The Ibibio people are a coastal people in southern Nigeria. They are mostly found in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and on the Eastern Part of Abia.They are related to the Annang Igbo and Efik peoples. During the colonial period in Nigeria, the Ibibio Union asked for recognition by the British as a sovereign nation (Noah, 1988). The Annang, Efik, Ekid, Oron and Ibeno share personal names, culture, and traditions with the Ibibio, and speak closely related varieties (dialects) of Ibibio which are more or less mutually intelligible. The Ekpo/Ekpe society is a significant part of the Ibibio political system. They use a variety of masks to execute social control. Body art plays a major role in Ibibio art.
The Ibibio people are reputed to be the earliest inhabitants of the south eastern Nigeria. It is estimated that they arrived at their present home around 7000 B.C. In spite of the historical account, it is not clear when the Ibibio arrived at state. According to some scholars, they might have come from the central Benue valley, particularly, the Jukun influence in the old Calabar at some historical time period. Another pointer is the wide-spread use of the manila, a popular currency used by the Jukuns. Coupled with this is the Jukun southern drive to the coast which appears to have been recently compared with the formation of Akwa Ibom settlements in their present location.
Another version described that the Cameroon will offer a more concise explanation of the Ibibio migration story. This was corroborated by oral testimonies by field workers who say that the core Ibibio people were of the Afaha lineage whose original home was Usak Edet in the Cameroon. This was premised on the fact that among the Ibibio people, Usak Edet is popularly known as Edit Afaha (Afaha’s Creek) which reflects the fact that Ibibio people originated from Usak Edet. After the first bulk of the people arrived in what later became Nigeria, they settled first at Ibom then in Arochukwu. The Ibibio must have lived in Ibom for quite some time. As a result of clashes with the Igbo people, culminating in the famous ‘Ibibio War’, which took place about 1300 and 1400 A.D., they left Ibom and moved to the present day Ibibio land.
The Ibibio people are found predominantly in Akwa Ibom state and are related to the Anaang community, the Ibibio community and the Eket and Oron communities, although other groups usually understand the Ibibio language. Because of the larger population of the Ibibio people, they hold political control over Akwa-Ibom State, but government is shared with the Anaangs, Eket and Oron. The political system follows the traditional method of consensus. Even though elections are held, practically, the political leaders are pre-discussed in a manner that is benefiting to all.
Location of Ibibioland
The Ibibio people are located in the South South geopolitical zone of Nigeria also known as Coastal Southeastern Nigeria. Prior to the existence of Nigeria as a nation, the Ibibio people were self-governed. The Ibibio people became a part of the Eastern Nigeria of Nigeria under British colonial rule. During the Nigerian Civil War, the Eastern region was split into three states. Southeastern State of Nigeria was where the Ibibio were located, one of the original twelve states of Nigeria after Nigerian independence. The Efik, Anaang, Oron, Eket and their brothers and sisters of the Ogoja District, were also in the Southeastern State. The state (Southeastern State) was later renamed Cross Rivers State. On 23 September 1987, by Military Decree No.24, Akwa Ibom State was carved out of the then Cross Rivers State as a separate state. Cross Rivers State remains as one of neighbouring states.
Southwestern Cameroon was a part of present Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. During the then Eastern Region of Nigeria it got partitioned into Cameroon in a 1961 plebiscite. This resulted in the Ibibio, Efik, and Annang being divided between Nigeria and Cameroon. However, the leadership of the Northern Region of Nigeria was able to keep "Northwestern section" during the plebiscite that is now today's Nigerian Adamawa and Taraba states.
The Ibibio tribe is the 4th largest ethnic set in Nigeria, and barely outnumbered by the Igbo their neighbor. Apart from the Igbos, the other two ethnic groups that outnumbers Ibibio are the Hausa and Yoruba. About five million people in Nigeria speak Ibibio as their mother tongue and inhabit much of the South- eastern part of the country. Among the four million speakers are small groups speaking small 'languages" identified as Ito, Itu Mbon Uso, Iwere, Nkari and Ukwa (cf. Essien 1987:34).
