Ajibola oluyomi John
Most times when I look around seeing people struggle to survive, discuss the enjoyment that needs to be tasted in life or the level of achievement that needs to be attained; the crime, the meek and the non-challant. In all, the good and the bad all make me feel no one is thinking about death or let me just say, what happens after death?
Every of our actions in life revolve around the beliefs we have and those things our faith strongly holds on that we are one way or the other exposed to through socialization. The same method I am applying to unlock the indigenous perspectives of the people about death. I know most people would want to challenge me for thinking of death and the question that would probably pop-up from their mind is ‘what is wrong with this mumu, abi him wan die ni?’ the only reason this question might exist in the mind of some readers are because they see death as evil that shortens the enjoyment of life and a punishment to humanity. Anyway, death is very much linked to one’s total view of existence. Saren Kierkegaard wrote that an ordinary human terms death has the only finality and certainty, an uncertain certainty because it can strike us down at any time. The dead return to dust, to nothing, their efforts to leave any lasting form of immortality of name behind them are frustrated by the hand of time. Even Life’s highest and richest moment of enjoyment is accompanied by death.
So we all need to see death as a ‘necessary evil’ or ‘an evil sin qua non’. Earlier, I said that our perception about anything varies by our faith and beliefs. The Buddhists believe that when they die they will be reborn again while the Catholics believe that once a person dies they will see God face to face except he has committed a grave offence and has not repented at the time of death. Christians trust they will go to heaven to be with God once they have died, thus the church strongly emphasises a positive outcome in death — that the deceased is alive with God- death is the separation of the soul (the spiritual dimension of each person) from the body (the physical dimension), the physical body will be reunited with the soul at the Last Judgment. Hindus believe in reincarnation. When a person dies their soul merely moves from one body to the next on its path to reach Nirvana (Heaven). So, while it is a sad time when someone dies, it is also a time of celebration. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that when they die they go into a kind of sleep until God resurrects them from the dead. Jews believe that when they die they will go to Heaven to be with God. Death is seen as a part of life and a part of God’s plan. Traditional Maori believe that the spirit continues to exist after death and that the deceased will always be a part of the marae (traditional meeting place). The Shi’ite and Sunni (Muslims), so beliefs and customs may be slightly different for each. Muslims believe that the soul continues to exist after death. During life a person can shape their soul for better or worse depending on how they live their life. Scientologists believe that humans are immortal spiritual beings called thetans who live several lives so when a person dies they simply move into a new life.
It is so interesting that the present day religion and beliefs hold on to afterlife of the dead in one way or the other. They have been able to water down the evil of death by making up the possibility of man living after death. Although, it would be hard to demand evidence or tangible facts to back up these beliefs except to be told that it is what they were also told; beliefs are passed down from generation unto generation. While others could claim a trance or vision is seen of their dead loved-ones at a certain place not earth and to a great extent, the comeback of the dead as ghosts to live among the living and do what the living also do- many times the story of the existence of ghost have been relayed in movies and story books.
Science and Religion arguably sprang out from ancient tradition; that is, they have their source one way or the other from it. Therefore, I decided to fish out the two most ancient traditions, Anishnabe and Haudenosaunee to discuss their beliefs in death and the journey after. The former believe that when dying, a traditional person will call for the ceremonies, medicine and prayers that will guide his/her spirit back to the spirit world. At the time of death, our original mother, Mother Earth, who nourishes our bodies, reclaims our physical form while our original father, the Creator, takes our spirits to return them to their place of origin. Furthermore, spirit can be seen and felt leaving the body. It travels westward across the prairie grass, over a river and into the mountains. It ascends the mountains to the high clouds where a bright light guides it to the place where loved ones wait to embrace it. The spirit lives forever. It takes its place in the spirit world according to deeds completed on earth. The Cycle of Life is complete when spirit returns to its place of origin. But to the Haudenosaunee, when a person dies, there are spirit forces at work that try to disrupt the long spiritual journey of the soul to the Sky World. The dead have power and it is dangerous to neglect the spiritual needs of the dead. Souls of the dead have a path of destiny they must follow: journey after life. Their breath is taken by the Faceless One, the destroyer who brings death. Spirit takes a number of days to get used to the death of the body and to prepare its journey Ceremonies and practices assist the spirit on the path, said to be the Milky Way. Grandmother Moon obtains some of their hair. One hair detaches itself and comes directly to her. This is the sign that someone has died in the lower world and has begun journey to Sky World. Soul has its own destiny after life. Soul is different from the life spirit that makes the body alive. When we die, life force/soul leaves the body but may linger for 10 days requiring a feast to send it back to the Sky World where all souls of humans come from and return to. Each soul has its own path leading from the Soul House to the body, to the Great Sky Road (Milky Way) – the good sky path but another sky path exists for evil souls and leads to a place half-way between earth and Sky World. The souls of the dead have power to affect the living – respect must be shown to the dead and their souls cared for. They believe in Ga-do-waas who lives in the upper sky and has four eyes to watch the four corners of the turtle island and prepared a Star belt that lights the Sky Paths and casts light on the longhouse to guide the soul departing away from the body. Souls at peace travel by way of Milky Way. Souls who died restless are forced to repeat painful tasks that are symbolic of misdeeds in life. (from Richard Hill, Beaver Clan Tuscarora & Peter Jemison, Heron Clan Seneca, paper on “mortuary practices”).
I am sure you are so fascinated with these breath-taking beliefs making you compare what you were told of the journey after death probably through a story from your parents or grandparents when you were much younger. Or tales and movies or discussions you have come across one way or the other. In ‘Aspects of the Novel’, E. M. Forster (1974) says that the main facts in human life are five: birth, food, sleep, love and death but birth and death are the two strangest, for death is coming even as birth has come. But similarly, we do not know what it is like. No one knows how he/she was given birth to, only a story of this was told to him/her closely by his/her parents. And arguably, no one will know how his/her after death will be. The truth is that death will take place but what happens after death is undefined. Yet it would be interesting to read the perspective on after death beliefs you were forced to hold unto, it could be indigenous or religious, and the reason you still hold unto it till this very moment.
Babacan H, Obst P (1998) Death, Dying and Religion, Brisbane, Queensland, Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland.
Forster, E. M. (1974). Aspects of the Novel. Ed. Stallybrass, Oliver. New York: Penguin Books, p.57.