The Understanding of Death in Nigeria
The death in Nigeria is considered to be mere a transition from one level of existence to another. Nigerians, unlike the rest of the world, have their unique understanding of death and dying. These things are affected by the cultural groups that prevail in the country. They enclose a lot in death and different acts and rituals around it.
Death is inevitable part of life. Every person is to face it as well as birth and the process of maturity. The phenomenon of death is treated differently in different cultures. In most cases death is sad event blanketed with sorrow, grief, and weeping. Death can have two sides. The first one is a fear of dying, and the second one is a fear of loss. Some people are literary afraid of life ending. They enclose too much in their physical life. The others are more afraid to lose their relatives and beloved ones. In both cases death remains a hard issue to deal with.
Nigeria is an African country with population more than 170 million people. This nation is composed of more than 250 different ethnic groups, which speak 380 languages. The culture of this nation is rich and diverse. As death is referred to the realm of religion, and Nigerians are pious people, it plays a big role in the life of this country. Here various religious beliefs and practices exist, and death itself is blanketed in different rituals and omens (Central Intelligence Agency).
Unlike western countries, Nigeria is very close to the notion of death, as it occurs there not only because of natural trigger but due to different diseases. According to some data: “… take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected” (Responses to Information Requests). It means that Nigerians are extremely vulnerable to death. According to the death rate, Nigeria occupies the 19th place comparing to the world. These showings are striking. Hence, from the prospective of figures, Nigeria is very close to death, that is why their understanding of it is of crucial importance (Central of Disease Control and Prevention).
Death occurs in Nigeria very often, but Nigerians did not get used to it. For them it is a hard issue to cope with. Death never can be easy to live with; the loss of loved ones can sometime destroy lives of those who mourn.
Nigeria is a country with a very long and rich history and traditions. The phenomenon of death is understood in this society in a different way. Even some proverbs are connected to death. For instance, it is believed that if a person sings while taking a bath, it will end up by death of his or her parents. From the prospective of European culture such belief does not make any sense. However, Nigerians believe in it.
The attitude Nigerians show towards death is at least strange one for average westerner. Nevertheless, such attitude is based on Nigerian cultural background. First of all, Nigerians do not use the word “death” to identify this phenomenon. They rather use some descriptive terms for it like “uninvited guest”. The same situation is with the deceased ones. Nigerians refer to the dead people by such words as “gone to ancestors”, “changed position from mortality into immortality”. We can conclude that they believe in life after death, as everything that is on the Earth is mortality, and everything what is after the end of life is immortality.
Nigeria is considered to be a very superstitious country. A long time ago it was believed that death could be caused by some curses or witchcraft only. They believed in witches and magic. When women gave birth to the twins, they considered it was an abomination, and the twins were killed at once (The Yoruba’s Cultural Perspective Of Death With Special Reference To Twins.).
Nigerian people believe that the deceased people can hear them, and sometimes they can talk to those who passed away. For instance, they do this just to tell how the relatives of the family cope with the loss. As Nigerians live in tribes, when the head of a tribe dies, the news of his death are not made public until several weeks after it.
Funerals are usually celebrated by Nigerians. Such celebrations could last up to several days and be opulent depending on who is dead. Nigerians do not mourn as westerners because they believe that death is mere a change of position and arrival to better place. Singers and music band are always present on the funeral. They are paid for praising the deceased by the relatives.
As to the rituals at the funeral, we cannot but mention that the wives after theirs husband’s death should drink the water which was used while washing the diseased: “This is done to prove that the widow is not responsible for her husband’s death”. Such tradition is kept until today and is performed by all women despite the fact she is poor, rich, or educated. This shows the widow is not responsible for her husband’s death. However strange this tradition might seem, the consequences of a widow’s refusal cannot be found in scientific sources (Kalish, 1985).
A man called Adeyeye is Nigeria-born who lives in the U. S. He described the situation from his life when his father died. According to Adeyeye, it is very important for Nigerians to be present at the funeral of their relatives as well as to participate in it according to all rules and customs. Usually, the process of funeral lasts from three to four weeks. The body is buried and after that comes another two weeks of celebration. There is also a tradition to kill goats after a relative’s death so that the death will not come and take away another life (Olokor, 2011).
All in all, Nigeria consists of different cultural groups. One of them is Yoruba, which lives in South-West Nigeria on the West Coast of Africa. For them, as for the whole Nigeria nation, death is a passing from one level of existence to another. Death is understood as a part of life; that is why, unlike in western cultures, Nigerians do not mourn and cry while funerals but celebrate. They are happy for those who passed away. This is their particular way of treating death.
Obviously, for this cultural group rites and rituals take place during the funeral. It is considered to be an opportunity to say farewell to the deceased person. During such rituals, they also seek protection to living members of the family. If one of the twins is dead, the family creates a statuette of this twin that represents hope and mate to the living twin. Family is very important for Nigerian people; it is actually a basis for everything. That is why they are so loyal to traditions and customs.
Thus, Nigerians respect death, and what is more, they respect the deceased as well. They believe that those people who passed away are watching and protecting them. If the young person dies, Nigerians are convinced that the reason of death is a curse. It is compulsory for family members to be present at the funeral, and the dead person is usually buried. All these things bewilder a person from another country, but they are inevitable part of Nigerian culture.