Genetically, the Ibibio language belongs to the Benue-Congo sub-family which in turn belongs to the Niger-Congo family, one of the largest families of knguages in Africa, according to Greenberg's (1963) classification. Still, under this genetic classification Ibibio belongs to the Lower Cross group, a group of closely related languages to which Efik and Annang, with which Ibibio forms a cluster of dialects, also belong, and to which we refer as Ibibiod.
The Ibibio language is old as the people themselves, dating back centuries ago. However, its history as a written language is very recent. Although Ibibio was actually written only in 1983, the attempts to write and develop the language go back as far as to the time Efik itself was about to be written in the last century (between 1846 and 1862, when Hugh Goldie's Dictionary of the Efik Language was published). For according to Jeffreys (1935:106), the first attempt to write Ibibio was defeated by only two votes, as the quotation below shows:
At the Language Conference held in Calabar the motion to impose the Efik dialect on the Ibibio race was carried by two votes and then, only because two members refrained from voting. That defeat of Ibibio or victory for Efik has made all the difference, for the Efik dialect was to be imposed on the Ibibio race by the early missionaries to this part of the world whose efforts were directed towards the development of Efik, as pointed out by Jeffreys (1935:2)
The missionaries naturally directed their first studies to the Efik language with the result that the Efik have benefited enormously and their language has inevitably assumed a position that is not justified either upon population or linguistic basis.
The creator, Abassi, created two humans and then decided to not allow them to live on earth. His wife, Atai, persuaded him to let them, the people, live on earth.
In order to control the humans, Abassi insisted that they eat all their meals with him, thereby keeping them from growing or hunting food.
He also forbade them to have children. Soon, though, the woman began growing food in the earth, and they stopped showing up to eat with Abassi.
Then the man joined his wife in the fields, and before long there were children also.
Abassi blamed his wife for the way things had turned out, but she told him she would handle it.
She sent to earth, death and discord to keep the people in their place, and their numbers down.
The Ibibio largely engage in farming, fishing, and trading. While farming is the principal occupation of the Ibibio uplands, the river-side Ibibio traditionally work as fishermen at fishing ports commonly known as INE. Trading is done by middlemen who act as brokers between the producers of goods and the consumers.
Among the Ibibio, those of the highest rank in the Ekpo society, Amama, often control the majority of the community wealth. The Amama often appropriate hundreds of acres of palm tree for their own use and ensure with the profits they earn that their sons achieve comparable rank, effectively limiting access to economic gain for most members of the community. The Ekpo society requires that its initiates sponsor feasts for the town, which fosters the appearance of the redistribution of wealth by providing the poor with food and drink. In effect, this allows the disparity in wealth to be perpetuated in Ibibio society.
Outside the farming and fishing seasons the Ibibio traditionally spend their time with various recreational activities, with games and sports like wrestling, swimming, Oyo, and Ekara (marksmanship) and arrow shooting). Also moonlight plays like 0ffiong and Edop provide a good platform for social interaction particularly for the youths. Daytime plays include Ukwa, Ebre, Ibit-Abang, Ekong, and a host of others.
The Ibibio are well known for their skill in wood carving and are considered masters of an adroit professional technique. Weaving is generally done by youths of both sexes, whereas women are responsible for mat making.
As with the Igbo, yams are traditionally considered to be the chief crop of men, and cocoyams the chief crop of women. Men do most of the clearing, planting, and harvesting of the yams. Women weed, plant, and tend other crops. They also collect the harvested yams into baskets and carry them to the market.
In collecting the produce from palm trees, men generally do the climbing, and the women collect and carry the fruit to the market. The extracting and processing of palm oil is usually done by women, who retain the palm kernels. Also, raffia palms may be tended by men, but are usually owned by women, and are used to make wine, mats, and poles.
