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Burial ceremonies of a Benin man under the Benin custom

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

From time immemorial there have been modes of performing traditional rites of a Benin man, which in the olden days did not bring about any acrimony as they were carried out strictly. For purpose of clarity, and to avoid any controversies. It is reproduces   hereunder as it is related in a publication issued by the Benin Traditional Council 1996:

"(1) On the death of a Benin Person, it is the eldest surviving son with his brother and sisters, who performs the funeral rites of the deceased parent for the family “For the family” means that all the funeral ceremonies end before the family elder the “Okaegbe”. Funeral rites are in two parties; first and second ceremonies. First ceremony includes all rituals performed that end with the actual interment of the deceased. The second ceremony, which may follow immediately after the first or at a later date, Depending on the preparedness of the son, includes all rituals, performed that end with “Ukomwen” (i.e. establishment of the ancestral altar).  The oldest male of the family (Usually referred to as “Okaegbe n’ Okhua”) normally delegates his personal representative (referred to as Okaegbe Iorinmwin”) to  officiate and guide children to conclude all the funeral rites at the end of which the Okaegbe Irorinmwin, with the children , presents his report, with all items used to the family elder (Okaegbe n’ Okhua), As the items for a funeral are laid down by customs the family has no right  to increase them in order to lighten the load on the children, who may be financially handicapped”

Distribution of the property of a demised Benin man

It is a well settled fact that there are customary ways by which a demised Benin man’s property is distributed amongst his children. These procedures have been appropriately articulated by the Benin Traditional Council on the authority of the Oba of Benin on several occasions; which is reproduced as follows;
Customs regarding inheritance for non-hereditary traditional title holders and ordinary persons;

"(i) soon after death, the inventory of the properties of the deceased person is taken by the Okaegbe (or his representative) in the presence of the deceased person’s eldest son and any of the other children who may be present; the inventory is kept by the Okaegbe who has responsibility to ensure their safe-keeping pending the completion of the burial ceremonies by the children. A copy of the inventory is also left with the eldest son. Inventory is a modern concept. In the olden day all the moveable properties were kept physically in the Okaegbe possession while all immovable properties were identified,

(ii) On the completion of the final burial ceremonies by the eldest son, which means in Benin custom “Orere-Okoe i.e he has established an alter for worshipping his departed parent, the Okaegbe, who presided over the burial ceremonies with other senior members of the extended family, if considered necessary, meet with the children of the deceased and share the deceased person’s properties among the children as prescribed by customs thus

(a)The Igiobe i.e. the house in which the deceased lived and died and usually, though not always, where he was buried automatically devolves on the eldest son,

(b)Custom enjoins the eldest son to accommodate all his brothers and sisters (subject to their good behavior) until they are able to build their own house and move out or (if a woman) until they get married;

(c)Where the deceased has other landed properties, these are distributed to the other children according to “Urho” in orders of seniority; i.e. according to the numbers of wives the male child taking precedence in each “Urho”. The eldest son is still entitled to a share of the remaining properties, if the initial sharing has gone round the “Urho”,

(d)All other moveable properties are similarly  distributed among all the children starting with the eldest son,

(e)It may happen that the most senior of the deceased person’s children is a female. In such case, while custom places all the responsibilities on the eldest son, and gives him all the precedence, it is permissible and expected by mutual agreement between the family elders and the children, for something reasonable to be given to the most senior of all the children, certainly not the Igiogbe,

(f)Once the estate of the deceased has been duly distributed among the children , the responsibility of the Okegbe and the extended family ceases ordinarily where the distribution is done, strictly according to custom and without any bias from the family elders, there should be no cause for quarrel among the children,

(g)There have been cases, which are permissible, where a deceased has one house with many rooms and such number of rooms have been shared among the children proportionally in order of seniority usually to bring the children together. This however, is subject to mutual agreement of all concerned i.e. the eldest son with the family eldest..."

Inheritance regarding hereditary traditional title holders

The eldest surviving son of a hereditary traditional title holder in Benin plays the main role, together with his brothers and sisters in the burial ceremony of his father. After the final burial ceremony of his father, called Ukomwen had been performed; the customs allows him to succeed to his father’s title. However, where the title holder had no male child to succeed to the hereditary title, his brother or any other male paternal relation of his, after due confirmation by the Oba succeeds to the title

The “Urho system” under Benin customary law of succession

Like in other part of the world, the Benin people indulge in polygamy. This practice somehow has been posing problems especially after the demise of the head of the family, as regards the sharing of his property, especially if he had more than his dwelling house, which is the Igiogbe this provokes the evolution of what is called “Urho System”
The Urho System under Benin customary law of succession and inheritance is recognizing another child of a separate stripe of the same man, and a principle to correct any wrong done in the course of distributing a Benin man’s estate,

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