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VIDEO: The Iria Festival Where Young Virgin Girl Dance N@ked in Nigeria.
Puberty is the period when teenagers transition into adulthood. They start adding in the right places and prepare to become young adults. At this age, there is the urge to experiment with what every adult does.
However, this is the age that parent also monitors their children and teach them how to be responsible adults.
In Africa, before the advent of western education, there were traditional rites that parents engage in right from the times of their grandparents and great-grandparents.
An example of such traditional rites is the Iria festival that is usually carried out when teenagers are transitioning into adulthood.
The Iria festival dates back to the 16th century and it is an annual ceremony where female virgins are presented at a market square in Okrika, an ancient town in Rivers State, Southern Nigeria.
The virgins between the ages of 14-16, baring their upper body part are initiated by the people into womanhood.
Before they are presented to the villagers, they are kept in a room called the ‘Fattening Room’ where they are taken care of for the festival.
The process in the fattening room includes feeding the young women, pampering, and getting them ready for the real task ahead which is dancing half-naked at the market square. This will ultimately transform them into the maturity stage.
At the market square, chiefs and heads of families are gathered with the people to watch the dancing young virgins, who only cover their lower body and leave their breasts bare for everyone to see.
The natives of Okrika do not allow pregnant maidens to participate in the festival. The old women, called ‘Gbenerime’, easily spot out those who are pregnant among the maidens and get them disqualified.
According to OldNaija, when the time is due, the girls come out of the fattening room looking pretty like angels with bodies painted in black patterns and their hair tinted yellow.
Given that family members, friends, associates as well as spectators are in attendance at the grand parade, some of the girls get suitors at the festival. The breasts are one of the criteria for the judging of this event.
For the parents, it is always a delight to have a daughter who has kept her virginity as well as the family’s honour. In times past, if a girl failed to undergo the puberty rite, it was believed she would find it difficult to have a child.
For those who were disqualified, it became a source of embarrassment to the girl and her family who became an object of mockery.
Elucidating the age-long practice, an indigene of Okrika said,
“the Iria is a very ancient festival of the Okrika nation organised by various towns, particularly in December and January period. All the 10 communities of Okrika used to practice it. But for the past 10 years, only two communities, including Ogu, have been practising it.
“Young girls between 16 and 17 years are advised by their parents to participate in the Iria ceremony. Those who, at that age range, had yet to be deflowered in those days celebrated the Iria ceremony.”
Iria Festival has lost its vibrancy over the years because of Western education and the Christian faith which have conspired to make parents not enter their maidens into the festival. They describe the Iria practice as fetish and the act of dancing half-naked as against their religion.