"As the great Greek philosopher says:
Man know thy self.
We say: Man know thy culture.
Man know thy worldview.
Man know thy language.
For language is the primary means of
preserving and transmitting culture.
Speak your language, do not let it die.
By doing this,
You preserve your culture and identity."
Ibibio cultural dancers from Akwa Ibom state,Nigeria
The Ibibio people are Kwa speaking people Benue-Congo group of Niger-Congo language, occupying the palm belt in the southeast Nigeria`s Akwa Ibom state and are regarded as the most ancient of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria.They are related to the Anaang and the Efik peoples. During 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 of Ibibio-Efik. Prior to present-day Nigeria they were regarded as Ibibio tribes speaking dialects of Ibibio.
Ibibio man and his wife,Akwa Ibom state,Nigeria
Dr. Monday Noah in his work "Ibibio Pioneers in Modern Nigerian History" writes: “The Ibibio occupy mostly the mainland parts of the Cross River State and constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. The major Ibibio sub-groups include the Oron, Eket, Ibuno, and Annang and there are also some Ibibio communities in most of the fishing settlements along the estuary of the Cross River. The Efik people of Calabar are descendants of Ibibio people.” However, Annang, Efik and other related people see themselves as different people as described by Dr Monday Noah and other historians.
"Ibio-ibio" means short or brief and doesn't have anything to do with height of the Ibibios...! The name was given due the Ibibios brief way of doing things.
The nearest neighbours of the Ibibio are the Ibo (Igbo) to the northwest, Ijaw to the southwest and Efik to the southeast, with the Qua, Efut and Ekoi further away in the northeast. Among these perhaps the Efik are their greatest adversaries. The Ibibio come into conflict with Efik as they do business and interact with the latter in Metropolitan Calabar, the seat of government and administration in the Cross River State.
Ibibio people:A Delegation of Mboho Mkparawa Ibibio led by The President, Akparawa Nse Ubeh at Annang New Yam/Cultural Festival 2012
Geography and Location of Ibibio Land
The Ibibio people are found predominately in Akwa Ibom state and is made up of the related 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.
The Ibibio people are located in Southeastern 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 Ibibios 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. Again in the year 1987, by a Military Decree No.24 promulgated that same year, Akwa Ibom State was carved out of the then Cross Rivers State as a separate State on her own on the 23rd September, 1987.Cross Rivers State remains as one of neighboring States.
Ibibio cultural troupe
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).
Ibibio people of Akwa Ibom State
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.
Lexical Comparison of Words in Ibibio Dialects
Eaglish Ibibio Efik Oron Eket
God Abasi Abasi Abasi Abasi
man Eden Eren Onwieni Aniniewe
woman Awowan Nwan Utangayo Mbaba
me Ami Ami Omi Amei
you Afo Afo Ofu Afe
one Kied Kiet Ki Kiang
two Iba Iba Iba Iba
three Ita Ita Ita Ita
four Inang Inang Iniang Iniang
Source: F E K Amoah`s Field Study, (June, 1986).
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.
In spite of the initial -set-back for Ibibio, Jeffreys, a one time District Officer of Nigeria, produced an orthography for the Ibibio language and made a passionate plea to the missionary and other authorities that Ibibio be used officially side by side with Efik for mutual benefits (cf. Jeffreys 1935:103). But this orthography was rejected and the attempt to make Ibibio an official language failed.
Consequent upon this rejection, Ibibio was to remain unwritten and unofficial for decades until 1983, when with the sponsorship of an Ibibio cultural organization, Akwa Esop Imaisong Ibibio, an orthography was produced and presented to the Ministry of Education of the then Cross River State of which the present Akwa Ibom was a part. The orthography, edited by this author, was officially approved by the Ministry of Education and in -a letter MOE/COM/IA Vol. X/482 of 12th September, 1983, the then Commissioner for Education, Professor E.J. Usua, directed that Ibibio be taught in all schools in what is now Akwa Ibom State using the orthography as the standard one. Ibibio is probably the only language so far in Nigeria whose orthography has been designed and produced by the owners of the language themselves. The orthographies of the other languages, including those of the major languages, have been produced by either expatriate missionaries or government agencies.
