IKWERRE HISTORY:THE LOST TRADITIONS OF THE IKWERRE PEOPLE (MGBEDE OJIJI) ~Chikere Wanjoku

Mgbede or Ojiji is a part of the lost culture of the Ikwerre people. When it started or where it came from is what no one can say. Mgbede or Ojiji (fattening of a girl before marriage).

The women are separated from the usual household or abode. This shows the change of a woman’s status from a single, virginal individual to someone looking forward to moral sex, pregnancy, and childbearing. The songs during the ritual convey the maturation of womanhood.

The Mgbede or Ojiji is a rite of passage for women marking entrance or acceptance into society. It is a formal admission to Womanhood/adulthood in a community or one of its formal components.

In an extended sense, it signifies a transformation in which the initiate is ‘reborn’ into a new role.
The culture holds that healthy offspring, physically fit enough to cope with life, can be born only to healthy, physically fit mothers. Therefore, very every precaution to safeguard the beauty of womanhood and all it entails before marriage. This is the time to prepare, refresh, prepare intellectually, emotionally, physically in readiness for the status of a married woman.

Mgbede or Ojiji is an expensive and proud affair. A woman in Mgbede (Ojiji) was not supposed to cook, fetch water, or do any other chores. Not all persons in Mgbede (Ojiji) have been engaged or married. For those engaged or married the burden of the Mgbede is completely taken on by the husbands or husbands to be while the parents of the girl look on passively. Such a situation was an admission of poverty in most instances by the parents of the girl. Certain conditions are met before a girl goes into Oro uhie or Ulo uhie for Mgbede (Ojiji) such as the purchase of wrapper, lots of waist beads, necklace, and payment of money for body beautification i.e., Ite uhie or Ede Ala, etc.

The period of Mgbede is mainly determined by the availability of wealth of the parents. Some stay for a period of six months to one year before the outing ceremony. Mgbede (Ojiji) is something every girl treasure as she would receive so many gifts from parents, relations, and suitors. She values these gifts more than the bride price which belongs to her parents alone.
For the young maidens, the Mgbede (Ojiji) hut was a social hub where they could talk to each other, eat. drink without unnecessary distractions from the male folk. Whenever an unwanted man shows up at the Mgbede (Ojiji) hut, the women would pick up the music pot (Usually the Udu used for water but specially prepared for music) and sing,
“I will not talk to a dog,
Even if one man were left.
Never, never talk to a dog.
Even if one man were left. (Amadi, 2013, P. 109).

When the man refuses to leave, he is stained all over with Camwood(uhie) and other items of colourings in the Mgbede (Ojiji) hut.

The initiation evening was full of movement; young girls bearing parcels of camwood (Uhie), chalk, and yellow dye (Edoo), young men toting calabashes of palm wine, musicians wrestling with drums. It was an evening of feasts and dancing when she emerges as narrated by Elechi Amadi,
“When she finally emerged with two little girls who had been helping her, Nyeche gaped at her. She seemed to have put on more beads and corals for they now covered half her thighs and the little strip of wrapper served to hold the beads in place more than anything else. From the level of the navel, the narrow cloth passed between her legs and up again behind where it disappeared among the beads and corals …. with her Ojongo hairstyle the Mgbede looked taller…. the rings of indigo round her breasts emphasized their pointedness. Her eyelashes were also done up in indigo bringing out the sparkle in her eyes.” (Amadi, ‘2013’, P.86-87).
Another part of the dressing of the Mgbede was the putting on of the spiral by the blacksmiths. These Spirals were known as Ula caused the Mgbede to walk majestically and Its clicking sounds came to symbolize the institution of Mgbede.

The Mgbede world was a different world. A world of camwood (Uhie), chalk (Nzu), and yellow dye (Edoo), of decorations, of soft mats, of Ede Ali and indigo designs, of beads and corals and soft shiny skin.it was the mysterious world of women in Ikwerre which has disappeared with modernity.

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