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DRAMA AND POETRY IN THE MBOBPO CEREMONY OF IKOT OKU NSIT IN NSIT IBOM LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA
1.0 Background of the Study
Mbobpoin Ibibio refers to a maiden that is growing to become a woman (approaching the stage of womanhood through maturity). It is common in old South-Eastern Nigeria, (now South-South and South East Nigeria) comprising the present Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Bayelsa and River State of Nigeria. It is one of the ceremonies connected with traditional marriage, which must be performed before the bride groom and the bride eventually come to live together as husband and wife. Such ceremonies includes, fattening seclusion (Mbobpo in Ibibio dialect) etc.
In an article that is anonymously published in Vanguard,March 6, 2011,
“Mbobpo is peculiar to the people of South-Eastern Nigeria. Mbobpo has its vital role of preparing maidens for marriage especially among the Efik, Ibibio, Ibo and Kalabari ethnic communities among others. 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. Mbobpo (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 the seclusion.”
Thus, the maiden is kept indoors in a separate room, having been withdrawn from all domestic chores and social activities of her family and that of the community as well.
Mbobposeclusion is a long period of rest, relaxation and recreation that lasts about three months. It is a period of enjoyment and pleasure which involves a lot of eating, sleeping and refreshment. She is not permitted to be involved in any domestic chores, neither is she allowed to cook or wash her clothes even her inner wears. A bevy of beautiful young girls are always around her to take care of domestic chores. She does not bathe herself, rather an elderly woman that is specially employed by her mother to take care of her personal hygiene does the task. The category of women that qualify for such privileges are women of proven integrity and sound morals;usuallythose that have reached the age of menopause or those ones whose daughters have been married off. At this point, it is required of such a maiden to eat and sleep, wake and eat, and nothing else. She is not involved in tedious exercises but indoor-games, and this enables her to add weight as she is lavishly fed with rich and nourishing food. The Mbobpo gets a regular early massage of her body which is intended to make her body soft and supple.
In the past, the duration of fattening usually lasts between a year or two, but nowadays, a girl can be fattened for a duration of one month minimum and three months maximum, according to the financial strength of the girl’s parents. It is always a thing of pride for a girl to be fattened in Ibibio-land before marriage so that she can fit in well among other fattened ladies as a wife.
In the same anonymouslypublished article,the author confirms that “The Efik people of Cross River State, for example, hold their fattening seclusion (Mbobpo) in group. This is also applicable to the people of Oron in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria” (Vanguard online).
Fattening is smeared with palm oil at the commencement of the seclusion. She is given a secluded room, which is condoned with raffia strands. She is provided with a mat to lie upon, which is removed after the first 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 the Mbobpo. This is to exhibit the wealth of the parents.
1.1 Statement of the Problem
Mbobpo is dying out gradually. This was a medium by which young girls who were up to the age of marriage were taught how to live as a woman, how to cook and keep the house. This was popular among the Efiks, Oron, Ibibios. In recent years, the Mbobpo practice is gradually dying out because of; (i) the advent of Christian religion, since Christians see the Mbobpo practices as fetish, barbaric and ungodly. Christianity sees African culture and traditions generally as inferior and fetish, hence, do not support this tradition; and (ii)Western Education which places emphasis on formal education. This is not even yielding the desired results, rather, this informal education where girls were taught and trained to become good wivesand useful citizens to the society and corpus of womanhood, which of course was productive.