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Thus, the maiden is kept indoors in a separate room, having been withdrawn from all domestic chores and social activities of her family and that of the community as well.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.
1.2 The History of Ikot Oku Nsit
Ikot Oku Nsitcommunity is situated in a low lying region about six miles from Uyo Local Government Area along the Uyo-Etinan Road. The land is not more than two hundred feet above the sea level and is Watered by the Anyang Stream, the main source of water supply for the community and others along its banks, forming a natural boundary between the people of Ikot Oku Nsit Village and Mbiokporo Nsit in the North East and Ukat Nsit in the East.
Oral tradition has it that the people of Ikot Oku Nsit migrated from Atan in Itu Local Government Area into Ikot Ntuen Nsit. Under the leadership of an “Oku” (meaning a priest) who founded the village from whom the village takes its name,Ikot Oku (followers of Oku). They settled in a section of the village near a red iron wood tree Ukpa. As time went on, the other people from the same area (Atan) joined him and a small community known as Ikot Oku Ukpa (followers of Oku living by the Ukpa tree) sprang up directly controlled by Oku. This new community, a fierce and war-like people, helped by their kinsmen from Ikot Ntuen rose up against the Ubium people who had originally inhabited the area close to where Oku and his followers came to settle. They eventually drove the Ubium people south wards, and annexed the area once occupied by those they drove away to their own. There is a large old pit at UkpaEyop-now almost completely filled up, said to have been dug up several years ago by the Ubium people for mudding their houses. Oku’s people who helped him to expel the original inhabitants were allowed to live with him and were allotted plots. One section was given to Ekpor who with his people settled in the section of village now known as IkotEkpor. Another group attached itself from IkotOkuUkpa and settled in a section of the village now known as the three major groups or Efak- Ikot Oku Ukpa, Ikot Ekpor and Ata Idung, all forming the Ikot Oku Nsit Village and having all other villages of Edebom unit of Western Nsit clan.According to one ofmy sources, Chief Asuquo Udosen, “Chief Oku Ukpa founded Ikot Oku Nsit. His sacred shrine was known as U-UkpaEdebom in Ikot OkuUkpa. As time went on, more people spread to different parts of the vast area.1”
On the other hand, Uko Nkamado from Ikot Oku Ukpa family left and established a home in a virgin bush suitable for the cultivation of melon the white species known as “Ikpan”, the population of people who joined her in the new location and profession increased until it became a village and both the name Ekpene Ikpan but really a part of Ikot Oku Ukpa.
The people of Ikot Oku Nsit speak the Nsit dialect of the Ibibio language and can understand other dialects of the same language spoken by other clans or units in Ibibio land. Recently, the Efik language was regarded as the literary language at the beginning or in times past, because the first Bible and other books published in the vernacular were all written in Efik. However, the two dialects have several words in common and both the Efik and the Nsit people understand each other’s dialects.When the people of Ubium were driven to where they are at present along Ikot Eyo and Ikot Ubo in Eket by the people of Ikot Oku Ukpa. It was then necessary for the neighboring villages to make a treaty with the people of Ikot OkuUkpa. The reason for this was because the neighboring villages were afraid of the strength of these warriors so that they also might not be driven away.
The first two villages that came under this treaty wereAfaha Effiat and Ikot Obio Inyang, both in Iman clan.These villages with Ikot Oku had a meeting at their public squares for a swearing ceremony.At the swearing ceremony, both parties cut their skin to allow a flow of blood. This was put in a vessel, lightly diluted with water and both parties had to drink from the same vessel as a token of affiliation following this oath, no person from either party must inflict any corporal injury on one another which may cause any drop of blood. No penalty must be exacted from either party for any offence committed by either party, even if one is guilty of adultery. Both parties can make use of either party’s property and no action legal would be taken. If this is done, the person exacting the penalty or demanding revenge must die. That is why it is a common saying that “Iman isikit-te iyip iman” (which translates that “a relative is not expected to share in the bloodshed of another relative).
All inhabitants of Nsit are Iman to the people ofIkono because when the first sacrifice was offered to the god, “Anyang Nsit,” the lower Jaw of the cow known as “adaha ekpek enang” was presented to Ikono for a sacrifice to their god “Etefia.”To Offot the chest was given for a sacrifice to their god “Ukana Offot.”Another clan Ibesikpo had a share of the gift-the tail known as “Isim ayara enang Anyang Nsit”To Uruan was given the leg of the cow known as “Okpo enang Anyang Nsit”, this they offered to their god,“Ata-Okpo ndem Uruan.”The diaphragm known as “awa a-ta” was the share of Itam to sacrifice to their god Awa Itam.The stomach and the entrails were given to Ediene for their god,“Udo Ediene.”The last gift went to Itak. The crumbs and remainder of the meat known as Abam were for the people of Itak. These crumbs were deposited at their shrine by name Abam. Naturally the people of Itak were not pleased about such a gift. They regarded it as humiliation and degradation, a sort of non-recognition for them by giving them the crumbs when the flesh had been eaten by the people of Nsit.
