A tale of two conflicting traditions

  • Idanre, Akwa Ibom communities disagree over taboo on pregnant woman killed by falling tree

Deference to cultural taboos in two communities without the tiniest of affinities, Onipanu in Idanre, Ondo State and Ini in Akwa Ibom State, has pitched the leaders of the two towns against one another.
Consequently, a farm labourer, Sunday Effiong, who is in the middle of the unfolding drama, has found himself stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea of contradicting cultural practices.
Effiong’s ordeal began when a branch of a tree that was being cut in the town fell on his pregnant wife, Justina Joshua, and seriously injured her.
The 28-year-old mother of two later died from the injuries earlier sustained during the incident.
Caught in web of opposing cultural practices
As distraught Effiong made moves to bury his wife, the agelong strange opposing cultural practices in the two communities began to rear their equally strange heads.
In Idanre, where Effiong lives and ekes out a living, tradition dictates that if anyone is killed by a falling tree, the victim must be buried under such a tree. If the instruction is ignored, no fewer than seven persons from the victim’s family would die in quick succession.
But in Ini, his hometown, the traditional practice forbids burying their dead relations in foreign lands. It has grievous consequences, the elders of the town warn.
And now, this is the dilemma in which the husband of the late pregnant Justina, has found himself.
His in-laws back home in Ini are pressurising him to bring back the corpse of their daughter for burial, while, at the same time, the elders in Idanre are insisting that the dead woman must be buried under the tree at the scene where the incident which led to her sudden demise occurred.
As the disagreement between the elders of the two towns over where the late mother of two should be buried rages, her corpse had, in the last one week, our correspondent gathered, been lying stone dead on the floor of the morgue at the General Hospital in Idanre.
Effiong, who told our correspondent that he was currently under serious pressure by the family of the deceased, has now alleged that the community leaders of Onipanu in Idanre had seized the corpse of his late wife, who was callously killed in the town by a suspect.
Our correspondent gathered that trouble started for Effiong when his wife met her sudden death in the town while searching for her daily bread.
A source, who spoke on the death of the late woman, said that Justina was on the farm with her son, Abe, when a branch from a tree which was being cut by an indigene fell on them.Untitled1He said, “The tree cutter ran a-yt655way, leaving the woman and her son to their fate, as they were shouting for help in great pains. After a while, the woman managed to help the boy to stand up. She later sent the boy to go and get help. Meanwhile, the owner of the tree that was being cut known as Aye, after waiting for the cutter, decided to go to the farm to look for him. But on getting to the farm, he met some people who had come to rescue injured woman.
“First, she was taken to Bayade Clinic, Idanre, from where they referred her to the General Hospital, Idanre, because of her critical condition. Unfortunately, before they arrived at the General Hospital, she breathed her last.”
Another source who identified herself as Mrs. Favour Benson, explained that, ”the incident was reported at Olofin Police Station in Idanre, where the suspect was apprehended, but along the line, he was released.
Benson further disclosed that “the corpse was abandoned on the floor of the mortuary for more than a week as the traditional rulers were alleged to have hindered any attempt to attend to it.
‘’When the husband of the woman, Effiong, requested the release of her corpse for burial in his home state and the traditional rulers in Idanre refused, a crisis between the Akwa Ibom people in Ondo and the traditional rulers in Idanre, who insisted that the woman must be buried under the tree where she died, erupted.
‘’As I speak with you, the corpse is still left unkempt on the floor of the mortuary, and no surgery has been performed on her despite the fact that she is still carrying the foetus in her womb.”

Uba Group

But the traditional ruler of the town where the incident occurred, the Olu of Onipanu, Oba Claudius Ademehintoye, insisted that the remains of the late Justina must be buried under the tree where she died. Oba Ademehintoye warned that any contrary action taken with regard to the burial of the deceased would trigger off a series of mysterious deaths in her family. He said, “It is not that our community is happy about the incident, it is a sad event, which we never prayed for. But since it happened, we have no choice than to do the needful, which is to bury the dead under the tree that killed her. I’m disappointed in the Calabar people’s move because we have agreed that we will bury the woman under the tree in our land.
‘’It is in our tradition that whoever dies under a tree will be buried under the tree to avert evil recurrence. And in our efforts to demonstrate our concern, our community has earlier given the Calabar people N50, 000 as transport fare to their town to convey the decision jointly taken on the issue to the family of the deceased. The decision was taken after a meeting held with the Calabar community in both Ondo and Idanre towns. Moreover, three days ago, they also collected N100, 000 from me to appeal to the community leaders in their town.”Untitled1 On the implication for contradicting the cultural practice, the Olu of Onipanu said, “If the dead is not buried under the tree in this town, at least, seven persons will die in their family if they are taking the corpse to their town.”
The president of the Akwa Ibom community in Idanre and its suburbs, Mr. Young Akpan, however insisted that the tradition of the Ini village, where the deceased hailed from, would not allow her to be buried in a strange land.
Akpan said Akwa Ibom traditional leaders were already aware of the matter and had given instruction that the late woman’s husband must bring her corpse back home for “proper burial.”
He, however, he alleged, “Despite our efforts, the Owa of Idanre said they could not release the corpse. They said they have to bury her under the tree, but I told them that in our land we don’t bury our corpses in strange land. So, we need to take her back home. I even begged that if there is anything we could do to appease their gods to allow us carry the corpse home, but they said no.
“And since they didn’t release the corpse, what we plan to do now is to mobilize our traditional ruler and other big chiefs to come to this town and talk to them, because ourtradition forbids her to be buried in this town.”

Strange marriage plans
The husband of the late woman also added another strange dimension to the controversy when he told our correspondent that the decision by the Onipanu, Idanre community would deny him the opportunity of taking his late wife back home to properly wed her before her burial.
Effiong, who said he was preparing to legally have the deceased’s hand in marriage before her death, explained that he had run into serious trouble over the matter, as the family members of the late Justina had continued to put pressure on him to bring their daughter’s corpse back home for proper marriage rite before burial.
He said, “The family of the woman is now on my neck to bring her (deceased) back home for marriage in the village before proper burial.
‘’They said they wanted to see their daughter if she is truly dead, and after that, I would do the marriage before we bury her. But the decision of the Idanre leaders is currently giving me a big problem as I’m not allowed to carry her home”.

Claims, counter-claims
Effiong also refuted the claim by the Olu of Onipanu, Idanre that the Akwa Ibom community in the town had collected about N200, 000 from him over the matter.
“It is a big lie, nobody, collected any money from them,” he said.
The husband of the deceased woman, however, alleged that his wife’s death was a planned handiwork of some people in the community who had become envious of his achievements in the town.

Rights activists step in
Our correspondent gathered that some human rights activists have risen to take up the case.
The Ondo State Coordinator of the Legal Aid Council, Kubiat Ikpidungise, condemned a tradition which forbade the timely burial of the deceased.
Ikpidungise, however, urged the police and other concerned authorities to revisit the matter before it would degenerate into a confrontation between the Onipanu, Idanre and the Akwa Ibom people in the area.
“The decision of the community on the case is illogical. Moreover, that is not my major concern. My major concern is the suspect alleged to have committed the offence but now being shielded. At the early stage, I learnt he was arrested by police at Olofin Police Station, Idanre, but later, I was made to understand that he was released,” she said.