Ekoi people

Ekoi

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Ekoi /Ejagham

Ekoi people, also known as Ejagham, are an ethnic group in the extreme southeast of Nigeria and extending eastward into the southwest region of Cameroon. They speak the Ekoi language, the main Ekoid language. Other Ekoid languages are spoken by related groups, including the Etung, some groups in Ikom (such as Ofutop, Akparabong and Nde), some groups in Ogoja (Ishibori and Bansarra), Ufia and Yakö. The Ekoi have lived closely with the nearby Efik, Annang, Ibibio and Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. The Ekoi are best known for their Ekpe headdresses and the Nsibidi text. They traditionally use Nsibidi ideograms, and are the group that originally created them.

 

Geography

The Ekoi in Nigeria are found in Cross River State. The Ekoid languages are spoken around this area, although English (the national language) is also spoken. The Ekoi in Cameroon are found in the South Western region of the count.

History

The Ekoi people, while all speaking the same language, have not tended to live in complete unison. Living in what is now Southeast Nigeria and Southwest Cameroon, the people were physically divided by British and German colonial holdings in Africa. When a German captain named Von Weiss was killed, the European power took measures to combat the native Ekoi people. However, the response was not uniform; not only were there no pitched battles, but some villages fled instead of fighting back. Moreover, Ekoi people in British controlled Nigeria did not act to help their ethnic compatriots. Ekoi people taken into slavery across the Atlantic were notable in Cuba, where their art, seen in the forms of drums and headdresses, survives to this day.

 

Origin

The Ekoi believe that the heirs of the first settlers of their present settlement own the land; while newcomers are not allowed to buy land, they are able to purchase rights of settlement. Ekoi men have traditionally hunted, while women have engaged in agriculture, raising yams, plantains, and corn (maize).

Women also fish, and both men and women participate in weaving. The arts, like body-painting and poetry, are also critical to men, as they are seen simultaneously as warriors and artists, though war has been largely uncommon in Ekoi history, save for the German-Ekoi War between 1899-1904

 
Ngbe and Nnimm

The Ngbe and Nnimm societies were for males and females, respectively, in the Ekoi community. The Ngbe (Leopard) Society believed in the story of an old king named Tanze. When he died, he became a fish that was caught by a woman. A man killed the woman, created the leopard society, and Tanze became the body of a female drum. This tale raised the symbols of the roaring fish and the leopard as signs from God and so they would be referred to in every Ekoi court.

Leopards especially would be seen as important in Ekoi society. In times of ntuis (chiefs), the appointed ntui would leave his house and make a series of sacrifices, including those of skull-caps with leopard’s teeth, a staff bound with leopard’s skin, and a necklace of leopard’s teeth. Also, when a ntui died, his people would enter the jungle to bring back the ngbe as the ntui’s spirit returns to God. If they were not wary, it is believed a real leopard would attack them.

Initiates of Nnimm would be unmarried young girls. They would wear cursive body-painting and material dresses of calabash and shells, as well as leather necklaces. Bones of monkeys were matched with feather headdresses (the single feather at the back of the head was most important, as it was the Nnimm feather) and finished off with a cowrie-fringed wrapper. Nnimm plumes would become very important to Africans in Cuba

 

Ecology (natural environment)

Ekoi villages are built near rivers or streams. Around the village are crops and beyond that lay forests. There are 150 villages and small towns, which are connected by roads or footpaths.

Coconut trees will indicate the vicinity of a village, and a huge silk cotton or Mboma tree will stand in the entrance. Villages are described as small. Sizes of house vary depending on the wealth of male head.

 

Myth (Creation)

Two gods Obassi Osaw and Obassi Nsi made all things between them (the earth and sky). Osaw fixed his dwelling place in the sky while Nsi came down to earth and lived there. After this separation Nsi grew in power, “for when a child is born it falls to the earth,and when a man dies he returns to the earth, whence all things have sprung.

 

Origin of the Ejagham People

The Ekoi believe that the heirs of the first settler own the land; while newcomers are not allowed to buy land, they are able to purchase rights of settlement. The term “Ejagham” is believed to be surrounded by facts and stories that refer to many meanings. “Ijagham” bears a strong affinity with the word “Ejagham”.