Ibibio Creation Mythology
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.
Ibibios are regarded as the most ancient of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria,however, "There are no legends or traditions of origin among the Ibibio. They have been long enough in the Forest belt to have forgotten the stories of their origin. (Jeffreys, 192 7,p. 28). As a result there many stories about their origins. According to Robert McKeon, the Ibibio are probably the indigenous natives from whom most small tribes of Qua Ibom and Calabar are descended.
Ibibio people,Circa 1915
Ibibio Traditions of Origin and Ethnic Relations
Information about Ibibio origins is highly speculative and varied. Available traditional sources suggest that the earliest stock of the Ibibio included the Afaha clan whose ancestral home is believed to be Usak Edet (Isangele) in South-western Cameroon and that there are strong cultural similarities between the Ibibio and the Bakoko of Southern Cameroon (Noah, 1980a). It is suggested that the highland regions of this part of Africa may have been a major centre of human evolution on the continent (Dike,1956). According to Ford and Jones, the Ibibio settlement of Isangele now forms a small tribe in the Kumba Division of Cameroon.
Ibom centre historical hypothesis of origin of Ibibio
It is further suggested that the Ibibio people migrated from these eastern parts of their present homeland in two major directions. One group may have reached what is now the Ibibio Mainland by an overland route and settled at Ibom in Arochukwu formerly an Ibibio territory but now Ibo. Noah (1980b), on the authority of an earlier reference by Jeffreys (1927) states that the Ibibio lived in Arochukwu (South-eastern border of Iboland) probably between A.D. 1300 and 1400 and for a long time maintained a famous shrine called Long Juju of Arochukwu at that place. But this latter suggestion is discounted by Aye (n.d) on the grounds that the Ibibio have no such tradition nor practice of such a cult.
Many scholars however continue to press the viewpoint of a centre of Ibibio dispersion from the village of Ibom in Arochukwu to other parts of the present Ibibioland, (Akwa Ibom State). It is thought that the people of present-day Abak, Uyo and Ikot Ekpene who are described as Eastern Ibibio or Ibibio proper might have migrated from that cradle, although as we shall see later, the structural layout of their clans today hardly supports this viewpoint.
There are other Ibibio who, according to another version of the migration story, seem to have reached the Mainland by sea from the east, presumably Cameroon. Among these would be the Oron, Eket, and Andoni people who upon arrival at the seaboard may have advanced northward until they came up against the eastern Ibibio expanding southward. Indeed the Rev. Groves (1930) of the Methodist Mission suggested that the Annang or Western Ibibio migrated northward from a place near Opobo by the creeks of the Cross
River estuary. He based his contention on the observation that the general tendency in the province had been one of northward pressure. But such a trend would have been too recent to be considered as part of a general movement among the early Ibibio settlers.
Original Ibibio Homeland and Environs
Geographically, the presumed migration of the Ibibio from the south-western highlands of Cameroon to the Lower Cross River Basin may have occurred through two natural gaps - the Benue and Mamfe Troughs. The Niger-Benue area today is a region of great cultural diversity and complexity; but the geological history of the south-eastern lowlands shows that only the Oban Massifs and Adamawa Highlands stood above the sea that invaded this part of Africa during the Eocene period. This suggests that the Lower Cross River Basin might have remained under the sea for 'a long time' (Dessau and Whiteman, 1972).
Even in comparatively recent times the physical environment has presented many obstacles to free movement of people. At the time of the early migrations of the Ibibio there must have been a high forest which at its primeval stage would have been a very difficult environment. There was also a trough through which the Enyong creek now flows. This lowland with marshes and seasonal floods could not have offered a hospitable environment to the early settlers. Besides even though the people must have adjusted themselves to the riverine environment, the Cross River and its numerous tributaries would almost certainly have been formidable barriers rather than points of contact and interaction between the Ibibio and the original people who may have earlier occupied the land. As all these constraints lie to the south and south-west of the little village of Ibom where tradition has it that the Ibibio first lived, it is difficult to reconstruct the path through which the Ibibio 'fled', as it were, from war with the local people to their present homeland in the south. All that can be said is that they managed to avoid these obstacles.