With a strong emphasis on the patrilineage, the male members form the dominant nucleus of the hamlet and have collective rights to its land. The lineage head allocates the land for farming among its members on a yearly basis
Among the Ibibio, kinship is patrilineal (i.e descent is traced through the father) while family is polygynous. According to Ekong (1988) the Ibibio family was initially patrilineal (upon marriage, a couple lives with or
near the husbands parents) and recently neolocal (married couple lives apart from their relatives)
Ibibio kinship structure is also something of a trinity. The Ibibio kinship trinity involves complex of norms involving ayeyin (grandchild), ukod (in-law) and imaan (blood brother). It provides dependable framework and serves as a pivot of social relations among Ibibio people living in and outside Ibibioland. The enduring nature of this trinity among Ibibios belies an assertion that the Ibibios are unusually receptive to innovation from cultures which they come in contact (Esen 1982:4).
Ibibio men and women are formally grouped into age sets, the status of which increases with seniority. They are informally established for youths around the age of 10, and are formally recognized when its members are about 12 years of age. Members of the young sets are given instruction in morality and native laws. To this end, age sets function as self-disciplinary institutions and guardians of public morality.
The basic family (nnung) unit among the Ibibio is the compound (ekpuk). A compound consists of the head who is usually the eldest male, his wives, siblings and other relatives in the household. The compound head has jurisdiction over all the members of the household. However, he is subordinate to the head of the extended family. The extended family comprises of a combination of related compounds. This constitutes the extended family group. The extended family head handles serious matters affecting the lineage while the compound head handles purely domestic matters.
Furthermore, a combination of extended family groups make up a clan which generally has a name, common dialect and custom, a totem and a ritual leader.
Marriage is regarded as a complex of social, political, religious, and economic systems in Ibibio land (Udo, 1983). It covers diverse aspects of the society as family and community relationships, sex and sexuality, inheritance, and even political power (as rulership particularly in the past resided in specific and designated families both the secular and the religious).
Betrothal before the age of 14 used to be common. Marriage payments were made to the prospective bride's parents. The marriage payment was shared among the bride's kin, with the father keeping the largest share. The marriage payment traditionally had to be completed before the marriage could be consummated; it was supplemented by services rendered by the husband to the bride's father.
Given the fact that marriage is a fulcrum in Ibibio society, there are elaborate ceremonies on it before, during, and after the formal handing over of a girl or woman to her suitor. Here is the process:
When a man proposes to a woman and of course the woman accepts, they are then required to go and see the woman’s parents, this is called “Ndidiong Ufok” which means “ to know the house” of the lady. You could call it an introduction. During this, not many people are expected to go with the groom just about 3 - 4 people would be okay, but if more people are to go then the bride’s family must be informed of the number of people that will be showing up so they can make proper arrangements, especially as the family of the bride is mandated by custom to cook and welcome the members of the groom’s family like special guests.
The next step is the ‘knocking of the door’; the date for the “Nkong Udok/ Nkong Usong (depending on the dialect)” is set after the ‘Ndidiong Ufok’,So after the family of the groom has gotten to know the house of the girl then they can come and knock on the door and officially ask for the lady’s hand.
The knocking on the door is more or less the same as in the Yoruba tradition or the Igbo tradition, where family of the groom comes and asks for the girl that they are looking for in the house and in turn collect the "list" provided by the Father and elders of the girls family .
In the Ibibio tradition the grooms family has to buy some things for the family of the bride, hence the list, which would include things for each member of the lady’s family from the youngest to the oldest. The day that the things or items on the list are to be delivered is called the ‘Uno Mpo’, which means to “to give something”. Traditionally, this list is a way of compensating the family of the lady by the family members of the groom’ for talking away a member of their family thus reducing the number of hands that would have helped in the farm or with cooking and taking care of the house. Of course today, there are no farms to help out with but in most cases, but tradition is tradition.
The date of the delivery of the items is usually settled on at the ‘Nkong Udok/ Nkong Usong’.
