Holding the most profound belief in the supernatural, the Ibo is deeply conscious of his relationship to the unseen world, and every precaution must be observed in order to keep the spirit of the departed in a state of peaceful contentment. The Ibo will endure everything demanded of him in this life; will put up with hardships, the misbehaviour of his children, indeed anything, in order to insure that his burial will be properly performed. His whole future welfare depends upon this, and hence it takes, at all times, a most prominent place in a man’s calculations.
In certain districts it was formerly by no means rare to find that a woman had made arrangements whereby she died before reaching the period of enforced inactivity. There was the perpetual dread lest she should be unable to secure a guarantee or leave sufficient property whereby she might be sure of a worthy burial. To relieve her mind she would strive to accumulate the necessary funds and then, divining that the days of her decline were near, she would enter into an agreement with her son, or some other young man, in which he undertook to fulfill all her wishes in connection with her burial, she, on her part, duly compensating him for all the expense and trouble involved. These preliminaries having been mutually settled, the woman either poisoned herself or the draught was administered to her, in order that the final rites in connection with the second burial might be fulfilled with as little delay as possible.
…When men have run their course in this world they return to their master—the Supreme Being—and live with him in the spirit world. In their spiritual state they are endowed with never-ending life, and, until the ceremony of second burial has been observed, they continue to haunt this world, wandering at will in the houses, compound and farms, invisible, yet ever present, and taking a distinct and unremitting interest in the affairs of the individual and the community with which they associated in life. After the rites of second burial have been completed the “spirits” depart to their appointed place and rest in peace until their reincarnation, i.e. as long as they behave themselves.
[#16] Igbo: “An Old Woman’s Prearranged Funeral,” from G. T. Basden, Among the Ibos of Nigeria. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1921, reprint London: Frank Cass, 1966, pp. 117-119