Iria is a ceremony performed by virgins of Kirikese in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State.
It is an annual ceremony that predated western civilisation and missionary activities in,Okrika,an Ijaw tribe of the Niger Delta region of the country.
Before Iria is performed,a towncrier is required to go from ‘Biri to Biri’ -community to community to announce to parents and guardians of young female children to be alert of the organisation of an upcoming Iria and dates .The essence of the announcement is for parents to prepare the virgins adequately, making them look nourished and attractive for marriage.
The next thing is for the parents to announce to prospective maidens to get ready for the ceremony.The parents would pray for the maiden who indicated interest for Iria and would ask her to dance from outside the house to inside.She would then be pampered with white powder composed of magnificent fragrances that would adorn her beautiful skin.
After that, she would have assistants at home who are mainly family members and friends who will rub “palm oil’ on her entire body and make sure that she stayed in the sun for at least 5 hours, the red oil is to make the body smooth. She would go to the bathroom, bathe and then dye her hair with”Awu” a local dye that comes in red,pink and purple colours.and then they will rub her” Ikulede’-tumeric powder.ln the evening, the Iria maiden bathes and rubs white powder to enable her to have uninterrupted sleep.
On show of interest for participation, the chiefs will go to the house of the Iria maiden with the Taskforce Chairman to take pictures for preparation of certificate( the cardinal point) of the celebration and ask questions such as the’Biri’ community where the maiden comes from,and”Wari -nyengi-sei, the war canoe house, the chiefdom of the family of the girl.
The maiden is showered with lots of love in the food she eats and other needs, She is confined to a fatting room for weeks to ensure that her body is replenished and very attractive for suitors and spectators.
The Family of the girl bears the cost of Iria while in some cases,a prospective suitor bankrolls every need of the Iria maiden ranging from food to wrappers and jewelry.
The criteria for participating in Iria includes Age, chastity and good training.. A girl must not be less than 15years and not more than 18years.
“Tibisein”(Shaving of Hair)
This is a stage in Iria where the hair of the maiden is shaved.For a girl who is not a product of the” Iya” marriage, her front hair would be shaven by her mother’s family and then taken to Duoinwari (shrine) for keep, but in the absence of that,and with tenets of Christianity shaping traditional practices, the hair shaven is given to the mother of the girl or the elder sister to keep after which the Iria train moves to the father’s house to conclude the hair shave, In the father’s compound, the maiden’s hair is shaved at the back and given to her father or brother to keep.Thereafter the family of the girl will organise a reception for her in respect of her fulfilment of that part of the ceremony, she would change to wrappers such as”Feni”an expensive traditional material in animal inscription like lion, tigers and birds used in occasions, the maiden also wears” POPO” a strong fabric from Ghana and Indian saree for the reception where “Egbelereme” menopausal women would come and sing for her to dance.
Every morning, the Iria maiden goes to the riverside to bathe salt water .Some leave as early as 5am to go to the river bank and dip themselves for about an hour or two before going home.,the salt water refreshes and maintain their glowing skin.
In the fatting room, the girl is exposed to local delicacies, prominent among them is “Temi Buru” or “Yam Popo’ with fresh fish pepper soup or stew, meals with assorted sea foods like”Mgbe” oysters,”Ikpopu” barnacles,”Ipoli” prawns and”Isam” periwinkles Indeed Iria arouses the interest of young girls for the fun,care and prestige it gives to some.
In the fatting room, games are provided,”Ludo” ,a board game and” Whot”,a card game keep the maiden entertained and busy.
Gift Tamunotonye ,an undergraduate student was a participant in the 2018 set of Iria.She told this publication that her love for Iria made her to participate in the ceremony..She said “I was excited from the first step to the ticket taking and to the end.It was something I looked forward to”.
The Iria maiden is dressed beautifully in”Ikpo” a type of Akwete cloth which she ties to cover the upper chest to the abdomen and another wrapper from the abdomen and above the knee.. the ticket taking is usually in the evening,but before then,one of her assistants would go to the market Square when the ceremony will hold and reserve a sitting position for her with a chair.
She will then go with her train to the market square”Ele-Ogbo’ where the ticket will be taken and certificate of participation given to her.Grades are awarded on her personal conduct, greeting and ability to answer given question .Before she rises for picture taking,she will take off her upper wrapper to show her breast in the glare of”Egbelereme”, The Amanyanabo and Chiefs.The Egbelereme will inspect the maiden to check for possible malpractices that contradicted the objectives of the Iria tradition.For instance if a girl is found to be pregnant, she is disqualified from the contest, She would also be disqualified if she is found to be unchaste.However in situations where a maiden has “Bapa Indo” calabash breast,or”Ololo indo” bottle breast, she would be subjected to all manner of ill-treatment including having stones thrown at her.