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Nnewi: Funeral Economics and Accountability In A Peculiar Igbo Town

Maduako's children were still very young when he died and his young wife had no reasonable means of livelihood and as such could not shoulder the cost of the funeral burden of her dead husband.

But the husband must be given his rites of passage.

One of the two plots of land belonging to the deceased Maduako had to be sold to foot the bill of his funeral ceremony.

It was an unanimous decision amongst the men in the extended family of Maduako, in a meeting which his wife and his 13 years old son attended.

The young son was invited to hear or witness a discussion that would affect his inheritance and that of his siblings later in life.

The proposed land for sale could be sold irreversibly whereby the buyer pays cash and a he-goat or is sold "n'ibe" or "redeemably", whereby the buyer pays cash and the ownership would only become permanent if the payment is not refunded over an agreed period of time.

Close relations of the dead are usually given the first right of refusal to buy the land before outsiders are invited to bid or to buy.

The money raised or borrowed to fund the funeral is handed over to a financially trustworthy close relation of the deceased who carries the widow along as per how much is raised and expended.

The leader of the women or wives married into the extended family of the deceased is given the money earmarked for catering during the funeral.

These wives known as "ndi nwunyedi" are divided into cooking groups and their leader works with the group whose turn it is to cook, to procure foodstuffs needed to be used to cook food for the respective visiting sympathizers.

The men or umunna draw a budget and give the women leader, the list of expected sympathizers for effective planning and to enable the women arrange the food in respective "ite ona" or large food warmers as the tradition requires on the days they are needed.

The statutory sympathizers who must be fed are the deceased mother's relations, his inlaws, the families of the married daughters, the powerful "umuada" or daughters of the family and the umunna or the extended family unit.

Sympathizers come in groups or singly to pay condolence to the bereaved.

The sympathizer who cried loudest is not the person who is appreciated more by the mourners but the person who has reduced his grief to the largest amount of cash or cow.

The invited friends and extended relations of the deceased come in groups as they enter the funeral arena in an organized manner with women in front and men following behind in a single file.

The hired dancing group or masquerade groups formed the rearguard.

Depending on the religious leaning of the deceased or the sympathizer, masquerade or dancing group might be used to escort a sympathizer to the funeral.

The person whose friends and relations escorted to the funeral would go into the deceased compound, go round the bed on which the dead was laid before interment or just make a u-turn after greeting the widow seated inside the barricaded veranda of the deceased's house and then proceed to the canopy where the male paternal relations sit.

The relations of the deceased sit outside the compound, under an "mkpukpu" or a canopy made with palm frond or tapoline.

A large tray is placed on a table in front of the chief mourners usually the sons and brothers of the deceased.

Behind the immediate family of the deceased in the canopy are seated the members of the extended family or umunna.

As the sympathising party approach the table after making a u-turn inside deceased compound, the men amongst the group led by the person being escorted to the funeral, would make swift movement to the front, collect the drinks carried on the head by the women and a piece of cloth and hand them over to the mourners together with their monetary condolence gifts.

The presented clothes are labeled just as the various amounts of money dropped into the tray, are duly recorded against the names of the givers.

Only a portion of the drinks brought along by a sympathizer group is released to them for their own entertainment.

The man who has hired or invited a crowd of escorts must fund their entertainment.

He either comes along with his own supplementary entertainment or have his crowd entertained at his house before proceeding to funeral venue.

Solitary sympathizers are expected to monetize the quantum of their condolence in cash which they put inside the tray pan on a table in the canopy.

Some friends or the husband of the first daughter of the bereaved who give a cow as a condolence gift are given a goat in return.

As a sympathizer drops his condolence, someone would count the amount dropped and have the exact amount and name of the giver recorded by another person whose job throughout the duration of the funeral is to record receipts.

A condolence gift enclosed in an envelope is also opened immediately and amount recorded accordingly.

The essence of the accurate recording is in line with Nnewi tradition that a receiver of a gift is actually in debt of what is given.

People check the funeral records to "repay" a bereaved with exactly or slightly above what he gave when the sympathiser lost his own loved one.

In Nnewi, people I gifted a cow when their mum died are expected to "repay" or give me a cow each during the funeral of my mum. It is a debt that is quietly paid.

Any sympathizer who dropped money is taken to an area marked for entertainment and they are entertained according to how much money they gifted as condolence.

During the funeral of my uncle in 1994, one sympathizer named Mazi Uluafia had dropped N100 as condolence and had asked to be given a Big Stout when asked what he would like to drink.

He was told that Big Stout was not available and that he could ask for any brand of soft drinks of his choice even while he noticed that the person sitting beside him was being given the very Big Stout he was told that was not available.

Nobody in Nnewi quarrels with the treatment of the likes of Mazi Uluafia as nobody conducts a funeral to sink into further loss. No freebies are given.

The death of the person whose funeral is being performed is already an enough loss.

The drinks used for funeral are usually supplied by dealers on credit. The drink sellers would come around every evening to be paid from the condolence proceeds until the last day of the funeral.

The morning following the end of the third day and the last day of the funeral is very critical.

The earnings in cash, wrappers, cows, drinks and food items from the funeral would have been added up.

All the daughters or umuada and wives in the immediate family of the deceased would be given the wrappers their relations gave in condolence which were labeled and the remainder are sold.

Many textile traders would come to buy the remaining wrappers just as some other traders would arrive to buy the cows which are usually sold about 35% lower than the market prices.

Still in that morning, all the creditors with respect to the funeral and those who lent anything to the deceased would come to prove their claims.

Surprisingly, debtors don't normally show up. They assume that the debt has died with the creditor until they are discovered by the relations of the deceased through records. Many of them deny liability.

The creditors for the funeral are settled first while agreements are reached on how to settle the others if the surplus cash realized from the funeral could not extinguish the creditors' claims.

Funerals in Nnewi are managed in such a way that the family of the deceased do not sink into further debt after the sale of their land or through borrowing.

In some cases, the money realized from the funeral would be enough to reclaim the land staked to borrow money to finance the funeral.

When you attend the funeral of an Nnewi person, know that you shall be entertained according to the generosity you exhibited by how much you dropped on the condolence tray.

Except where the children of the deceased are so rich that they decide to throw a party for their dead, a behaviour we learnt from the Yoruba, a funeral ceremony in my town is a money matter and it is treated as a business not to make profit but profit made during the ceremony is not thrown away.

That is why we are who we are- Ndi Nnewi!

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