Lake Ijagham is the sacred lake of Ejagham people situated at southern Cameroon. Ijagham or Totem see, as the Germans have named it, is supposed to be haunted by the ghosts of dead and gone Ejagham people. It lies at the centre circle of thirteen salt springs with its own water beautifully clear and sweet. The thirteen salt springs served the Ejagham communities before their further migrations (Talbot 1912).

Ntufam Ndifon Attah explains that “Ejagham” is derived from the combination of three words: “Ekub” (awhole or parcel), “Ejag” (is split or broken), ‘ Haam” (it is going infinite or without end). Put together then, Ejagham stands for that unified whole or parcel that was originally one but is now broken into pieces and is forging for reunification. This refers to the first break away of the other tribes (in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, South Africa etc.) that migrated from the historical Bantu. It further refers to the reunification of theEjagham speaking communities in Ikom LGA, Etung LGA, Quas of the present Calabar and it environs, Ishibor in Ogoja and almost the entire south Eastern Cameroons among others. On the spread of Ejagham people Thompson (1974) adds that EjaghamF dominate the Cross River Valley, from its origin at theconfluence of the Mainyu and Bali in Cameroon, to its junction with the sea near Calabar. He further adds that the members of this civilization are famed for powers of ritual expression. Thompson further states that the Mbembe of the lower Cross River esteem them for their ritual prowess, with new cults repeatedly disseminated from their region. The neighbouring Yako are, likewise proud of their Nkpe cult: The (Ejagham) origin of the cult lends great credence to its power, for the Ejagham people are credited with remarkable magic powers and the control of most powerful spirits. The mgbe is central in Ejagham funeral rites, for its spiritual, social, political cultural and economic roles in the land.and economic roles in the land.

For Talbot (1912), that the Ejagham people are believed to be mainly of the Bantu stock is shown by their language and the shape of their heads. They were probably among the first of the races so formed, to split off from the parent stem and seem to have come straight from the low end of the Nile valley. This is evident in their NSIBIDI writing which recalls traces of the earliest Eyptain hieroglyphics. Central to Ejagham funeral rites are the Mgbe (Leapard) institution and its Nsibidi writing. Onoh (1994) correlates Talbot’s explanation of Ejagham by saying that the term Ejagham is derived from “Ijagham”, a sacred lake believed to be the cradle of Ejagham people. Other factors that may have caused migration of the Ejagham people from Bantu to Cameroon and Nigeria include wars and the search for edible salt. The salt springs which occur around the sacred Lake Ijagham and other parts of Ejagham land, some indeed quite near Oban station, were possibly a determining factor in the final settlement as the need for salt was strong among all tribes, Talbot (1912) opined.

 

Economy

Ekoi people engage in farming and fishing activities as their major occupation. Ekoi men have traditionally hunted, while women have engaged in agriculture, raising yams, plantains, and corn (maize). Women also fish, and both men and women participate in weaving.

They tend to especially store grains during dry season. These are usually stored in small house along side the fields. There is also cocoa and coffee plantations, and although they generally sale that, they will store it in pottery as well before selling it.

Ceramics: There are different types of pottery, from jars for food to water pots, and they are for domestic use only. They come in varying shapes and sizes and are beautiful. They use them as decorations.

 

Land Tenure

In the Ekoi tradition land cannot be sold because it belongs to the first settlers, even if it has been abandoned for a 100 years. But, rights to settle can be bought.

 

Socio-Political structure

The Ekoi had clubs for boys, girls, and mix races. There are age restrictions and these clubs are very exclusive. They hold meetings, have aims they want to reach, and some even have great secrets. In order to enter a club, a person has to apply and be accepted, and then he/she will pay an entrance fee. Also, in the Ekoi community, age is equal to wiser. Therefore, the older generation is to always be respected. Younger siblings always have to listen to the older siblings even if they are only a year apart.

