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Unique Cultural Rites of Passage In Nigeria

In various parts of the world, there are different practices that mark transitioning from one phase of life to another. It could be as simple as handing over the keys to a car to a young teenager showing that he is now an adult and responsible for their own decision or as elaborate as throwing rituals or spiritual events that welcome the person to a new
phase.

In Nigeria, most of these rites are typically celebrated through music, dance and ceremony. These rites may be similar to one or more tribes, bearing a different name somewhere else and having a slight alteration. A lot of them used to be barbaric with female genital mutilation being one of the most well-known amongst the others. While the number of tribes practising these barbaric rites are reduced and more tribes are adopting new practices that are less harmful, there are still some groups in the country that celebrate these today.

Here are some of the most interesting rites of passage in Nigeria.

Iria Ritual

The Iria Ritual is popular to various tribes in the Niger Delta, with some forms of the ritual being harsher than the others. It typically involves young girls who are between 14 and 16 undergoing rituals that prepare them for marriage. In some places, these girls have to be bare-breasted in front of the crowd for inspection. The goal of this is to ensure that their virginity is intact.

The young girls also get to visit the fattening room where they are well fed with body nourishing meals, especially pounded yam mixed with pounded plantain. In the fattening room, the ladies are pampered and are prepared to dance half-naked at the market square. At the end of their stay in the fattening room, they are changed and look more beautiful. Their bodies are then painted in different colours for the dance.

In time past, it was believed that if one did not go through the Iria ritual it would be very difficult for her to have a child. One of the common belief among the people is that young women going through puberty have attachments to water spirits and so, they gather at dawn to chase the spirits. After this, a senior male member of the tribe strikes the girls with sticks sending them back to the village.

Iwa Akwa

In some parts of Eastern Nigeria, Iwa Akwa, also known as cloth wearing is the tradition that marks a young boy’s initiation into manhood. It used to be more widespread in times past but today, it is celebrated once in three years in some communities such as Ugbo, Uboma, Umuezegwu to mention but a few. When a young man is in his twenties, there is an investigation into his family and lifestyle to know about his eligibility. Some of the questions asked include whether his mother was properly married and whether he is linked to the Osu caste system, paternally or maternally. When everything checks out, he would then join an age group and he would have to buy a high-quality George wrapper. The festival is traditionally a two-day event. On the first day which is the initiation, previous celebrants come to show their seniority to the new initiates. The new initiates have to perform certain rites such as fetching water and shining the shoes of the older initiates as a sign of respect. On the second day, which is the main day of Iwa Akwa, the wrapper is spread in front of the family compound and blessed. Then the wrapper is worn and there’s a procession along the streets with pomp and fanfare.

The wrapper is seen as a sign of coverage. Before now, he was a naked child and now he is a clothed adult. It welcomes him into manhood and he can now take up responsibilities in his family and community

The Sharo

The Sharo is practised amongst the Fulani tribe in Nigeria. Sharomeans flogging and celebrates the bravery and endurance of young men who intend passing from that phase to being referred to as men. They are bare-chested and are escorted to the ring by young women with drums and cheers from spectators. A couple of these young men recite mantras during the flogging and others undergo a fortification process in preparation for the day. The families, on the other hand, pray that their sons do not bring disgrace to them as one who doesn’t withstand the flogging is seen as a disgrace. After the flogging, the boys become men and are allowed to marry the women they want.

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