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Why Yorubas bury their dead at home

If that is the case, why is the Ekiti State government trying to run against the belief of the people as it is planning to…

If that is the case, why is the Ekiti State government trying to run against the belief of the people as it is planning to ban burial of the dead in family compounds?

It is a common sight to see graves inside the houses or specifically at the verandahs in Ekiti State. For the people, it is a taboo to bury loved ones in “strange” land, that is, the cemetery which is the designated burial place in most city centres in some parts of the country and across the globe.

However, the trend is about to change as the state government is planning to make it unlawful to people who lose their loved ones to bury them in their homes.

The government, according to the Special Adviser on Land Matters to Governor Kayode Fayemi, Elder Remi Olorunleke, plans to establish public cemeteries and prohibit burying the dead inside their houses and anywhere within residential quarters, as part of ongoing urban renewal initiatives.

Elder Olorunleke, who represented the governor at a meeting with the state Council of Obas, sometimes in December, 2011, said such move was necessary to “shore up the value of property and improve their marketability.”

He explained that when the law comes into effect, it would be impossible for people to bury their departed ones inside their houses for whatever reason. He had argued that “investment in housing is known to consume considerable percentage of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Housing has become a major market in the world. As a way of regulating the market, there is the need to shore up the value of property and improve on their marketability by discouraging burying the dead within and around residential areas. “A befitting public cemetery would be established in our major towns to take care of the dead,” he pledged.

Except Christian and Muslims who have cemeteries for their dead members, investigations by Weekly Trust around the state capital, Ado-Ekiti and some communities revealed that there are no public cemeteries anywhere in the state.

According to Odofin Are Ikere, some aged parents, before their death, chose where they should be buried and no one dares change such a Will. He said “burying the dead at home in Yorubaland is part of our culture and tradition. Our late fathers and mothers, before they die, may give a directive where they should be buried when they die; they want to remain part and parcel of the family.”

He also argued that when they are buried at home, any member of the family could have easy access to the dead through sacrifice, which he said, could not be allowed if buried in cemetery. “Our Christian and Muslim brothers believe in Bible and Quran while the traditionalists believe in Ifa, Opele, Ogun and other traditional beliefs. Our belief is that once you don’t offer sacrifices to the dead, your prayers would not be answered.”

The Ikere chief, who recalled that he lost his father on March 10, 1986, said the family members still offer sacrifices to his late father at his tomb, because of the belief that “he is always with us.”

He mentioned those who could be buried at home as Ifa priests, those with traditional chieftaincy titles, monarchs and anybody who chooses to be buried at home.

Another traditional ruler, Odofin of Ararome Obo, HRM Oba Oyebode Olowokere, who claimed ignorance of the proposal, said “traditionally it is allowed if one asked to be buried at home. When you bury your loved one at home, you can commune with the dead and offer sacrifices; I don’t think it is a bad thing to bury the dead at home.”

Similarly, Deacon Olakiitan Ogunje, described the government move as a “good policy that is not practicable considering our level of development in Ekiti State.”

He said people see the dead as a very frightening thing that should not be celebrated as government is planning. To him, having public cemeteries “is a call for more deaths to occur.”

He recalled that his late father, Chief Enoch Ogunjemilehin, who died in 2003 in Ijan, Gbonyin local government area of the state at the age of 94 has expressed his wish to be buried at home despite being an Anglican. He said, “we see it as an honour to bury our father at home having struggled all his life to build his house.”

He decried the poor state of some cemeteries owned by religious groups in the state, adding that they are not well kept and   allowed to be overgrown with weeds and to harbour ritualists.

“Some people consider it as a great disrespect to bury their dead in such places,” he noted.

Deacon Ogunje also believes that protection of residents and family members is the responsibility of spirits of the dead buried at home.

Mr. Ojo Samuel, a resident of Ado Ekiti also spoke in support of people burying their dead at home. He said, “it is the right thing. I don’t respect people who bury their dead in the cemeteries. If my dad dies today, I won’t allow him to be taken to the cemetery.”

Mr. Jackson Adebayo, who is the Director, Media and Publicity of the state’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said he decided to bury his mother in front of his house in Otun, in Moba local government area of the state though the law of the land forbids it, adding that this explains why there is provision for public cemetery in towns and communities.

“We believe our men and women, dead or alive, should be seen. But from the angle of hygiene and modernity, I believe we should not continue to bury people at home.” To curb the trend, Mr. Adebayo said the government should provide public cemeteries in towns and communities for people to bury their loved ones.

However, an Islamic cleric, Malam Yaqoup Popoola said Islam recommends that the dead should be buried in a public place prepared for burial, adding that in-house burial is against Islam.