The Ekoi have seven clans and they are patrilineal, and this has implications for kinship links as well as ceremonial styles. A family is created from the father’s line. Anyone related to the father, grandfather, or great grandfather is a part of the family. Ute states that a wife is not a part of a husband’s family, but rather her fathers’

Ekoi clans represent kinship and initiation patterns that are reflected in the kind of sculptures worn during ceremonial occasions as expressions of the ancestral clan. Indeed, just as in all African societies, the Ekoi clans are ancestral. However, the specialized emblem of clan membership through the use of particular sculptures underscores the Ekoi's religious kinship as one of blood relation.

The Ekoi towns or villages are governed by a council of elders, which comprises of the oldest living member of each family. They also have a village chief called ntuifam etek. The council of elders is responsible for creation of laws and decision-making. Also, some of the clubs have members that help the elders govern. They are usually sent by the elders to enforce laws. For example, they may be asked to punish criminals. So, they wear masks and run around the village until their work has been completed.

 

Marriage

In Ejagham society polygynous marriages are a custom. A men that wishes to marry an Ekoi women has to serve her people for a period of 2-3 years, which is a form of dowry payment. For example, he can help clear bushes for a few seasons. He is also expected to give gifts depending on his ability.
The bride`s acceptance of the bridegroom`s wedding gift "must be followed by public proclamation of the marriage before the chiefs and people, after bell has been rung round the town for the purpose."

The prestigeous Monynkim Dance of Manyu Ejagham female secret cult

 

Religion

Religion is the heart and soul of the Ejagham people. The entire social, political, cultural economic and psychological life of the people is hard to analyse without religion at the centre.

The principal features in Ejagham religion are the cults of Ancestors and nature forces. Ancestors (Akibansi) Worship, Nature jujus (ajom) secret societies (Nkum), the principal events in life (Ojimi) and the commonest actions of the day all blend inextricably in the complicated ritual, (Talbot 1912).
Of actual Deities there are only two, Obasi Osaw (sky God), and Obasi Nsi (earth God), but of the less powerful Genii of trees, lakes, rocks and rivers, there are countless hordes. For the Ejagham people, the whole bush is peopled with these supernatural beings. Here, more truly even than in old Greece, the terror of Pan reigns supreme, says Talbot (1912). The belief is that they are created both by Obasi Osaw (sky God) and Obasi Nsi (Earth God). Obasi Osaw is father and Obasi Nsi is mother. The two are expressed in bird and tree worship as every small town has its “juju” tree with weaver birds inhabiting the tree. Talbot made an attempt at explaining this when he talked about the peoples myth on the wedding of earth and sky. Sky father and earth mother – for of all created things the bird is most to air and sky, while the tree, with its roots in the dark ground, reaching even, as in many Northern sagas, to the neither world is the best oldest personification of mother earth.

This is Ejagham cult of the double-ax which prevailed also in Egypt during certain dynasties where a  knobbed scepter was used together as symbol of a deity. The above drawing represents the joint worship of sky – father and an earth-mother. The former descends from above when the lightening flashes down, and leaves his weapon as a tangible token of himself. The latter ascends from below when vegetation springs up, and at the same early epoch, gives visible proof of her presence in the sacred tree. In the above representation, the cleft base of the axe may well be a highly conventionalized remnant of pillar or tree, while the feather, now that of the peacock sacred to Mgbe societies (Leopard societies) is a bird symbol. The two circles may well be meant for eggs, and therefore as indications of fertility. It is easy to discern from the above that Obasi Osaw has the attributes of masculinity while Obasi Nsi that of ferminity, for whenever we make offerings we were taught to say “Nta Obasi (Lord Obasi ) and Nna Obasi (Lady Obasi). Lord is Osaw, and the Lady Nsi. Surely Nsi must be a women, and mother for it is well known to all people that a woman has the tenderest heart.

On the whole, the Ejagham religion takes into account, the minutest of the created universe and with a degree of reverence in accordance with the activities of each in Ejagham Pantheon.

Thompson (1974) calls them spiritual colleague to the Greeks. The Ejagham people like the Greeks have a pantheon of gods. This is evident in their traditional writing system (Nsibidi) which according to Thompson predates western penetration of the area by several centuries, essentially functioned on two communicative levels, sacred and profane. Example is basalt monoliths of the Nnam and neighbouring Ejagham groups. Since these separated the world of sacred and profane it is evident that the Ejagham people like the Aborigines of Australia, are a people bonded by their religion that controls their daily affairs and serves as a guide to the type of burial rite they model their life towards.

