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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Nigerian Catholics told to be modest
By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC correspondent in Lagos

Nigerian women
Traditional Nigerian dress is preferred
Modesty is a big issue in Nigeria these days.

Universities are introducing dress codes for their students.

The country's Muslims in particular are going to greater lengths than ever to be seen to be dressing modestly.

Muslim women newsreaders appear on television swathed in scarves.

Schoolgirls in the north, who would previously just have worn a small cotton headscarf with their uniform, now go to school in waist-length hijab, in somewhat Indonesian style.

Now the Catholic Church has joined the debate.

In his latest circular letter to parishes, the Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Okogie, under the heading "nudity", calls on priests not to allow in church what he calls "fashions promoting lust and immorality".

For boys... there should be no "jerry curls [long curly hair], tight jeans, or earrings"

He says that any of the faithful wearing "clothes which reveal sensitive parts of the body such as the bust, chest, belly, or upper arms, transparent clothing or dresses with slits above the knees" should be "quietly asked to worship outside".

As for boys, it says there should be no "jerry curls [long curly hair], tight jeans or earrings".

Traditional dress

A Sunday morning visit to the Church of the Assumption, in the Ikoyi district of Lagos, showed the Archbishop's recommendations were being well observed.

Apart from one boy in tight jeans, everyone was looking very modest.

Most women said they liked to wear traditional Nigerian dress to church - a blouse, wraparound skirt and some form of head-dress.

Many Catholics come from south-east Nigeria, and Sunday best for Ibo women means a lacy white blouse, a wrapper of fine woven cloth and an elaborate head-tie of stiff brocade or taffeta.

It's very, very wrong... Especially the ones showing the boobs - you don't do that in the presence of God
Woman in congregation
Church of the Assumption, Lagos

Many young girls wore an updated version of Nigerian dress - a long skirt and a nicely tailored, matching blouse.

The most devout covered their heads with black, lacy scarves.

Some of the men were in loose, pyjama-style Nigerian suits, others in western clothes.

Everyone I spoke to had heard of the Archbishop's campaign for modest dressing, and said they were wholly in agreement.

I heard outspoken condemnation of people who come to the house of God half-naked, diatribes against tight trousers, skimpy tops and "spaghetti straps".

Bride barred

Several women said they believed they should imitate the Holy Mother, Mary, and cover their heads, since she always appears in images with a veil.

And several of the congregation raised the issue of wedding dresses and the current fashion for brides to wear strapless, low-cut, evening-dress style outfits.

"It's very, very wrong," one woman told me. "Very, very wrong. Especially the ones showing the boobs - you don't do that in the presence of God."

In fact, the wedding dress problem may have been the start of this whole campaign.

I was told that in a particularly notorious case, the parish priest in one Lagos church had refused to let the bride into the church for her own wedding.

He said he would wait for her all afternoon if he had to, but she would have to go home and put on more clothes.

Country profile: Nigeria
20 Jul 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Nigeria
18 May 04  |  Country profiles

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