The Alternative Ikono Centre (Cradle of Ibibio people) of Dispersion Hypothesis
A more plausible and acceptable hypothesis of the lbibio migration is that proposed by Jones (1963) who suggests that the cradle of the Ibibio people lies somewhere between Abak and Uyo government stations of Akwa Ibom State. In the words of Jones:
"A study o fthe present distribution of the Ibibio tribes suggests an early scatter of
the Ibibio over an area extending from Arochukwu in the north, Ika on the west and
Own in the south. This was followed by a massive dispersal north and south from
a centre somewhere between the present Abak and Oyo government stations and a
differentiation into Annang (Western) and Ibibio (Eastern). (Jones, 1963, p. 31)."
Unfortunately Jones did not proceed any further to highlight this point beyond these few verbal statements. Ntukidem (1977) tookup the issue some years later to examine the validity of Jones* assertion with the aid of structural hypotheses which rested on the assumptions of constrained vis-a-vis unconstrained expansion of the Ibibio clans and settlements from a common centre.
Granting that the bond of common ancestry, customs and culture may preserve ephemeral unity of primary communities in the race of expansion, in the first instance of constrained expansion in a conflict situation one should expect a restricted movement in one and the same direction. The resultant spread would resemble a fan or beam from a torchlight as in the case of the Ibom Origin hypothesis. In the second instance of unconstrained expansion one may expect a circular growth of clans and settlements resembling a diffusion pattern in ripples made by a stone dropped into a pond or the spokes of a wheel as in the case of Ikono centre hypothesis.
Distortions, of course may modify these ideal patterns especially where physical obstacles restrict or obstruct the free movement of people, for example, where the population of different segments of the community is confronted with unfriendly neighbours and frequent wars. Thus if the two hypothesized centres of dispersion at Ibom in Arochukwu and Ikono between Abak and Uyo government stations have any meaning at all, the impact of the movement of people would have been vividly recorded in the structure of the boundaries
and orientation of the different segments of the clans to the source region of the migration.
On the basis of this assumption the Ibom centre hypothesis has to be rejected on the ground that the wedge or fan-shape layout of clans expected is not represented in the landscape today. On the other hand the Ikono centre theory, the findings of which actually show at least sixteen maj or clans believed to have derived their origin from a common centre, must be accepted as a basis for further investigation.
The Evidence from Territorial Occupation by Ibibio Clans
Of the many Ibibio clans, Ikono presents a curious shape and significantly there are portions of this sub-clan among the western, eastern, northern and southern Ibibio. It runs in a north-west direction through the greatest length of Ibibioland. Its sub-clans are found in Abak, Itu, Uyo, Etinan and Opobo local government areas. Directly north of the assumed centre is Ibiono clan whose shape conforms to what should be expected under the presumed centrifugal growth (sectors) from a common centre. The clan is wedge-like in shape with its sharpest edge lying near the assumed origin. From here it stretches for nearly 70 kilometres towards the Enyong Creek.
Outside Ibiono clan towards the north and north-east are Itam and Uruan clans which also spread out in a fan or wedge-shape. Between these are smaller splinter clans of Etoi, Oku and Efut. In the south-'eastern section two clans, Nsit and Iman stretch nearly the same distances from the centre. Ibesikpo clan's southward projection is however arrested by twos small intervening clans of Iwawa and Ndikpo. The south western section is made up of Abak Ukanafim and Ndot among the most extensive clans and their arrest in the west is suggestive of the high population and struggle for land. In the northwest, the layout consists of severally broken up clans such as Abak, Ukanafun Afaha, Abako and Obong, Annang which depict an outward growth from the presumed centre.
This visual evidence in support of the Ikono centre hypothesis gives credence to the suggestion that the Ibibio had lived in their present homeland for a "very long time" and casts doubts about the presupposition that the people began their migration from Ibom further north of this point. Indeed, the observed pattern of clan distribution in Ibibioland especially the long stretches of Ikono, Abak, Ibiono, Itam, Nsit, Iman and others from a common centre could hardly have been achieved in only three hundred years as proposed by Talbot (1926).
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.
Division of Labor
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).
Socialization and Family units
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.
