The lockdown due to the current circumstances of the Corona Virus has got us reflecting and imagining how it must have been for maidens to be kept secluded in the fattening rooms of Cross River and Akwa Ibom State for months leading to their weddings. The rampant visits from your refrigerator to the kitchen and back to your bedrooms, especially for those who aren’t working from home, is almost the same feeling as that of being in a fattening room. The fattening room tradition ‘Nkugho’ or ‘Mbopo’ has been integral predominantly in the Efik Culture of Cross River State as well as Akwa Ibom State.
This culture though gradually extinct is one in which the character and behavioural attributes of women from our region can be easily traced. Women from Cross River and Akwa Ibom States are known to be very homely, industrious and assiduous towards their men. These are habits that consciously or not have passed on from generations of women and mothers to their daughters.
In the fattening room, these maidens were taught to be homemakers, to please, seduce, care for their men and general precaution on sex, pregnancy, child care and self-care. They were treated to the best meals said to help them attain a perfect size and figure for their husbands to be. Visitors were never allowed during this period except for the older and experienced women who fed them, massaged their bodies and provided them with some beauty treatments. In addition to being educated on sexual health and how to please their men, they were taught how to be a good host to their inlaws and family members. Most of their activities included eating and sleeping as most of us do now. Other activities included traditional songs/dances and traditional artefacts. At the end of the process, the maidens were ceremoniously showed off to the community.
The fattening rooms remain an age-old traditional rite of passage from Adolescence to Womanhood. It was considered a privilege for a young woman to go through the process as it was an indication of virtue and sexual purity. A well rounded and fattened maiden was seen as proof of prosperity, beauty and fertility. The exposure to the western world and culture brought with it some health consciousness and this practice fell short of this aspect as the fattening process was seen to expose these women to health issues like obesity and diabetes.
This consciousness has now been imprinted in our lives as so many women of all ages take to exercising and dieting to attain a slimmer and trimmer figure in contrast to what the fattening rooms envisioned. Women take more caution in attaining a perfect shape leading to their weddings and the consuming of heavy meals to gain weight is now a taboo in the minds of most women. The lockdown due to Corona Virus, however, has created an avenue for a compulsory fattening room in various homes. The pandemic and lockdown following it have been overwhelming, so no judgement to anyone in the fattening rooms right now. We all must do what we can to stay happy, motivated and healthy in these trying times. Every new day is a blessing, take it one day at a time.