Origin of the Efiks
The Efiks are an ethnic group in Southern Cross River state of Nigeria. Oral tradition has it that the Efiks migrated down the Cross River from Arochukwu to establish numerous settlements in Calabar and Creek Town area.
Fattening room [Nkugho] in Efik custom, refers to a room where a maiden, experiencing puberty, or ready for marriage was kept for between, one and three months, and prepared to be given out to her suitor. During the period of the fattening room, the damsel would be separated from friends and even some members of the family to avoid distractions and unnecessary social interactions. The lady, within the period, would be “pampered” or even “over pampered” with love, food and traditional drinks to make her presentable to her husband. The preparation of the bride was often handled by the mother and elderly women who specialized in that area.
The lady is expected to be fat, with robust cheeks and extra-ordinary smooth skin to make her attractive. To ensure that the smoothness of the body, a traditional white chalks, known as “ndom” was grounded and rubbed on the skin from neck -to –toe. Apart from the white chalk on her body, the damsel was adorned with traditional beads of various colors, on her waist, ankles and neck to reveal her hidden beauty. While being fed, usually with traditional fatty foods, mixed with herbs, the damsel would sit on a mat spread on a bare floor in the fattening room. Throughout this period, her pre-occupation is to eat, drink and sleep. Most of the time, she would be massaged by these elderly women until she slept off. This would continue for the period the maiden would remain in the fattening room, after which other activities would take place.
The Significance of fattening room
The significance of this cultural practice was to display the piety of the damsel and also to provide an ample opportunity for the mother of the lady to adequately equip her daughter with the necessary home etiquettes for marriage life. It should be noted that fattening room was only meant for virgins to signify the sanctity of the marriage tradition. The state of chastity of the damsel would later be confirmed when she was finally handed over to the husband. The first night with the husband was indeed a breath taking moment for the mother of the damsel. The reason was that the damsel must prove her level of chastity with the volume of blood she emits in her first love making with her husband. The blood must be physically seen on the white bed sheet which was purposely spread for that reason. After the first night encounter, the blood stained bed sheet was folded and handed over to the mother who then prided herself among her peers as having successfully prepared her daughter for marriage. On the other hand, failure of the first night contact to produce blood on the bed sheet was considered as a violation of the vow of chastity by the damsel and failure of the mother to ensure proper upbringing of her daughter.
Though the Fattening room tradition is fading out now, there is one major lesson to learn from the practice. The culture portrayed the piety of young women and not mere symbols of sex. The fact that a young woman must go through the fattening room and at the end of which, she would be handed over to her suitor as a virgin, restrained her from sexual rascality. The awareness of this refrained her from engaging in sex before marriage to avoid ‘’embarrassment’’ during her first night encounter with her husband. In so doing, the chastity of young girls was maintained, and cases of underage pregnancies were minimized in the society.