The Ejagham people have a puzzling world view. As earlier stated it is difficult to describe Ejagham people without their religion for religion permeates every facet of their life here and here after. Of note is the concern of the Ejagham people for life with the ancestors (akibanasi). Relationship with a fellow member of the community is based on the belief that the ancestors (akibansi), Anim (Nemesis) are watching. Commerce and trade can but provide what is just for the parties engaged in them. Land boundary is guided by the spirits of the ancestors, so you do not shift boundaries, else you swell up and die a shameful death without proper burial. Both gods, spirits, ancestors and Anim (Nemesis in plural) control the affairs of the people in the community. This makes for a functional just and egalitarian community that continues here after, apart from keeping the people together.

 

Social Reality

The social life of the members of the community centres around these deities and personages. For a good harvest, safe delivery, safe journey, good luck in hunting, power to win at event of war, success in business etc. one or few deities have a hand to play. Because life in the community is a form of preparation for a life with the “living-dead”, ill-will against a member of the community is punished mercilessly. For instance, raising of matchet during quarrel is a taboo as this could lead to “ichoe” (unintentional action prompted by evil spirits that lead to the infliction of injury). Quarrels (okponge) at night is a distraction of the peace of the community and attracts a fine by the chiefs (atuofam).  The entire community’s social, economic, political and religious life centres around the belief system of the people. They all surrender their lives to ancestors, nature spirits, Anim, Obasi Nsi and Obasi Osaw.

 

Missionary effect

Missionaries came in the beginning of 1900s to transform the Ekoi into Christians. Many did not understand the Ekoi religion and equated certain aspects as being related to the devil. For example, the missionaries did not understand “njom” or charms that Ekoi people raised to protect them and ward away the devil. But, missionaries did not understand this and in one village a missionary cut down njom. Today, although they still hold their original beliefs, there is also a church in almost every Ejagham village.

 

Cultural belief

The Ekoi people had a fear of witchcraft. At times they felt that their mother, daughter, sister, might be with in disguise. They sought protection from these witches using charms and other protections.

They believe in second sight (which is also a common belief among many westerners). They believe in contact with the afterlife. Also, they believe that dogs have second sight. These two concepts are interesting because they exist in our western society. It is interesting to think that many of us share beliefs with people whose cultural life has not really changed in, arguably, centuries.

 

Cultural material (art, music, games)

The Ekoi are known for their realistic masks, which are important to a number of clubs. Dancing is also a very important aspect of Ekoi culture. The Ekoi people have many artwork including pottery, paintings and some beaded jewelry.

Food taboos: Neither men or women are allowed to feed on scavenger birds such as vultures. The kingfisher is forbidden food. Women may not eat wildcat, crocodile, and the first thing caught by her husband. There are also very strong taboos about distribution of animals killed in a chase. For example, “after the town hunt, one fore and one hind leg of each beast killed must be given to the townsfolk. The neck becomes the property of the man who stood nearest during the kill, the tail belong to the mother of the hunter, one leg and the back to the father or the head of his house, while the head and remaining and fore legs are left to the actual slayer.”

 

Death and afterlife beliefs

 “When a man’s body decays, a new form comes out of it, in every way like the man himself when he was above ground. This new shape goes down to lord Obassi Nsi, carrying with it all that was spent on its funeral in the world above.”

A Typical Ejagham prayer at an occasion, say marriage runs thus: “Give him children, may he see his children children, until he gathers sticks to go to toilet.” The belief is that children come from the agreement between the gods, spirits, Anim (Nemeisis) and ancestors. Children come to replace departed members of the community. These is a sense of reincarnation here. The newly wedded coupled are expected to live till the day they are called to join the ancestors. The expression “till he gathers sticks to go to the toilet” has this story surrounding it. In those days, Ejagham people do not die. One lives to a ripe old age and when the time for departure to join the ancestors comes, he/she calls the family together, shares his / her property and gives them pieces of advice. On a cool afternoon when all are in the farms, he / she gathers his/ her sticks and fends to go to toilet. There he remains and disappears to join the ancestors. This however, was a privilege reserved for very very good, honest, truthful and peaceful members of the community. Example was Okpong Okare of Nsan village in Akamkpa Local Government Area.

