Monday's Girls explores the conflict between modern individualism and traditional communities in today's Africa through the eyes of two young Waikiriki women from the Niger delta. Although both come from leading families in the same large island town, Florence looks at the iria women's initiation ceremony as an honor, while Azikiwe, who has lived in the city for ten years, sees it as an indignity. Ngozi Onwurah, director of such feminist classics as Coffee Coloured Children and Body Beautiful, herself an Anglo-Nigerian, turns a wry but sympathetic eye on the cross-cultural confusions.
The five week long iria ritual is overseen by post-menopausal women headed by the redoubtable Monday Moses (hence the title.) The girls are paraded bare-breasted before the entire community so their nipples can be examined to determine whether they are still virgins. They are then confined to the "fattening rooms," their legs immobilized in copper impala rings, where they are pampered and fed. Finally, the girls, now women, are presented to society, wearing yards of fabric around their waists indicating each family's wealth - and suggesting pregnancy.
The film traces the girls' contrasting responses to each stage of the ritual. Florence, who is Monday's granddaughter, comments at the end of the ceremony, "I'm not fat, but I am grown up now," but even she decides to postpone marriage until she completes her education. Azikiwe refuses to bare her breasts and, as a result, her father is fined by the outraged villagers and she is sent back to the city in disgrace. She concludes: "There are some traditions people should forget."
Monday's Girls calls into question the idea of a single, "ethnographically correct" representation of tradition. Rituals are revealed as fluid, polysemous texts, social contracts continuously renegotiated between individuals and communities. For millions of Africans like Azikiwe, tradition is increasingly seen as a matter of individual choice not social coercion.