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  • Lorraine Johnson

[79] From Tradition To Trend

They call it musiro in Kimwani. It's a piece of wood from the xumbuti tree—ground against a sand-like stone using a bit of water creating a powder that turns white upon drying. A long time ago when Fatima Mpamba was 18 years old, they used to use musiro before a young woman got married. It was a sign of virginity. At around three or four o'clock in the morning—before the sun rose—the mother or sister of the young woman to be married would apply musiro over the bride's entire body—front and back. She was not permitted to leave the house for the entire day. Upon nightfall, she would wash off the musiro and go out into the night to socialize with her friends. And this would continue—musiro by day, friends by night—until the day of her marriage where she would appear beautiful both inside and out.

Yet throughout her preparation, and until the moment she was to be wed, the young woman didn't actually know who she was going to marry. Her husband-to-be would go directly to her parent's house and ask for permission. It wasn't necessary for the young woman to know or love the man, as all was decided by the parents and all to be accepted by the young woman.

But that was then. Now young women—and even some young men—use musiro at any time for many a purpose. They use it on their face for play or to make a fashion statement, or to make the face more brilliant or block it from the sun's rays. Parents no longer choose their daughter's spouse, and there is no longer a specific age for her to get married.

It was 1995 and the elders were sad. Fatima was sad—as life changed on the Island of Ibo—as a modern day turned a mask of clay from tradition to trend. Then she leaned in with ready hands and applied musiro to my unknown but willing face.


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