Nigerian Ujewen Clan Includes Actual Auction of Young Girls in the Market
Like many cultures in Nigeria, marriage is an integral part of the Ujewen, one of the clans of the Urhobo kingdom, traditional practice. It is one of the final rites of passage and acceptance as a member of the community, particularly for women. When the young girls of the community are considered “ripe for marriage” a lot of rituals are set in motion to ensure that they all get hitched.
Few weeks before the ceremony which in the native dialect is called Epho- which loosely translates to “maiden circumcision ceremony”- they are displayed in the market. The young girls will be rounded up together and circumcised by the older women of the community. The girls are to remain in their parents’ homes for weeks to get healed before they continue the process.
For days, the girls will be clothed in expensive fabrics and their hair will be covered in ornaments. The girls are covered in Isele- reddish locally made cream that is believed to make them beautiful. Their frontal hair will be scrapped in the morning of the ceremony itself. That morning the girls who are in the process will in mass to the stream to bathe. The elderly women will assist in the bathing of the girls.
The girls are instructed not to look back else great calamity will befall them. “They must not look back on their way to the stream or else their family will experience great calamity for the rest of the year” Emmanuel Akpovoka a native of the community says.
Looking back from the stream is regarded as a bad omen and so, for this reason, it is rumoured that many fathers consult traditional deities and soak their daughters in charms to ensure it doesn’t happen. The girls are finally stripped naked except with a short piece of cloth tied around their waist and are escorted in a file to the market square leaving their chests bare and nude.
“No woman who goes through this process comes out ugly. All the woman look beautiful” Mr Akpovoka continues. In the market, the women dance briefly while eligible men of the community observe. Eligibility for the men is anyone who has money. Shortly after the women’s dance the men move into the crowd and pick their choice which is whoever catches their eye for a wife.
Prior to this, most of the girls have never met or had any form of conversation with the men. The market square is usually their first encounter. The fathers of the girls who have been selected by the eligible men will thereafter bill the men who have selected their daughter any amount they believe is worthy of the money they have spent during the preparation for the ceremony.
Some families sell properties like lands to put their daughter through the process. It is rumoured that many years ago men who were not very well-to-do rarely get wives because they can’t afford to pay for the process. The ceremony usually starts in June/July.
Girls who are not selected at the market square are to continue dressing in the expensive clothing and beads as well as rubbing the Isele for the next six months. A high colt bed called Isiogbo will be created for the girls to sleep in while they await their suitors. According to Emmanuel “All the women who go through this process surely find a suitor. We have never had any girl who didn’t find a husband”.
Ogheneochuko Umukoro, a 67-year-old native woman, says that “some of the women die during the circumcision process. Now many people do not practice it anymore but it still happens in the secret. Doctors have enlightened the people over and over again to desist from the practice”
The Ujewen people are from the Ugheli South Local Government Area of Delta state. Modernity has eroded the compulsion of this practice but it is still carried out in the villages till date by a handful of loyalists.