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  • Writer's pictureNnaemeka Ali, O.M.I

Why the Igbo People do not say Rest In Peace

In many cultures, whenever someone dies people precipitately say, “May he or she Rest in Peace”. A beautiful and prayerful expression but the irony is that people don’t generally take their time to understand the limit of that expression.

Ordinarily, resting already implies a form of peace.

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, rest could be defined as “peace of mind or spirit”.

No wonder the Igbo people do not say “Rest in Peace”, but rather “zuru ike na ndi okwa”. I am going to elucidate this beautiful Igbo expression by showing its difference from all the Indo-European language equivalents.

The expression Rest in Peace tells us about the state in which the deceased should rest – In Peace – but says absolutely nothing about where he or she would be. It is an empty wish as it ignores that resting demands to take a break and occupy a particular physical or mental space. To better comprehend the loophole in this type of expression, one needs a little notion of basic linguistic theory.

According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the way people formulate their language says a lot about their vision of the world. And even with all the critics addressed to this theory, language remains the code of people’s culture and World View.

Going by this theory, one can deduce few things about the European World View. Though Europe has been the bedrock of Christian civilization, its languages often betray either its shallow comprehension of certain religious principles or it simply says a lot about the particularity of their World View. Rest in Peace, Repose en Paix, Requiescat in Pace, etc., all, tautologically (as rest already implies peace) say how the dead will rest but ignores absolutely where they should rest.

Contrarily, in the Igbo language, Rest in Peace, as earlier said, is translated to “zuru ike na ndi okwa” – rest among the elected. Okwa is translated into status, position, post, etc., in the Igbo language. So, when Igbo people talk about the dead, they do not wish them an empty state of being but a place of choice with the elected. They want them to rest in the midst of the ancestors at “Ala ndi muo” – the world of the spirits.

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