The next thing to follow all these events is the traditional wedding. This is where all the hair and clothing that you would probably have seen in pictures or videos are donned; the bride and groom dress in full traditional regalia sometimes like a prince or princess (depending on their own tastes of course) etc. The ceremony takes place more or less like the Igbo Traditional wedding, from the hiding of the groom to the wife looking for him with the drink given to her by her parents to offer him.
All these events are handled according to the purse size of the families involved, and in recent times, people choose to do all or some of these events together and sometimes skip some parts all together in a bid to reduce the length of the whole ceremony.
For the Ibibio the has two aspects-visible, that is the domain of ordinary human experience: and invisible, the domain of God, the gods and spirits. Human life passes through these two domains in a cycle; the adult becomes aged and passes into the world of invisible to be re-incarnated and born again as a baby into the world of visible. Birth and death are therefore moments in the life cycle. As a result the Ibibio has a sacrifice for periodic phases of the life cycle. These are:
There are also initiations for certain high ranking personalities in Ibibio society. These includes:
Mbopo also known as “fattening house” ritual is an Ibibio women’s ritual that points to a greater resident culture that heralds ceremonial seclusion, corpulence, and ornamental extravagance as principal components in female identity construction. It is one of several exclusive women’s institutions found in southeast Nigeria. Mbopo translates as “the fattened girl,” referring to the one who has been secluded to ekuk mbopo, or “fattening house.” The term mbopo also embodies her collective process of confinement, beautification, fattening, and circumcision, the last of which is a procedure that was traditionally considered as a ceremonial rite for a young woman, ensuring her purity, sexual appeal, marital fortune, and successful pregnancies.
Specifically, the emergence of a “fat and beautiful” girl from a regulated period of seclusion in ekuk mbopo is paramount for the sustenance of a community. Yet, of equal value to her appearance is that she be imbued with strength as well as the skill required to handle the unrelenting rigors of womanhood.
Traditionally Ibibio society consists of communities that are made up of large families with blood affinity each ruled by their constitutional and religious head known as the Ikpaisong. The Obong Ikpaisong ruled with the Mbong Ekpuk (Head of the Families) which together with the heads of the cults and societies constitute the 'Afe or Asan or Esop Ikpaisong' (Traditional Council or Traditional Shrine or Traditional Court'). The decisions of the Obong Ikpaisong were enforced by members of the Ekpo or Obon society who act as messengers of the spirits and the military and police of the community. Ekpo members are always masked when performing their policing duties. Although their identities are almost always known, fear of retribution from the ancestors prevents most people from accusing those members who overstep their social boundaries, effectively committing police brutality. Membership is open to all Ibibio males, but one must have access to wealth to move into the politically influential grades. The main purpose of Ekpo is to protect its people and act as a defense against potential attackers. They are concerned with issues and emergencies that pertain to the safety of the town as a whole. In addition, it serves as an outlet for men to productively use energy to benefit everyone. In the months of June through December, the Ekpo society plays a large role in the community's life. Many activities such as farming, shopping, and obtaining food and water are prohibited on days in which the masks are out and being performed. Crimes also carry heavier consequences during this time period. While the punishments are more lax today, a person caught stealing during this time period in the 1940s would be killed by members of the Ekpo. The chief will send masked individuals to confront a rule-breaker if the need arises. It is known as a secret society despite the fact that the purpose and activities are widely known by the village. This is due to the fact that everyone must abide by certain laws during Ekpo season. The most important secrets are a series of code words and dance steps taught to initiates and used by members. Knowing these secrets allows members to travel freely during the season, and being caught traveling without knowing the secret terms and dance will result in being arrested.
The Obon society, with its strong enticing traditional musical prowess and popular acceptability, openly executes its mandates with musical procession and popular participation by members which comprises children, youth, adults and brave elderly women.
Ibibio believe that there is a Supreme being called Abasi whoc created all things including the gods (ndem) to who He gives charge of the different aspect of human affairs. Thus there is ndem isiong (fertility goddess) to look after land fertilitity, ndem ndua (market god) to protect the interest of those who buy and sell at the market,etc.
