From Wilson Okereke, Afikpo
The repugnant cultural practice of burying the body of a dead pregnant woman in the evil forest in some communities in the South East was recently brought to the fore. This followed the death Ukamaka Agwu Paul, who was pregnant.
She was a native of Oriuzor, Ezza North Local Government, Ebonyi State. Her husband hails from Amuzu Ezeke village in Amasiri, Afikpo North LG.
Traditional ruler one of the three autonomous communities of Amasiri, Ezeogo Onyia Idam Bassey, said the obnoxious tradition of burying a pregnant woman or four days after giving birth, at evil forest, called Otutu Eja, is as old as existence of man in the area. He added that no mortal had ever questioned the age-long practice.
He explained that culture mandates them to understand whoever dies in such circumstance would be buried with ignominy in Otutu Eja. But the person would later be given posthumous rites in her bereaved husband’s home, days after.
So, it was a serious issue between Amasiri and Oriuzor communities when the former wanted to bury Ukamaka in the evil forest recently. The mother of two was said to have died at their Abakaliki residence. She had woken up in the wee hours of Saturday, June 27, 2021, to complain of unusual complication. She was rushed to the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abalialiki, where she was confirmed dead.
Her people had resisted that their daughter though dead would not be treated with disdain and tension brewed in the process. They instead opted to bury her in their community, a request later granted by Amasiri people with the understanding that the “spirit” of the deceased would be brought to her husband’s home after about 10 days and given deserving burial.
The bereaved husband, Agwu Paul Isaac, said the tradition was not new to him. He added he would always align with the people to ensure that both sides did not perceive his ordeal in a wrong notion.
He described his late wife as a true partner. He pleaded that her remains be buried to give her the peace she deserved. It was a tug of war until the intervention of government and civil society groups smoothened ground for the eventual burial of Ukamaka in her place of birth.
Ezeogo Bassey gave further clarification: “Traditional and culturally, the issue of burying a deceased pregnant woman is not done in a normal way in our place. Rather, such body will be buried outside her husband’s house. Thereafter, in nine days, we will recall her traditionally and give her befitting burial in the husband’s home.
“The deceased’s body will be buried in Otutu Eja in line with the tradition of Amasiri kingdom. But the speculation claiming that we had thrown the deceased body inside the forest is not true.
“I spoke with the traditional ruler of Oriuzor autonomous community, Eze Nwite Ngele. He also confirmed that such a tradition was once in existence in his kingdom but has fizzled out. The same will also happen here because we never knew how it started.
“With time since tradition is not something we will put at a stop just in a day. It will also be a thing of the past at the right time. Yes, tradition and religion are what hold people together and can never die until Christ comes.
“However, we are going to reform some of the traditions that are not practicable or not good to the present society. But such cannot be achieved in just a day. I am just a traditional head but there are people who own the land. We will go to the owners of the land to tell them the areas where we are having problems and whatever they reveal, we will do.
“I wish to say that tradition and religion are in every part of the world and people practice theirs according to how they inherit it from their ancestors. Even in England, there are places one cannot enter except the person is from a particular house. I can prove that beyond reasonable doubt that such is not peculiar to Amasiri kingdom.”
A cabinet member of the community, Ichie Franklin Udeh, said that the traditional council had resolved that the remains of the deceased could be buried at Oriuzor where she hailed from so that peace could reign: “We had earlier told the people that the woman’s lifeless body would be buried at Otutu Eja as the tradition demands not because she hailed from another kingdom but it is our age-old tradition known by our people.
“Also, we had suggested that she can be buried in our in-law’s home at Oriuzor, which we will attend and after nine days, will bring her spirit home to give her the supposed right as our wife by doing the funeral.
“This tradition is not something that we will change in a day. As Nde Ichie, we have made enquires and we are careful so that we will not invite mass untimely deaths to the community.”
The traditional ruler of Oriuzor, Ezeogo Ngele, said there was nothing anyone could have done since it was Amasiri people’s way of life. He was, however, optimistic that Amasiri people would reform the barbaric practice with time:
“I must tell you that such tradition used to be obtainable in my place, which was once referred as a taboo. But it has long been abandoned in our entire kingdom; that a deceased pregnant woman and any child who died without being married can be buried at home.”
He praised the Ebonyi State Task Force on Gender-based Violence for its effort in ensuring that “our relationship was not destroyed by the cultural difference. We are calling on other communities who are still practicing some of these cultural beliefs, which are becoming obsolete to look at them and review them for a better society.”
At the meeting to resolve the matter, chairman of the task force and Desk Officer, Ministry of Justice, Mrs Faith Nwanchor, commended the two traditional rulers for their mutual understanding by allowing the remains of the woman to be buried in her place of birth.
A member of the group, Rev. Flora Egwu, stated that giving the woman rightful burial would remove shame and stigma from the family and children. Representative of the civil society on the task force, Okinya Mathias, said the group had no intention of destroying the culture of the people but promoting those ones with human face.
He cautioned communities who still practiced cultures inimical to societal development such as female genital mutilation to shun them or be ready to face the law.