A cross session of the chiefs performing the traditional rites as part of activities marking the burial ceremony of Omo N’oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Erediawa Oba of Benin with a procession from Ediaken Palace to Oba Palace in Benin, is shown in the gallery above. Photo: Barnabas Uzosike.
Under The Benin Custom
(A) THE DEATH
On the death of the title- holder the eldest surviving son must inform the Oba, who in the absence of any violation of the customary laws of the land, grants the royal permission for the corpse to be buried. To signify that the deceased is not an enemy of the Oba and the people, the Oba send the Ukpen-Eguae (Royal palace cloth) to be used to lay the corpse to rest. Also accompanying the “royal cloth” is an eagle feather to be worn on the head of the deceased when laid in state with the Oba’s permission, the corpse is granted a “compound” burial (i.e. buried in the deceased’s residence instead of the general cemetery as a mark of great honor from the Oba).
The interment ceremonies take place after the observance of the “wake- keeping” ceremonies consisting among other things, of an all- night vigil which is an expensive affair. The ceremonies involve such engagement as organizing funeral dances and entertaining the large crowds which come for the ceremonies. On the completion of the wake-keeping the corpse is buried.
If the funeral rite commences immediately before the interment, the ceremonies called “Iwa-Orinmwin” begins on the appointed date (usually on one of the two prominent market days namely –ekioba of Ekiagbado; but some family perform it on any other traditional days), while the corpse lies in state. But if the funeral rite are postponed till such time as the considerable expense involved can be met, then Iwa- Orinmwin commences on the appointed date, with the ceremonial “laying in state of the corpse” which involves using the nails and hair of the deceased (which have been preserved) wrapped in awhite clote to represent the deceased’s body. This is a mock laying-in-state of the body of the deceased.
On the third day of the commencement of the funeral rites, Izakhue ceremonies are performed. The ceremonies entail the slaughtering of a cow or a goat to the spirit of the family by the eldest surviving son. He with his brothers and sisters and other members of the family in their order of seniority, dance round the town to the accompaniment of funeral songs. This ceremonies are followed in the night by another vigil night. Cows and goats are killed and the carcass together with drinks and kola- nuts are distributed to the local community, the invited guests and the class of chiefs to which the title holder belong.
(¡¡¡) Traditional Gifts
On the fourth day, the traditional gift are sent to Otu-Eguae (palace Society) to which the deceased belonged. In the case of the Uzama, such gift are also sent to the appropriates societies within the area of their own authority i.e. within their villages.
This ceremony is performed on the fifth day. Isoton consists of processions headed by the sons and daughter of the deceased and other members of the family. The leader of such a procession carries an Okun which is a box decorated with multi-colored cloths and brass ornaments, symbolic the deceased’s property befitting his status in the community. The eldest son does not go round the town with his Okun. He merely dances within a short distance along the street where the deceased lived and return to present his okun before the elders of the family who remain seated in front of the residence of the deceased where the ceremonies take place. When the family accepts the Okun together with all its accoutrement, then he takes his seat with the elders. Edo parlance, this indicates that the son has taken the position of his father amongst the elders of the family. All other brothers and sisters who have gone on procession round the town present their Okun to their eldest brother as a sign of submission to his jurisdiction –thus acknowledging his leadership. Performing the Isoton ceremonies is very important to any Edo person because it indicates that a child has played his proper role in the funeral rites of the deceased and he or she is therefore entitled to a share of the property of the deceased.
(v) Ako or Ihako
In the case of Uzama, the ceremony of Ako or Ihako is subsequently performed. During the ceremony, an effigy is made and the rituals performed are designed to indicate that the title-hoder has been given an honorable burial.
The ceremony takes place on the seventh day when there is another vigil. This involves elaborate entertainment and dance to funeral songs. At dawn, the ceremonial mock corpse is given a mork interment to bring the burial rites to a close. Usually, this last ceremony is done on a day other than the traditional Eken day (day of rest) and such arrangements are made that it falls on any of the main market days, like Ekioba or Ekiagbado. It must be appreciated that the duration of funeral rites vary from family and from group titles to group titles. Some may take seven days as described while others last for fourteen days or more. Where major rites can only be performed on main market days, the duration will normally be longer than seven or fourteen days.
The final ceremony is very important for the eldest son although other children may or may not take part. The performance by the eldest son or whoever is to inherit the title or properties is mandatory. During this ceremony, the successor places an “Ukhurhe” (carved staff representing the spirit of the deceased) in the family Edion Shrine (Elders Shrine)-amongst the ukhurhe of the deceased’s ancestors. It is at this point succession to the titles passes to the eldest son of the deceased, after he has been presented to the Oba who still has to give the traditional sanction of conferring the title on the incumbent. In the case of an Uzama title, the eldest son must perform the ceremony of propitiating the Edion Uzama. It is usually carried out in the presence of the Oliha and the other Uzama. On the conclusion of this ceremony, the deceased’s eldest son is presented to the Oba who normally confers the title on him.