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Awka Burial Traditions

According to Awka custom, when a young man dies, all members of the family are notified. The body is washed in the court by sisters or relatives by the same mother, and then dressed with cloth. The deceased’s friends and male kin dig a grave within a room either in his home or his father’s and bury his body. The rest of the family, male and female, are also present. On the eighth day, they kill a goat on the grave site. It is eaten by the family and some of its  flesh is left on the grave. 

If a grown man who has made the ‘Ajagija’ title, dies, they wash the body and split a fowl's beak; the blood is  smeared on the eyes of the corpse,  as this is said to open the dead man's eyes in the next world. A ram is slaughtered with a knife and its blood is smeared on the right hand of the dead man; this is said to be in praise of his hand’s efforts in his life. The brothers provide the animals and perform the slaughtering . If there are sons, they call all of the ’Ajagija’ members in Awka before sacrificing, and each member provides two yards of cloth in tribute .  A rectangular coffin is made by relatives from ‘oji’ wood. The grave is dug in a sleeping room within the house. 

In recent years, economic pressures have shifted public opinion regarding these demanding funerary rites. Due to the expensive, resource-intensive nature of these elaborate rituals, in 2019, the Anambra State House of Assembly passed a bill for a law to control burial and funeral ceremonies within the state. The bill states that "in the event of death, no person shall deposit any corpse in the mortuary or any place beyond two months from the date of death, while burial ceremonies shall be for one day only." It also states that “from the commencement of the law, no person shall subject any relation of the deceased to a mourning period of more than one week from the date of the burial ceremony."

The Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, began the campaign against expensive burials in Anambra State and subsequently took the battle to the State House of Assembly. Ezeokafor believes that the extravagance displayed by people during funeral ceremonies has reached a point that necessitates an effective legislation to control the excesses. According to him, if remained unchecked, expensive burials would lead people into pitiable situations and bondage. This bill was passed in April of 2019 and the new rules are punishable to the full extent of the law.

Research source: Thomas, N. W. “Some Ibo Burial Customs”. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 1917.

Image source: “Burial Rites and Hand Washing, Food Offering at an Igbo Funeral in Isele Azagba” by Northcote Thomas. 1900s. Via Ukpuru.


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