The fattening practice is a rite of passage for the Nigerian clans of Kalabari, Efik, and Ibibio. It is an initiation ceremony that prepares the maiden to be a refined and cultured lady.
The matriarch grooms the ladies in the fattening room by feeding them, teaching them the customs and etiquettes of being a lady, and ensuring they make their homes welcoming to the man they marry, according to Guardian Nigeria.
This follows ancient customs in which being fat was regarded as a symbol of good living, fertility, and beauty. When the ladies reach puberty, they are led into the fattening room, where the initiation rites begin.
Acceptance into the fattening room was regarded as a privilege because it represented virtue, sexual purity, and virginity. The maidens’ goal in the room is to gain weight because of the favorable perception it commands.
Before a girl is led into the fattening room, her father pays “Eme,” which translates to coral beads, to appease the house’s river goddess. This is done to demonstrate that the girl’s parents are well-off enough to provide a better life for her.
When the young girl is led into the fattening room, she is not allowed to see any members of the public, including her family. The only visitors permitted in the room are the matriarchs who teach the girls proper etiquette and behavior. Meals high in carbohydrates and fat are served to the girls.
They are given a full-body beauty treatment from head to toe. For this beauty treatment, native chalk known as “ndom” and other massage oils extracted from natural plants are used. Grooming and beauty therapy are performed over a month or more while the girls remain hidden from the public eye.
After the initiation rites, the girls’ mothers circumcise them to limit their sexual activity and keep them chaste. It is thought to keep the girls faithful after they marry.
Following the one-month grooming period, the maidens are outdoored at a ceremony in which they display their beauty as well as how fat they have become. They perform to the delight of potential suitors and their families.