The ritual of killing cow for burial in Eastern part of Nigeria


I have read lots of counterarguments in my previous post about the burial rite in the Eastern part of Nigeria in which the killing of cows is a requirement.

Almost all the arguments were centered on:
“It is our culture.”
“You cannot go against our culture.”
“We can’t throw away our culture because of Western culture.”

I will repeat what I said earlier. The killing of cows is good, there is nothing wrong with giving people protein to eat if you can afford it. But you see, anything aside from this no longer has any serious basis and I want you to prove me wrong.

I read the extensive research done by Ossai Anayo Benjamin titled “Cow (Eshu) Ritual in the Funeral Rite: The Significance in The Nsukka Cultural Area of Igboland”

Though it was a long read, it brought out the reasons behind the cow ritual. Permit me to highlight some of them so we can have a foundation for our discussion.

1. Igbo culture generally holds that admission of the dead into the spirit world is not automatic. To achieve this for the dead, the children of the dead will perform appropriate funeral rites that can facilitate their dead parent(s) into the spirit world.

2. Funeral rites in Igboland are not also automatic. Many factors determine if one is to be accorded funeral rites. Among the factors are, when and how one dies, marital status of one before he or she dies, and if one has a child or children especially a male child before he or she dies.

3. For those who are qualified for a funeral rite, their children perform it to ensure peaceful rest for the dead, place or uplift their dead parents in a higher position in the spirit world, and finally to avert the wrath of the dead.

4. In fact, it is believed that funeral rites not performed, can result in ancestors striking the living to death.

5. It is in an attempt to place the dead in a higher position in the spirit world that make Nsukka people include living animal as matters (physical requirements) in the funeral rites which includes fowl, dog, goat, ram, pig, horse, cow, etc each having its significance depending on the community. Cow is the highest in the above matters and the people believe that it gives the dead the highest position or rank in the spirit world.

6. The circle of human life becomes complete with the people’s belief that the funeral cow facilitates the dead into the spirit world and promotes the dead parents in the ancestral world.

7. When the elder child presents the cow to the elders during his parent’s funeral, the children are not expected to see the slaying of the cow. The belief is that the spirit of one’s dead parents and other relations are present during the slaying ritual and can consciously or unconsciously strike the children may be for not performing the cow ritual on time or for any other mistake or action.

8. More so, there is the conviction that the cow is the symbol of the dead and therefore one cannot be present where the parent is being slain.

9. After the killing of cow, the meat is shared. This varies from culture. I visited Ezimo community of Udenu LGA last year. The way the cow meat is shared is as follows:

Village onyishi (village head): takes the chest and one leg or one hand.

Onyishi Umunna: takes one leg or one hand.

Children of the deceased: take the head, one leg or one hand, the skin, and the intestine.

Wives of the deceased: take the waist.

The person that slain the cow: takes the cord of the neck close to the head.

The remaining parts after the above sharing are cooked and eaten by everybody present irrespective of where one comes from and with no limitation, anybody can eat the meat.

10. Anyone who did not offer cow funeral rite for the dead parents cannot be offered for by his children unless their grandfather’s own cow is done first.

10. The ritual is also more of a spring honour and respect to the children who afford it to their dead parents and places them in a very high class in society. It is because of this honour that people who have performed the funeral cow ritual for their dead parents can take the traditional title of Ogbuefi meaning “killer of cow” and therefore earn themselves high respect in the community. In fact, Nsukka people believe that one who has not offered a cow to the dead parent(s) should neither touch cow nor its rope or else the dead parent(s) will strike him or her.

What is your take? How do you see the cow ritual?

Note: If all you have to say is to remind me how it is our culture and how we must keep to our culture even without making any attempt to questioning the reasoning behind it, just ignore this post. The post is clearly not for you.


I am not against your tradition of killing cow to bury your dead,

Just don’t sell your land to do it.

Don’t put pressure on yourself if you can’t afford it.

There is nothing special about killing cow to bury anyone.

Your dead parents don’t need your cow to rest in peace. If for anything, you are the one that is restless.

Killing of cow to bury anyone has no spiritual impact on the dead. None!

The only importance of killing cow to bury anyone is that it will give your village people who are still alive the opportunity to eat protein.

If you like keep shouting it is our tradition, don’t sit down and rethink all these things, you are only doing yourself.

That is why you have not totally and wholly abolished the OSU caste system, because you keep shouting “tradition.”

That is how you had to wait for the Europeans to come tell you what ogbanje or Abiku is.

That is how you had to wait for Mary Slessor to come from Scotland to teach you that your act of killing twins is from blind ignorant men and nothing to do with tradition.

Get over some things. Think!

Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr. Kelvin Ugwu
Fr Kelvin Ugwu MSP is an influential Nigerian Catholic priest on a mission in The Gambia.

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