The Profound Yoruba Funeral Rite of ‘Adiye Irana’

Emmanuel Kwarteng September 15, 2022
Photo Credit: Dierk Lange

One of the biggest ethnic communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Yoruba are extensively spread throughout Nigeria and are the majority in the western section of the nation, which includes the states of Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo, and Lagos.

Traditional African Yoruba society was unable to comprehend the idea of death, just like western scholars, theologians, spellcasters, and diviners, among others. It came up with the idea of adiye irana as one of its quick explanations for this tense period of breathing ceasing.

In Yoruba tradition, the idea of “adiye irana” is well-known during the passing of the dead. The elders of the land carried a large, mature cock tightly by its feet and plucked its feathers as they made their way to the cemetery to bury a good man’s remains.

They wear loincloths around their waists in processions with the casket of the deceased. The cock is thought to represent the messenger who purchases the dead’s right of passage, as the dead good man sets out on his journey to the place where there is no turning back.

It is believed that the cock will pave the way for the dead. It is said that it is desirable for a man to die younger than to pass away without the adiye irana ceremony, because a deceased man for whom the ritual is not made is useless.

When the deceased person’s body is being carried from one area to another, typically from one village to the next for burial, the feather of the fowl is plucked out and scattered along the path as a sacrifice. Those who are carrying the corpse throw the bird’s feathers along the road while singing dirge songs.

In order to ward off evil spirits that might impede the deceased’s seamless transition into the spiritual world, fowls with black feathers are sacrificed for the soul of the deceased. Many evil spirits are thought to travel also with the souls of the dead.

The rite can also be performed by killing the black-feathered fowl by the graveside and feasting on it there after the deceased has been buried. The blood of the bird should be spilled on the grave where the body was buried.

In traditional African religion, there is no idea of hell or eternal punishment. Africans go to great lengths to appease spirits that might obstruct the path of their departed and make space for the afterlife, where the spirits of the dead go and carry on living in clans and villages just as they did in the physical world.

Death is not viewed as the end of life in traditional Yoruba religion, but rather as a change from one sort of existence to another.

Significance of Adiye Irana

The ritual signifies three things. First, to drive away wicked spirits that would impede the deceased’s easy ascent into heaven (Orun).

Second, the meaning of the phrase —Adiye-Irana kii se ohun ajegbe—is intended to serve as a reminder that everyone must eventually pass away. It literally suggests that as you consume another person’s fowl, others will equally consume yours when you die.

Thirdly, it demonstrates that there is life after death. When the departed person travels to heaven peacefully and without incident, they are aware that a ceremony was conducted for them. Tradition has it that the person who has passed away will express his/her gratitude to those who performed the rite for him in the hereafter.

To prevent a premature death of the deceased person’s family, friends and entire town, the fowls are killed and eaten at the crossroads. For this purpose, the Adiye-Irana rite serves as a metaphor for death, serving to remind the Yorubas of the unavoidable nature of death and the fact that it is not the end of man.

In the traditional funeral arrangements, the departed is simply traveling from the earth to another location; it is only a transition from the physical world to the spirit realm.

The Adiye-Irana rite is therefore crucial and extremely essential.

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