It should be noted that apart from the two villages in Iman clan already mentioned, which consolidated their affiliation through the oath of blood, all others affiliations were through gifts of the share of the sacrifice offered to Anyang Nsit. The same restriction and regulation of exacting no penalty of bloodshed or any form of dropping blood held good in all cases of Iman-n rites.
The head of the village is the Obong “Idung” who is the symbolic head of the lineage. Subordinate to him are groups of “Obong Efak” who constitute or wards comprising a number of extended families (Ekpuk), the head of each being known as the “Obong Ekpuk”. Within the extended family organization the oldest man, usually the father assumes responsibility for the acquisition and allocation of land and for other major decisions affecting the family. This was before the advent of British rule. The Responsibilities of the Village Heads include: the religious, judiciary and administrative.
Religious:He was in charge of several deities “ndem” which were held responsible for the well-being of the village and it was his duty to sacrifice to these gods.
Judiciary:He was the figure head in all meetings. All important cases were referred to him and were tried and settled by the chief in council with several other family heads.
Administrative: As soon as the chief assumed office he had to appoint a drummer “Okpokho Ibit Idung” who in fact was his assistant and whose duty was to announce by drumming, the chief’s order for path cleaning, palm fruit cutting, clearing of communal farmland and so on.It is important to note that the chief had no authority beyond the limits of his own village. The present day government of the village is in the hand of the elders who form the village executive council known in the village as the committee. This is the council that formulates any policy in the village. The members of the committee are elected yearly.
There is also the mass village meeting “Esop Obio” or “Efe Idung” in which the proposals of the village committee are discussed, adopted, amended, and returned to the committee for review or to be rejected. The village chief is the president of both meetings but not the chairman.There are sectional meetings of the different wards within the village. These are the “Esop Efak” or “Mbono Efak” presided over by each representative or leader of a particular Efak. These deal with minor offenses within the Efak, arrangement for cleaning the Efak paths, preservation of economic trees in sectional groves and other matters allowed them by the village. Important cases like theft, witchcraft, violating the village laws, for example; cutting of palm fruits when the chief has not given order for all the people to harvest palm fruits and other major offences, are referred to and handled by the village council.
Within the Efak are the “Ekpuks” which are made up of small family units or households. The Ekpuk becomes very active and useful when individuals within the Ekpuk marry, for the members will render help in cash and kind to the young couple. Again, if a member of the Ekpuk dies, it is customary that they will contribute financially towards the burial ceremony, arrange visits to the bereaved family until the family dies without a child or after his or her children had all died, the entire burial arrangements are made by the Ekpuk.
Additionally, the only existing secret society till today in the “akata”. The akata is a play that seeks to bring out the ills of the either an individual or groups of individual or that of the village generally. The akata operates in the night and the singing is done in the compound or street of a person who has committed an offence like theft, a pregnant teenager, a murderer, a woman being pregnant during her late husband’s funeral ceremony and so on. The reason behind singing out the ills of the people or village is to expose the hidden crime/immorality to the person or village that what was committed in secret has been revealed to them and also to caution the offender not to repeat such act, and act as deterrent to others who may ever consider such recklessness.
In spite of the responsibilities of the village head and his ministers, members of social clubs and voluntary organizations render selfless services to the villages generally. Such clubs and organizations include: children’s club young men’s society, Nka Ikpo owo, women’s society.
Children’s Clubs:Members help to tidy the premises of church on Saturdays and here they learn to understand one another and live a communal life.
Young Men’s Society:- “Nka Mkparawa”: who are responsible for the maintenance of the village and help in the building of market squares.
“Nka Ikpo Owo:They deliberate on matters affecting the village as a whole.
Women’s Society: The women help in supplying of soft sand and materials for building houses, clearing farm lands. Membership is open to all married or once married women with reputable character.
All the above social organizations are very useful to the village. If the villages launch an important project, the work is sometimes divided up among the groups of societies and is carried out quickly and effectively. The village also gets loans from some of these organizations occasionally for important financial matters like sponsoring people in higher institutions of learning. Such loans are immediately refunded when the villages raises funds either by the collection of the palm fruits or by other means..