that her journey be smooth.
He would be required to drop a piece of new wrapper inside the casket after which the casket is closed and carried to deceased’s husband’s place for a longer lying in state period.
Before the casket is finally closed in the deceased husband’s home, all her immediate relatives are required to drop a piece of cloth each in her casket to ensure that deceased doesn’t lack clothes on her ancestral journey.
Casket sealed, the corpse is now ready for movement to the church or for an open air commendation or funeral mass which is followed by interment.
Once the corpse is buried, the parents of the deceased woman and all her male relations would leave for deceased’s father’s house where a parallel funeral ceremony would commence up until the next day.