Visualizing the body: Photographic clues and the cultural fluidity of Mbopo institution, 1914-2014
Udo, Nsima Stanislaus
MetadataShow full item record
The mbopo institution, popularly known as the “fattening room” is a cultural rite of passage for young virgins, who are being prepared for marriage among the Ibibio/Efik people of southern Nigeria. It is a complex cultural institution which marked the change of status from girlhood to nubile womanhood in Ibibio/Efik culture. This study examines the practice of mbopo ritual among the Ibibio/Efik people across the previous century. Through an engaged and detailed visual analysis, the study argues that in the first decade of the 20th century, the mbopo ritual had a degree of vibrancy with an attached sense of secrecy and spiritual mystery. But between 1920 and the present, this vibrancy and spiritual undertone has been subtly but progressively compromised. A buildup of tension on the ritual by modern forces, not only of the outside missionaries, but also indigenous converts set in motion a process that would eventually transform the ritual from a framework of an actual cultural practice into the realms of “cultural reinvention” and re-rendering. Feminist critiques of the 1980s and the 1990s led to the popular awareness of the damaging impact of clitoridectomy, just one core aspect of the ritual. As a direct result, clitoridectomy was outlawed across the country, leaving mbopo to be seen as a morally suspect practice. In recent year, the once vibrant, secret and spiritually grounded rite of seclusion for nubile women has been reimagined and reinvented through the public display in art, painting, cultural dance troupe, music and television shows.