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Ir’orinmwin (Burial) in Edo Land

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

By Ima  Igiehon

The way Edo bury their dead evolved over thousands of years. The custom is that the family of the deceased handles all issues of burial. The custom is patriarchal so, the paternal family has the duty’ to oversee the ceremony

Burials in Edo land have spiritual and often religious significance. The body is buried first, after which the rites follow to enable the deceased join his ancestors. The Edo believes that ancestors are spirits in the court of Osanobua in heaven, and that they often intercede with Him on behalf of those of the family left in the mortal world. Thus, they bury their dead according to special rites.

They believe too, that a body not buried according to those rites set out by custom, would float and roam in the world of spirits without peace and with no links with ancestors long dead. Such a situation they think, is both damaging and harmful to the family especially the children of the deceased.

Announcement of the Passing Away and of the Burial Programme
If a family member passes away. a team of the children with the eldest son as the head, report the death to the Okaegbee. The family assembles to receive the report as well as to collaborate with the children and draw up a programme.

The children, especially the eldest son, have the right to demand that the burial takes place at a time and on a date that are convenient to them. The interment of the body is according to custom, the duty of the family. But the eldest son with the support of the rest of the children is responsible for carrying out the rites of burial although it is under the watchful eyes of the Okaegbee and the other members of the extended family.

The children and the family will come together to clean the body of the dead, in the evening of the day of interment. It is then laid in state in his or her private chambers. That evening, every child is expected to miame, that is, to provide the family with the materials and equipment for cleaning and to feed those who have cleaned up the body of the dead. The eldest son will supply uwawa (a clay pot), ihion (sponge) and a goat.

The wake-keeping will begin at about 10 p.m, with the family singing and dancing. They may hire Ugho or a dance band to entertain the audience. And just before midnight, the Okaegbee will lead family prayers and rites.

Interment often takes place in the early hours of the morning, if the body is to be buried in the grounds of his or her home. If interment is elsewhere, it will take place the following day at the venue and at the time agreed with the family. All the children of the deceased, as well as family members will be expected to throw a handful of sand on the coffin, once it lies in the grave. A representative each of the paternal and the maternal families will say final prayers to bring the interment ceremony to the end.

The Funeral Rites
After the interment, the children led by the eldest son, start the burial rites of their father or mother. They will have informed the family and the family will have explained the rites. And these days, the children will have agreed to carry out those rites.

Right from the start, the Okaegbee as the chief overseer will take charge. The family will appoint adan — a man and a wornan - frorn among them to assist the Okaegbee. The rites will then begin.

Propitiation to the Edion Egbee
The family will propitiate the Edion Egbee at the shrine. This is for all the ancestors and the elders living, that may not, for being older than the deceased, take part in the burial ceremonies. The offerings are usually kola nuts, a goat and some drinks.

Iwa  Orinmwin
This is a symbolic lying-in-state ceremony and the family will organise to keep awake all-night. All the children take part in this event. They pray, sing and dance and they may hire ugho or a dance band to entertain throughout the event.

Catering for the Family
While the burial rites last, the children of the dead feed all members of the family gathered for the event.

The children and the family stage the Izakhue as a ceremony to inform neighbours of the deceased of the death of one among them. They pray at the entrance to the house of the dead and follow that up by slaughtering a goat or a cow if the dead were a chief of the rank of Egbaevbo. After that, they will share slices of coconut among those present. The eldest son will lead the children in a dance procession (ukpukpe), and family members and friends will take part if they are able to do so. There is usually a traditional route for this procession in a town or village.

If the dead were a chief, the dance band will be Ema Edo Emi Ighan and the eldest son will have use of an Eben at the event. After the ukpukpe, the family will retire and keep awake for the rest of the night. The day after the Izakhue is free of outdoor burial activity.

