Nigeria is situated in West Africa and is classed as a federal republic. Its name is derived from the River Niger. The population of Nigeria is in excess of 160 million. In terms of religious beliefs and practices, the people of Nigeria are split between Islam and Christianity. Chiefly, the northern parts of the country adhere to Islamic traditions. The south is predominantly dominated by Christian teachings. Most Nigerians, however, are united on the importance of adhering to certain, longstanding burial traditions.
Death and the soul
Nigerians are firm believers that life does not end with physical death. Both life-after-death and reincarnation play significant roles in Nigerian lore. When a person dies, certain steps must be taken to ensure there is a successful transition to the next level of existence. Failing to do so may cause the soul of the departed individual to remain in a state of limbo. This will prevent the soul from moving on to another realm of existence or reincarnating into a newborn. To ensure that the transition from one life to another occurs, Nigerians perform intricate burial ceremonies.
One of the most important aspects of a funeral for Nigerian Muslims relates to the placing of the body. The head of the corpse should point towards Mecca, the birthplace of the prophet Muhammad. Some Nigerians adhere to the belief that the heads of deceased males should face towards the East. This allows them to witness the sun rising as they move from one plane to another. When a woman dies, some believe, she should be buried with her head pointing west. Her spirit will see the setting sun and know it's time to prepare the nightly meal in the world beyond.
Fashions for a funeral
Clothing is an important facet of Nigerian burial traditions. In the West, where Christianity is the dominant religion, black is the colour usually worn out of respect for the dead. Not so in Nigeria. Ancient beliefs hold that the family of the deceased must choose two specific colours for all the mourners to wear. They may range from dark to brightly-coloured. The particular type of clothing is important, too. For women, it is the m'boubou and for men the grand boubou. They are both long, flowing robes which are known for their distinctive, wide sleeves.
Toasting the dead
Nigerians are noted for their upbeat attitudes and actions during the burial process. It is very important for the people of Nigeria to celebrate the life of the deceased person. Both music and dance play integral roles in Nigerian funerals. Poetry is often read, and a great deal of food is eaten in honour of the person being laid to rest. The ritual slaughter of animals, very often rams, is also a part of the traditional burial ceremony in Nigeria. Celebration is born out of the firm belief that a far better form of existence awaits.