Below the gods are unincarnated spirits like eka abasi, the spirit mother that looks after children. Then there are spirits of the ancestors whom they worship too.
Ibibio religion (Inam) was of two dimensions, which centered on the pouring of libation, sacrifice, worship, consultation, communication and invocation of the God of Heaven (Abasi Enyong), God of the Earth (Abasi Isong) and the Supreme Being (Abasi Ibom) by the Constitutional and Religious King/Head of a particular Ibibio Community who was known from the ancient times as the Obong-Ikpaisong (the word 'Obong Ikpaisong' directly interpreted means King of the Principalities of the Earth' or 'King of the Earth and the Principalities' or Traditional Ruler). The second dimension of Ibibio Religion centered on the worship, consultation, invocation, sacrifice, appeasement, etc. of the God of the Heaven (Abasi Enyong) and the God of the Earth (Abasi Isong) through various invisible or spiritual entities (me Ndem) of the various Ibibio Division such as Atakpo Ndem Uruan Inyang, Afia Anwan, Ekpo/Ekpe Onyong, Etefia Ikono, Awa Itam, etc. The Priests of these Deities (me Ndem) were the Temple Chief Priests/Priestesses of the various Ibibio Divisions. A particular Ibibio Division could consist of many interrelated autonomous communities or kingdoms ruled by an autonomous Priest-King called Obong-Ikpaisong, assisted by heads of the various large families (Mbong Ekpuk) which make up the Community. These have been the ancient political and religious system of Ibibio people from time immemorial. Tradition, interpreted in Ibibio Language, is 'Ikpaisong'. Tradition (Ikpaisong) in Ibibio Custom embodies the Religious and Political System. The word 'Obong' in Ibibio language means 'Ruler, King, Lord, Chief, Head' and is applied depending on the Office concern. In reference to the Obong-Ikpaisong, the word 'Obong' means 'King'. In reference to the Village Head, the word means 'Chief'. In reference to the Head of the Families (Obong Ekpuk), the word means 'Head' In reference to God, the word means 'Lord'. In reference to the Head of the various societies - e.g. 'Obong Obon', the word means 'Head or Leader'.
Sacred Lands (Akai)
Scattered throughout each village were sacred lands, akai (forest). They were called akai because no one was permitted to clear them for cultivation. All burial grounds, shrines for the village deities and spots for secret societies such as Ekpo Onyoho, Ekpe, Ekoong, Idiong, Ekong, and Obon, were sacred. Everything in these places were equally sacred. Non-members of the secret societies were not permitted to enter the spots set aside for such secret societies, even for the collection of firewood, sticks, fruits (like mkpook), vegetables (like afang and odusa) or snails, or to hunt the animals which abounded in the forests. The explanation is simple. If non-members were allowed to enter any secret society akai they might in due course discover the secrets of their time-honoured society, and wicked people might even desecrate the graves of their ancestors hence the ban.
The Soul and Life After Death
Like many Ibibio words, the name Ukpong (Soul) has four meanings. First, ethereal body, secondly, soul, thirdly, spirit, and fourthly, over-soul; the last always lives in the house of Abasi Ibom and it is quite separate from the individuality which between incarnations stays in the country of the dead. Though over-soul and spirit are combined, much of the Spirit is contained in that portion of the ego which is incarnated.
According to Talbot, it is the soul proper that spends part of its time as a were-animal or in a bush-beast in the forest or water and is called Ukpong Ikot, or bush-soul. The shadow is not thought to be connected with the ethereal body but to be an emanation of the soul and therefore to be directly affected by any action on it. The majority of the Ibibio believe that a person's soul can be invoked into his shadow, which is made to appear in a basin of water. The shadow is then speared, his blood is seen in the water in the basin and the man dies.
