Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Dis tradition start right from di olden days and di pipo of Ibani for Grand Bonny kingdom inside present day Rivers State don uphold am till now.

Tori be say in those days, small-small pikins dey naked dey run about for dia neighbourhood, weda boy or girl.

But wen di girl don reach puberty, her parents go give her clothes wey she go take cover her nakedness and dis go signal say she don mature, she no be small pikin again.

So di day wen dem go dress di girl wey don turn woman wit wrapper na very special day.

And for dis Ijaw speaking tribe – Ibani Kingdom, na Iria Egerebite and Bighibite dem dey call dis rite of passage into full womanhood.

Pipo of Kalabari, Okirika, Opobo, Nkoro and Obolo [Andoni] wey be all Ijaw tribes in Rivers State dey still practice dis ancient cultural heritage popular called di Iria ceremony.

One age long rite to prepare maidens to become adults for Ibani pipo inside di oil-rich southern Nigerian state of Rivers, na im you wan learn inside dis tori.

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Iria Egerebite and Bighibite ceremony

“Today I don become full woman for Ibani kingdom.”

Na so Ibiene Kabaka Brown, di first daughter of di Kabaka Brown family tok as she and her sisters do dia Iria Egerebite and Bighibite ceremony for Finima town inside Bonny Bonny Local Goment Area.

Wit dis iria ceremony dem don do, dem dey allowed to tie two waist George wrapper and all di oda big big wrapper wey full-fledged women dey wear for Ibani kingdom.

As early as 5am, all di women wey don do di iria ceremony Finima Town gada for di Kabaka Brown family house.

Na to welcome di Kabaka Brown sisters as dem dey come out of di fattening room wey dem bin dey.

Pesin fit see di joy and pride wey dey dia bodi as Ibiene Kabaka Brown and her sisters, Mrs. Ipirinye Kabaka Ehuwa and Mrs Kele Kabaka Momoh, come out in dia first dressing.

De m first come out tying di Awomie- bite (dyed George wrapper) down with Popo wrapper on top am matching blouse and jeadtiw with coral bead jewellery.

“Iriabo eeeh! Iriabo!” Na so di women hail dem as di maidens turn women dey majestically waka come out to come greet dem.

With dis Iria Egerebite and Bighibite ceremony, di Kabaka Brown daughters don become full women wey go dey respected amd recognised among women for Ibani kingdom.

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Iria maiden – How di ceremony make her feel

Mrs. Ipirinye Kabaka Ehuwa say dis na one of di happiest days of her life as di whole community dey celebrate her.

“Dis honour na wetin evri Ibani man and woman want for dia daughter so dat she go get say for di kingdom.

Wen dem dey share something among di women folk for Finima here, me sef dem go share give me but girls wey never do dis ceremony dem no go share give dem.

Wen women gada to tok things wey concern dis community or to discuss important matters wey concern di development of Ibani kingdom as a whole, mesef go follow dem.

And if I raise my hand up say I wan tok something dem go recognise me and take wetin I tok serious because now, I don become woman. I no be girl again.” Na so she tok.

For Mrs. Kele Kabaka Momoh, she dey very fulfilled because wen dem dey count women, dem go count her too. “I dey very fulfilled” she tok.

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Iria Ceremony: How dis womanhood rite of passage start?

Madam Hannah Ejekwu na woman wey dey hold di tradition to tie women wey dey do iria di wrapper.

Hannah tell BBC Pidgin say dis traditional start right from di di olden days and dem uphold am till now.

She say in those days, small small pikins dem dey no dey wear cloth but dem naked dey run about, weda boy or girl.

But wen di girl don reach puberty, her parents go give her clothes wey she go take cover her nakedness and dis go signal say she don mature, she no be small pikin again.

Mrs. Hannah Ejekwu (née Brown), explain say parents of di girl pikin go tie her di traditional wrappers wey include Ikaki (akwete), Popo, Damask (Lo bite) Awomie-bite, wey be george wrapper wey dey dye.

And dem hold am as di biggest wrapper wey women for Ibani kingdom dey tie before dem go tie george wey dem dey call lili-inji wey be senior intorica (george wrapper), she add.

“As she grow like dat, dem see say di girl don big, she don begin see menses, her breast don develop, dem no go allow her to naked dey waka again. Dem go come buy dis clothes for her.

“Di day dem go tie her di wrapper to cover her nakedness na big ceremony!

“Di whole place go dey shake, women go come; all di women wey dia parents don do Iria for dem too go come out for di ceremony. Hannah tok.

“Di parents of di girl go say, ‘my pikin I don cover you. Dis wrapper dem wey dey inside dis box na your own, I don tie you finish, take am.”

