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Ikot Abasi Dress and Fashion

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 20:00, views: 5 027

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Mboppo girl in outing attire and okukin body design. Courtesy: Theresa IwokMboppo girl in outing attire and okukin body design. Courtesy: Theresa IwokTraditional dressing depicted sex, age group, associations and occupational activity. It was simple and practical and reflected the social status of the wearer. Children ran about naked, until their age qualified a girl for strings of waist beads (nkwa isin), and a boy - for a short waistcloth. For ceremonies, maidens and old women wore a short waist wrapper of woven or fringed raffia cloth (ikpaya or nkpin), which is still used in coronation and burial rituals of important chiefs. The elders used wrapper (skirt-like) around the waist pieces of cotton cloth (ekpang), sewn from woven strips, similar to the towelled sash on the chief's shoulder. A woven cap (bidak) with a feather and a head ring (okpono) completed the insignia. European traders and missionaries introduced imported cloth, which sold in fathoms of 21/2 yards each and replaced the traditional woven raffia and cotton wrappers. These were wrapped around the waist (ofong isin) - long for ceremonies and short for work or fight, or tied over the chest, over one shoulder or round the neck for leisure.

 

With the abundance of imported cloth, the men's loincloth/wrapper (usoobo) became very wide and gathered in draperies, held by a big roll on one side, while the women's dress developed into a double long wrapper (ufafak ofong isin) or a complete set with a blouse awang ye ndut), covering both the traditionally proscribed from public view lap, and the jctionable to the missionary bare breast. A head-tie covered the hair during church services.

 

A special costume is used by young maidens during their public outing after seclusion and training (mboppo): a knee-long wrapper, coiled brass leggings (owok), armlets (okoho ubok), and a profusion of beadson waist, neck and chest. Okukin and wikpong isong body designs and tattoos in dark lasting colours, face-marks and red and white pigment on the body, completed theirbeautified appearance, protected an umbrella. Ancient symbolism reflected in the and material of the dress, and the colour and pattern of body decoration, hairdo or beads.

 

Traditional societies had their special ritual costumes, the most colourful and awe-inspiring being the various masquerade outfits.

 

1932 colonial report states that all who could afford it copied the European dress, while a few of the older chiefs wore the Opobo fashion shirts - long, reaching to the ankles, and made of cloth, depicting hunting scenes or animals. Similar shirts (though shorter) of fashionable velveteen and silk material are still worn by the Opobo and Andoni people, decorated with pleated fronts and shiny metal buttons and chains and donned over voluminous wrappers of equally prestigious silk damask or the typical for the area george print.1 The imported horsetail fly-whisk, staff, umbrella and hat (the colonial sun helmet or the wide Di Terra) replaced the traditional ayang staff, walking stick and the ikpoto hat in the chieftaincy outfit. At contemporary social gatherings, walking staffs, fez caps, fly-whisks and a profusion of beads are worn by many well-off aspirants to chieftaincy titles-unlike the olden days, when the state umbrella, chieftaincy cap and other paraphernalia of office were prohibited to commoners. The educated elite's dress of a long-tailed shirt and trousers, complete with shoe/sandals and hat/cap, is more practical and still widely used.

 

Ikot Abasi Women (Source: LG Council photo archives)Ikot Abasi Women (Source: LG Council photo archives)Fashion has changed often at Ikot Abasi: from the white popo of the late 19th Century, based on an Igbo towel cloth, traded by the Opobo traders, to the early 20th Century onyonyo dress of the wives of the Efik mission teachers and catechists, and the multiple george wrapper and big, wide-necked white blouse of the Opobo women-traders. The Obolo women adopted the padded Opobo Town look of several successive starched and heavy wrappers, some up to 5 meters long, tied one over the other to achieve a stately appearance; while their men took to the long Opobo tunics of 19th Century design.

 

The knee-length khaki shorts, ankle-length hose (socks) and sun-helmet or Bombai bowler hat, worn with a short-sleeve shirt and trendy, patent shoes, were inherited from the colonial service.

 

The 1970s saw the bongo trousers with exceptionally flared bottoms, nicknamed sweep-streets-clean, and the saika (i. e. psychedelic) shoes with very high platforms. The American advert T-shirts, jeans and base-ball caps of the younger generation now replace the singlets, vests and shorts, introduced earlier from Europe. Canvass sport shoes also compete with the conventional slippers and sandals. The Ghanaian high-life of earlier times has been successfully replaced by Christian hymns and American jazz, pop, rap and punk music.

 

Women are colourful in their bright chiffon and silk, large decolletage blouses, decorated with lace, sequins and beads, and the double woven-silk wrappers, topped by complexly styled and stiffly starched voluminous head-ties. The Opobo-style uniforms of george1 wrappers and white blouses can still be seen, but the trendy young generation, who systematically end every spoken phrase with a most-sophisticated sha, prefer the imported maxi and midi wear and knitted-fabric dresses, or the tight-knee (cross no gutter) skirts. Hair-relaxing and short bob-wigs are fast replacing the long weaves of artificial hair used a few years ago, while hair plaits and short haircuts have been left to the village and market women. Bleached complexions (The Fanta faces and Coca-Cola legs) are on display, matched with the sound of heavy rap music.

 

Traditional rulers and educated elite at a public ceremony. Courtesy: ALSCONTraditional rulers and educated elite at a public ceremony. Courtesy: ALSCONUniformly dressed groups float around, butterfly-like, at the church Sunday Services and social gatherings, the most multi-coloured and pompous displays being the Traditional (still very much in vogue) and Church marriage ceremonies. Like village festivals, they attract all and sundry in their latest Sunday best, to enjoy abundant food, drink and disco entertainment; for fear of social disgrace and ridicule makes relatives to tax themselves, borrow or mortgage farms and houses in order to meet the expectations of a suitably grand ceremony, complete with a live band, a disco group, family uniforms and carry-away souvenirs for the guests.

 

Everywhere, one is reminded of the zealous efforts of Mma Brazier, who spearheaded the women education and development work of the Ibekwe Methodist Mission and tirelessly instructed the Ibibio, Ogoni and Andoni women and young girls in house-keeping, bread-baking, crocheting and clothes-making, with a special emphasis on the covering of die breasts. Many local seamstresses in Opobo, Calabar, Port Harcourt and Lagos owed their skills to her training establishment.

 

As far as Ikot Abasi boys are concerned, the mission-youth fashion of cut hair partings is here again, sported by young school pupils, who are not allowed the Mike Tyson elaborate haircuts of the free youth. They, in turn, have been greatly impressed with the bright-coloured, blue-suited and yellow-belted oil exploration teams, spread all over the area and the equally well uniformed company staff. The technical cadre in town - motor mechanics. welders, bicycle repairers etc. now wear personalised overalls with innumerable pockets, seams and zips.

 

A stroll along the town streets or an attendance at a ceremonial gathering affords one an opportunity to appreciate the variety of colour, style and material in local attire, adapted to to the sun and rain-drenched climate, and to the traditional expectations of a public display of one's wealth, status and rank.

 

Notes

 

1 George is highly valued in the area, imported fine-cotton materials in wide multi-coloured checks, which took its name from a coronation souvenir cloth, bearing the image of King George VI of Britain.

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Category: Ikot Abasi

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