To Chiists, death is accepted as part of life…a phase we go through in the process of the renewal and purification of the soul. We believe that for one to become an Ancestor (which is the finite state of being) the spirit has to go through reincarnation. Reincarnation is the process of regaining life by way of being born again to possibly family members, friends or significant others. In some cases, the departed is given a mark or marks on the body so that when he or she reincarnates, the family will know. In my community, when a child is born, those marks if noticeable, is used to identify the reincarnation of a loved one. This is why in much of Igbo land we do not cremate.
The spirit must pass through the process of living seven times, each time living more exemplary lives before achieving a state of AMARACHI (The final state of renewal signaling an esteemed life of unbridled character, a state of being “a wonderment of Chineke), before becoming one with the Ancestors. It is believed that when one dies peacefully without trauma (dying peacefully in their sleep after living exemplary lives), they have completed their process and welcomed home by Chineke and the Ancestors. He or she becomes the family spiritual guardian called upon during the time of libations to intercede in family conflicts, desires and joy. We do not call the names of those who died tragic deaths or due to illness as Ancestors when we pour libations. When we pour libations and call their names, it is strictly to wish them well in their journey and pray for a better outcome for them. We believe that they have not completed their purification process and consequently will return to continue it. This is why we say (Uwa m, uwa asaa…I may not be the best now, but I have seven lifetimes to get it right!) There are some who believe that the restless spirits yet to reincarnate move through time and space creating havoc in their quest for reincarnation. There are ceremonies held by the living to specifically ask Chineke and the Honorable Ancestors to quell their restlessness and allow them to find their place in life again to continue their purification process. When a child dies, we assume that they have not completed the process and will surely be born again into the family or significant others.
Our desire to understand our world is the reason for all cultures to spiritually explain their own understanding of death. Many orthodox religions believe that if one lives a noble life, they go to a “heaven” like afterlife. It is important to note that in African spiritual tradition no one view has ever been officially agreed upon, and there is much room for speculation. These are Chiist precepts as told by the elders of the Nkporo community and our ancient spiritual teachers.
The Chiist Nkomii and the 18 purgative lights alike center attention on the purpose of earthly life, which is to execute one’s duties to Chineke, nature and fellow human beings. Succeeding at this brings reward and a gracious depart; failing at it carries punishment such as difficulty to reincarnate timely to continue the purification process, or a traumatic reincarnation to poverty, illness etc.
What happens after death is not as important as living an honorable life to earn the seven opportunities to reach AMARACHI, and ultimately become an Ancestor.
The family of the Nigerian victims of the Dana air crash would accept the death of their loved ones from the perspectives they have learned and adopted. For us Chiists, we pray that they have lived honorable lives to move through the purification of their souls to achieve the state of AMARACHI and become Honorable Ancestors.