The Fattening Rooms of Calabar: The Fattening Room Rites Before Marriage
Things associated with the fattening room
1 The woman might be seen as virtuous
2 They believe it makes child bearing easier
3 It is seen as a privilege
4 The woman learn songs, folklore, traditions
5 They learn how to handle financial issues
6 They are fed continuously
7 Sometimes they are massaged in special oil
8 Learn how to please the husband
South eastern Nigeria
The Efik people of Calabar in the cross river area of Nigeria are just part of over fifteen thousand diverse ethnic tribes you can find in the Country. A highly educated people that consist of politicians, academics, top businessmen, educationist and industrialist makes them a highly respected people, but they have a curious marriage rite that revolves around getting fat.
Even before the tradition marriage takes place an Efik woman determined to follow the tradition has to go into the fattening room. In the fattening room they would be subjected to seclusion for several months and fed a large quantity of rich fatty food daily so they can gain excess weight and become obese. In Calabar an obese woman presented to her husband that way symbolizes wealth, prosperity, good fortune and beauty.
The fattening room is common in the south eastern region of Nigeria which includes Akwa Ibom that has local government areas such as Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Ika, Obot Anam and a few others. The fattening room was in bygone days a very important traditional and cultural event, characterized by elaborate celebrations when the woman completes the fattening process.
In the past only basic apparel was worn by the woman in the fattening room which might be a cloth rapped around her waist and body paintings usually made out of clay.
A woman emerging from the fattening room
The Fattening tradition
The fattening room is the place would be brides from the Efik tribe prepare themselves for marriage, family life and motherhood. In the past it was compulsory but in modern times only those bound by a need for tradition and the rich still carry out this practice.
The reasons for this interesting culture is to have a transition between being a young single girl and becoming a woman, its underlining symbolism includes attributes like virtue, sexual purity, morality and home making. Being obese after going to the fattening room becomes an endorsement of these values including the beauty that comes with getting obese.
In the eyes of most African men not exclusive to the Efik is a well rounded woman that has ample flesh in the right places. To most African men having nice rounded flesh makes a woman very beautiful and alluring.
Perception of beauty differs in Africa
Obesity and western perception
Being obese comes with many negative attributes which are all health related yet in the African context an obese woman is regarded as healthy, a symbol of prosperity and immense beauty. Despite the risks associated with obesity many women experience the fattening room tradition especially the Efik people.
Western perception has to do with the quality of life and the underlining health issue that being overweight brings, some of which are coronary heart disease because of increased body mass. Others like plaque clogging, blocking and narrowing the arteries, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, abnormal blood fat, metabolic problems and even early death through stroke.
African men have a preference for round, fat, obese women which in their eyes is the epitome of beauty; they prefer them over slim women who they see as unhealthy. Fat overweight women are considered a symbol of desire, prosperity, wealth, homeliness, motherliness and virtue. Sometime easier pregnancy and fertility are associated with fat women making the fattening room culture an important aspect of Efik culture and tradition.
Fattening rooms go to great lengths so their women look beautifully overweight thereby fulfilling tradition marriage requirements before getting married.
Hard facts on the fattening room
Purpose for going into a fattening room
What is the purpose of the fattening room
The fattening room of Calabar
The fattening room main function is to make the woman desirable and beautiful by adding a considerable amount of weight, getting her to a desired weight are subject to certain conditions. The woman is placed in seclusion for an extended period of time ranging from three months to six months and in extreme cases nine months.
The seclusion and isolation is total and she has no visitors either male or female and is restricted to her immediate environment which could be a bungalow, hut, or small compound. Interaction with anyone during this period is strictly forbidding but more modern settings might have a few home comforts.
Within the fattening room the woman undergoing the process might be attired in traditional outfits, is feed continually and is allowed lots of sleep. The woman within the fattening rooms main activity is eat food rich on carbohydrates and saturated fat with lots of sleep.
Kind of food eaten
The woman undergoes a rigorous routine of excessive feeding that involves food rich in complex carbohydrate, protein rich food, and meals loaded with fat. They consume native salads called Ekpan Koko, yam, lots of rice, beans, cassava, wheat, snail, bush meat and fish.
They are usually overfed and must eat even when they don’t have any appetite, the process is grueling, forced and can be mentally and physically tasking. Other rich food might be native delicacies prepared with palm oil, groundnut oil, fried and loaded with calories.
They may also relish the taste of palm wine undergo massages, body treatment, stretching, rubbing of lotions, use of herbal concoctions and oils on the body.
The Kind of food served in the Fattening roomClick thumbnail to view full-size
Happenings in the fattening room
easy child bearing
eating non stop
learn traditional ways
sleeping a lot
Fattening room other purposes
The girls and women that undergo the traditional requirements of going into a fattening room are taught many things; they are tutored in traditional art and crafts. This may include learning traditional songs, understanding oral traditions, they are shown how to be home makes, mange funds and ways to please there would be husband.
Going into the fattening room also enforces the belief of virtue, coming room a good respectable family, having privilege, fertility and becoming a total woman. Sometimes a more sinister purpose like circumcision is carried out which erroneously is believed to aid child birth and reduces the likelihood of promiscuity. In more modern fattening room practices this particular function is banned and long forgotten.
Each fattening room has different durations depending on the location, financial commitment and time available. Local fattening rooms in the villages are more grueling and more routed in steep cultural practices as stated earlier, while modern one has slightly relaxed restrictions.
The duration of a woman in seclusion within the fattening room could be between three months, six months to an entire year. Which is spent eating, sleeping, learning traditional stuff, body treatment and massage without any contact with the outside world except minders.
Outfit worn by the woman
It was said that in the past women in the fattening room stayed in the room either naked or partially clothed, but is not a hard and fast rule. They may be allowed cloths, ethnic outfits and regular casual outfits especially in modern fattening rooms.
Entering the place is a different matter altogether, the woman is beautified in finery, colorful materials, beads around the waist, hair properly woven in cornrows and bangles on ankle and wrists. She may be painted in earthy colors all over the body, entering the fattening room is characterized by funfair celebrations and excitement especially in remote villages that still do the practice.
She may be allowed a little comfort or none at all depending on the fattening room’s mode of operation, the women are usually taken good care off by some elderly women who teach them traditional ways of doing things. Such as how to cook certain dishes, how to take proper care of her new family when she gets married and other stuff, the celebrations after she completes her fattening is much bigger than when she went in.
The woman might wear lovely costumes, have nice earrings, adornments, beads, chains, bangles before during and after the process, the fattening room can be very difficult and tortuous for some women turning a 60kg woman into a 130kg.person.
Ebony life Television. fattening room presentation
Misconceptions about the fattening room
In some media the fattening room has been glamorized making it seem like a journey to blissful pampering, indulgence, spa treatment and sumptuous meals. But in reality its nothing like that, the fattening room can be oppressive, tough, frightening, forced and tough on the woman.
It might have laudable goals like teaching morals, homemaking and financial issues but sometimes culture and traditions can also have negative aspects.
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