Monday, 30 October 2017

The Kalabari's Iria

The Kalabari’s Iria
         Onyinyechi scrolled through her Mother’s What’s App contacts. She was going through each of them. One of them shocked her.

“Onyi, what are you doing with my phone?” Mother asked as soon as she saw Onyinyechi.

Onyinyechi was too distracted to respond to that question.

“Mummy, your young friend Aunty Ibufuro has gained so much weight just after her first child and why is she doing her traditional wedding again?”

Mother took her phone from her and looked at Aunty Ibufuro’s What’s App profile picture.

“Oh, that’s not her wedding. It’s just her Iria.”

“Iria?” Onyinyechi was confused.

Mother sighed knowing she had a lot of explaining to do.

“Iria is an important ceremony by the Kalabari people. Kalabari is an ethnic group in the South-Western part of Rivers State. It is made up of three local government areas: Akuku-Toru, Degema and Asari-Toru which is the traditional headquarters.
The Iria cultural dance is displayed at important occasions such as chieftaincy installations, marriage and burials. It is also performed after the ‘fattening room’ period. The delivery of the baby – usually the first child- marks the beginning of the preparations for the fattening room. The new mother – the Iriabo- is confined to a ‘fattening room’ for three to six months, depending on the financial capacity of her husband. During this period, she is pampered and receives many gifts and food items. She is served delicacies like ‘onunu’, ‘isila’ and ‘ikili-odu’. She is expected to gain weight – in fact, it’s a proof of beauty and that her husband has taken care of her well. She would be taught dance steps to showcase at the Iria cultural dance. For the dance ceremony, she would be dressed in the typical Kalabari traditional attire.
A wrapper – George or Indian- would be wrapped around her waist like a full skirt, and a piece around her chest area. Her neck, thighs, ankles, arms and waist, would be adorned with coral beads. She would also hold a saucer on one hand and a walking stick on the other hand. She would dance to the admiration of all, to the beats of drums and songs of the women. Some spectators even shower her with money or even traditional clothes. Later, the guests and families would be served sumptuous meals and various drinks.”

Onyinyechi was fascinated. “But is this necessary seeing the whole process is expensive and time-consuming?”

Mother bobbed her head in thought. “Perhaps it’s not compulsory or it is… You see, men whose wives do not go through this process are ridiculed most at times. The dance attests that the husband is able to take care of his wife. That is why the Iria is held in high esteem.”

Onyinyechi nodded as she took this in. “This Iria sounds interesting. I would like to see one someday.”

“If you marry a Kalabari man you will do it,” Mother said smiling.

Onyinyechi shrugged. “Maybe, but I will go on a weight loss diet after that.”

Mother burst into laughter at this and Onyinyechi could not help joining in.


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