We – Igbos – strongly believe in life after physical death. Akwamozu is one of the ways we express that strong belief. Akwamozu can be said to be the igbo traditional funeral rite performed when an Igbo adult person dies in order to facilitate a smooth transition of the departed soul into the ethereal world or the world beyond our physical senses – the other side of life.
While Ili ozu (burial proper) is marked by sorrows and mourning, akwamozu is usually a feast to bid a departed soul “Safe trip” into the beyond.
Traditionally, Igbos do not perform akwamozu rites for every deceased Igbo person. For instance, we don’t perform akwamozu rites when a child dies, because we believe the soul of that child has not yet unfolded on earth like that of an adult. This means, in Igbo cultural belief system, the soul of a child is predominantly still anchored in the beyond from where it came. The soul is unfolded and anchored within our physical world only when the child reaches full maturity on earth as either a man or a woman. Unless a soul attains that unfolding and anchorage can that soul be held responsibility for his or her deeds while on earth. Only on that condition can akwamozu rites become a necessity when an Igbo person is deceased.
Other examples of categories of people we don’t honour with akwamozu when they die are; those who drowned in deep waters, those who died through suicide, and those marked as unrepentant evil persons while there were alive on earth. The corpse of those who die by any of those means are not buried but thrown into an evil forest.
Like other aspects of Igbo culture, we do not perform the akwamozu rite the same way in all Igbo communities. Also, the akwamozu rite for a rich and great man is not the same for a pauper. However, today, let’s highlight those basic aspects of akwamozu that must be performed irrespective of the socio-economic status of the deceased person or, the community he/she hails from:
Akwamozu is an expensive affair in Igbo land. For that reason, careful plan is designed by the deceased’s relative in order to gather items needed for the akwamozu
- Announcement of Date:
This involves sending out messages to inform friends, in-laws, associates and well-wishers of the deceased that a date slated for the performance of akwamozu rites has been chosen and fixed. Obituary posters are produced and distributed as direct invitations to friends and well-wisher and the general public, but the use of obituary posters alone are not to be seen as sufficient for inviting people for akwamozu. Word-of-mouth invitation especially among neighbours or close friends is very important.
- Wake Keep:
The night preceding the date fixed for formal condolence visit to the deceased’s family is the wake keep night. A little feast is usually organized at the deceased person’s family compound. Several dance groups and masquerades are also invited to perform their acts and arts all through that night which heralds formal condolence visit.
- Formal Condolence visitation by In-laws, Friends, and Well-wishers:
On the day following the night of wake keep, as from around 10 am, visitor’s, in-laws, friends, well-wishers etc are all expected to come to the deceased’s family home with all manner of condolence gifts; cow, goat, local wrapper, drinks etc depending on the socio-economic status of the deceased.
- Akwamozu Proper:
Akwamozu proper is the chief traditional rite in Igbo funerals. It is a very significant rite, because it entails the making of a formal separation between the departed soul and people still leaving on earth. It is usually a small and private activity but a very spiritual and culturally important one. It is carried out on the 12th day or, 3 exact weeks (according to Igbo calendar) after the day of formal condolence visitation by friends, in-laws, and well-wishers.