Rest in peace (1)

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Do you tell stories before you bury the dead in your locality or culture? By this I mean, the obituary announcements, promos on burial arrangements, ceremonies and all.

Here in Nigeria, I can tell you that storytelling is a big package in the burial arrangements/ceremonies of a loved one. In many cases, burying the dead is used as a platform to tell stories about the status symbol and wealth of the deceased or the family. And it is has become very elaborate among the Christians no matter the denomination- Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal and others.

Storytelling and elaborate preparations for burying the dead is not done by Moslems in Nigeria. Their faith does not allow it. They bury their dead within 24 hoyrs. Not so for Christians. They can keep the body of a dead relation for up to 12 months in a hospital mortuary to prepare for the burial. Every aspect of the burial ceremony tells a story or stories. In the current series of this column, we examine in the next couple of weeks, examine how storytelling is used to bury the dead by Christians  Nigeria. It is becoming big business and diverse groups of professionals are benefiting from it without even knowing they are involved in storytelling for the dead. What this means is that storytelling is not only for the living; it is for the dead too, and anyway you look at it, storytelling always generates business. Now lets go:

1. A Person Dies

There is initial wailing and crying by loved ones. That is expected. How to tell the initial story about the death  depends on the age of the deceased; marital status; standard of living, affluence and social standing; where the person passed away; at home, hometown, in the city, or in a hospital. After the inital shock, those privy to the information keep it as a closely guarded secret. Phone calls are made to trusted relations who can maintain confidentiality or keep their mouths shut. The person directly involved, say a parent, husband or wife gets to know much later. They are always to know. They  never get the news immediately. And when they do, it is subtle and indirect with family relations around, never direct.

Why? I have always asked. So many answers:

a. Oh, the bereaved person may be sick, and if you break the news directly and immediately, he/she may suffer a stroke, the condition may worsen or even die. There are so many examples to back this up.

b. The dead may be a chief or a titled person or chief in his/her town, and so you cannot break the news of his/her death anyhow.

c. Culture comes in too. There are are some cultural demands and procedures for the announcement of the death of titled men/women. If  the dead is the traditional ruler of the town that died, the ruling Traditional Council (Igwe-in-Council as in South-East, Nigeria) have to meet and decide how to annouce the death, when to do so, and even perform traditional rites before the announcement. In many towns in the South-East states, the announcement is not done orally or through the electronic media.

Talking Drums (made of hollow wooden boxes covered with dry leather) do the job. And when the story is told in the electronic media, a traditional ruler is not said to be dead; he is said …to have joined his ancestors. That is the royal way of telling the story.

The initial flurry and extent of storytelling in announcing the death depends also on the age and social standing of the deceased. If he/she was a child or a teenager, no big deal. The parents get to know and they make burial arrangements. If a husband or wife died, the spouse would be the last person to know, but relations and neighbours would know. In the presence of the bereaved, body language would be used to communicate. A small family delegation would be raised to break the news to the bereaved spouse. The story of the death of a young man or woman whose parents are still alive is the most difficult and painful to break. … to be continued.


Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com

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