Thursday, 5 May 2016

OBITUN : GIRLS PUBERTY INITIATION CEREMONY IN ONDO KINGDOM By Victor Akinkuolie

Obitun ceremony is a puberty initiation ceremony performed in the olden days by the Ekimoguns for the girl child prior to her marriage.

The Obitun ceremony is quite different from Obitun cultural dance performed these days as entertainment or gala shows during public functions. Though the ceremony in this traditional form is almost completely extinct, due to the introduction of western education, Christianity, church baptism and other religious beliefs. Yet its legacy is reflected in the much watered down form of cultural dances performed during chieftaincy conferment ceremonies or other state occasions.

The real traditional Obitun rite, that is the puberty initiation for both boys and girls child was designed to mark that turning point in life, when the adolescent blossomed into adulthood.

In Ondo kingdom, the ceremony was such an important landmark in the societal organisation, in such that it was considered very derogatory for a girl child not to perform Obitun ceremony. In those days, it used to be shameful for a girl not being initiated into Obitun.

For the young Ondo maiden, Obitun was a celebration of life and living, a rite that could coincide with the burial of an important member of the family. In the more recent past, as the ceremony assumed greater importance, it became associated with chieftaincy installation ceremonies.

As part of the ceremony, it highlighted the status of the person being buried or installed a chief, as well as that of the parents of the girls involved. Any number of girls could perform the ceremony together and they need not be the biological daughters of the new chief or the person being buried.

In this regard, whenever the occasion arose for the Obitun ceremony, those girls who had attained the age of puberty within and outside the immediate family circle would be informed, and their parents would start to make elaborate preparations ahead of the ceremony.

They would get ready plenty of food stuffs, choice traditional clothing, ornaments, tubers of yam for pounded yam, ingredients for Okro soup, as well as other essentials for the various aspects of this very elaborate ceremony.

The Obitun ceremony which normally lasted for seven days and for the maidens, it was always a memorable occasion and never-to be forgotten once in a life time experience. For the duration of the nine days in which the ceremony would last, the maiden would always deck out daily in varieties of her family's choicest attires and beads.

On the very first day of the outing, the special dressing for the maiden is called "Eto" in local parlance, while the girl hair style would be done up in a special bonded style and decorated with beads. In those days, if the girl is a special class of maiden such as princess or the daughter of a chief or community leader, she would have extra special coral beads added to her hair style.

As part of the dressing mode, the Obitun also had the black flat beads called "Bebe" in local parlance, the black flat beads will be set in zigzag form to cover her body right from the hips up to her chest. Another interesting part of Obitun dress is the beautifully beaded sash worn diagonally across each shoulder to fall on the opposite side of her body.

On the Obitun face, back, chest and legs, intricate decorative marks were made with a blackish herbal paste called "Osun" (camwood) and white chalk, the Obitun would dance beautifully around amidst drumming and singing and would be bestowed with gifts in cash and kind.

Throughout the duration of the ceremony, the young lady would not be called by her name, she would be called Obitun, prepared and well fed in a manner reminiscent of the traditional fattening room of the Calabars. Her meals were specially prepared, her bath water was fetched daily before anybody fetches from the well, borehole or source of water for the village in those days.

On rising in the morning, she must not step on unswept floor, her bead had to be changed daily, even the bowl of water with which she washed her hands before and after each meal was held up for her by a special maid servant appointed to serve her for the nine days period of the ceremony.

Obitun ceremony in Ondo kingdom, apart from its social implication of the emergence into adulthood, it is an initiation ceremony which had a number of cleansing rites built into it. In fact, it was sometimes performed for older married women as a propitiation rite to appease or ward off familiar spirits which might be troubling such a woman in her business or family life, even in respect of child bearing.

Though, to some family in Ondo kingdom it is believed that this propitiation rite at times is not necessary, if the Ifa oracle or any deity from their family did not prescribe it, particularly because women were believed to have strong links with the spirit world.

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