Ibo Funeral Ceremonies
The Ibo funeral and burial customs are very complex and elaborate, particularly for the chief of a clan or village.
The purpose of the Ibo funeral ceremonies are intended to provide a good afterlife. And for those who are undeserving may not
receive a rightful burial and ceremony, and thus may not have an afterlife. The Ibo tribe shares simlar funeral and burial customs
as other African tribes such as the Ijaw and the Kalabari.
An Ibo Chief's Funeral
A Ibo chief's funeral begins with a cleansing of the body in the chief's death chamber, and the body is then set in a table.
Symbolizing rebirth, cloths, strings, and palm leaves are used to cover the body. Next, the oldest daughter leads the dancing
and singing around the table, and then her husband lays an eagle's feather on the corpse. After this process, sacrifices are
performed in order to ensure a good life for the chief in the underworld. First, the children slay four animals, a dog, a cat,
an eagle, and a parrot. These are intended to give the chief the power to forsee danger, good eyesight in the night, good eyesight
at night, and a clear voice. Following this series of sacrifices, the mother's side of the family performs yet another set of
sacrifices, which are actually quite brutal. The first sacrifice made is the sacrifice of a goat, which supposedly will give the
chief sturdy feet that will take him anywhere. After the goat, all of the slave wives of the chief are killed. The first slave is
killed and thrown into the grave with the chief, and the others have their limbs broken and are thrown alive into the grave as well.
If a chief is incredibly wealthy, more slaves will be sacrificed to fertilize the sacred trees. To conclude the sacrifices, the tribe plays drums
to call the ancestors and then covers the grave, except for one small opening. The last sacrifice is a captured man from another tribe,
whose head is placed in the opening to the grave. For three months after the burial, the widows guard the burial/death chamber.
Other Ibo Funeral Customs
- An Ibo woman who dies, is buried at the home of her son, if she has a son. Otherwise, the woman's body is thrown into a bush.
- Children are buried in the house of their parents.
- A fine and large assortment of items are buried with the body, but no food is included.
- A pot is placed above the ground where the body is buried.
- For bad or shameful deaths, there is no burial. "Bad deaths" include women who die in confinement, people who commite suicide, those who die
during the sacred month, and children who die before they have any teeth.
- People who are abnormal or those who may shame the tribe are also put to death. These people include twins, twin mothers, children born feet first,
children whose upper teeth come in first, and lepers.
- For ten months after a death, the wife wears a mourning dress and cannot cut or cover her hair.
- Women are forbidden to weep, so that the spirit is allowed to enter the afterlife peacefully.
- After ten months of mourning, there is a great feast with a variety of foods.
Comparison with Modern Culture
There are few similarities between the Ibo funeral customs and American funeral and burial customs. The few similarities are that generally the body is buried and that there are
markers to show the place of burial. The differences between the rituals are numerous. Firstly, while the Ibo people bury a large amount of items with the body, American customs do not include bury an extensive number of items.
The Ibo make many sacrifices in order to
ensure that the person has a good afterlife. While the customs of the Ibo are inhumane and brutal, modern American customs do not include any
sacrifices of any sort. The markers above the ground are different in that the Ibo use a pot and a person's head, while the American's use
a tombstone. In addition, the women in the Ibo culture wear a mourning dress for ten months, while western culture's women only wear a dress for one day. One
great difference is that the Ibo women are not allowed to cry, and non-Ibo women have no restrictions set upon them.