BY: Evangeline Anumba
A European friend of mine once asked me why Nigerians always have two separate weddings i.e. traditional and white weddings. After much thought, I realised and answered him that it was a result of our colonisation. Somehow, Nigerians must have ‘white weddings’ for them to consider themselves ‘properly’ married. Our marriage ceremonies are often elaborate and we invite all kinds of people, both friends and foes, rent the biggest halls and feed people who we hardly know and who perhaps do not even care whether we are dead or alive. Friends and family are often compelled to buy ‘aso ebi’ and there are grades for the rich and poor. More often than not, these ‘aso ebis’ are only worn during the wedding ceremonies. Depending on which part of the country you come from, the groom is usually given a long list of things to provide, irrespective of whether he can afford them or not.
Our burial ceremonies are almost always expensive and elaborate too. When people lose their parents or loved ones in certain parts of the country, they cry, often not because of the loss they have suffered but because of the huge expenses involved in providing a ‘befitting’ burial. In many cases, people keep the corpses for months so that they can have time to save up or borrow money to bury their loved ones. Just like our marriage ceremonies, our funeral ceremonies are opportunities to feed people, sometimes, for three or four days. This is coupled with the fact that you will have to buy an expensive casket for the deceased. In many of these burial ceremonies, people spend a lot of money to bury their old parents who they probably did not care much about whilst they were still alive.
These times of economic contraction we are experiencing in Nigeria offer us an opportunity to re-examine some of these practices and our values. Our Southern friends must borrow a leaf from our Muslim friends in the North who bury their dead before sunset on the same day the person passes. They usually would not buy expensive caskets but use a piece of white cloth to bury their dead. This is irrespective of whether the dead person was rich or poor because they believe that you were born naked and hence must go naked. This is a far cry when compared to some parts of the country where people spend so much money just to keep corpses in the mortuary.
We should understand that there is no such thing as a ‘befitting’ burial because the dead is already dead and could care less if we buried their body in an expensive casket or a piece of cloth. Much as we should respect the dead, it must be clear that it is no longer sustainable to continue to spend millions of naira for funeral ceremonies. Burial ceremonies should not be used as opportunities to show the world how much we have because the money spent at funeral ceremonies can be put to more judicious purposes. Even if you have all the money in the world, there are better ways to spend your money than spend millions of naira just to bury the dead. Some people go as far as buying expensive suits and designer shoes to dress the dead before they are buried. Somehow, it never occurs to them that in the end, both the expensive casket and clothes are left to the termites in the ground. In the course of writing this piece, I stumbled on a burial ceremony video where they were burying someone in a casket designed in the form of a building. Nigerians have a funny way of showing off that depicts us as barbaric people. This trend must stop.
In the same vein, our wedding ceremonies must be construed to be between close family and friends. It is never an opportunity to feed multitudes. We must desist from insisting that we have to have traditional and white weddings as it is a total waste of money. Worst case, you can have both on the same day and that is, if you must. White wedding is essentially a Western culture and not Nigerian. We must be proud of our heritage, wear our traditional attires and conduct our marriage ceremonies in a way that truly reflects the richness of our culture. We must imbibe a culture where people understand that they do not need to borrow money just to have a wedding ceremony. Our brides and grooms can put their money to more meaningful purposes such as paying for their rent, saving for a mortgage or towards having a baby.
We need not be reminded that we are living in difficult times and some people are hardly able to meet their basic financial obligations. This is not the time for frivolous and reckless spending. It is time to consolidate and save for the rainy day. So we must insist that people should sew their coat according to their cloth. Let us free our minds from colonial mentality and cherish our rich heritage during our marriage ceremonies. People should also free themselves from the need and pressure to spend their entire livelihood or borrow, just to give a loved one a befitting burial. There is no such thing as a befitting burial because the dead is dead already.