The Naked Virgin Parade otherwise called Iria ceremony, has licked-off in Iria, Okrika , Rivers State.
According to reports, the maidens have already gone into the fattening room, feeding and waiting for the D-Day when they would dance in a special way at Okrika town market square.
The date for the dance proper has not been stipulated, however, it comes up between November and December.
Apart from being a natural source of entertainment, the Iria Festival is seen as a yearly competition, which families in Okrika take advantage of to showcase chastity as parents present their virgin daughters and get them ready for the fattening room, where they are fed with body-nourishing meals, especially pounded yam mixed with pounded plantain.
The process in the fattening room include pampering the young women and getting them ready for the real task ahead (dancing half-naked at the market square), which will ultimately transform or move them into the maturity stage.
At the market square, chiefs and heads of families are gathered with the people to watch the young virgins, who only cover their lower body, leaving the breasts bare for all to see.
CHECK THIS OUT: Election 2019: Oby Ezekwesili Attacks Tinubu, Defies His Powers
While some believe the culture should have been done away with, especially after Christianity and education made an inroad to Africa, others, particularly the indigenes of Okrika, strongly believe that since the Iria is the only means of what looks like a triumphant entry into womanhood and the showcasing of virginity, the people and the culture should not be in a hurry to part ways; at least, not before the end of the current century.
Ibrahim Fubara, an elder from Abam in Okrika Local Government Area told newsmen on Saturday that it is an abomination for any of the participants of Iria to be pregnant, saying the person would be immediately disqualified.
Fubara explained that inspectors, who are old women, known as ‘Gbenerime’, were always on the ground to spot any pregnant maiden for an outright ban from the competition.
“Iria ceremony takes a process and the maidens have to be kept in a fattening room, where they are specially fed with the typical Okrika food; pounded yam and plantain with fresh fish.
By the time they stay in the fattening room for some time, they come out and at the village square, you will see that their bodies have changed and become more succulent.
When you see them, they look so pretty and some people will actually think they are mermaids.
“Before they come out to the village square, their bodies are painted in different colours and their skin is taken care of. Most of them get suitors before the festival.
Some of the young women, who have fiancés, get sponsored by such friends.
“The parents are very happy that their children are passing through the Iria ceremony because they have kept their virginity and that they are passing through the Iria process before marriage.
In the past, it was believed that if you didn’t pass through that process, it would be very difficult for the woman to have a child.
“Before the ceremony, if a would-be participant gets pregnant, there is a ‘Gbenerime’ (old woman whose duty is to investigate the condition of maidens), who inspects the young ladies to see if they are pregnant or not.
If any young lady is pregnant, nobody needs a soothsayer to reveal it.
“These women are vast and versatile. If any of the young women is found to be pregnant, she will be disqualified, which means that she is not fit to be part of the Iria festival.
CHECK THIS OUT: REVEALED! What Oby Ezekwsili Told IBB At His Residence (Photo)
“Such disqualification becomes a very big shame to the family of the affected young woman; it is like a taboo and her family will become an object of mockery.
During the ceremony, the young woman is half-naked in the sense that only the private part is covered while other areas are exposed, including her breasts.
“So, you can use the right hand to check if the breasts are at the right angles. What I am trying to say is that they will be more attractive. When you talk about testing to see if they are still virgins, the ‘Gbenerime’ are of age.
But during the ceremony, they are more agile than even the police; this is still a mystery because they become so strong and it will appear that there is something put in them that energises them”.
Fubara stated that he married his wife after she had undergone the Iria ceremony.“Every tribe has its own culture. Mark my word, I have not said that those who have met with men are not qualified; it is young women that are pregnant that are disqualified”.
The Iria ceremony holds a semblance with the Swazi Reed Dance Festival in which every year, king Mswati of Swaziland is permitted to choose a new bride.
Both ceremonies are similar in that, topless virgins are paraded for a dance, the two cultural celebrations however, differ from their aims.
While the Iria is a celebration of virginity and a rite of passage into womanhood, the reed dance of Swaziland is totally aimed at getting a new wife for the Sherburne-educated King.
While the Iria practice has received little or no bashing regarding the girls having to walk and dance naked, the reed dance on the other hand has continued to be an issue of debate, especially because there have been continuous claims of having the under-aged girls take part in the practice that involves a public test of virginity.