The Ibibio believe that after death the same kind of existence is led as during life on earth; for example, farmers, blacksmiths, hunters, and fishermen will continue with their former occupations while social intercouse and amusements will also proceed as before. The scenery, houses, crops and animals of the next world have the same appearance as in this world but only those beasts, plants and foodstuffs which have been sacrificed in honour of the dead are transported there. The land of the dead, like that of the living, is believed to be divided into various countries, towns, villages and lineages where different communities of people live as on earth. At death every man goes to the particular part inhabited by his people.
The Ibibio believe in obot, that is, the individual creation of persons by God. If someone is wild, they say he was created that way; if he is kind, again that is how he was created by God to be; if he is poor or rich, that was his lot, etc., so there was nothing anyone could do to alter his lot, for he was moulded that way.
Essien Emana (destiny). The Ibibio also believe in the same way in destiny, essien emana or uwa. For instance, if a person died accidentally, this was how he had died in his previous incarnation and therefore he had to die that way. If he was rich, he was so in his previous incarnation and must be so now; if he was brilliant, that was how he was destined to be, etc. He could, however, reverse the situation if he consulted the Mbia Idiong, who alone could tell him what to do. The diviners could help him pin-point what it was he had done in his previous incarnation which was affecting his present life. They could then prescribe to him what to do to remedy the worsening situation. If the instructions were strictly followed, the position could be reversed, they believed. For instance, if a person had no issue a diviner might tell him that he had killed innocent children in his previous incarnation, and that the parents of the deceased and the general public had cursed him, saying that he would not have any issue and would continue to kill innocent children throughout his incarnations unless he gave certain things as sacrificial offerings. When the Mbia Idiong told him what the things were and he had offered them as sacrifices to Mother Earth, the Ibibio believed the situation would be reversed; otherwise, he would remain childless.
Colonial and Post-Colonial Era
The Ibibio were introduced to Christianity through the work of early missionaries in the nineteenth century. Samuel Bill started his work at Ibeno. He established the Qua Iboe Church which later spread places in the middle belt of Nigeria. Later, other churches were also introduced e.g. The Apostolic church. Independent churches such as Deeper Life Bible Church, came into the area in the second part of the twentieth century. Today Ibibio people are predominantly Christian.
The masks and accoutrements of the Ekpo society make up the greatest works of art in Ibibio society. Ibibio often purposefully play with proportions in their masks to distort the face. A component that appears often in Ibibio masks is an articulated lower jaw. Ibibio people have an overarching theme of contrasting male and female masks by using dark and light colors respectively. These masks are not always performed together, but there is a general understanding of their opposing relationship. Feminine masks are decorated with light colors such as white. Their features are delicate to emphasize their femininity. On the other hand, masculine masks use dark colors to represent the mystic forces of the forest. These masks often have large features and are created to be intentionally ugly. They achieve this by distorting the features in unnatural manners such as having bulging eyes or misplaced mouths. Many deformities present in the masks come from naturally occurring human diseases and illnesses. One that is often depicted is gangosa - a part of yaws. Signs of baldness and walking sticks also show up often in order to portray symbols of karma and old age. Men's costumes incorporate natural materials from the wilderness such as raffia, and seed pod rattles. Women's costumes use materials such as light colored cloth to represent the order of living in the village.
Ekpo/Ekpe. The masks of this society were used to elicit fear and execute social control. The most common type of mask is one made for the face with waist-length raffia attached. The affect of the masks and their intimidating quality is part of what gives them their power, in addition to the long history of the Ekpo. To put on an Ekpo mask is to surrender earthly identity and assume an ancestral one. Masks used may be ones owned by deceased ancestors, ones made to look like ancestors, or ones made to resemble to village heroes. Many are carved from lightweight wood called ukot (palm wine tree). This makes them easier to wear and move around in. For additional support, the mask is secured to the wearer's head with a rope, and a horizontal piece of wood may be inserted into the mask in order to bite into. In addition to the raffia on the mask itself, performers also wear a knee-length raffia skirt. The lower legs, arms, and hands are painted with charcoal. New raffia is added to the mask each season, and is displayed in the off-season in a family or village shrine.
