Our Communion with the Dead
Aku people believe that there is a continuous genealogical connection between the patrilineal lineages of the living and the dead. This is said to be consummated in the Kempt Psychic Union between the living and the dead which is dependent on mutually beneficial cooperation and protective partnership. As a result, a traditional Aku man believes in the Supreme God (Ezechitoke Abiama), as well as in the lesser gods such as the deities, and the nature Spirits, among others. This belief strengthens the traditionalists’ disposition to accept as given the endless cooperation between the living and the dead; the reality of reincarnation, and the constant re-visitation of the dead in form of masquerades. The belief is also strengthened by the rejuvenation of the dead (for those of them adjudged by the gods to have lived a good life) and had a “clean bill of health” while they lived on earth. What a treatise? Ezike Chidiogo Amadi, a veteran broadcaster and humanist, discusses this topic in a manner that brings reason to act upon the evidence of senses. The article was initially published in the Okikpe Magazine, Vol. 1, 1974 by the Aku Undergraduates’ Union, pp. 30-34. Follow the link below for the detailed account.
OUR COMMUNION WITH THE DEAD
EZIKE CHIDlOGO AMADI
During burial ceremonies, it is not uncommon to hear:
Father, Okpokwu Didigwu,
Where were you?
Where were you?
When what – I – held – in – hand
Turned into sand?
Brother, oh brother Ogbuanya
Today is not the question
But on the day of who-and-who!
These are suggestive of continued co-operations and cordiality between the living and the dead. The laments above are not mere resignation and acceptance of the inevitable but also a direct accusation of one for his weaknesses and a call on the other to use his powers on the day of reckoning respectively.
Our living and the dead have an orderly psychic union based on interpose co-operation and protective partnership. This dead-living communion is a mere speck unfastened from the Aku cosmological concept and cosmogony of Ezechitoke Abiama, the deities, the nature spirits and in fact the entire universe of tangible and intangibles (not excluding man). However, it is not the historical genesis of our communion with the dead but rather its practice, worth and acceptance as a system of “mental” culture based on theistic realism that should be of concern.
There is a hierarchical classification of the dead into four viz: Ndishi; Umunne-Umunne; Okunyiuzo and Ufuruchi. The degree of expectations from, and/or respect, or detestation due to each class of the dead is measured in that same order. Ndishi or the ancestral spirits rank next to Ezzechitoke Abiama and the gods and are themselves deified. They were Onyishi; Idi (Ozo titled men); great warriors; and other men who had attained both the age and worth necessary for deification when they were alive. To them we offer direct prayers of supplication in name side by side with the gods. Young people; common men; well-grown lads and lasses; and women who have had good funerals constitute the Umunne-Umunne (meaning all and sundry). These were good men and women who because of their age, or sex, or want of outstanding fulfillments are regarded as second class benevolent spirits. The Okunyiuzo has no identity as such. It is a “class” of spirits made up of little children, infants or honest grown-ups whose funerals have not been performed since their death. As a rule, infants and children receive no funerals because early death is not encouraged. These spirits have their abode in a place called Okunyiuzo where refuse and rags are deposited for their use. Nevertheless, quite often white cloth, food and little life chicks are offered to them by children to ward off their molestations. Similar sacrifices are carried out during the naming ceremony of a child to protect it from the inducement of Okunyiuzo to early death. Since Okunyiuzo means nothing more than “NO ONE” its priests are children. Ufuruchi (ufu – to snatch) (chi – god) is detestable. These evil spirits deflect the blessings from the gods and Ndishi. Ufuruchi falls out of the corporate communion of the dead and the living but plays a definite role in influencing the relationship of the benevolent spirits with the living and of course receive some bribes but no libation or oblations.
The refraction of the good spirits neither creates faulted strata of spirits nor a disintegration of the dead since there is believed to be a continuous genealogical connection between the patrilineal lineages of the living and the dead. Furthermore, besides one’s status at death, the judgment of the gods on the deceased before or after his burial through fortune tellers is the major criterion for the classification of the dead. The fortune tellers say nothing of their own but merely pronounce in our ordinary language what the gods dictate based on the corpus delicti of the Diewa Criminal Code and Social norms. In addition to the invocations and rituals proper, fortune telling employs a codified language of its own, uses series of mystical and mystified numbers and symbols; plus four strings of beads and seeds whose different combinations in open and closed positions when thrown yield numerous philosophical readings. Generally, one out of three possible pronouncements is expected from the gods – (i) that the deceased led a good life and should be honoured with a funeral heralded with the booming of guns, or (ii) that because of minor offences his funeral has to be preceded by prescribed sacrifices which are palliative rather than vindictive, or (iii), that he
Stands condemned forever for mortal sins.
It is only when the gods have spoken that one is declared dead: dead to live again for good or dead to die forever for evil. This judgment of the gods on the dead is a practical theodicy acceptable to all Aku people (Credo quia absurdium) after which those declared worthy of tears, kola-nuts and gun powder are raised to the status of gods or semi-gods. However, before this status is attained, all relationship which had existed between the living and the deceased are severed only to be revived in new terms after a transition filled in with burial and funeral ceremonies.
Without the ceremonies at the transitional stage the dead roams about at the Okunyiuzo instead of leaving for the land of the dead.
