Saturday, 1 June 2013

I laughed at my father's funeral

You may consider me harsh. Uncaring. Heart of stone. But I have a confession to make.

I laughed at my father's funeral.

My Dad died recently and my brother and I traveled to Afuze, a village in Edo State, Nigeria, for his funeral. It was a sad and celebratory experience. I had thought that when I die I wanted a New Orleans style funeral march through the suburban streets of Surrey. But having attended a proper Afuze funeral I have decided that I want what he had. I want something so unexpected that it made my jaw drop. I want the thing that made me laugh out loud at my own father's funeral. Yes, I want....


The funeral started off much as you might expect. Everything was in place. A large cow had been purchased. The  police escort had been arranged to prevent me from being kidnapped. Negotiations with the church had concluded resulting in a modest decade worth of back collections being handed over. The hunter with the dane gun had been retained to fire shots in the air at the appropriate point in the proceedings. So, we were all set.

After the Service of Songs the previous evening in Benin City, we set out in a long convoy towards our ancestral home, Afuze, led by a Cadillac hearse with a very loud siren blaring out the whole way.

When we arrived at the church, I was impressed at the youth of the pallbearers. In the UK, pallbearers are generally venerable looking older gentlemen, with time worn faces. In Afuze, the pallbearers looked like young lads just out of their teens, wearing rather trendy two-tone outfits. But they calmly lifted my father's coffin out of the hearse and took it into the church where a priest shouted at us all for a couple of hours and took three collections. Then we left the church for the procession along Afuze's main road towards my father's house where he was to be buried. As is the way when a chap of his status dies, hundreds of people walked behind us as we blocked the traffic in both directions. Whether it was his popularity or the large cow and lorry loads of Star beer that the people had seen being taken towards the reception area that accounted for the huge crowd that followed us, we will never know.

The first sense that I got that this may not be the type of funeral procession that I was used to came when the  young pallbearers started swaying rhythmically from side to side. "Hello" I thought "things are about to get funky"

How right I was! After a bit of dancing with the coffin, yes DANCING WITH THE COFFIN, my lads did something that I have never seen at any funeral in London I have ever been to. They lifted up the coffin and BALANCED IT IN THEIR TEETH!!!

No, you did not mis-read that. The boys balanced the coffin in their teeth. "Why?" I hear you ask. Because they could, I assume. The crowd cheered. The drummers drummed. The traditionally built ladies danced in traditional ways. I tried to keep feeling sad, but I found myself looking on in amazement with a half smile on my face.

Then my boys lifted the coffin high into the air as if it was as light as a feather and held it aloft. This was a big, heavy coffin mind. Not some lightweight eco-friendly model. Mahogany. Metal trim. The works. I was beginning to wonder whether my dad was actually in there, although I felt I could just about hear him shouting "WILL YOU BOYS BE CAREFUL....WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?...PUT ME DOWN"

Clearly the effort of hoisting him high into the air was too much for the lads because next thing I knew, they all sat down in the middle of the main road, with the coffin balanced on their shoulders. The drummers drummed. The trumpeters trumpeted. The traditional ladies did traditional dances. I smiled broadly, forgetting for a moment that I was at my own father's funeral.

Gosh this pall bearing is tiring stuff, my boys decided as they lay down in the road with the coffin lying on top of them. We stood around them wondering what to do. Then we had an idea. We threw money on them to give them strength. That seemed to do the trick!

Up they leapt as one and  literally ran off down the road with the coffin. We sprinted along behind them, but those boys would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money and he doesn't even carry a coffin when he runs!

And thus we arrived at my father's final resting place. We cried. We mourned. We prayed. We remembered. And in the end, we danced and we laughed. And my father smiled at us.

That's how we do it in my village. In Afuze-Emai, Owan Local Government Area, Edo State, Nigeria.

1 comment:

s ola afolabi said...

Bojangles story is real. pall bearer display different artistic skill to trill on funeral occasions in Nigeria.