As I sat with my mother's people in the compound of one of the best sons-in-law any parent could ever wish for, to perform the final and the most important aspect of the funeral rites of my cousin, Mrs Ngozi Akachukwu, I couldn't help feeling nostalgic on how things used to be and how a lot have changed.
Though my cousin had already been buried in accordance with her Catholic faith, we, the relations of her father had assembled in her husband's house to take her home.
Yes, we would take her back to her father's house for she had accomplished the task of marriage which end of tenure was determined by her death.
A woman, in my town only marries to help her husband extend his generation and must be returned to the father's house upon finishing her marital assignments.
The marital assignments include bearing children for the husband, warming his bed or mat, cooking for him and raising his kids.
An Nnewi woman is said to have gone on a marital journey i.e. "ogalu ije di" and must return home as "onye ije nwe una" meaning that "a visitor must return home".
Before now, the husband of a dead Nnewi woman must return her corpse to her father's house for burial but this has changed over time as we evolved.
In place of the corpse, the inlaws would now return to the dead woman's father's home, her "Ngiga" or a smoke-coloured basket woven with materials extracted from the heart of the palm fronds.
Ngiga is one of the key traditional wedding gifts a bride is given by her parents and it is this Ngiga or its replacement that would be returned to her father's house upon death.
While in her husband's home, Ngiga is usually hung atop the cooking spot and is suspended by a rope tied to the roof of the woman's kitchen.
A new Ngiga is usually brownish but would turn black as it gradually gathers the smoke from the cooking activities.
The smoke and the heat emanating from ekwu help preserve the contents of the Ngiga.
A woman's Ngiga is the store where she keeps food condiments like dried fish and meat, ogiri, ose etc. Nobody touches a woman's Ngiga without her permission.
Again, return of Ngiga in lieu of the corpse of a married sister or daughter has become outdated as my townsmen have embraced modern architecture and lifestyle as cupboards, refrigerators and kitchen cabinets have conspired to dub Ngiga an antique.
Nowadays, families of a dead married daughter gladly accept her enlarged and framed picture in place of her dead body or Ngiga.
The setting at my cousin's husband's compound was a bit different from how it was when Alice, the wife of my father's uncle died 30 years ago and when her Oraeri people arrived our compound to take her home.
Even the food and drinks that Dona Akachukwu and his relations presented us were different from what it would've been years before now.
The kind of wines and various types of food or dishes our illustrious inlaw presented to us were temporarily able to dap our tears and temper our deep sense of loss over the short but memorable life of our sister, Mrs. Ngozi Akachukwu (nee Enumah).
Assorted wines from different species and grades of palm trees namely: ngwo, nkwu enu, iti etc. have been dethroned by products from Nigerian Breweries, Guinness, Nigerian Bottling Co. and various wineries all over the world.
Our native delicacies like Akidi, Ona, Abilika, Nsise, Utara Ede, Mbili, Fiofio have also given way to continental dishes.
The only dishes that have refused to give way are Ukwa, Ofe Onugbu, Oha and Rice Ofe Akwu. But they have been made sweeter by foreign condiments.
My people and our ways of life have greatly changed by daily encounters with new beliefs and cultures from other climes. But, Nnewi people and largely the Igbos resident in Anambra state, have retained or modified their ancestral practices.
In a peaceful working agreement between all the churches in Nnewi and the citizens, our traditional practices have been baptized and they have become christian.
The funeral rites of a married daughter in Nnewi are same in all the four villages of the town.
On the day of the funeral of a married daughter, her corpse is taken to her father's compound for a brief lying in state for her relatives to view her for the last time.
The head of deceased father's family who could be her father or the eldest brother would welcome her home and prays that her journey be smooth.
He would be required to drop a piece of new wrapper inside the casket after which the casket is closed and carried to deceased's husband's place for a longer lying in state period.
Before the casket is finally closed in the deceased husband's home, all her immediate relatives are required to drop a piece of cloth each in her casket to ensure that deceased doesn't lack clothes on her ancestral journey.
Casket sealed, the corpse is now ready for movement to the church or for an open air commendation or funeral mass which is followed by interment.
Once the corpse is buried, the parents of the deceased woman and all her male relations would leave for deceased's father's house where a parallel funeral ceremony would commence up until the next day.
