My grandmother (we called her Iye), died 5 months ago of what the doctors described as heart failure. My cousin, Alama and I knew what killed her—it was neglect! Iye got many things early enough in her lifetime, she gave birth to her first child at the age of 17, barely a year after she was given in marriage to her betrothed. Her husband died only two months after the birth of their sixth child. Even her death came early, she died at the unripe age of 67.
Her remains were deposited at the mortuary, while the family prepared for a ‘breathtaking’ burial ceremony. The afore disjointed family was forced into a halfhearted cooperation, for Iye‘s sake. For once, the whole family spoke the same language—grief, or so it seemed.
Brother Osas, has since issued an order from Netherlands (backed with some Euro of course), that what is now left of the sagging building that was once the residence of Iye be renovated and painted white. Even though he is the second child, he’s the new head of the family. According to tradition, a man is man, no matter what. ‘They need to know that Iye has children” he had said.
Iye‘s first daughter, Auntie Titi was the picture D’banj had in mind when he said ‘importer, exporter, cocoa water!’ She’s an international fabric and jewelry trader. She had prayed two years earlier when Iye first fell sick that God should keep her alive. Not out of love as you would naturally want to think, but because her Dubai business just started off. The business was too young to survive a burial. But now, Iye died at the right time, she can now give her mother a befitting burial.
The other four children soon arrived from different parts of the country. The last time they came together like this was 3 years ago, when the Prophet Dan said our family had a generational curse of untimely death that needed to be broken. But this time, they were here to pay Iye their last respect, that’s what sister Sally, Iye‘s second daughter called it.
The budget for the burial was 5 million naira. This, of course included the list from the oka-egbe (the head of the extended family) who sees burial as a form of seasonal employment opportunity to sift as much goodies as possible. After splitting the budget, Auntie Titi being the eldest took the highest share. Only her and Brother Osas could afford their share, the others had to borrow to ‘save face’. “She’s our mother, we have to show this village that we love her” said sister Sally. Three different types of Ankara were sold.
The burial ceremony surpassed everyone’s expectation, all 27 canopies where filled up with many more standing. This confirmed what Felix the last born said a day before the burial ceremony, “make we only invite those wey fit spray oh, the rest go somehow come“. Three bands played. Everyone ate, drank, gossiped, danced, fought and took extra food. Everybody applauded the elaborateness of the burial. “This party tough pass that Pa. John Ode own last week o” a street-to-street burial analyst commented. “Burial jollof rice sweet pass marriage own sha“, another said.
Looking around at all we had done for the ceremony, I asked Alama why we so much break our pockets for funerals. She looked into space as one looking at the multicoloured poster of ‘Ikenna; the blind warrior’ for what seemed like a minute, then she abruptly replied, “it’s how we pay last respect”. Well, our last respect is a little too expensive, don’t you think? Sometimes, I think If the dead could act, they’d slap us out of our celebratory-mode into the mourning-mode. Iye‘s death had brought crocodile tears, cosmetic laughter, new Ankara, artificial unity and long-term debt. But how could Iye‘s children have done differently? Was that not the way everybody does it? Was that not how everyone met it?