Ordinarily, when one lives a normal life and grows old, it is expected by Ejagham people that there will be a funeral for the elderly man or woman or a member of one of the societies in the community.

When somebody is sick, members of the immediate family, men and women diagnose the sickness and try their own known medication on the ailment. If the sick person continues to show serious “sick roles” then a diviner (Mbug-ebu) is consulted to know the cause of the sickness. All this is done in secret for fear witches and wizards come to know about the sickness and inflict or hasten death.

As the sickness prolongs, close relations stay close to take care Mbiti (1969) puts it thus in his study of the Ndebele which is akin to some degree that of the Ejagham people. When a person falls seriously ill, relatives watch by his /her bedside. These relatives must include at least one brother and the eldest son (and a sister) of the sick man, because the two or three are the ones who investigate the cause of the illness, which is generally magic bewitchment or the gods, and take preventive measures against it as prescribed by the “Mbugebu (diviner). Normally ancestors, gods and spirits are appeased through sacrifices to avert the death of the relative. This out pouring of affection on a sick relative shows itself further in the care given to the sick person’s children and wife. At a point, when the relation is notices to pass through excruciating pain and suffering, the relative begin to call on the ancestors to take him/ her home. Eventually the person dies. In Ejagham tradition, corpses are neither embalmed nor kept beyond twenty four hours. The reason is simple. As you came so shall you return. Immediately one expires, the relations give him or her a bath and dress him/her up before announcing his /her departure to the world of the dead with a cry.

The funeral rite somehow begins here, but it will be treated in detail under a separate heading (funeral rites). The grave is dug by young men in the community and the body is disposed of according to the person’s status in the community. Details are in the rites. This is done amid prayers, incantations, songs, curses of suspected killers, and praises on the deceased on his or her area of prowess.

 

Funeral rites of the Ejagham People in Cross River State

(Burial) in Ejagham is a transition rather than annihilation. This is why there is no embalmment. This is mainly from the fact that life continues after this one on earth. What leads to this belief is the belief in the existence of a village or community for the departed (Mfam Akibansi). Probably it is the mystery of human existence that leads to this belief or desire to continue living.

Okini or bidding the departed farewell to the other “village” or “Community” is an interesting rite.

 The first step is during the time of ill health or sickness. While a member of the community is sick all work is done by immediate members of the family. During this time of sickness, there is neither farming nor hunting as the case may be, so the family is starving.

Whosoever goes to the farm on return, gives a little thing as a mark of solidarity and good will for the sick to get well soon so as to join in farming, fishing or hunting for the continued survival of the family and the community. The belief in doing this is that, the gods, spirits, ancestors, nemesis, will be well disposed towards the good spirit exhibited by fellow members of the community, and respond favorable when one offers sacrifice for any purpose. Uttering words like “kpin-o-o” (live o o), they wish the sick person life because of his or her kith and kin. The belief here is that, there is a continuation of another form of existence. One must complete the one here first before going to join the ancestors.

 

Akpoh (He or She is dead)

At the last breath, the first word that is heard is “Akpoh” meaning he or she is dead. This is usually accompanied by bathing and dressing (ayip eyumum na eturum). The reason for the bathing and dressing is purely hygienic. When this is done, then follows an outcry either from the children or the eldest relation to the departed. “Aba m – o o” which means come to my help o o. At this the community is alert and those around come to the affected family. Crying and rolling on the ground continues.