Ibibio kids from Akwa Ibom state
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.
The Ibibio traditional society operates a “stateless society” which, according to Ekong (1988), is organized on the segmnetary unilineal principles. Citing Onwuejeogwu, Ekong describes a stateless society as one which lacks a centralized system of political organization with a king.
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 Obong 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 or orders of the Traditional Council or 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, and 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 Obon Society with its strong enticing traditional musical prowess, with popular acceptability, openly executes its mandates with musical procession and popular participation by Members which comprises children, youth, adults and very 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 marriage rites
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.
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 .
Beautiful Ibibio bride in her traditional attire
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.
Ibibio bride`s arrival
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.
Ibibio wedding dress,Circa 1910
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:
Sacrifice at naming ceremony (usio enying)
Sacrifice at puberty (Mbopo/nkuho)
Sacrifice at death.
There are also initiations for certain high ranking personalities in Ibibio society. These includes:
Sacrifice at Chietaincy initiation
Sacrifice at initiation into cultic associations
Sacrifice at initiation into the guild of diviners (abia idiong)
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.
Ibibio bride looking fresh after Mbopo ritual
Mbopo ritual is concerned with female corporeality, especially with respect to physical modifications to beautify that empower the initiate. In addition to weight gain, ceremonial transformations include body adornment with oils and dyes, tattooing, cicatrizations(or body “scarring”), massages, elaborate hairstyles, and in rare instances, tooth-filing. The “fattening house” is an educational boudoir where an mbopo initiate learns the secrets of womanhood. It is the conceptual platform on which details about sex, motherhood,
and child-rearing are transferred from elder village women to the mbopo. Furthermore, she learns the local songs, dances, and artistic practices like wall painting, pyrography on cloths and calabash vessels, and the creation of ceremonial fans.
Seclusion is traditionally linked to performative demonstrations of love and care through public displays of opulence. The initiate’s period of confinement, which may last from a couple of weeks to as long as two or three years, depends largely on the wealth of her family. The success of her confinement is measured in her
weightiness, radiance, sanguinity, and overall demeanor. Additionally, her seclusion is in part a metaphor: the physical separation from her family and friends during confinement represents her future post-seclusion status as an elite woman, who is set apart from others in her community.
For more on Ibibio sacrificial rites click on this link:-Sacrificial-Worship-in-Ibibio-Traditional-Religion.pdf
The art of using proverbs in speech is characteristic of people all over the world and the Ibibio are no exception to this art (Okon, 2004, p. 107). In every culture, proverbs are communicated in colourful and vivid language to show the values for members to follow. For examples:
1) Ubok mʌm, ubok mʌm etuud ukpa, in togetherness,any obstacle can be removed. “Ukpa” Iroko is a kind of tree. The worldview is reflected in the environment through the use of one of the trees – Iroko – in the forest to show how heavy the tree is. In spite of its weight as it is in reality,the Ibibio believe that when people love and appreciate each other, together they can move the trunk of the Ukpa (Iroko) tree. This same vie is also illustrated below.
2) Ubok Otʌk edem, edem otʌk ubok.The hand is needed to scrub the back clean just as theback equally needs to scrub the hand clean. The world view here is that help is reciprocal. As a group, they can
overcome any obstacle; if you need others to help you,you equally need to help others too.
3) Eto idaaha ikpon ikap-pa akai.A tree cannot make a forest or no man is an island. This proverb uses language to explore the African poeticlandscape with its flora and fauna. This is achieved through the use of words like “eto” tree and akai forest.
The tree symbolizes man and this proverb further strengthens the concept of togetherness. Another worldview or reality in life among the Ibibio is that of forewarning. The proverb below shows this belief:
4) Edue ukod akpa iton. Be watchful lest you fall (die). This proverb bringslanguage into the province of symbolism. The symbolism is that of warning. The warning calls for carefulness, otherwise death will be the end result. Most if not all cultures have this world view – “to be fore-warned is to be fore-armed”.
In Ibibio culture, there are proverbs which deal with work ethics,
5) Owo akpaniko ikpaaha bion. An honest man will always find work to do.
6) Bia ayin unwene itaaha ikan. The labours of man will bear fruit.
