Thu. May 23rd, 2024

By Ojukwu Emmanuel Chiadikaobi


Ifagbenusola Popoola, a devoted traditionalist, insights into the Yoruba cultural practices surrounding the burial of individuals who drown were unveiled. This traditional belief system, deeply embedded in Yoruba cosmology, dictates that rivers, much like all elements of nature, possess life and are inhabited by spirits or deities such as Osun, Iyemoja, Oya, and Oba.


Popoola explained that drowning disrupts the river’s spiritual balance, which can adversely affect the community. To restore harmony, specific rituals are performed, and the deceased must be buried at the riverbank. “Every body of water has its spirit. Therefore, if someone dies in a river, it’s believed that the river’s energy is disturbed,” Popoola stated. He emphasized that neglecting these rituals could invite ‘Akufa’—the spirit of the river—into the community, potentially drawing more victims into its depths until appeasement is achieved.


The interview also highlighted the traditional protocols that are strictly followed. In the past, not even the family of the deceased could touch the body. Instead, designated priests or priestesses of the river deity would manage the burial process to ensure it was conducted correctly to avert further spiritual disturbances or bad omens.


While discussing changes over time, Popoola lamented the dilution of these practices as Western influences grow. He pointed out recent incidents, such as suicides from the Third Mainland Bridge, suggesting that adherence to traditional methods might have prevented subsequent tragedies. “Many of these tragedies could have been avoided if we followed our traditions,” he remarked, underscoring the practical implications of cultural erosion.


Popoola also touched on how rituals might vary by age, gender, and social status, reflecting the deep-rooted traditions that dictate the specificities of burial practices in Yoruba culture. “The way we bury an initiate is not the same as we will bury a non-initiate,” he explained, indicating that these traditions are tailored to the deceased’s life and societal role.


Religion, while influential, has not significantly altered the traditional practices, according to Popoola. He shared an anecdote about a Muslim woman, a victim of a flood, whose burial was conducted by a Yoruba priestess by the riverbank with her family’s consent. This story highlights the interplay between religion and cultural traditions in modern Yoruba society.


Despite the challenges posed by modernization and external cultural influences, Popoola remains hopeful that these age-old traditions will endure. He calls for a broader acceptance and understanding of Yoruba cultural practices, which he views as essential for maintaining the community’s identity and safety.

This report underscores the complexity and significance of traditional burial practices among the Yoruba people, illustrating a community’s efforts to balance tradition and modernity in a rapidly changing world.

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