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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

Mbobpo in 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Thus, the maiden is kept indoors in a separate room, having been withdrawn from all domestic chores and social activities of her family and that of the community as well.

Mbobpo seclusion 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;  usually those 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 anonymously published 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.


  • 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 wives and useful citizens to the society and corpus of womanhood, which of course was productive.

1.2       The History of Ikot Oku Nsit

            Ikot Oku Nsit community 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 Ukpa Eyop-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 Ikot Ekpor. Another group attached itself from Ikot Oku Ukpa 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 of my sources, Chief Asuquo Udosen, “Chief Oku Ukpa founded Ikot Oku Nsit. His sacred shrine was known as U-Ukpa Edebom in Ikot Oku Ukpa. 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 Oku Ukpa. 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 were Afaha 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 of Ikono 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.

1.3       Objectives of the Study

There have been many attempts to capture this African tradition of women fattening in our area since the practice has been orally transmitted but unsuccessful in documenting and keeping safe this researches. This research seeks to;

  1. collect the facts through other sources and then preserving them in written forms for future references. This is because, without putting these facts down on paper, what is collected will soon be lost to those who actually partook in it.
  2. to bring out the manifestations of African traditional drama in the Mbobpo ceremony; they elucidate some authentic literary corpus.
  3. to illuminate the essence of Mbobpo ceremony to our cultural heritage
  4. to access the impact of the Western civilization on Mbobpo ceremony as it affects the Africa society.

1.4       Significance of the Study

This study seeks to tell the benefits and importance of the Mbobpo ceremony to the lifestyle of traditional Ibibio people. It also reveal the procedures on which women fattening is carried out in our society. This research also seeks to find and investigate the importance of traditional fattening of women as a unifying tool of Ibibio society. It further seeks the impact of western civilization on this tradition. This study is important in that it tries to highlight the role of Mbobpo in the shaping of girls who were approaching womanhood, the moral values that the Ibibio placed on chastity and the status of such integrity among the people in recent years.

1.5       Research Methodology

This research is a field research and as such, depends on a direct data collection method. It employs interviews from participants and knowledgeable members of the Ibibio society on the Mbobpo confinement. It elucidates the poems, songs, dramatic elements in the whole Mbobpo corpus, to ascertain it literary contents. The research also uses recorded and published information on mbobpo seclusion, some library materials from both public and private libraries as its secondary source of data collection. This are examined and songs and dramatic elements are analyzed in the process of this research.

1.6       Scope/Delimitation of the Study

This research focuses on the Mbobpo ceremony in Ikot Oku Nist in Nsit Ibom Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State. It covers the importance of the fattening room; it moral promotion, the values it protects as well as it potency as a unifying force among Ibibio people. This research is open to scholars who are interested in this research.

1.7 Theoretical Framework

The theory used in this research is the performance theory by Victor Turner. He was a British anthropologist who studied rituals and social change and was famous for developing the concept of liminality; the theory was first introduced by Arnold Van Gennep. He became famous too for coining the term “Communitas” – (unstructured community where all members are equal). Turner’s work revealed much about the processes of social change, both from the point of view of the individual experience and the development of common beliefs that characterize the social group. He researched into the meaning of rituals and their symbolism in this context. Through developing the concepts of liminality and communitas as examples of unstructured community experience in which all members have the same social status, Turner suggested that human beings require tie and separation from their social obligations to process and adjust to change. When people spend this time together, divested of the trappings and responsibilities of their previous social positions, equal participants in the transition to the new phase, deep bonds are formed which may be foundational to new phase of life they are about to enter (Turner 5).

Turner views all rituals as containing religious or spiritual components in the referents of the symbolism involved. He also views ritual as the essential mechanism for transmission of cultural identity. Valuing ritual and its symbolism, together with the experience of communitas for those making the transition from one phase to another, are Turner’s contribution to our understanding of how we can better human society.

Evidence shows that he was rather pragmatic in his approach to anthropology. He believes that social order depends on rituals and ceremonial performances. He sees culture as being in a constant state of change as members of the culture negotiated common beliefs. During his early career, Turner studied Ndembu tribe in Central Africa. While observing the nature and function of rituals and rites of passage, like many of the Manchester anthropologists of his time, he also became concerned with conflict, and created the new concept of social drama in order to account for the symbolism of conflict and crisis resolution among Ndembu villagers. In his Schism and continuity in African Society, he explains the concept of social dramas, arguing that dramas exist as a result of the conflict that is inherent in societies.

He however noted that in liminality, the transitional state between two phases, individuals were “betwixt and between” – they did not belong to the society that they previously were a part of, and they were not yet re-incorporated into that society. Liminality is a limbo, and ambiguous period characterized by humility, seclusion, tests, sexual ambiguity and communita,

“I have used the term “anti-structure,”… to describe both liminality and what I have called “communitas”. I meant by it not a structural reversal  … but the liberation of creativity, etc., from the normative constraints incumbent upon occupying a sequence of social statuses (Turner, 44).”

He spent his career exploring rituals. He began with the orthodox structural – functional position of British anthropologists, such as Radcliffe- Brown, but focused on how to understand the transmission of cultural symbols from generation to generation, and the changes in rituals that reflected social change.

Turner found that rituals usually occur in an organized, cyclical fashion, within which there is found a set of dominant ritual symbols. He invoked the work of Sigmund Freud, particularly his interpretation of Dreams, in recognizing that these symbols can stand for more than one referent that have several levels of meaning. (Turner, 38).

He argued that rituals, thus, are constructed of symbols, and as such they have three meanings; exegetical meaning is subjective, as explained by the person performing the ritual. The operational meaning is objective, observed by the researcher, and deals with the purpose of ritual in a society. Finally, the positional meaning takes all symbols into account and concerns the relationship between them. Turner also saw different people: The manifest meaning is apparent to the observer and related to the goal of the ritual; the latent meaning is one that observer has partial awareness of and may fully understand only later; while the hidden meaning belongs to the subconscious or unconscious level of the members of the culture and is generally not known by the outside observer (SIC), (Turner, 148).

Turner’s definition of ritual included the manipulation of symbols, and the reference that is made in ritual to a belief in supernatural beings or powers. According to Turner, ritual and essential element of religious belief. He later applied his study of rituals and rites of passage to world religion and lives of religious heroes. (Turner, 50)

Turner was also a superb ethnographer who constantly mused about his craft in his books and articles. Eclectic in his use of ideas borrowed from other theorists, he was rigorous in demanding that the ideas he developed illuminate ethnographic data. He was never a theorist for theory’s sake. A powerful example of his attitude can be found in the opening paragraph of the essay “Social Dramas and Ritual Metaphors” in Turner’s Dramas, Fields and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society.

In moving from experience of social life to conceptualization and intellectual history, I follow the path of anthropologists almost everywhere. Although we take theories into the field with us, these become relevant only if and when they illuminate social reality. Moreover, we tend to find very frequently that it is not a theorist’s  whole system which so illuminates, but his scattered ideas, his flashes of insight taken out of systemic context and applied to scattered data. Such ideas have a virtue of their own and may generate new hypotheses. They even show how scattered facts may be systematically connected! Randomly distributed through some monstrous logical system, they resemble nourishing raising, in a cellular mass of inedible dough. The intuitions, not the tissue of logic connecting them, are what tend to survive in the field experience. (Turner, 46)

In his later years, Turner’s interest shifted toward performative drama and experimental theater as modern forms of liminality.


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