THE MYTHOLOGICAL CONCEPT OF DEATH AND DYING AMONG THE URHOBO OF NIGERIA: A PHILOSOPHICAL APPRAISAL.
The objective of this study is to critically assess the concept of death and dying among the Urhobo of Nigeria: A Philosophical Appraisal. In this work, it is discovered that, though for the Urhobo, death brings sadness because of the vacuum it creates, it is the only means by which we can associate with our ancestors in the world beyond. The Urhobo people hold the view that death is a necessity for all mortals, also, the Urhobo strongly believes that oghene (God) did not create man to die originally. This belief reechoes in their acceptability of reincarnation.
The Urhobo people like their counterpart in other parts of Africa believes in different types of death such as mature, premature and abominable death. For them death does not occur without a particular cause, some of the causes of death according to the Urhobo are old age, witchcraft, accident or sickness and abomination.
It is discovered that for the Urhobo death is not the end of man, and does not also sever his connection with his family, death extends the family relationship into infinity, the ceremonies and ritual performed by the living for the dead emphasis the unbroken family relationship between the living and the dead.
The Urhobo do not bury the dead without consulting the spirit of the dead and the divinities of the land, this is because they want to know the causes of death and the kind of burial to be given to the dead. Though with the advent of Christianity a lot has changed, the practice of necromancy is now restricted to the traditionalists alone who are buried according to traditional rites. The Christians and other religions outside the indigenous Urhobo practice are exempted from the traditional practice, however, if the family of the deceased wish to bury the deceased in the traditional way, the deceased has to be judged before burial.
There are variations in burial rite in Urhobo culture, these rites are performed based on the circumstance of death, a person that died a good death is accorded a befitting burial, while a person that died a bad death is thrown in to the evil forest, such persons are not buried. The Urhobo recognizes only two kind of death, the good death and the bad death. A good death is one that is associated with somebody who has attained the ripe age of 70 years and above, married with children and lived a morally just live and is not a member of secret cult. As for the bad death, are those that died a premature death, members of witchcraft, evil people, those that died an abominable death, as such are not given a good burial. A new category that is being considered for a good burial are those who are matured but died without marriage or children, other factors considered for giving either good or bad burial are age and social status of the deceased.
The Urhobo strongly belief that unless the proper burial rites and ceremonies are performed the spirit of the deceased may not be able to join the ancestral spirit, thus, great satisfaction is derived from the performance of these funeral rites.
The practice of necromancy in Urhobo is to determine the type of burial to be accorded the deceased, though it has both negative and positive effects.
The burial of good people is done in a very elaborated ways, there are funfair, traditional ritual to the ancestors and gods of the land and prayers for the dead to protect and bless the living. A young person who died prematurely, but lived a morally just life is buried, but without funfair and passage rituals, the deceased is given dangerous weapons, such as cutlass, knife, broken bottle etc in his casket to fight and avenge his death. It is a common belief among the Urhobo that a young person cannot die, so if such death occurs it is considered that someone kills the person. Those who are members of secret cult, evil persons, witches and wizards are considered as bad people as such their deeath is regarded as bad death, such people are not buried, but are thrown into the evil forest to be eaten by wild animals, this is to discourage their spirit from reincarnating. Those that died without children are buried, but without funfair and other rituals, this is because they have nobody to carry on with their name and nobody would conduct the ancestral worship. The women are buried according to circumstance of death, but do not have ancestral shrine like their male counterpart, this is because women do not go to the ancestral world.
The mythological concept of death and dying among the Urhobo of Nigeria is not free from inherent contradictions, inconsistency, sentiments and superstitious, it shares the common problem that is easily noticed in almost all myths. Despite the inadequacies in the Urhobo concept of death and dying, there are still some aspects that are significant, for instance, the Urhobo recognize the existence of life after death, how the unclean people (witches, wizards, members of secret cult etc) are rejected by the ancestors and the shameful burial given to those who engaged in anti social vices.