The Eket are a subgroup of the indigenous Ibibio peoples of south-eastern Nigeria with a population of approximately 1 million.
The ancestors of the modern Eket subsisted through agriculture and fishing.
They have lived in present-day south-eastern Nigeria for several hundred years. Although written accounts of the Eket can be found in colonial records, oral traditions credit them with a much longer presence in the region.
The natives refer to themselves and their language as Ekid but the Europeans spelt the name as "Eket".
The Eket are regarded as closely related to the neighboring Anaang, Efik, Ibibio, Ogoja, and Oron communities. The name Eket refers not only to the people but also to the language spoken by this group, which belongs to the Benue-Congo branch of languages spoken widely across the south-eastern part of the country.
Before the beginning of British colonial rule in 1800, the Eket had a castle-like, hierarchical social structure and like other Ibibio peoples, a government that followed the traditional methods of consensus building and periodic elections. The Eket were governed by a group of elders known as Ekpo Ndem Isong, also referred to as the Ekpo society, who functioned as the ruling class in villages and towns and controlled the distribution of wealth in the communities. These powerful individuals wielded all socioeconomic and political power. The highest caste in Eket was called Amama; this caste of the highest-ranking members of the Ekpo society also was the highest political class. Second to the Amama in power and influence were other member of the Ekpo society. The Ikan, a class of indigenous police, enforced the decisions reached by the political class; qualification for inclusion in this class was by ascription rather than birth. The Ikan, owing to their regular wearing of masks to disguise their identity, are referred to in literature as the "masked police of Eket."
The Eket or Ekid are the people who live in this Local Government Area. They are a sub-group of the Ibibio people. Eket is also the name of the main sub-language that they speak, a Benue–Congo language. Both languages are similar, but sufficiently distinct to give away the precise district the speaker originates from.
The Eket have a form of caste or class society, with the "Amama" being the highest caste, and these are notable for undertaking traditional potlatch-like feasts in which the poorer people are fed en masse. In addition to the Amama, groups of "Ekpenim Isong" (Ekpo Ndem Isong in Ibibio) class rule individual villages and towns, and their will is enforced by the "Ikan" class (traditional masked police) to which entry is by merit rather than birth.
Common surnames include Odungide, Akanimo, Assam, Inwang, Essiet, Udoito, Edoho, Edohoeket, Etukudo, Ukpong, Abia, Ekpo, Ikott, Abasekong, Asamudo, Nyoho, Ekong, Ekanim, Udofa, Edem, Inyang, Itauma, Udosen, Usoro, Etti, Etteh (actually meaning father), Udofia, Ukoetuk, Uku, Abia and Nsien. Just like the remainder of West Africa, the family name normally is an indicator of which specific region one is from.
The Eket are really a subgroup of the Ibibio, and their history is best described in that context. The Ibibio have lived in the Cross River area of modern day Nigeria for several hundreds of years, and though written information about them only exists in colonial records from the late 1800s on, oral traditions have them in the region much earlier than this. The Ibibio were very resistant to colonial invasions, and it was not until after the end of World War I that the British were able to gain a strong foothold in the region. Even at this time, however, the British found it necessary to incorporate Ibibio Ekpo traditions in order to impose indirect rule in the region.
The main economic staple in the region is the oil palm, the oil of which is extracted and sold to external markets. 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 trees for their own use and, with the profits they earn, ensure 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 foster 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.
Today, the majority of Eket live in small village communities and work either in agriculture, growing palm for it soil and kernels, or in trade. Another 350,000 live in urban areas, primarily in the greater metropolitan city of Eket, which includes Afaha Eket, Esit Eket, and Nsit Ubium, where they work as traders, artisans, and civil servants. The central city of Eket is home to an oil refinery, a stadium, an airstrip, and a number of five-star hotels.
Individual villages are ruled by Ekpo Ndem Isong, a group of village elders, and the heads of extended families. Their decisions are enforced by members of the Ekpo society who act as messengers of the ikan (ancestors). Ekpo members are always masked when performing their policing duties, and although their identities are almost always known, fear of retribution from the ancestors prevents most people from accusing those members who overstep their limits, 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.
Ibibio religion is based on paying tribute to the village ancestors. Failing to appease these ancestors will result in the wrath of the Ekpo society. The most important ancestors are those who achieved high rank while living, usually the house heads. They may control the fortunes of the descendants, and are free to afflict those who fail to make the proper offering, or those who fail to observe kinship norms. Ala is the earth deity and is appeased through Ogbom ceremony, which is believed to make children plentiful and to increase the harvest. It is performed in the middle of the year, every eighth day for eight weeks by each section of the village in turn.
In addition to ancestor worship, indigenous Eket also worship Ala. the Ibibio earth deity, and hold seasonal agricultural festivals. These practices were considered important and interrelated, as neglect of the ancestors was believed to incur the wrath of the Ekpo society, while failing to worship Ala could lead to child mortality, disease, and poor agricultural yield. The Eket, like other Ibibio groups, were introduced to Christianity during the colonial period; since then, many have converted and have abandoned ancestor worship and other associated practices.
Types of Art
One of the greatest legacies of the indigenous Eket people is the thousands of masks and wooden sculptures used by members of the Ekpo society. These masks and sculptures, distinguished for their naturalistic self- images, have contributed immensely to the repertoire of indigenous art forms in Nigeria.
The masks and accouterments of the Ekpo society make up the greatest works of art in Ibibio society. Drumming and music are also important elements in Ekpo ceremonies. The wooden sculpture from this area is often very detailed, and artists are just as likely to capture beauty as they are the hideous forms of evil spirits.