 

Burial

Since it is against Ejagham custom to keep a corpse (Nkuh) beyong twenty four hours after expiry, the body is disposed of after the grave is dug through the night. Like what seems like a short rite, the women will all sit round the corpse crying and wailing “ejen tebere’ (safe journey); “chong - - o-o” (Adieu); “Katan mba – o” (don’t miss your way); “Kayini abon – o” (don’t forget your children); Kayini nju –o (don’t forget the family); ‘Kayini mfam eya – o” (don’t forget your community). If it is a young person or in an event ofsudden death, the language changes. “Kakam – o (Don’t let it down or fight those who kill you); “Yigi eyonge” (retaliate); “Ko abo erong” (take them also to where you are going). It is on the last reasons above that a knife or razor or any weapon is included in the coffin.

While the young men are digging the grave (oyim esimim), the men are doing the supervision. At completion, the men and a selected few, enter the room where the corpse is kept and give directives on what is to be done. This is a stage where the departed member of the society is about to be sent to the home of the ancestors. The corpse is carefully placed in the coffin. His or her best clothes and other belongings are included. The belief here is so that life over there will be comfortable or at least less burdensome. The inclusion of the said items will make the departed less dependent on other at “mfam akibansi” (village or country of the dead). The coffin is now led in a solemn procession to the grave. After lowering the coffin into the grave, the grave is covered and a heap of red earth must be made.This is in preparation for the next stage in the rite of burial.

Nsi Oyim Etughum (Removal of the Red Earth Mound)

Usually this takes place for every member who reaches the age of twelve and above, only infants and children are exempt because they have not yet been initiated and integrated into the community’s life. These only came to see the world as it is and return. Since they have not been integrated members of the community by being formally initiated into the age grading system or other social and cultural clubs of the community, they are not truly and properly speaking members of that community who deserve funeral rites like adults.  Nsi Oyim Etughum (removal of the red earth mound) usually takes place within a periods of fourteen and twenty one days, after you may have arrived at “mfam akibansi” (village or country of the dead).

Ekpa Ekuh / Nju Eku (mat spreading / mourning House)

Right from the day a member of the community transits to the other country mat for women mourners is spread and members of the community gather in the afflicted compound especially women to condole and console members of the family and in the words of Malinowski, to tell death that it cannot make them sad, it cannot scatter their community. The period of mourning at this interim level is between twelve and twenty one days.
 The immediate members of the afflicted family are helped by members of the community in virtually everything ranging from water fetching, wood hewing, collection of food stuff from the farms etc. Even the cooking is done by members of the community. Within these fourteen to twenty one days, food and drinks for the period of mourning comes mainly from other families. This stage in the funeral rite ends with the head of the bereaved family notifying the chiefs of the community of the family’s intention to fold the mats in the mourning house (efirim ekpa ekuh). This however is not the last rite. This is just to allow the family prepare for the elaborate funeral rite which is knitly tied to the statue of the departed member either as member of the community women (Ekpa anakae) or the men (mgbe) the Leopard society. The last rite is that of Ekuh eyimim.

Ekuh Eyimim (The grand funeral)

At this grand funeral, the eldest in the family of the departed informs the chiefs of the community on the plan of the family to bid their dear one fare well The family in conjunction with the elders of the community agree on the time (season – rainy or dry season) and take into consideration communal events. Let it be noted that informing the elders of the community is usually done by presenting some items as prescribed by traditional law and custom.
 On agreement on the time, it behoves the family and the community to send message to the neighbouring communities on the intention of the family and the community to bid their departed one farewell or to do him or her last homage. It usually spans through days and under normal circumstances during week ends. Generally, it is done under three days. Eves to the first day visitors begin to arrive through the different entrances into the community. As you arrive you sound a note of your presence by an outcry in these or similar words: “mma aji –o-o-“ (Mother is gone – o - o) “ papa aji – o- o (father is gone o-o). Ere eyim nan e-e-e” (what shall we do e-e-e?). With this notifying of the arrival of a visitor some members of the mourning community will approach the wailing visitor. Should they delay in approaching him he begins to ask for somebody to do so by sayng “Nne chang nyo atanga m-e-e-e.” (is there one here to stop me from crying?). One or two personsdo so, and the visiting mourner enters the mourning community. He / she is free to enter any household and stay till the period of funeral is over.

