Updated: Jun 13, 2020
The second variety of anklets traditionally worn by young Igbo women are called ‘ola okpa’ or ‘ola ukwu’ in certain dialects. In the southern and southeastern regions of Igboland, these large, circular disks were only worn by unmarried women and young girls who were undergoing mgbede, a cultural practice borrowed from the neighboring Ibibio in which an engaged girl would be isolated in a “fattening room” to effect her ritual transformation into womanhood.
Ola okpa or ola ukwu are steeped in tradition and are believed to possess supernatural powers, as they can only be worn by amadi or umuafo, members of the freeborn class. Although these anklets were extremely heavy and restricted the bearer’s mobility to the confines of her home, it is believed that if the bearer is of true freeborn blood, she would be able to walk in them. Cases in which the bearer was totally immobilized by the anklets were believed to be a tell-tale sign of impure blood in the girl’s lineage, slave ancestry, or a bad omen resulting from the crime of an ancestor.
Hindered by these large anklets, the nwa mgbede, or girl practicing mgbede, would be unable to perform household duties and chores or walk far from her home. For the duration of her mgbede, she would be attended by young maidens and her unmarried friends who would sweep, cook, and fetch water in her place. Today, the practice of mgbede and the use of ola okpa has nearly died out in Igboland.