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Obitun : Initiation of girls into womanhood in Ondo kingdom

By Omopemi Fausat

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Obitun is a major traditional dance of the Ondo people endowed with level of aesthetic. In the modern age, this aesthetic reflects the cultural identity of the people. The cultural identity is often demonstrated in the use of the higher rated traditional attire of different kinds among the people for various social engagement.

The contemporary purpose of the musical performance for ladies of puberty stages to marriageable age is on the verge of extinction as a result of civilization and religious organizations. The resuscitation of the art with modern times has given the  musical art a new shape crossing the rite of passage to our ordinary artistic form for mere entertainment.

The people of Ondo, inhabiting the south western religion of Nigeria are one of the largest sub groups of the Yoruba ethnic group. Ondo people live as one big family because they are bounded by the same historical background, tradition and cultural heritage which defines who they are. The culture and traditions of Ondo people are very rich, fascinating  and existing well in the heart of Ondo town. The Ekimogun as the Ondo people are called celebrate the transition of the girls into womanhood through their festival-like rite known as Obitun which means “new woman”. The Obitun festival performed in the olden days by Ondo people is different from the modern Obitun cultural dance now performed as a mere entertainment during public function.

It is only the dance 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 in Ondo town, Obitun was believed to be a sacred rite,  and a very  important milestone  in the lives of young 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. Obitun is a dance ceremony that is expected to be performed for every maiden in the town before she get married but owing to western education Christianity and some 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.

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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 painting. Part  of Obitun costume are horse tails, fans and beaded wallets which is worn across the shoulders .

There were usually plenty of food at Obitun festival the most common of all is pounded yam and Okro 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 houses of their relatives where they would be  praised and lavished with gifts. They would also stop at some shrines such as Ogunleri and Ogun Aisero in Ododimo and Odojomu to pay respects to their creator.

This festival prevents girls  from engaging in premarital sex and pregnancy since they will not be privileged to participate in this laudable celebration and blessings if they are not chaste.  

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