The custom sets a day aside for what is, in essence. a carnival. It is to honour the spirit of the dead. All the children who are of age take part. The eldest son plays a rushed part in the carnival. He finishes and returns to take his place among the elders and the Okaeghee, who had taken seats to review every troupe and the ceremonial offerings they bring along. A selection of the other children - the eldest son of each wife, if the dead is male and had more than one wife, all his married daughters, and the oldest grandchild - will all take part in the Oton ceremony. However, the family will allow any other child, brother, sister, niece or nephew who chooses to take part in the event, to do so. Such people have been known to take part because of the chance that they might be rewarded for it, at the time of asset sharing. And the family does not lower its expectation no matter who takes part. They are all expected to provide the following:

1 goat or a cow if the deceased is a chief of the rank of Egbaevbo

14 coconuts

1 keg of palm oil (about four litres)

1 eiva (a mat)

1 ow ‘uzo (smoked hind leg of an antelope)

Each person participating can give, as their means let them, more or less than the custom demands. Everyone taking part will hire a dance troupe and each troupe is a carnival of its own. Each person taking part leads out his or her carnival from his or her own base. This base may be the home or the marital home of the woman if she is married, or a base chosen by the person taking part. The point is that pride is involved here. Every child, especially if the deceased had more than one wife, wants to show that he or she has life, a base outside that personified by the deceased; the child has made progress.

Each person taking part will have a man carry the Oton on his head. O!on  is a four-legged, desk-shaped box, covered with white or a bright coloured cloth and decorated with strips of matching cloth or felt, mirrors and brass plates cut or etched in animal shapes.

The carrier stays with the troupe somewhere between the offspring or relative of the dead for whom he carries the  Oton and the advance group, which dances and sings. He dances sings and enjoys himself too, as the carnival moves from place to place as designated by custom. The designated stops are different in places around Edo land. In Benin City, the place is Emotan Statue in the central area. Uselu to the west, Oka to the east and Uzebu to the east of west, have their designated stops, as every village has its spots.

All items handed in at the Oton carnival go to the eldest son, except that the Okaegbee will have some for the extended family and himself. He could, for instance, choose to have a big healthy cow.

Ikpowia is the last event of the burial ceremony for which the family will have to keep awake all night. The family consults an oguega to find a member of the family most loved by the deceased. When found, the family dresses him or her up, like a traditional priest or priestess. He or she will sit in a central place at the venue. The chosen person is then said to di ‘arha ya. He or she will neither take anything through the mouth nor sleep throughout the night; he or she is not to leave his seat at any time that night. Relatives will shower him or her with gifts and all the family will honour, worship and minister onto him or her throughout the night.

The reason for the all-night vigil is to help keep the arha awake. The Edo believes that spirits do not sleep. The arha is an embodiment of the spirit; so, he or she must not sleep. The people fear that he or she could see the spirit of the deceased, if he or she slept. So, the arha has to be kept awake. There is singing and dancing all night as is the case with all such vigils.

The arha Stage is the start of the Ukomwen ceremony. This is the time the family sets up the shrine where the deceased may be propitiated and or appeased after the burial ceremony has ended. The eldest son will be the priest of that shrine.

The night of the Ikpowia is when the family obtains the visible evidence that the deceased accepted oblations during the burial rites. The physical evidence of acceptance is the presence of asanmw ‘oto, feeding at the temporary shrine on the food used. This shrine will have been set up at the back of the house during the ceremony. If the asanmw ‘oto are present, it is believed that the spirit of the dead Ri Arha. And the family will declare the burial rites a huge success

“Isuerhanfna is the last ceremony of the burial rites. It takes place at dawn soon after the end of the vigil for the Ikpowia.
An early morning procession goes to a location not too far from the venue of the burial. There, they fire the last gunshot to end the burial rites. They return to the venue to sprinkle water in the air and drops will fail on participants lo symbolise ablution.

Custom requires that the eldest son carries out the ceremony of Ukomwen. He provides an ukhurhe and then a goat or other offering according to family practice. The goat is to feast both the deceased and ancestors long dead. The Okaegbee will lead the ceremony. If the deceased inherited his father’s shrine, his eldest son will add the new ukhurhe to the ones already there. This is the final rite and it confers on the eldest son the full right to inherit the Igiogbe. If the deceased had a hereditary title from the Oba, the Ukomwen ceremony will confer on the eldest son, the right to inherit the title, debt (if any) and the entire estate of the deceased, subject to what he decides to give to others of his siblings.

Emza Egbee
The eldest daughter, or any other daughter duly asked by the family, will prepare the final feast of pounded yarn for the family, early in the morning of the final day.

(Imarhiagbe Igiehon is an electrical engineer and a past president of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. He was for many years the Director of Engineering Services at the University of Ibadan. He holds a M.sc and the title of Obaghayomwan of Benin).

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