7) Ubok anam enyin ama. What the hand does the eye likes.
As already observed the Ibibio worldview emphasizes the code of being honest at work which in turn results in more work and appreciation. The Ibibio worldview uses indigenous food item like bia-“yam” which is believed to be a product of the hard work of man. The Ibibio culture has the proverb-riddle which combines the properties of proverb and riddles. As Umoh (2007, p. 9) notes, the components of the proverb riddle
comprise: Question, answer, tone and rhythm. The following proverb-riddle reflect the worldview of the Ibibio.
8) a. Oduok nton ke nton akeene. He who throws the ash, is the one that the ash follows
b. asua ayin owo inieeghe ake omo. He who hates another person’s child does not have
This proverb shows the worldview where whatever one does will surely boomerang. It calls to mind the
global belief in the law of karma or retribution. The proverb provides insight into the life style, the beliefs, the
environment and the fauna of the Ibibio. We argue that proverbs are short statements that portray the intellectual and communicative contents among the speakers in a speech community (Okon, 2004, p. 106) and in this instance, the Ibibio. Read all about Ibibio proverbs here:http://books.google.com.gh/books
Ibibio people in USA
Death and Afterlife
Worship of the ancestors is a very important part of Ibibio religious culture. Sacrifices are often made at the ancestral shrine, which is kept at the house of the eldest member of the lineage group. Disgruntled ancestors may wander among the living, causing harm until the ceremony of Obio Ekpo ("world of the dead") is performed so that the spirit can enter the world of the dead. The Ibibio have a concept of good ( eti ) and evil/bad ( idiok). A person has two souls, the immortal soul ( ukpong ) and the animal-linked soul ( ukpong ikot), which can live in lions, leopards, bush pigs, antelopes, and pythons. The latter also dies at death, whereas the former is reincarnated or becomes a malevolent ghost troubling the living.
“Ekpo society masks of the Ibibio.”
The society known as Ekpo Nyoho (or, in its shortened form, Ekpo) is the most important and widely distributed of three secret societies still active in various Ibibio towns in southeastern Nigeria. In the absence of a centralized political state, Ekpo regulated social, legal, political, and economic matters in its community during precolonial times (Atmore & Stacey 1979:77). As instruments of social control, its masks were carved to heighten a sense of fear and mystery (Jones 1984:183).
Before the advent of colonialism in the early 1900s, village government functioned on two overlapping structural levels; it still does so today, though to a lesser extent. The first level consists of the civil mechanism of traditional patriarchal authority. The head of the family rules his immediate household. Beyond him is the head of the extended family, who hears complaints and settles disputes between families united by ties of kinship and living side by side in the town. He is concerned with the everyday management of the community, with rules and customs governing conduct. These town and family chiefs frequently call upon elders to help decide important matters during town councils, where opinions are openly expressed.
The secret societies, constituting the second level of government, are concerned with crises and emergencies affecting the town collectively. It was on this level, devised to deal with powerful socially disruptive or dysfunctional forces, that the mask found its special place.
Ekpo Nyoho is the principal secret society in most Ibibio towns and villages. A second society, Ekpo Ekong, is active only in Ibiono, where it is of first importance. The third society, Ekpe, has been described in detail by Nair (1972:14-20). Though found in all Ibibio towns it is of first importance only in Opobo and Oron and among the Efik of Calabar and the Ogoja of Cross River State. Ekpe is also practiced in many Igbo towns, and beyond.
The Ekpo society serves as an enforcement arm of village government, though it plays a smaller role in this regard than it did in the past. It provides an outlet for youths and men to channel their energies into activities which are beneficial to the community. During the Ekpo season, which lasts from June to December, the society exerts an enormous influence on people's lives. For example, on the days when the masks come out, farming activity is suspended. Women and nonmembers cannot go to the market or perform activities outside their homes: food, water, and firewood must have been obtained in advance. When they are not patrolling the village border or assembling at the village shrine to sing and dance, society members also remain at home.Quarrels and fights are prohibited. Visitors to the village are thoroughly checked by Ekpo to make sure their missions are harmless. Stealing carries particularly heavier penalties during the season; about fifty years ago, the penalty was death, carried out by Ekpo.
