Thursday, August 27, 2015

Burials Are For Hyenas

I attended my very first burial about a week ago. It was that of grandparents, who had passed away within two weeks of each other. But this post isn’t about them, no, it’s about the indecorum, the false sense of entitlement and mind-boggling greed displayed at their funeral.

Shortly before the funeral service was over, tents began to fill in anticipation of what, in the minds of most guests, was the most interesting and important part of the ceremony. ‘Forget the requiem’ (not that they missed much, for the pastor droned on mostly about the negative effects of trousers on women), ‘we came to fill our stomachs and grab souvenirs’ was the disposition they bore.

After my grandparents were lowered six feet under, pandemonium ensued over food and drinks. An inexplicable frenzy swept through the crowd, transforming them into wild, ravenous beasts. Impatient hands shot up in the air, feverish arguments broke out, while some bottoms grew increasingly allergic to seats. The melee wouldn’t have looked incongruous in a refugee camp, but at a funeral it was abhorrent.

Hyena: Running to profit from death
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The area where the enormous cooling fan was parked almost became a war zone. People kept trooping from their tents to the back of the van, even though drinks were being served at every tent to those seated. But of course, people weren’t satisfied with what they got—they wanted more. Some went as far as taking bottles of hot drinks that had been served to a table, and then returned to say they hadn’t been served.

The lies incensed the drinks coordinator, who yelled at them to return to their tents. Still, they remained standing like statues until a fight broke out between two thoughtless idiots, and the cooling van door was ordered shut. The recalcitrant crowd, on realizing drinks would no longer be served, left one after the other.

When the distribution of souvenirs began, all hell broke loose. Both the young and the elderly fell over one another just to get a piece of cheap, impersonal gift items. Urgings of ‘Sit down, you’ll get one,” fell on deaf ears, as they surrounded whoever took on the role of Father Christmas. When the most unruly ones began shoving their hands into the souvenir bags, I decided I had seen enough of the imbecility.

Armed with a wooden spatula, I began spanking random hands and snatching what they had stolen, but even that didn’t deter the tide of marauding fingers—not even close. Like zombies preoccupied with seeking human flesh, they continued shoving, yelling and burying their hands into the gift bags.

Nigerian burials, like aso-ebis and churches, have become a lucrative business. Ogbuefis, Umuadas, church societies and age grades all want a huge piece of cake regardless of the financial state of the bereaved. They make excessive demands for drinks (that they themselves can’t even afford) as their entitlement per tradition, only to turn around and sell them for profit. Some groups brazenly ask for money in lieu of drinks.

It seems the driving force of many at funerals are the freebies; even the caterer never returns leftover ingredients that were provided for the cooking—not that it surprises anyone anymore.

But what happens when the ‘survived bys’ aren’t wealthy to sponsor the community’s greed that’s disguised as burial customs? They go a-borrowing in an effort to appease and satisfy the vulture’s appetite, leaving their dead to darken and accrue more rent in the mortuary.

Burials, like weddings, need not be an expensive venture. Ideally, they should simple and a bit more reflective with a religious service at the burial site or crematorium followed by a private reception with close friends and family members at home.

Granted, my grandparents were advanced in age, therefore their funeral mood was expected to be of a celebratory nature. However, that doesn’t mean their ripe old age made the loss was any less painful for those closest to them. So the least the hyenas could have done was to acknowledge their pain with some reverence and civility.

Tradition is a beautiful thing when it’s not abused, oppressive or Machiavellian. And if we claim to be going by tradition, then let’s stick to palm wine, kai-kai and kola nuts and lay off the Johnnie Walkers, Bailey’s Irish Creams and Made in China souvenirs that have come to mark burial ceremonies.