All relatives, other inlaws and friends of the deceased relations would pay condolence visits with money, clothes and cash at the deceased father's family compound. They would also be entertained.
By the fall of the sun the next day, the relations of the dead and their friends and well wishers would troop to the husband's house on a significant condolence visit.
No other sympathizer is allowed in once the "owners of the corpse" arrive. It is a grand finale of all condolence visit.
The relatives of the husband would ensure that the grieving owners of the corpse are well entertained.
Then, the rites of taking home the "corpse" would begin.
In a "face me, I face you" seating arrangement, the husband's people would be required to tender before the the relations of the dead, three of the best wrappers gifted to them during the condolence.
The "isi ada" or eldest daughter closest to the grandfather of the deceased is called upon to pick one wrapper from the three. She owns what she picks.
The isi ada would take her time as she inspects the clothes and could reject the three if she deemed them of poor quality and if that happens, the inlaws would read that to mean that the deceased woman's relations are not happy with either the way their daughter was treated in the course of her marriage or that the visiting contingent were not well entertained.
If the wrapper picking is smooth and not rancorous or without hassles, then the husband's kinsmen would be required to pay the final marriage severance fee of a big goat.
A grateful husband's family could show appreciation to the inlaws if the deceased woman was nice and impactful by giving them a cow in addition to the goat.
Even though not compulsory, owners of the corpse would expect a cow if their daughter died old begot many and successful children for her husband's people.
The rite must be performed whether the husband of the deceased had died earlier than his wife or that the dead woman had no children in which case the kinsmen of her husband must pull resources together to perform the rite in which case a goat alone would be appreciated.
Despite the fact that our daughter died at 43 years of age, our inlaw gave us a big goat and a giant of a cow.
He also comforted us with all types of dishes and wines (both local and very expensive foreign wines) that could calm any amount of greed and also could tranquilize the gluttons and drunkards amongst us.
The adequately consoled owners of the corpse would thereafter request for the production of all the children of the deceased sister and open jar of blessings on them.
After the blessing, the husband's relatives would now hand over the Nigiga or the framed portrait of the deceased to her sisters and a journey to her father's compound would begin.
Taking the goat and the cow along as they sing, dance and march to the deceased father's compound, her sisters or umuada would also take along with them, all the children of their departed sister.
The returning contingent would halt at the entrance gate of the deceased's father's compound until the head of the family comes out to welcome the dead back to her father's house.
He would say, "ada nnoor ije, bia welu onodu gi n'be nna gi. Nne nnoor " meaning "our sister and daughter welcome back home".
Then the returning contingent will triumphantly enter the deceased father's compound the same way she was ushered out on her traditional marriage day.
The dancing children of the deceased would be spread with money and are greatly pampered.
The male relatives would have to pay a token to the umuada or the female relatives of the deceased before they would tender the Ngiga or the picture of the dead.
The umunwadiana or the children of the deceased are given akuoyibo or coconut, biscuits, sweet and all those things children love to eat irrespective of their ages or status.
They are treated as precious children who are in need of being persuaded to stop crying over their mother's death. Whatever they would want to eat would be given to them that night.
The bereaved children would be told in an unmistakable tone to return to their mother's ancestral home if mistreated by their father or their future step mum.
In Nnewi, the child of a sister has the same rights and privileges as any other child in his or her maternal home.
After the pampering and show of love, the ndinnaochie or the deceased woman's male relatives would now pray again for the children of their departed sister and bid them farewell.
Next day, the male relations of the deceased would still converge to kill and share the meat of the goat given to them by their inlaws the day before.
What to do with the cow is a decision to be made by the head of the family.
He usually would sell it and use the proceeds to defray the funeral costs or donate it to his kinsmen to kill and share the meat.
While the Ngiga is hung on a stake in front of the deceased father's compound, and so visible to the passers-by to notice that the departed married daughter had returned, the picture portrait would be hung in the sitting room of the head of the family.
Having done this rite, no deceased Nnewi woman has anymore right to wander around her husband's house or to go there to cause spiritual confusion or umunnadi as she has been returned to where she came from.
If you desire to marry an Nnewi, Oraifite or Ichi woman, you no longer could claim that you don't know what you are up against when your wife dies.