Masks are used by each of the three secret societies but are most common in Ekpo Nyoho, where face masks with raffia hanging down to the waist are the most characteristic type. If a rule is violated, the chief sends masked characters to enforce sanctions. The authority and legitimacy of these characters are due partly to their established history and partly to imagery and symbols carefully manipulated to arouse fear and and to create an impression of the masks' invincibility. Without the mystique surrounding hem, masks and costumes are merely objects. The physical characteristics of a masquerade depicted in the carving breathe artistic life into the mystique. For the purposes of this paper, we shall focus our attention upon the Ekpo Nyoho society and its masks.
Ancestors (ekpo) can protect their relatives and children on earth. Masked spirits act as intermediaries who relay messages from the living to the ancestors, and also carry instructions and warnings from the ancestors to the living. Only the spirits of heroic men are portrayed as messengers of the Ekpo society. It is not the wandering, restless ghosts who are worshiped, but the good ancestors who have reached the spirit land. These unseen ancestors are part of the family and are interested in its welfare. They are invited by name to the family meal through libation and prayer. Sacrifices to them demonstrates filial piety and love.
Despite the characterization of Ekpo as a "secret society," its activities and functions are not shrouded in mystery. Nonmembers, including women, are fully aware of its role and functions, because every villager is subject to its adjudications and code of conduct during the Ekpo season. However, only members participate in the rituals and practices which prepare them for their role. The main secrets are the series of code words and dance steps that a member learns when he goes through initiation. These give him the right to travel within and outside his village during the season. When a traveler encounters a masked Ekpo, he is challenged to utter these words and to perform the dance steps. Failure to do so results in arrest.
Through Ekpo Nyoho, the ancestors supervise the activities of their descendants, advise them about conduct, and protect them from their enemies. These duties are performed through five masked supernatural figures who are representatives of the ancestors. Akpan Ekpo is the head of the society--the wise old leader (akpan), a warrior, and the principal mediator between the living and the dead. He is supported by Adiaha Unak and Nkubia, who carry out his directions. In the past, members of Ekpo Nyoho who were initiated into the adult grades of Adiaha Unak and Nkubia had to be great warriors who could pierce a rolling orange with an arrow from a considerable distance. According to oral history, death was the penalty for failure in this important trial. The three senior figures are served by Udo Ekpo and Ukpaka Ekpo, who are younger and not so fierce or uncontrolled. These five characters are divided into four grades, with Adiaha Unak and Nkubia both being in the second grade, below Akpan Ekpo but above Udo Ekpo (third grade) and Ukpaka Ekpo (fourth grade).
A person need not pass through the lower grades to achieve the full adult roles of Adiaha Unak or Nkubia. He may buy his way into the senior level, but the cost of initiation is very high. Consequently, despite the importance of the society many men remain uninitiated even into the lower grades through early adulthood. In principle, to become accepted as adult members of the community they should be fully initiated before marriage.
Members of the senior grades are expected to be tough, not only against internal lawbreakers but particularly against external enemies.As recently as seventy or eighty years ago, disputes over farmland would often lead to intervillage wars and the destruction of crops through raids, especially on contested land. Though less frequent, such disputes still take place.
Hostile encounters are most likely to occur at village boundaries, where one Ekpo masquerader might challenge another to cross a line that he has drawn in the earth. If the second Ekpo refuses to cross, he is taunted as a coward. During a fight between two masked Ekpo, society members on both sides must lay down all their weapons (guns, machetes, bows and arrows). The dispute is settled through wrestling, the most popular traditional Ibibio sport. Whichever masquerader wrestles his opponent to the ground and removes the other's mask is the victor The loser surrenders his mask--or he may have to pay a price to be allowed to keep it and return home.
The village whose Ekpo masquerader has been defeated endures great shame. Those in the victorious village rejoice because they have "taken a head"--for it is the "head," the face mask itself (iwot ekpo), that has the power. Captured masks are often displayed on village shrines as emblems of the victors' strength and bravery; they are not, however, visible to women (though women might be told that a head has been taken). "Head taking" has occurred frequently within the past ten years.