The Ibibio are known for their woodcarvings, raffia-weavings, and pottery making. Ikot Ekpene is a town in Nigeria known for its marketplace in which crafts are sold to both tourists and middle-class Nigerians. While the Ibibio are not known for metalworking, there is a significant number of craftspeople making this type of art to be sold. Most metalwork objects produced have a practical purpose rather than a decorative one. Despite this, Ibibio coffins tend to be highly decorative. They feature ornamental painted metal motifs, colorful plastic sheets, and glass panels on the sides. Many people who carve Ekpo masks live in Ikot Ekpene.
Both temporary and permanent body modifications are used. Rhythm and nature are both considerable motifs at play in the designs. Hairdressing, body painting, and body modification are the main focus of body art performed by the Ibibio. Intentional fattening of young women is another culturally important aspect of the Ibibio.
In painting, the goal is to emphasize rather than obscure the wearer's face or other parts of the body. The symbol of the dot plays a key role in the understanding of beauty. Okon Umetuk in his article "Body Art in Ibibio Culture", states that: A 'dot' is regarded as the only perfect mark to indicate and summarize beauty in Ibibio culture.
Evidence of this is found in the abundance of dots that appear on the faces and bodies of decorated individuals. An 'X' symbol may be applied to the forehead, wrists, and ankles as a way to mark mediation. When worn by a diviner, it may mark a connection with himself and the gods as well as his people. Members of a ritual may wear it to symbolize peace, humility, as well as acceptance.
Odung is a type of body painting that is used for events such as marriage, childbirth, coming-of-age, and death. It may also be used to show a man's status in the Ekpo society. This process is commonly used among women. It is often done after the birth of a child. The stains that are left afterwards can stay on the skin for up to three months. Professionals are typically the ones who paint others, and the process may take from five to eight hours to complete.
Iduot is another form of body painting which symbolizes fertility. The pigment is taken from crushed camwood and then added to water which produces a red substance. People's palms, feet, legs, and faces are decorated with the pigment. The Ibibio use it partially for its bleaching effect. After continuous usage, it produces a smooth and light skin complexion.
Modern versions of body decoration such as eyeshadow, lipstick, and eyeliner are used by contemporary Ibibio people. These products help them express themselves in conveniently, but are in now way a new form of expression. Body decoration has a long history to the Ibibio. Substances such as the Atido were used for eyelid decoration long before modern eyeshadow. Similar to other cultures around the world, Ibibio women put heavy emphasis on the eye when it comes to make-up.
The fattening of young women in preparation for marriage is an old custom which is dying out. The purpose of this is to enhance the beauty of an unmarried women and prepare her for married life. Once a girl has undergone this ritual, she is considered an Mbopo. This term refers to the process of fattening a girl as well as the girl herself. A key aspect of this is the teaching of future brides the ins and outs of childcare, motherhood, how to keep a home, and how she is expected to behave. The financial situation of a girl's parents determines how long she will stay in the fattening house. This can range anywhere from three months to seven years, but most stay for an average of three years. During their stay, the girls are fed well and not expected to do any labor. This is due to the fact that historically, being overweight was a sign of wealth and good health to the Ibibio.
Nursing mothers also undergo a fattening ritual which usually occurs for only their first child. Both the husband and the mother-in-law are expected to pay for the ritual. The Ibibio consider it natural for a mother to rest following the birth of a child, and therefore the mother performs no strenuous tasks.
Hair styles are another way for the Ibibio to symbolically mark certain occasions. Styles of hair in Ibibioland include both elaborate braiding with and without the use of thread. Some styles are symbolic of stories or events that have occurred in the wearer's life. If a married woman has unkempt hair, this indicates that someone she is close to, typically her husband, a child, or another relative, has died. Other styles may be indicative of age, marital status, or social standing. There also exists hairstyles without any meaning that are simply worn for fashion purposes.