Obitun: Initiation of girls into womanhood in Ondo Town
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The people of Ondo inhabit the south western region of Nigeria and are one of the largest subgroups of the Yoruba ethnic group. Ondo people live as one big family because they are bounded by the same historical background, traditions and cultural heritage which defines who they are. The culture and traditions of Ondo people are very rich, fascinating and exciting as well.
In the heart of Ondo town, the Ekimoguns, as the Ondo people are called, celebrate the transition of their girls into womanhood through a festival-like rite known as ‘Obitun’which means ‘new woman’. The Obitun festival performed in the olden days of the Ondo people is a way different from the modern Obitun cultural dance now performed as a mere entertainment during public functions. It is only the dancing aspect of the old Obitun that was retained by modern sons and daughters of Ondo, the initial rite and intention of Obitun has gone into extinction. In the olden days of Ondo people, Obitun was believed to be a sacred rite, and a very important milestone in the lives of young but matured girls. They believed that for a girl to become a woman, she must go through Obitun, otherwise, bad lucks and problems such as barrenness and broken marriage would befall her.
But today, owing to Western education, christainity and some other religious beliefs, most families in Ondo do not consider Obitun important for their daughters before being acknowledged as a woman and getting married. But nevertheless, the Obitun tradition still thrive among some set of the Ondo people even though it is being threatened by extinction.
Back in the early days, Obitun festival was usually held for a week. The girls initiated during the festival were treated with extra care and love. They were beautifully dressed and decorated with exquisite beads and camwood face paintings. Part of Obitun costume are horsetails, fans and beaded wallets which is worn across the shoulders.
Throughout the Obitun festival, the initiated girls were not called by their names, instead, they were called ‘Obitun’ which means new woman. There were usually plenty of foods at Obitun festival; the most common of all is pounded yam and okra soup. These foods were offered as sacrifice to the spirits of the newly initiated girls (Obitun) to guide them in their journey to womanhood. On the last day of the festival, the newly initiated girls would all together dance round the town stopping at some important places such as the houses of their relatives where they would be praised and lavished with gifts. They would also stop at some shrines such as Ogun lei, and Ogun Aisero in Ododibo and Odojomu to give final thanks to their creator.
In recent times, all these aspects of Obitun has been scrapped out leaving only the dance session. The Obitun cultural dance of Ondo people is now performed by cultural dance troops just to entertain people at ceremonies.