Mgbe Abe (Leopard Rites – Disappearance of the Leopard)

Since we are treating the funeral rites for a full member of the “mgbe” (Leopard Society), let us look at the three days rite of “Mgbe” (Leopard).
 The Mgbe bell sounds the evening of the first day and Mgbe hums signifying the disappearance of the Mgbe. With his disappearance, he needs to be brought into the “Ocham Mbge” (house of the Leopard). The meaning of this is that, Mgbe is equally sad that a member is lost, so he is lost too. Until the Mgbe is convinced that, the departed is alive before he returns to his house. Beside the above explanation the disappearance of Mgbe, signifies the seeming dislocation in the unity of the community because of the disappearance of a member who was a part of the bond of unity. It take almost a whole night to catch the Leopard. When the Mgbe is caught and brough into his house (Ocham Mgne) other rites follow. Some are reserved for initiates only.

Mgbe Display

The most conspicuous and colourful rite is the display of the different ‘Ogbe’ (the plural form of Mgbe). The songs used depict unity, community fellow-feeling etc. sample: ‘Ebonko Njag erom” (repeat four time). (Ebonko – an arm of Mgbe that calls for unity among members is here portrayed as a concerned traveler).

The idea here is that, at the death of a member of this society, Ebonko must fulfill this demand of making sure he is there to show the mourning community a sense of concern and to bid a member farewell. After the Ogbe display, it is believed that the departed member has journeyed safely and arrived amid.

Ekpa Anaka (Literally translated as Met for Women)

Every woman at age of maturity must be initiated or inducted into it. At death, a member is equally treated as the men folk do. Though the elders take decisions on what is to be done on the night of the Ekpa Anakae, it is the women who carry out this funeral rite. Being a feminine group, the outcry is that of “Nyen Uma – o- o” meaning my mother o – o). Ekpa is shrouded in secrecy like the Mgbe. Only initiates are the ones who are permitted to be in attendance as they bid their member farewell. However, some aspects like that of dancing round the community and sounding gongs is witnessed by all. The gongs are like the Christian knell to direct the member the way to her home. Both ceremonies end with cooking food and buying drinks to
notify the community and guests especially chiefs that, the mourner is satisfied with the way and manner themother, father, sister, brother is given farewell by the family and the community. The general belief is that he or she is at ease, with the ancestors. “Nyen Okini Okara Mkpohakpoha oreng” (a good funeral gives the departed person peace over there). For that reason, one must be properly buried.

LANGUAGE

The Ekoi people speak Ekoi also known as Ejagham. Ekoid language (Niger–Congo family) of Nigeria and Cameroon. Ekoi is dialectically diverse. Western varieties include Etung and Bendeghe; eastern Keaka and Obang.
The Ekoi are one of several peoples who use nsibidi ideographs, and may be the ones that created them.

 

NSIBIDI WRITINGS

Nsibidi (also known as nsibiri, nchibiddi or nchibiddy) is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern Nigeria that is apparently ideographic, though there have been suggestions that it includes logographic elements. The symbols are at least several centuries old: Early forms appeared on excavated pottery as well as what are most likely ceramic stools and headrests from the Calabar region, with a range of dates between 400 and 1400 CE. Nsibidi's origin has been attributed to the Ekoi people of southern Nigeria.

There are thousands of nsibidi symbols, of which over 500 have been recorded. They were once taught in a school to children. Many of the signs deal with love affairs; those that deal with warfare and the sacred are kept secret. Nsibidi is used on wall designs, calabashes, metals (such as bronze), leaves, swords, and tattoos. It is primarily used by the Ekpe leopard secret society (also known as Ngbe or Egbo), which is found across Cross River among the Ekoi, Efik, Igbo people, and other nearby peoples.

Outside knowledge of nsibidi came in 1904 when T.D. Maxwell noticed the symbols. Before the British colonisation of the area, nsibidi was divided into a sacred version and a public, more decorative version which could be used by women. Aspects of colonisation such as Western education and Christian doctrine drastically reduced the number of nsibidi-literate people, leaving the secret society members as some of the last literate in the symbols. Nsibidi was and is still a means of transmitting Ekpe symbolism. Nsibidi was transported to Cuba and Haiti via the Atlantic slave trade, where it developed into the anaforuana and veve symbols

The origin of the word nsibidi is not known. One theory traces the word to the Ekoid languages, where it means "cruel letters", reflecting the harsh laws of the secret societies that hold nsibidi knowledge. In Calabar, nsibidi is mostly associated with men's leopard societies such as Ekpe. The leopard societies were a legislative, judicial, and executive power before colonisation, especially among the Efik who exerted much influence over the Cross River.