You ft dey interested to watch dis video

Bole na correct Port Harcourt food.
The British Broadcasting Corporation

Iria ceremony get three stages for Grand Bonny

Mrs. Hannah Ejekwu say di Iria womanhood ceremony get three stages according to age:

“Di first one we dey call am Kala- Egerebite na for girls wey dey between di ages of 12 and 15 years. Di second one, Opu – Egerebite na for girls between ages 18 to 21.”

“Di third one na for older pipo wey don reach age 40 and above na im dey do dat ceremony. Dat one na Bighibite ceremony.”

She explain say for di first stage, kala-egerebite, di girl go tie native wrapper wey dem dey call suu. She go tie dat one short, with coral beads.

For di second stage, opu- egerebite she go tie one waist of Ikaki (akwete), Popo and Damask di soft one (Lo bite) with matching blouses.

Then di last stage wey be Bighibite, she go tie di Awomie bite dat na di george dem dey dye. She say dat na di most important cloth and after dat she go tie lili-inji wey be intorica george.

Hannah observe say if woman no do any of di stages as she dey grow till she become full adult, wen she dey do di Iria ceremony, she must do all di oda stages from di Kala Egerebite to di Bighibite.

And di woman go tie all di different types of traditional wrapper dem complete, she add.

“For di tying of wrapper, e get di stage wey wen di girl dey young, she go tie one waist like wen she tie di Ikaki, Popo and Damask na only one she go tie with her blouse.

Den di last stage wen she tie di Awu, den she fit begin tie di george wrapper and she go begin tie two waist wrapper with her blouse.

If she never tie di Awomie bite, she no fit tie two pairs of di george wrapper, according to di woman.

“If she never do any of di stages before, wen she wan do di iria, we go follow all di stages one after di oda from di kala- Egerebite wia she go tie suu, to di opu-egerebite wia she go tie di ikaki, popo, Damask.

“To di third stage di Bighibite wia she go tie Awomie-bite and di lili-inji, dat is intorica george. She must do all till e complete. Then she dey free from embarrassment.”

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Fattening room process for Iria – Egerebite and Bighibite ceremony

Di iria ceremony dey start wen di iriabo (di maiden turning into full woman) go go church with her parents and her pipo, according to wetin Hannah Ejekwu narrate.

Di parents go inform dem say dem wan tie dia pikin wrapper.

Dat day she go dress well buy she go tie her wrapper short with matching blouse and headtie to do am. Then dem go follow dem come house.

Di second stage, Hannah say dem dey call am ‘Wari so’, dat na to enter di fattening room.

Dia dem go rub di Iriabo white chalk, rub her palm oil, turmeric to make her body fine and her skin to glow.

Dem go also draw beautiful patterns for her body to decorate her and give her good food, feed her well so she go fat, dey shine so wen she come out pipo go admire and see say she fine well well.

And dat one dey also attract potential husband to come ask for her hand in marriage.

Mrs. Ejekwu say to stay for di fattening dey depend on how di iriabo want am.

“Wen me I do my own, na three months I stay inside di fattening room but nowadays, di girls no dey fit stay because of school and work.

“Some no wan fat so some dey stay one week, some two weeks before dem come out.

“Di third and last stage na di one dem go dress her di wrapper one after di oda starting wit Ikaki (Akwete), di Popo, di Damask (di soft one dem dey call Lo bite) and di wrapper dem call Awu dat na cooked wrapper, di george dem go dye am.

Dis na di biggest wrapper for Ibani kingdom. Wen she don tie dat cloth, she don enter inside george (bighibite).

Now she fit tie george – all di different types of george wrapper weda na plain george, intorica, dat is di senior george wrapper. Dis na di last stage.

Di following day Sunday, di iriabo with her parents and family pipo go go church again go do thanksgiving to thank God for a successful iria ceremony.”

After dat di Iriabo dey expected to tie complete two pairs of wrapper with head tie, dress properly as a full Ibani woman anytime she dey come out for at least one year. Some pipo dey do for six months too.

But going forward anytime she dey attend any occasion for Ibani kingdom or she dey attend occasion wey any Ibanise pesin dey do be it marriage, chieftaincy or any gathering of Ibanise, she dey expected to dress complete with two wrapper.

She fit tie two waist of any of di traditional wrappers and dem go recognize her.

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Woman wey never do Iria ceremony – How dem dey treat dem?

Mrs Hannah Ejekwu emphasize say woman wey never do dis iria ceremony no fit tie two waist George wrapper or any of di traditional wrappers waka for street for Ibani kingdom.

