The South eastern part of Nigeria is made up of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Enugu states. They are the Igbo-speaking part of the “Igbos” as an ethnicity in Nigeria. The “Igbo Ethnicity of Nigeria,” comprises of other non- Igbo speaking ethnic groups such as Ibibio, Efik, Ikwerre, Nupe, Tiv, Ijaw, Isoko, Itshekiri, Urhobo, Agbo, the list goes on and on.
Some of the above mentioned ethnicities do not share the geopolitical zone of south east, but falls under south-south geopolitical zone in Nigeria.
Now, we want to talk about the “Fattening Seclusion Culture” as it is common among the South East and the South-South regions in Nigeria.
Fattening Seclusion is a cultural heritage performed within “the Igbo ethnicity” of Nigeria. It is done in preparation of the “bride and bridegroom” prior to their traditional marriage ceremony. It involves a high profile preparation geared at growing maidens including the under aged ones to a certain stage of development especially when marriage is the target.
In olden days too, eligible bachelors were subjected to severe flogging as a test of strength. Often, maidens are betrothed or assigned to husbands at infancy or childhood by their parents. And bride-price is usually paid which entitles the husband legal ownership of maiden as wife, even though they might not have any sexual intercourse until the maiden is of marriageable age.
Meanwhile, before the introduction and the adoption of Naira coins and notes as the legit means of payment in Nigeria, bride-price takes the form of iron currency such as hoes, axes and spears. Tin straws are also used especially in Jos Plateau where tin ore was extracted from the extensive alluvial deposits in the old river beds.
Use of cattle as currency is predominant among the Fulanis owning to their being a cattle rearing society. Other local currency items include salt, tobacco heads, feather, farm products, textiles, beads, cowrie shells, copper bars, brass rods and gin among others.
But if the bride price has been paid, there is a minimum age she must attain before sexual relation can take place. This is one of the primary reasons behind fattening seclusion.
The idea of fattening is to broaden the pelvic region of a girl so that she might be able to “perform” the function of a woman at the time of marriage.
Fattening seclusion is a sort of confinement given to a maiden in old South-Eastern Nigeria who has reached the age of fourteen years or above which therefore prepares her for marriage at completion of seclusion.
Thus the maiden is withdrawn from all domestic chores and social activities of her family and that of the community as well, and she is kept indoors. It is a long period of rest, relaxation and recreation.
It is a period of enjoyment and pleasure which involves a lot of eating, sleeping and refreshment. She is not allowed to cook or wash her clothes even her inner wears.
During this period, a horde of beautiful young girls are always around her to take care of domestic chores. She does not bathe herself but the elderly women do, who are invited by her mother, probably, those that have reached the age of menopause or whose daughters have been married off.
The whole obligation of the maiden is to eat and sleep, wake and eat, and nothing else. She is not to be seen doing any exercise except indoor games, and this enables her to add weight as she is lavishly fed with food nourishing enough to affect her looks.
Apart from “Igbo speaking tribe” who call their fattening seclusion tradition “Mgbede,” the The Efiks of Cross River State call the fattening seclusion, “Ufuk nkuho”, and the list goes on and on based on language variations.
That is why in Igboland today, when a young lady sits tight at home, doing nothing but sleeping and eating without making any meaningful contributions to the socio-economic welfare of her family, usually, perhaps, one common question that people always ask her is “nwa-agbogho, I no na-mgbede?” (Meaning young lady are you in a fattening room).
Also, in Igboland, some women name their daughters “Nwa-mgbede” because of how fat and plump the new baby girl is at birth. However, before the fattening seclusion begins, the maiden does visit her close relations and assists them in domestic chores. She fetches water for them from stream or river, no matter how distant it is.
She also fetches firewood from the farm as well as takes part in local palm-oil processing in the family. This is because it is those people that will in turn release their daughters to help and serve her during the period of her fattening seclusion.
The period of fattening seclusion however varies from family to family in relation to the wealth of the girls’ parents. In the past, the duration or period of fattening seclusion is over a year or two, but nowadays, a girl can be fattened for duration of about a month minimum and three months maximum, according to the pocket of the girl’s parents.
Among the Ibibio people and Efiks of Cross River state, it is compulsory for a girl to be fattened, no matter how short the period of seclusion might be.
It is commonly said that no matter how charming, succulent and beautiful a girl might look or how rich and wealthy her parents might be, no eligible son of Ibibio land dares marry a girl that is not fattened.
It is always a thing of pride for a girl to be fattened in Ibibioland before marriage so that she can fit in well among other fattened ladies as a wife. They do discuss their life experiences about fattening seclusion as house wives.
It will also be a thing of mockery and reproach among relations and friends of the husband whose wife is not fattened. Fattening seclusion usually varies from one family to another or from one area to another and from one ethnic group to another. The length of time may also vary in years or months.
Besides that, Fattening seclusion may take place in group or individually. The Efik people of Cross River State, for example hold their fattening seclusion in group. This is also applicable to the people of Oron in Akwa-Ibom state of Nigeria.
In Oron of Akwa-Ibom state, each girl to be fattened is smeared with palm oil at the commencement of the seclusion. She is given a secluded room, which is cordoned with raffia strands.
She is provided with a mat to lie upon, which must be removed after a few days and replaced with a bamboo bed and calabash for the storage of her valuables. In her secluded room, a string of raffia is tied across the room where she hangs all the bones of the fishes she eats during the period of fattening seclusion.
This is to exhibit the wealth of her parents. That is, to allow her visitors see how sumptuously she is being fed and how opulent her family is.
Do you think that trends of time and civilization can completely wipe away the Fattening tradition in the “Igbo Neighborhoods?”
Have you thought of it: Maidens might not even want this tradition tampered with as a result of the “royal treatment” attached to it?
Meanwhile, cultures and traditions such as the fattening seclusion is really fun and educating.
Do not limit yourself as far as knowledge is concerned.
Feel free to widen your horizon!
Adapted from Vanguardngr