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Bride Confinement, Fattening and Circumcision: Promoting Violence Against Women

In Nigeria, like in any other country, so many traditional practices aid and abate violence against women. These practices not only do subjugate women to substandard positions but also inflict psychological and physical pains on women.

“I didn’t want to go through the confining and fattening process but my uncle forced me to do it, I cried all through. The circumcision was particularly painful. If I didn’t obey, I will be ex-communicated by the family,” says a 44 year-old Patience.

Mbodi-- which means bride fattening is a cultural practice where women of marriageable age undergo the process of body fattening. It is widely observed by Efik and Ibibio peoples of Cross Rivers state-- a state located on the south eastern part of Nigeria. Mbodi involves the forceful feeding of would-be brides to make them fat. This is simply because in this community a fat woman is considered beautiful and presentable to the husband. This is done despite the impacts Mbodi practice has on the health of these women. It usually leads to obesity and put women in other dangerous health conditions.

The would-be brides are taken into fat houses, or huts completely cut off from the rest of the society. They are made to eat, sleep and avoid moving their bodies as much as possible. This confinement usually lasts for six weeks.
The rite which prepares a young woman for marriage is done when the bride price has been paid. Mbodi is usually done along side circumcision (Female Genital Mutilation).

Among the Efik and Ibibio tribes, popularly referred to as the Calabar people of Nigeria, it is a pride for parents to give their daughters into marriage. The joy is made complete when the prospective wife is fattened and declared a virgin.
They believe fattening brides prior to marriage makes them healthy and presentable to the husband and at the same time portrays her family as wealthy. It is common belief among both the Calabar men and women that a fat woman makes a healthy wife. The husband derives pleasure if the wife is fat; and the bride feels honored and respected when she is fat. The strong belief is that a woman’s beauty is in her weight.

According to Emmanuel, a native of Ibiono-Ibom, “women of marriageable age in my area go through the mbodi process so that they will be fattened and look healthy and attractive to their husbands. If a woman is not fat, how will the husband know that she is healthy?” It is believed that a woman who is preparing for marriage must not only look fat and healthy, but must be groomed in house-keeping and cooking-- the areas believed to be women's sphere. Mbodi provides opportunity for the would-be bride to be inculcated with such qualities. During the process, she is also taught how to satisfy her husband sexually.

Emmanuel says Mbodi encourages young ladies to keep their virginity-- a virgin bride is seen as an asset. During the Mbodi rite, the girl`s virginity is checked and it is a taboo and disgrace for her family if she is not found a virgin.

In some cases, more than one person can be kept in a fattening room .The expenses of cooking and other costs related to accomplishing the fattening of the bride is not necessarily the sole responsibility of the bride`s parents. The would-be husband shares the cost.

While in the fattening room, the bride is fed on special delicacies such as ekpankuko (combination of slice unripe plantain, vegetable, fish and oil) and other special soups. She is forced to take so much garri (ground cassava soaked in water) and made to drink a lot of water. She is forced to eat more than her system can carry, after which she goes to sleep.

Bride fattening does not entail feeding only. It goes with body massaging. An older matron does a lot of work massaging the body of the bride. The matron uses local chalk on the entire body of the bride during the massage. The older woman first applies palm oil on the body of the bride before massaging with local chalk. She then uses a local herb called ‘’nsang’’ on the palm and feet of the bride. After the massaging, ‘’akukin’’, a body smoothener is used to smoothen the body. The ''akukin'' is also used to make colorful designs on the bride’s body.

At the elapse of six weeks, the bride is paraded in the market square. She is placed on a horse or carried by able-bodied men. She wears ireke (beads), which are wrapped around her waist. Her chest is exposed and her breasts are kept bare. She wears precious jewels called ‘’ntong’’ on her wrists and legs. As she is paraded, she dances while people give her gifts.

Circumcision of women who go through the mbodi cultural rite can take place during the fattening process while the bride is still confined, or shortly before the delivery of her first baby. The myth remains that the woman must be circumcised before the delivery of her first baby to prevent the head of the baby from hitting her uncut clitoris. It is believed that if the baby`s comes in contact with the uncut clitoris, the baby will die.

Although the practiced has been curbed in most of these localities, it is still highly practiced in the Annang community of Cross Rivers state, Nigeria. The present economic hardship in Nigeria coupled with the campaign against Female Genital Mutilation by some Organizations and United Nations agencies have helped to discourage the practice. The government of Cross River State is said to have placed a ban on the practice but the Annang community still upholds the practice.

Mr. Saviour who hails from Ibiono-Ibom, one of the communities where the fattening is no longer practiced says doing away with the Mbodi is not in the best interest of their culture. He says that abolition of mbodi and the Female Genital Mutilation promotes promiscuity among girls. “How can the society prove that the girl is still a virgin? Let me tell you, these girls who go about with the uncut clitoris are sexually uncontrollable.”

Mama Ekaete is 74 years old. She passed through the mbodi rite before she got married. She laments that the dieing down of the mbodi rite is a major cause of problems in marital homes. A bride who is not circumcised is bound to be promiscuous and infidelity on the part of women breaks homes. A man can be allowed to have concubines, but it is not culturally allowed and will not be the same with women. Mama Ekaete also maintains that with the abolition of mbodi, brides may not want to retain their virginity until marriage because they have no cultural obligation to do so. This is different from men.

