In a world where there are people going under the knife to lose weight in order to portray a perfect body, on the other side of the world, are women going into what is called “The Fattening Room” where they are beefed up. I for one would love to be able to eat what I want and be branded desirable. But in today’s society, we are almost prisoners in our own bodies having to think twice about whether you can afford to eat that chocolate bar or if you can eat that bowl of rice.
However, in an age old tradition, a tradition owned by the Efik community in the Southern part of Nigeria, Calabar, being big represents wealth, it represents beauty and affluence. It is a sign that you come from money and that your family has looked after you well. It is the ideology that if a woman has not gone through the process, she does not qualify for marriage. Now, I don’t know about you but if I belonged to such a culture I wouldn’t want to be seen as less than able so if I have to through such an ordeal, believe me when I say I’m going to do it!
The average weight of a Nigerian woman is reported to be 60kg but women who come out of The Fattening Room can weigh twice as much and then some. Imagine doubling up in a matter of months, I know I’d be unrecognisable.
The women are secluded for months and not allowed to be contacted by anyone. They are chaperoned by a few female elders of the village who are with them throughout the whole phase.
A typical day of a woman who enters The Fattening Room is, they wake up and eat (when I say eat, I mean EAAAATTT), then they have a bath, they sleep some more, wake up and eat even more before sleeping. In between they receive three massages and are taught by the elders as they go through what is called “domestic training” which includes, home economics which simplified translates as cooking and housekeeping, childcare and how to respect and make her husband-to-be and his family happy. In reference to the man, this includes how to satisfy him in the bedroom department. The women are also advised by the elder women who share experience in marriage showing them the way to a successful one.
Their diet consists of porridge Ekpang, plantain, yam, fufu and assorted pepper soups amongst other things, they are encouraged to drink three pints of water three times a day, can you imagine? That’s 4.2 litres a day (twice the daily recommended amount)
At the end of the isolation period, people from all over are invited to what is known as the “Graduation Ceremony” at which the women are congratulated and praised for passing the ordeal and becoming “certified women”. The ceremony includes display of the traditional Efik dances (Ekombi) and other forms of entertainment. The fiesta goes on throughout the day and night with presentations from families, friends and well wishers of donations and gifts to the bride in order to express their joy and happiness. At the end of the day, she and her future husband dance and embrace; welcoming everyone that has come to unite in their celebration. All this occurs amidst cheers from the crowd.
Everything in life has an advantage and a disadvantage and every one will have their reservations. Many can and probably will look at the concept of The Fattening Room and think “Oh my gosh, why would I want to be isolated for God knows how many months just to be forced to eat my weight in food every day?” or “why would I want to be trained on how to be a slave to my husband?”And that’s the problem with belonging to a culture that can be argued to be in the “minority”. You’d be misunderstood by the majority. So in this instance where “mahoosive” (my own made-up word for massive and huge) women are desired, once you step out of that culture you become the undesired by the majority and you’d get shallow minded people questioning your culture. Trust me, you’d have to be well grounded within that culture and be thick skinned (no pun intended) as to not let the opinions of the majority affect you.
Belonging to such a culture I guess is another way to ensure marriage within the same culture. But the question with this nowadays is that with people moving states and even countries, is there really a need for the Fattening Room? Would I say that minds are becoming more relaxed or more westernised? Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very good to have your own tradition/culture and I take my hat off to women who choose to go through a process such as the Fattening Room but the fact remains that in a world that is becoming more westernised, is one such as this seen as extreme?
The other side of the argument is that women today restructure their appearances (like it’s no big deal) in more extreme ways through science. From using Botox to delay aging in the west as well as using gastric bands with the aim to lose weight, to using fat enhancing pills in Jamaica, two very extreme ends of the spectrum but in the end, it’s each to their own!
I’m looking forward to seeing how the girls from The Fattening Room shown on EbonyLife TV DStv Channel 165 every Saturday at 21:30 CAT deal with the whole process in the modernised version of it. What do you think? Leave your comments below. I wonder if any of them cracked or wanted to leave at any point? I guess we’ll all have to wait and see!