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CIRCUMCISION & CLITORECTOMY IN ESANLAND

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CIRCUMCISION

Esan had no particular ceremony over male circumcision, which was performed anytime the parents were bold enough to have it done. The more usual  thing was for the operation to be delayed till the child could withstand the pain and sure sepsis; this was between five and ten years of age.

CLITORECTOMY
This was the female circumcision and had a more regular ceremony. A girl was not circumcised until she was mature and then, within a week or so of her going to her husband’s place. The idea was to delay the ceremony because it was not just a disgrace but there were fines to be paid to the Owenan should the girl be found not virtuous on the day of circumcision. On the appointed day the female members of the family gathered in the compound, and before then the girl was examined; if she was found intact, the Owenan sang out her praise and everybody began to sing and dance with the men shooting guns. While the operation was going on, relatives, particularly of the intended husband, began to give presents to the good girl. Presents of money, yams and oil were also made to thank the watchful mother. As soon as the wound healed arrangements were made to send the girl to her husband.

The ceremonies surrounding clitoridectomy are most pronounced even to this day, with the people of Uzea, a further evidence of the fact that the so called backwardness goes hand in hand with simplicity and virtue.

In Uzea, a girl is mature round about the age of sixteen and the next three to six months forms an exciting period in her simple life. When the famiiy had decided that their daughter has come of age, they inform the intended husband that she is ready for the ceremony of circumcision. On the appointed day the Owenan (the Surgeon, usually a female in this case) arrives and the girl is led into an AGAA, an open enclosure attached to the house, where all the female members of the family are assembled. The Owenan then examines the girl and if intact, she declares her virtuous, to the great joy of the family. While the operation of trimming off the clitoris with the upper ends of the Labia Minora is being performed,  guns are booming with dancing and singing.

When the wound has healed usually within five days, the girl is ready for the public announcement of her virtue and the great care her parents had taken over her during the past sixteen years. The  special circumcision hair—dresser is sent for and she, for a fee consisting of 7,200 cowries now equivalent of 30k and a bundle of yams from the intended husband, and 4,800 cowries equal to 20k plus a calabash of palm oil from the girl’s mother, gives the girl the traditional hair-style exclusive to virtuous ones only. This is the OJIETO (The KING OF HAIRS). The next three months is a period of .rejoicing, feasting and a show-off for the girl and her family. The husband spends a lot of money buying beads (APKiONO) which the girl wears round her waist and coral beads round her neck. The girl with the Ojieto and her body decorated with ASUN, a juice that turns black when dry, is followed round the village, wearing no clothes to show that she has nothing to be ashamed of. She calls on relatives and friends who congratulate her with presents. Until the end of the three months, she goes to the market or to village functions stark naked; only sinners have something to hide!

Though she wears no clothes, the Akpono - several strings round her waist - cost the anxious husband-to-be anything up to N30.00 in present day money - not the useless Naira which on September 18, 1993, exchanged at N38.20 to the U.S. dollar.  The three to six months wait after the circumcision is very welcome to the husband, who for the past three months has known nothing but expenses. This period of show-off gives him time to recover, and search for more money to settle the bride price. In the olden days, this was negligible compared with what was actually spent on the girl’s hair and beads, since by the time his girl was mature, in services to the parents-in-law, he should have paid the equivalent of the bride in full for EBEE. Since the advent of the white man, the husband crushed by the circumcision expenses, still has to pay  up to N20.00 to the father he has been serving since the day the girl was born
However, when the husband has fulfilled all he owes to his future wife’s family, the girl is sent to him. The husband at a ceremony unties the first strand of the decorative hair before the whole thing is loosened. After the first night at the husband’s place she is considered a woman and must from then on wear clothes.

THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY
When the bride price had been paid and the circumcision wound had healed, a date was fixed for the girl to go to her husband. The excited man began to make feverish arrangements, buying new clothes, getting the house ready and buying kola nuts, coconuts and wine. In the evening of the appointed day, selected male and female members of the family accompany the girl to her husband’s village. They must go through a friend or a relative of the family in that village (known as OSUQMAN), and this person was the future guardian. This go-between accompanied the party and by about 8.00p.m. (The husband feeling the time was 11.00 p.m), they would reach the street of the husband. A message was seat to the husband that they were coming along with his wife, but unfortunately a tree or a stump had held up their progress; would he care to come and clear the obstacle? The husband at once sent ‘axes and matchets’ in the form of money and coconuts to remove whatever was causing the barrier. They proceeded along the street and again went another message that it sounded odd and foolish that on a day such as that day was, he should have allowed trees to block his street. Messengers were hurriedly seat to them with more presents. This went on until by the time they got to the entrance of the house where the biggest obstacle had to be cleared, their bag was full. The party then entered the house and the leader presented the girl in disparaging terms: you asked for the hand of our daughter in marriage; here she is, but we would want you to know right now that she has no training, has no sense, plays like a child, cannot cook and knowing all these, it will be your duty to train and mould her to your taste and satisfaction. After the customary presents to the Egbele and compound women, the girl was counted on the lap of the husband where she took her seat on the ELEVENTH COUNT. Then followed dancing, singing and plenty of gun shooting with the cry of joy, UKU KHU GHU!

This went on for a long time; with the husband wishing someone would come and inform his in-laws that their houses had gone on fire so that they would all race for home. Since marital relations were forbidden once the cock crows and  Esan cocks crow by 4.00a.m., prudence and kindness demanded that everybody wished the couple well, and departed by 3.00 a.m latest! Sometimes a kind and wise relative discreetly suggested the bride had a tiring day and was feeling sleepy, a suggestion usually made with much yawning! At this, most people except the more stupid or obviously mischievous ones, left.

The next morning the bride, obviously shaken, bewildered and tired, was taken out by the female relatives of the husband to have a wash. For the first seven days she stayed indoors and did not go to fetch water or wood. She went by the name of OBHIOHA (Bride) for the next three months, after which she was given her cooking utensils and had to fend for herself.

During the Obhioha period she forbade nothing and behaved like a daughter in the family e.g. she could take her bath in the compound while all  married women must have their baths at the backhouse, in fact even pots they used for water must not be brought to the house.

Esan had no special ceremony of sending to the in-laws that the husband found the Obhioha ‘AT HOME’, since in Esan custom all girls are virtuous. It would be an anti-climax to send such a message, as a non-virtuous girl had already suffered a public disgrace during the circumcision stage. The alleged sending of the white bed sheet (stained with blood) to the parents-in-law is un-Esan. Traditional Esan slept on mats!

THE ABDOMINAL TATTOO (ISEKELE)
In the olden days when a girl came of age that was just before circumcision she had to undergo the abdominal tattoo. While this consisted of only three linear marks in men, women had ten: from arms by the side; there was a pair from the part of each shoulder down to the waist line and one such mark running down wards across each breast. That gave six in front. From behind there was a pair running to the waist line from each shoulder. From below the navel serrated marks called ABIHIAGHA (this represents the five blades in Benin women, known as ABERHE) were made to add beauty to the full ten marks.

Black pigments were rubbed into the wounds giving a beautiful character, particularly in light coloured women. The ceremony was not so much a test of manhood as it was in men, but it showed that the girl was now fit to be a woman, a mother and of marriageable age. Any man who had a carnal knowledge of a woman who had not yet had this abdominal tattoo had committed a crime equivalent to modern rape.

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