The fattening practice is a rite of passage of the Kalabari, Efik, and Ibibio clans of Nigeria. It is an initiation ceremony that prepares the maiden to be an elegant and cultured woman.
Once in the fattening room, the matriarch grooms the ladies by feeding them, teaching them the customs and etiquettes of being a lady and how to ensure they make their homes welcoming to the man they marry, as explained by Guardian Nigeria.
This is done in line with ancient customs where being fat was considered as a symbol of good living, fertility and beauty. The moment the ladies reach the age of puberty, they are ushered into the fattening room for the initiation rites to begin.
It was perceived as a privilege to be accepted into the fattening room because it was an expression of virtue, sexual purity and virginity. While in the room, the goal of the maidens is to get fat because of the favorable perception it commands.
Before a girl is ushered into the fattening room, the father of the girl pays what is known as “Eme”, which means coral beads to pacify the river goddess of the house. This is done to show evidence that the parents of the girl are well-to-do to give the maiden a better life.
When the young girl is taken into the fattening room, she is barred from seeing any member of the public including the family. The only visitors allowed in the room are the matriarchs who teach the girls the necessary etiquette and proper behaviors. The girls are placed on meals which are rich in carbohydrates and fat.
They are given an all-around beauty treatment from their head to their feet. Native chalk known as “ndom” and other massage oils extracted from natural plants are used for this beauty treatment. The grooming and beauty therapy is done over a period of one month or more while the girls are still kept away from the public eye.
The girls are later circumcised by their mothers to limit their sexual activity and remain chaste at the close of the initiation rites. It is believed it keeps the girls faithful once they marry.
After the one-month grooming period, the maidens are outdoored at a ceremony where they exhibit their beauty and how fat they have become. They dance to the admiration of potential suitors and their families.