Rest in peace (3)

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Visiting the in-laws

Visiting an in-law to break the news of the death their daughter is not an easy job. A man’s wife dies; before anything is done, the tradition in Igboland of Nigeria demands that her husband’s family must go and break the sad news to her family.

How is this done? A delegation of elders from the husband’s family arrive at the woman’s family home to meet elders of her family, some of them, traditional titled men in red caps, heads bowed in grief; others leaning on their walking sticks, gnashing their teeth or shaking their heads in disbelief, all seated waiting to hear the sad news, ostensibly from the horses mouth. These non-verbal communications are all orchestrated to show grief although they pretend they have not heard anything.

On entering the home and seeing the elders seated, the visitors greet the gathering: “Elders of this family and our in-laws we salute you! Dalu…nu! they greet in Igbo language. Nno…nu! (which means welcome) the hosts chorus in reply. Note the emphasis on …nu. In Igboland, it means many people. The visitors are offered seats. There is no breaking of kolanuts as is customary among Igbos. Someone has died and there is no room for much felicitation.

All seated, the leader of the visiting delegation clears his throat and salutes the in-laws again. Nno! they reply again. Then he begins to speak on a sober note. He does not tell the in-laws point blank that their daughter has died. The story is told indirectly. He begins: “In-laws, we want to let you know that your daughter is sick.” “How sick?” they ask with curiosity. “Very sick,” the delegation leader replies. “And so, how have you been taking care of her? Where is she now by the way?” they ask again.

“Well, we have been taking good care of her,’ the spokesman of the delegation replies. “In fact right now, she is in the hospital receiving treatment.” “If that is the case, that is okay,” the in-laws comment. “We hope she gets well soon,” they conclude. This is the beginning of the story of the death of a daughter among her family members..

At this point, the visitors excuse themselves and leave the gathering. But they not go home because their job is not yet finished. They simply leave the compound of the in-laws and return in the next few minutes to the same gathering carrying a keg of palm wine and a bottle of hot drink (Brandy or Whisky), and place them before their in-laws who are still waiting. Those waiting know that the story has not been fully told.

alu emee, (meaning, tragedy has befallen us), while they make gestures of disbelief and shock. Some of them will simply shrink and clasp their hands round their chests, while others may throw their hands above their heads.

Then silence befalls the gathering. No one speaks for about five minutes, heads bowed as everyone internalizes the news of the death of the woman. Thereafter, the hosts ask about where the body of their daughter has been kept and briefings about burial arrangements. But to get that going, they will spell out the cultural demands which the visiting family has to meet to get the go-ahead to bury their daughter. It varies from community-to-community. That is, if all goes well and there were hiccups in the marriage or outstanding issues that were not settled.

One issue that can crop up at this point is if there were some outstanding marital rites that were not performed or completed before or during the marriage of their daughter. An elder in the woman’s family will rake it up with a story of how it is done, and how it was left undone by the husband’s family over the years. “You have to do it before you can bury our daughter,” they will tell the visitors.

Yet another elder in the host family will launch into a long story of the origin of the family; how the father of the bride came of age, got marriage, had children, trained them, and how other family members helped in training and educating the bride and her siblings after the death of her father. Plenty of stories rent the air, all to eulogize the dead woman and make her husband’s family pay all outstanding dividends and fulfil all marital and cultural demands. The next instalment in this series will examine some of these demands and the next platform of storytelling in burying the dead in South-east states of Nigeria.


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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