Burials and Belonging in Nigeria: Rural–Urban Relations and Social Inequality in a Contemporary African Ritual



In sub-Saharan Africa, rural–urban relationships are primary arenas in which social change is shaped, expressed, and contested. Like people in many contemporary African societies, rural–urban migrants of the Igbo ethnic group in Nigeria face powerful expectations to be buried “at home” in their ancestral villages and to perform elaborate and expensive funeral ceremonies for their dead relatives. This article argues that Igbo funerals crystallize many of the structural paradoxes associated with inequality in Nigerian society, particularly as they are manifest in kin-based patron–client relations between rural communities and their migrant kin. The tensions that coalesce around burials illustrate how rituals are not only socially integrative but also can reflect, reveal, and contribute to discontents regarding transformations in the organization and extent of social inequality.