However, this is high time Nigerian women stand up to reject cultural practices which promote violence against them. Women deserve the rights to choose to participate in practices which promote their interest and not those to please the society.

Celine

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

Comments

Leina's picture

Dear Celine, Thank you for

Dear Celine,
Thank you for shedding light to this issue.Such practices have to be brought to light and eradicated.Why should someone be force fed and made to gain enormous weight just to suit the desires of others.Like you have mentioned the health of these women is at stake!Something needs to be done.To worsen things this is done along side circumcision.It `s so sad!But I see hope and change in the nearest future.
Blessings,
Leina

Celine's picture

Dear Leina,Yes, hope and

Dear Leina,

Yes, hope and change in the nearest future. Women from the areas are beginning to see reasons why they should abhor to such practices. We should learn to agree to practices that edify our womanhood and not the ones that will please societies.

Thank you for reading dear sister

Celine

katina maria's picture

We pray together

Dear Leina
We all pray together and hold our heads up fpr all this strong women of Africa.Thanks of sharring this stories with us we learn alot.
Take Care
katrina

Celine's picture

Hi Katrina, Thank you for

Hi Katrina,

Thank you for reading the post and for the prayers.

Celine

Sharontina's picture

Dear Celine, Harmful

Dear Celine,
Harmful traditional practices against women in most Africa’s cultural- traditional settings have not abated, despite criticisms and campaigns against them even as women continued to groan helplessly under such inhuman treatments. Many of those acts constitute an abuse of the rights of the women, yet they are condoned as customs or traditional order of things. I have heard many of those but this is new to me. For the first time i am hearing about this fattening process. And FGM before delivery is yet another foolish and brutal act to show their barbarism.

A total elimination of such practices requires greater efforts in terms of information advocacy and increasing public awareness. But i see a positive change by means of collective efforts making our women's voices louder and louder that someday these practices of cruelty will vanish forever.

Love and peace.

Merlin Sharontina

Celine's picture

Dear Sharontina, It is our

Dear Sharontina,

It is our responsibilities to bring up these unheard issues. Yet they are issues affecting women at local societies. Yes, we advocate for total elimination of practices which fringe on women's human rights and at the same time degrade them in societies.

Cheers,
Celine

Katharina's picture

Dear Celine, I'm glad that

Dear Celine,
I'm glad that you brought up these issues, because we cannot raise enough awareness of these horrible crimes committed against women and their physical and mental integrity for that matter. What you write is really touching and I think this is what makes your post so powerful, because you manage to connect to real people in your community. Please continue sharing.
My thoughts are with you!
Kathrina

Celine's picture

Dear Kathrina, Thank you so

Dear Kathrina,

Thank you so much for your nice words.

Warm regards,
Celine

susa's picture

Thank you for raising awareness

While it was stomach-churning for me to read your post, I am so glad you wrote it, and so descriptively as well, for it raises awareness of these cruel and inhumane practices, but more than that, helps those of us who are far away from the cultures and traditions of which you speak understand that they are not acceptable to you and those who share your concerns. Too often, we who are outside a culture but seek to be empathetic while supporting basic human rights, are told to "butt out" because we are not respecting local culture and tradition. But when someone like you speaks out so forcefully, it helps everyone see that there is no excuse for cruelty and inhumanity parading as "tradition". Thank you for bringing this story to World Pulse and beyond!
Susa

Celine's picture

Yes, we can afford to 'butt

Yes, we can afford to 'butt out' when the tradition and culture is not abusive on the rights or harmful to the recipients. Speaking out is a duty we owe ourselves and our communities. Often times, most of the recipients are voiceless and I don't think we should see that as acceptable.

Thank you for putting it rightly-- "there is no excuse for cruelty and inhumanity parading as tradition."

Cheers,
Celine

jadefrank's picture

voice

Dearest Celine,

Your writing is always so powerful. I found this piece especially difficult to wrap my heart around as violence directed towards women in the name of religion or culture go against my beliefs of human rights and dignity for all. By speaking out against these abusive, cultural practices, you are giving voice to our sisters who do not have the access, the venue or who do not yet possess the strength to speak out.

Together we are stronger.

Much love to you my sister!

xoxo
Jade

Celine's picture

voice

Sister Jade,

Thank your for your nice comments.

Yes, there are so many practices in the name of religion and culture that go against our beliefs of human rights and dignity for all. Unfortunately, in some cases, when the recipients of such practices suffer in silence and may especially be classified as vulnerable because of one social condition or the other, they lack the sense of coordination and the voice to speak out. I owe it a duty to be the mouth piece of the voiceless in my community.

You may like to read this: http://img.asianpressinstitute.org/?p=372#more-372

Cheers Sis!

Celine

bewa's picture

Stand Up

Dear Celine,
Thank you sharing information about these cultural practices. FGM has become well-known, but it is interesting to learn about mbodi, massaging and the parading of women through the market that often accompanies FGM. It seems that all of this is rooted in the idea of women as objects instead of human beings. An idea that is at the heart of inequality and violence against women as well. You raise some important points about how and why it is so difficult to change longstanding cultural beliefs and practices. I like what you say about women standing up to reject practices that harm them. Men should stand up too. Thank you Celine.

Celine's picture

Stand Up

Dear Bewa,

Thank you for reading my post.

Yes, men should stand up too-- when the belief and practice is harmful to men and equally threaten their rights as humans.

Celine

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