On his own part, Rev. Fr. Julius Omoniyi Adewumi, the Parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Ilawe Ekiti also said there was nothing wrong in burying the dead at home as a way of keeping the deceased as members of the family. “We belief both the living and the dead are one. So, in a situation where the dead would be forgotten after the burial, I will prefer that the dead be buried around the compound so that people will look at the dead as part of the family. “But he condemned a situation where relatives of such dead person pour libation and worship their dead ones as gods. “They are not gods, but some of them can still intercede for us in the presence of God like the saints in Christianity. The saints are those who had lived holy life when they were alive and we still call on them to intercede for us before God. They are human beings who are now in the presence of God. Therefore, there is no need to pour libation.”

Chief Bayo Ogunmodimu, who spoke on behalf of Ewi of Ado Ekiti and Secretary of Ewi in Council, said it is government policy and it is a welcome development. “The government has the right to decide better things for the people of the state. It is a welcome gesture and we have no option than to obey it.”

In Kwara State, to ensure proper co-ordination, government and religious groups establish public cemeteries which are well spread across the state. Notwithstanding, many families still maintain the tradition of burying their dead within their residential homes.

A pastor of a new generation church, who prefers anonymity, said the practice of burying the dead at home or in the churchyard has nothing to do with Christians doctrine; nevertheless, those done in church premises are usually to remind the Christian of their inevitable end. According to him, when people see such graves regularly, they would be reminded of their final home.

An Islamic scholar, Ustaz Mukhtar Muhammad Thani, however, said burying the dead at home is more of a cultural thing, because of the belief people ascribe to the dead and this belief, he said “actually  started a long time ago even before the Prophetic era. It was Islam that enlightened us.”

He explained that in those days when a person dies, he becomes sacred. At that time, people were buried according to their position in the society. The wealthy people were usually buried with some of their riches while the community would bury the royal blood with his youngest wife; to them these materials would give comfort similar to the earthly one in the great beyond.

Another reason for the practice in those days, he said, is for the deceased to have contact with the family and the property he left behind. So, by being buried at home, he or she can see what is happening to his family.

This practice was quite rampart until   poverty made peopleto stop the practice. Criminals visited the graves of such rich people to cart away the valuables buried along with them. At other times, the cases of removal of corpses for the purpose of ritual was another reason people in those days resorted to burying their dead close to them in order to monitor their dead, especially if they are wealthy, influential or righteous.

“Eventually people began to attach divinity to these graves by channelling their requests at such grave sites by asking the dead for protection over the family members they left behind. Although other religions are not against such practice, it is the most grievous sin in Islam as it is tantamount to placing these dead on the same pedestal with God referred to as (Shirk) in Islam”, he explained.

Clusters of graves are regular sights in many residential homes in Kwara State.  In fact, a stranger could walk on such graves without knowing. Even with the provision of land by the state government, the people are so attached to this old practice and are not close to abandoning it yet.

Like in Kwara, the ages-old tradition is still being practised in Osun State. However, religious leaders are of the opinion that a public burial ground is preferred.

Speaking with Weekly Trust in Osogbo, capital of Osun State during the week, the Imam of Baba Popo Mosque at Gbaemu area, Alhaji Salami Adejumo appealed to the Osun State Government to provide a public cemetry so as to discourage people from burying their relatives in the family compound. He also noted that of burying corpses at home is not attractive, but it will persist until government provides cemetery.

“It is true that of burying corpses at the family compounds is not attractive nowadays. If government provides public cemeteries, people will be willing to take their corpses to such places. Some of the organizations that have graveyards restrict their cemetery to the members. They don’t allow non members to be buried in such cemeteries”.

For Alhaji Liasu, there must be adequate security for the cemeteries before people would be convinced to take their corpses there for burial. “Our experience in recent time is not very palatable with the way some unscrupulous elements in the society were removing parts of the bodies of the corpses from cemeteries. Until government provides public burial grounds with fence and adequate security, people would continue to bury their corpses at the family compound. Unfortunately, there is very limited space in those family compounds. Before you know it, the entire places will be covered with graves.”

However, the ban in Ekiti has continued to elicit condemnation from some quarters.  Abuja-based Mr Omotayo Owolo a businessman from Osun State said the ban would have adverse affect on the Yoruba culture and norms.  “Culture is quite different from modernization. Modernization does not create room for burying deceased relatives in residential areas, but that is our tradition and there is nothing the government can do except through enlightenment and gradual encouragement of the entire race. Not by enforcement or through a law haphazardly enacted,” he noted.

Also, Mr. Tawab Fatola from Ikire in Osun State told Weekly Trust in Abuja that the practice is to show children the graves of their ancestors in the family. “If my children did not grow to know my father or my grandfather, I can show them their graves and photographs,” he explained. Fatola said both Christians and Muslims in Ikire bury their family members, especially the old ones, in residential areas.”

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