The origin of nsibidi is most commonly attributed to the Ejagham people of the northern Cross River region, mostly because colonial administrators found the largest and most diverse nsibidi among them. Nsibidi spread throughout the region over time and mixed with other cultures and art forms such as the Igbo uli graphic design. In 1909 J. K. Macgregor who collected nsibidi symbols claimed that nsibidi was traditionally said to have come from the Uguakima, Ebe or Uyanga tribes of the Igbo people, which legend says were taught the script by baboons, although one writer believes Macgregor had been misled by his informants

Nsibidi has a wide vocabulary of signs usually imprinted on calabashes, brass ware, textiles, wood sculptures, masquerade costumes, buildings and on human skin. Nsibidi has been described as a "fluid system" of communication consisting of hundreds of abstract and pictographic signs. Nsibidi was described in the colonial era by P.A. Talbot as a "a kind of primitive secret writing", Talbot explained that nsibidi was used for messages "cut or painted on split palm stems". J.K. Macgregor's view was that "The use of nsibidi is that of ordinary writing. I have in my possession a copy of the record of a court case from a town of Enion [Enyong] taken down in it, and every detail ... is most graphically described". Nsibidi crossed ethnic lines and was a uniting factor among ethnic groups in the Cross River region.

Uses: Court cases
Nsibidi was used in judgement cases known as 'Ikpe' in some Cross River communities. Macgregor was able to retrieve and translate an nsibidi record from Enyong of an ikpe judgement.

The record is of an Ikpe or judgement case. (a) The court was held under a tree as is the custom, (b) the parties in the case, (c) the chief who judged it, (d) his staff (these are enclosed in a circle), (e) is a man whispering into the ear of another just outside the circle of those concerned, (f) denotes all the members of the party who won the case. Two of them (g) are embracing, (h) is a man who holds a cloth between his finger and thumbs as a sign of contempt. He does not care for the words spoken. The lines round and twisting mean that the case was a difficult one which the people of the town could not judge for themselves. So they sent to the surrounding towns to call the wise men from them and the case was tried bv then (j) and decided; (k) denotes that the case was one of adultery or No. 20.

The Ikpe from Enyong written in nsibidi as recorded by J. K. Macgrego

Ukara Ekpe
Nsibidi is used to design the 'ukara ekpe' woven material which is usually dyed blue (but also green and red) and is covered in nsibidi symbols and motifs. Ukara ekpe cloths are woven in Abakaliki, and then they are designed by male nsibidi artists in the Igbo-speaking towns of Abiriba, Arochukwu and Ohafia to be worn by members of the Ekpe society. Symbols including lovers, metal rods, trees, feathers, hands in friendship war and work, masks, moons, and stars are dyed onto ukara cloths. The cloth is dyed by post-menopausal women in secret, and young males in public. Ukara was a symbol of wealth and power only handled by titled men and post-menopausal women.

Ukara can be worn as a wrapper (a piece of clothing) on formal occasions, and larger version are hung in society meeting houses and on formal occasions. Ukara motifs are designed in white and are placed on grids set against an indigo background. Some of the designs include abstract symbols representing the Ekpe society such as repeating triangles representing the leopard's claws and therefore Ekpe's power. Ukara includes naturalistic designs representing objects such as gongs, feathers and manilla currency, a symbol of wealth. Powerful animals are included, specifically the leopard and crocodile.
Examples of Nsibidi

Below are some examples of nsibidi recorded by J. K. Macgregor (1909) and Elphinstone Dayrell (1910 and 1911) for The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland and Man. Both of them recorded symbols from a variety of locations around the Cross River, and especially the Ikom district in what is now Cross River State. Both of the writers used informants to retrieve nsibidi that were regarded as secret and visited several Cross River communities.

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