THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON BURIAL RITES IN NIGERIA (A CASE STUDY OF NKANU IN ENUGU STATE)

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

The biblical account states that God made the provision of a garden for Adam and Eve as their habitat after they had been created. It states, in regards to the divine restriction of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that “for when you eat of it, you will surely die” (Gen 2:17b) ; and obviously physical death became a reality of humanity following the account of the fall in Genesis 3. Also, the writer of the book of Hebrews states, when contrasting the principle of Old Testament sacrifice with the salvific efficacy of the propitiatory death of Jesus Christ, that “man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27a). From the preceding scriptural passages, it is obvious that death is a common human phenomenon, acting as “the implacable enemy of man”, that is, of all human beings. It is the cessation of all vital human functions, certifying the loss and end of human existence. Death is described as “the natural end of life” and “the inevitable end of man” on earth. Roland Murphy says death “casts a fatal shadow over all human existence” and makes the experience of life to be futile and worthless when it strikes. Burial on the other hand is the act or process of disposing of a corpse. This may vary from culture to culture and from one religious or some ideology to the other. In African tradition generally the dead are not buried away from their land of ancestry. Burial, to be considered proper, honourable, meaningful and acceptable in most African cultures, has to be done in the deceased’s ancestral land. This traditional ideology forces on Christians to strive, against all odds, to also bury their relations, Christians and non Christians alike, in their ancestral land. But tension exists between such traditional insistence on burial of dead persons in their “home land” and the Christian understanding of the concept of the resurrection. How are Christians who fail to bury their dead according to traditional rite perceived by the people in the culture, and will dead African Christians that are not buried in their ancestral land not resurrect? This article examines the traditional philosophical reasons propelling the African insistence on the observance of burial in the ancestral land even today. It points out the attendant implications of such cultural insistence for the Church, particularly where living Christian relations fail to bury their dead according to required traditional rites. The study advances grounds why African Christians today, as transformed persons, are not obliged to such traditional observances especially burial rites and traditions.

THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON BURIAL RITES IN NIGERIA (A CASE STUDY OF NKANU IN ENUGU STATE)