Traditional Attire of the Obolo People

wrapper has been the major clothing article of the Obolo people for both males and females. There are certain style of cloth tying
in the community. The cloth called Mkpopu (George) was used for male elders, who were ‘free born’. This clothe was tied with the
style known as utong-ikwi (it is tied to the right hand side by free born while slaves tie to the left side of the waist), mainly for
identification purpose.
Clothing article in pre-colonial Obolo, was Ekut-ikpo (towellike clothe), Alo (foreign wax), was later added then the elder’s clothe
called Mkpopu (George). All these clothes were tied with the shirt called Afont jijini or Afroko. In Obolo communities, they were
neither trousers nor pant. In the place of pant, the traditional Obolo people especially the elders, do what is called Ibaŋa-iba or
Igobo-iba with the towel-like material called Ekut-ikpo. It is worthy of note, that the young boys and girls neither tied neither
clothe nor wore shirt until a certain age. For the boys who are of the age of wrappers tying as period of Njaŋa-Ekut. This period
was a time when the young boy was of the age of covering his nakedness. At this stage, the father of the boy or the mother or
any relation, where the parents of the boy are late, will present drinks to the elders, and give them Mkpopu (that is, a piece of
George) then one of the elders will tie it at the boys waist signifying that he is of the age of maturity. Then shoe or slippers could
be worn by the boy having been authorized by the elders of the family to do so. Any youth then who had not been authorized to
tie clothe or put on shoes, that went ahead to do so, was bewitched and rendered useless for challenging the elders especially
where he refuses to pay a fine given him for such acts. Trousers however, came later to be added to the cloth-tying culture of
Obolo people. The trouser that came during the period, they admit was called taŋanini tied with rope in place of belts, the leg
without double turn-up as the present ones have. The trouser was spacious from top but tight at the foot edge. The shirt called
Etibor (woolly and heavy and is long-sleeved) and Oworkor short-sleeved before this present time, had collars as against what we
have now. All these were available for the covering of the Obolo males during the pre-colonial period especially when the males are
at the prime of manhood.
According to some elderly women of Obolo community, there was no skirt nor dress for women in Obolo community during the
pre-colonial periods. The women had a unique dress-culture as did the men. For the young ladies who had not attained the age of
marriage, what is called asi-ebon-iiba (double beads) was tied around the waist without any dress on top. When these young ladies
grow into womanhood, especially at their menstrual ages, they are confined in a place. This confinement is known as Uwo-Ekut.
The aim of this confinement is to teach the young ladies who are coming into womanhood, how to tie wrappers. Uwo-Ekut literally
is translated as “house of wrappers “. At the time of confinement, this young ladies tie one yard of a cloth called “Okpoko-
Esuu” (Lagos cloth) above the knee. It is worthy of note that before this confinement, a lady is not authorized to tie any cloth, if
found covered with cloth, it suggests that such lady has had sexual intercourse before her marriage, hence, such covering of
shame. This culture indeed could be said to have enhanced morality in the society. Nevertheless, when a lady has successfully
passed through the training of wrapper-tying, she is released and at this time, she comes out of the confinement with several
wrappers tied with the help of rope so as to hold each wrapper to the waist. The foregoing is what is being called fanti. The major
types of wrappers tied when coming out of this confinement are called velvet and Ikaki. In the place of pants or undergarment, the
use of Tawul-irakebon was adopted. Moreover, the type of wrapper called Dembesi (Englishh damask) was used by women only at
this period.
It is observed that in traditional ancient Obolo communities, tying of Mkpopu (George) as well as Igobo-iba (modern napkin)by
both elderly males and females was obtainable but now Mkpopu tying has no restrictions. Even young boys and girls of tender age
could tie it. More so, trouser wearing has almost taken away our wrapper tying culture. The unique dress culture of Obolo people
has been bastardized with the introduction of civilization in Obolo communities. Still maintaining the traditional dress culture of
Obolo people, Mkpopu has become the general clothe used by all males and females, old and young. These clothes could have
different colors but same quality and make. Today, youths and elders put on Etibor and Owokor with either a pair of trouser or
Mkpopu below. These shirts do not have collar presently, as did early times. It is important to note that the traditional Obolo
people in order to maintain their culture of using bath-towel for what the call Ibana-iba or Igobo-iba, till present, when elders die
(either male or female), the eldest son or daughter as the case may be, is called up to dress his or her parent with the bath-towel
though this act is not observed by all in the community. The use of Atoro-onyedua (nicknamed Okirika) need not be forgotten.
These clothes both trousers, long sleeves and short sleeves were gotten already sewn and brought to the market where the people
go and get the clothes in vogue. This, without mincing words influenced the traditional cloth-tying culture of Obolo people.
Obolo Wrappers still remain the major article of covering in Obolo communities for the females. However, the addition of the top
need not be overlooked. Presently, ladies tie especially the common Mkpopu (George) double with blouse as dress for the top.
However, after the Nigerian civil war women started putting on trousers. In essence, as modernity grew, wears changed in Obolo
communities. In spite of the fact that civilization brought the idea of women putting on a pair of trousers in Obolo communities,
the elders still frown at women on trousers, perhaps due to the fact that the trouser had not been an article of dressing in the
community from the onset. Moreover, the idea of wearing gowns came up in Obolo communities during the period of colonialism.
It came when wears already sewn were brought for sale. These cloths called Atoro-onye-dua or etomelek-ekene-isim. It is in a
rhetorical question form translated “who was it measured on before sewing?” In other words, the attire came to them already
sewn. It was during this period of colonialism that Christianity came to Obolo land and people were converted, so the young ladies
who when at home, as it were, covered their lower part with beads, do go to church with a long gown (Atoro-onye-dua) which
also is pulled off on getting back home from the church, thus, going back to status quo – beads wearing on the waist. However,
as the people got more civilized, the use of beads for covering was abandoned, more so, the covering of the breast with wrappers
was transformed into wearing a dress with bra on the top and tying of wrappers below with head-gear on the head.
By Steven C.