Posted by Amanda Ibironke on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 Under: Fashion, Tradition & Culture

Nigeria is a country with so many different cultures and diverse languages. One of them is the Calabars.  It is a major commercial centre in Nigeria, There are three major ethnic groups represented by three principal linguistic groups in Cross River State. These are the Efik, the Ejagham and the Bekwarra. The Efik language is very widely spoken in Cross River State.

The Fattening Room ceremony is a major tradition which is not only practiced in Calabar but also in some other Southern states though they have diverse ways of doing it. This ceremony is currently practiced in Akwa Ibom State among the Ibibios, in Cross River State among the Efiks, in Rivers State among the Ogonis and Ikwerres and within other cultures mostly spread throughout the south. Ibibios refer to participants in this rite-of-passage as Mbopo, Efiks as Mbobi, Ogonis as Koo and Ikwerres as Mbede.

This ancient tradition is the training given to young women in preparation for successful marriage and motherhood while they are in seclusion to prepare them for marriage and womanhood. In Ogoni culture the ceremony could last up to 3-5 years and targets females between the ages of 6-18. However, the more popular version involves women in their pre-marital years (teens to 20s) and lasts from about 1-3 months. During this period the young women are confined to a secluded home designed for that purpose, not allowed to come in contact with other people and are attended to by elderly matrons, some of whom may be relatives of the participants. They are not allowed to do strenuous work; about six large portions of food (like porridge ekpang, plantain, yam fufu and assorted pepper soups), drinks three pints of water three times and gets plenty of sleep and are frequently massaged, bathed and rubbed with Shea butter and other local ointments in order to make their bodies smooth and shiny. This process ensures the bride gets a healthy waistline. According to the Efik people, they believe a woman who is full figured with a healthy waistline is beautiful.

The elderly women also help the young women to improve on their overall domestic and interpersonal skills, which include trading, cooking, decorating the home, cloth weaving, hair plaiting and/or braiding as well as knowledge of certain crafts. Because beauty constitutes a key aspect of the process, they are also taught to dress themselves flamboyantly and to apply makeup in a manner that constantly ensures their attractiveness. Regarding their health and the health of their future offspring, they receive instructions on how to achieve sexual fulfilment, how to adopt proper nutritional habits at the fetal and post-birth phase, how to stimulate milk production for breastfeeding and how to identify herbal remedies for labour pain. They also receive training and/or retraining on the moral values, customs, mores and taboos of their community. Sometimes the ladies also learn new dance steps since the end of the ceremony often involves their performance of dances in what is typically referred to as the “outing ceremony.” This usually takes place on the streets and commonly ends in the village or town square. At this time the participants are showered with gifts from relatives, would-be suitors, loved ones and well-wishers.  

The essence of this ceremony is to ensure the participants are enriched in the areas of physical beauty, good health, skills development, sexual satisfaction and a reinforced appreciation and understanding of the traditions of their society and of their future roles as wives and mothers. Though in the, these young women are likely to gain weight due to fact that they are well fed, but, in the end, because they are also quite active they do not emerge obese or overweight. The Fattening room ceremony tradition may not be as popular as it once was, especially n the cities, but it is still practiced widely. The fattening room represent an opportunity for nurturing beauty and for preparing young women to face life as wives, mothers, workers and business owners. As an old rite-of-passage, they facilitate the passage from maidenhood to womanhood and wife-hood.

In : Fashion, Tradition & Culture 

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