Nso ani. This is the Igbo word for a sin so grave that it is considered to be against the earth itself. Suicide is one of these taboos, even now. The Igbo believe that if a person commits suicide, like Okonkwo did at the end of Things Fall Apart, he was never at peace with himself, the village, relatives and the gods, and that he never will be, as he chosen an evil act by deciding to accept a “bad death.” A “good death” will cause the deceased to reincarnate, but “bad deaths” disrupt this cycle, as they are should not and are unable to reincarnate.

The consequences for suicide go much further than just death and reincarnation. The land on which the deed is committed is considered polluted, so the rituals are required in order to cleanse it. The method varies depending on how the individual killed himself. Okonkwo killed himself by hanging himself from a tree; in this case, though only certain people are allowed to touch and thereby remove the corpse, the tree itself is cut down so that no other person my hang himself there and because the tree is now considered evil. If the hanging as occurred inside of a house, the house must be burned to prevent a second suicide, and the body will be buried in the evil forest. Whether the possessions within the house can be removed varies from village to village. If the act is committed within the yam barn, all of the yams must be burned along with the barn. (An interesting anecdote that I saw explained that maltreated servants sometimes did this to get back at their masters.) If this occurred on farmland, a grave is dug beneath the  body, so that when the rope it cut, the corpse falls directly into it. If a suicide is committed when a man drowns himself in a well, that well is filled in and becomes unusable from that point on.

Whereas during a normal funeral, there people cook, drink, dance, and have a wake, none of this is allowed for a man who killed himself. No one, not even friends or family, is allowed to cry in public over the loss.  The family members must be the ones to perform the cleansing rituals so that this evil act does not happen again, and the elders of the village offer sacrifices for peace in the land and the absence of suicide or the thought of it in the future.


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