Dis according to her, na because dem go comot one of di wrapper from her.

“Women wey never do iria go tie only one wrapper, she no go tie two. If she no know herself come tie two wrapper, women wey don do iria go confront her, comot one of di wrapper from her waist.

“And question why she dey tie two wrapper wen she never do iria and dem go seize dat wrapper. Dat na big disgrace.”

“If you go out now for wia dem dey dance, you go see say those young young girls, na only one wrapper dem tie”

Dis na “because dem never do iria, but di one wey don do iria, dem tie di two pairs of wrapper – up and down, dress well wit better head tie.”

She add say woman wey never do iria no fit tok wia women gada because dem go shut her up and walk her out.

“As she never tie wrapper, she no get say for wia we dey so dem go walk her out.”

Hannah add say Ibani Se [Ibani pipo] hold dis tradition very high and recently, dem don make am an important requirement for women wey wan contest election or hold political office.

She must be pesin wey don do her iria ceremony so dat she go get say and command di respect of di community, Hannah add.

As e pertain to marriage, she explain say tying of wrapper na di first tin a woman suppose do before she marry.

Dis na because di tradition na say wia women wey don tie wrapper gada sidon, weda she don marry or not, if she never do iria, she no go fit tok wia dem dey. She no fit appear before dem for Ibani-Se.

Also, wen man come to marry Ibani daughter wey never do di Iria ceremony, di family for also demand di Iria as dowry wey be say di man go promise to do di Iria ceremony for her.

So di family go always look forward to di time I’m go fulfil dat promise to honor dia daughter.

But originally na tradition parents dey do for dia girl pikin to cover her nakedness and show say she don mature.

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Iria ceremony dey very expensive?

Sake of di big wrappers, jewellery and accessories wey dey involved in iria ceremony, many pipo say Iria na very expensive ceremony.

But Mrs. Hannah Ejekwu say e no dey as expensive as dem assume, e depends on how di pesin want am.

“Dis tying of wrapper na how you want am na im you go do am, e no too cost. If you get money you want do am big you do am like dat.”

“You no get money you wan do small, you do am like dat too but di main tin na say you don do am, so do as your power reach.

“E dey like wedding, some pipo dey do am society wedding invite plenti pipo, some dey do am small too but di tin be say dem don marry.

“Na so e be. But some pipo want dance and invite pipo, celebrate big and so dem dey keep am tay till dem don old, wen dem get money. Na dia choice.”

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


You must do Iria as before dem bury you for ibani land

Dis woman wey dey narrate di tori stress say dis ceremony dey so important dat if Ibani woman no do am wen she dey alive, wen she die her family must do am for her before dem bury her for Ibani land.

“If because she no get money, she no do dis iria and she die, her parents [pipo] go do di ceremony for her deadbody as dem lie am for bed;

Na so dem go put all di wrapper dem for her body one by one dey remove am wit di blouses to match.

So evribodi want to do am wen dem dey alive. Even if she die for London, dem bring di deadbodi come back but she never tie wrapper.

Dem must do di ceremony on di deadibody before dem put am for ground bury.”

Anoda thing na say, if a Bonny girl marry man wey from anoda place, she must also do di iria ceremony.

Likewise for Ibani man wey marry woman from anoda tribe, for her to seat among women for di land, im go also do di iria ceremony for im wife too for her to be a full fledged Bonny woman.

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


‘Iria ceremony no dey fetish, no be juju’

Anoda misconception wey pipo dey get about di Iria ceremony according to Mrs Hannah Ejekwu na say iria ceremony dey fetish and e dey associated with juju, but she say no be so.

She say dis don discourage some pipo not to do di ceremony because dem no wan get anything to di with juju but she say e no dey like dat because as dem dey carry out di processes.

Dem no dey invoke any ancestral spirits or pour libation, rather na prayers dem dey pray and at di end, di iriabo dey go do thanksgiving for church.

Iria Ceremony: Egerebite, Bighibite rite of passage into full womanhood for Ibani Kingdom


Oda ijaw nations dey also do Iria ceremony to honour womanhood

Oda Ibanise nations like Opobo and Andoni for Rivers State also dey do di iria Egerebite and Bighibite womanhood ceremonies although with slight differences in di way dem dey do di rite of passage.

Even di Okrikas and Kalabaris also dey do iria ceremony to honour and celebrate womanhood.

Mrs Hannah Ejekwu come advise young Ibanise girls to keep di iria tradition because e dey bring honour and respect to womanhood.

And e dey show di high place di society put women as e go give dem recognition and opportunity for dem to contribute meaningfully to develop dia community.