Since nobody wants his dead relative to roam abouthelplessly, grand burials and funerals are planned, first, to protect the living from the unfortunate apparition of familiar ghosts and the “pointing of public mouth,” and second, to win a place for the dead in the land of spirits. Nri Ishi Ogodo, the first sacrifice of food to the dead before burial, makes it clear to him to expect to eat from and not with the living. While the black and mournful Okpurukpu distinguishes him as a spirit other cloths offered are for use in the world he is joining. Okuko Eka (a fowl or a goat depending on the affluence of the relatives) is given to him so that the dead will accept him. ‘Ewu Nkpochi lni’ seals off all possible wandering of the ghost from the grave. Ewu Fijioku and Ewu ishi Otobo to gods of Agriculture and the village square respectively stop a dead man from disturbing people in his farm or mixing with people at the village hall or play ground. Ewu Atu stops a man from desiring sex with a dead wife while Ewu Ara breaks the affection children have for their mother. When Ewu Atu has not been offered the bereaved husband wears ODO on the left wrist to dissolve their marital affections. The Odo, So called, is made out of fresh palm leaves, mbubu ekwa (a piece of ajima cloth) and other ritualistic items from the Obu.
There are many other sacrifices made to the dead during this transition out of which human tears and kola nuts seem to be more important. When the first tears are shed the soul leaves the body for ever. To stress the importance of the transitional stage when an Onyishi dies the next to him by age within that lineage automatically assumes his position but ‘imprimis’ must cut the link the dead Onyishi had maintained with Ale – the Mother Earth by killing a goat. This serves as the swearing in ceremony of the new Onyishi too. The sacrifice of a goat must not be omitted (even though the post is not contestable) as a political tradition but still more so as a universally upheld religious sentiment without which the new Onyishi might die premature for want of the vital chthonian protection and blessing of the Mother – Earth.
When all funeral and post funeral rites have been performed the dead assumes greater powers to do and undo many things at will. This may justify why the mourner mentioned above wonders where the father was “when what I held in hand (Ogbuanya) turned into sand (died)”. To her and us, the dead father is omnipotent and has it as a duty to protect and provide for her and the dead brother. This power may equally explain why many parents make promises to devoted children or leave words of woe to the delinquent ones before they die. Generally, they come about word for word. This should not threaten your Christian beliefs but you should based on its own merit accept it as a vital trait from the intrinsic values coalesce of the Diewa concept of an organic communion of the living with the dead which is not speculative but a realistic formulation of notions “mentally” objectified to perpetuate a genealogical continuity and the co-operation of same, dead or alive.
It is our duty to offer sacrifices to the dead so that we enjoy their protection and expect their aids towards procreation, fertility, prosperity and progress. Very consciously as well, we refuse to throw water out of the house on our dead relations who might wish to visit us at night. Remains of food and bottom pots are left overnight for them to feed on. During Onwaeto and Ama festivals the dead is remembered, honoured and reunited with the living. During Ama, for example, from Nkwo Idi Okaka to Nkwo Ota Ekwu the dead visit the living to join and enjoy with them. Oku aha (a race of young men round the town with torches) purifies the ills of the past year and ushers in the ancestors to bless the new. On Eke Umuada the men, Umu Nwunye (maternal cousins) and Umuada sit at table with dead relatives as an annual reunion, though psychologically. Dead women have no shrines; living ones do not offer sacrifices but strangely enough during Onwa Eto the entire womanhood is remembered through a sacrifice to Ekpashi Ndiomu. It is a yearly communion of dead and living women duringwhich they re-pledge their faithfulness, purity and loyalty to Mother – Earth and their “husbands.”
While this communion goes on, man is equally at war with the evil spirits. Because of their dominantpresence at night we have a genuine fear for darkness. They distract us and halt aids from benevolent spirits.To ward off their aggressive operations “Sacrifices” are thrown to them in broken pots, old baskets or broken gourds secretly at about mid night which the human medium drops along the road, or at the cross road, or in the river, or at the groove and hurries home as quickly as possible never to look back or greet anyone.
Apart from festivals the benevolent spirits can call on the living through the fortune tellers for a defined sacrifice. The Ndishi have distinct shrines where Umunne – Umunne are often called upon and items of sacrifice thrown to them by the side. On such feasts like Ejiru Umu-Ezike children gather for Omeru Okpokpo
Ede at the Okporoko Ejiru and throw balls of fou-fou into the gullies and on trees where the supposed Umunne-Umunne will appear from.
The living and the dead continue to co-operate this way but quite often the dead springs to life “physically” so to say, through re-juvenation, re-incarnation or re-visitation.
The re-visitation is the reappearance of dead men in forms of masquerades possessing human and spiritual qualities, and communicating through masked voices and ululations. When they visit they spend some five months and collect machetes, mats, food items and livestock among other things to help them on their return to the land of spirits. They leave promises of what must come to pass before their reappearance from the other world twenty months later.
“Our people believe in re-incarnation …the spirits of departed citizens can, and do, at times, take an human form and be born again, often with startling characteristics and bodily and facial resemblances which leave no one in doubt as to the identity of the person who has come again.”
We also believe in Onuwa (contraction for onuwa: onuwa to return to: uwa – the earth). It is a concept that dead people come back to life improved in character, built, talents and gifts which might have been their defects in the first world they had spent. A poor man may turn rich at- wish at his “rejuvenation.” To qualify one has to be buried at home but where this fails a part of the dead body or articles of clothing could do. People buried even long ago are exhumed and reburied at home to acquire the weapons vital for Onuwa.
Concluding therefore, with the endless co-operation of the living and the dead and the constant re-visitation, re-incarnation and rejuvenation of departed ones for better or for worse the communion of the living and the dead shall perhaps live forever.
- Amu-Nnadi ,Okechi (1965). “Our Cultural Heritage,”
Aku Youth Magazine. Aku: September 1965.
vol. I, page 34.