The Masks of Ekpo Nyoho
When a man dons an Ekpo mask, he loses his human identity and assumes the identity of an ancestral spirit. He may use a mask that belonged to the deceased ancestor or have one made that depicts the ancestor's physical and heroic qualities. Masks can also portray popular village heroes of the past, now idolized for their bravery or other achievements. In addition, members of the society have masks made whose physical features resemble their own.
The mask, its edges strung with raffia that hangs to the waist, is usually worn with a knee-length raffia skirt. The only parts of the body not covered are the lower legs, which are painted with charcoal powder, and the hands and forearms. A man must be able to wear a mask with ease while performing his assigned role. It is difficult to imagine people fighting while wearing them, but the masks have several features that make this possible. Many of them are carved from a tree known as ukot, whose light wood makes them comfortable to wear. In addition, the mask is securely fastened with a rope at the back of the head. Further support is offered by a short stick, usually fitted horizontally across the inside of the mask, which the wearer clenches with his teeth.
There is only one Akpan Ekpo in a village. As the head of the Ekpo Nyoho society, he may be called upon by the chief to help if people in the village fight among themselves or if they refuse to pay certain dues or taxes. He can ask society members to patrol certain farm roads to prevent people from stealing, and he may call out the fearsome Nkubia if there is conflict with another village. Akpan Ekpo is accountable to the chief for the behavior of society members, a serious responsibility since Ekpo masks have been used to hide the identity of those committing crimes.
Each elder who performs the role bases the depiction of this masked spirit on one of his ancestors. The masks are usually carved to resemble specific individuals between the ages of 50 and 60 who had a reputation for upholding order and justice--wise and principled, but also tough and uncompromising, men with the courage to fight social deviance within the limits of traditional rules. In addition to physical prowess and courage, Akpan Ekpo is known to have a special power to confront evil.
A man performing Akpan Ekpo must have these same qualities. He is usually chosen solely on the basis of ability from among a group of elders who have attained the title of idiong. These elders are distinguished by headbands, also represented on most Akpan Ekpo masks, or by circular signs on their temples. The idiong title indicates that a man has achieved the spiritual power that enables him to control evil spirits and to mediate between the worlds of the ancestors and the living.(6) Unlike traditional chieftaincy titles, which rotate among leading families, Akpan Ekpo is appointed by the chief for life, or until he is no longer able to fulfill the role.
Akpan Ekpo masks are notable for their variation. The only common feature of those I collected is the headband, symbolic of idiong, which is decorated in three of the four examples. The individualized features of Akpan Ekpo usually express a royal, serene temperament (Figs. 1, 3). (Figs. 1 and 3 omitted) Occasionally, however, he is portrayed as tough, cynical, or mean, to remind people how he regards wrongdoers. The character of one Akpan Ekpo mask I collected was seen by my informants as an evil old man whose unquestioned authority derives partly from his reputation for unpredictability, A second mask was characterized as an "uncompromising and stubborn old man, but fair." Another was "tough, royal, and fair." The last (Fig. 2) was said to be "tough, mean, and brutal." (Fig. 2 omitted)
Adiaha Unak ("Fearsome First Daughter") (Figs. 4-6) enforces order within the village under the command of Akpan Ekpo. (Figs. 4-6 omitted) Usually many Adiaha Unak appear at the same time. Less individualized than Akpan Ekpo, this character's macabre image is typically conveyed through physical deformity. Carrying weapons such as bows and arrows, swords, machetes, and guns, they represent the spirits of strong and heroic men who were killed at a young age, perhaps in war. Adiaha Unak carry many protective talismans on their masks and around their necks, arms, and legs. To wear this mask is the goal of most young men who belong to Ekpo; usually 20-45 years of age, they are the bravest and most able bodied members of the society. The mask in Figure 6 holds a manilla in its mouth, a symbol of bravery. Introduced in the sixteenth century, manillas were one of the early forms of money among the Ibibio (Eyo 1979:61). Most important, they refer to one of the early functions of Ekpo as an agent of the chief: the collection of taxes.
Nkubia is similar to Adiaha Unak but functions primarily in conflicts between villages. He is regarded as being almost mad--completely uncontrollable and therefore particularly dangerous. His madness is believed to be partially derived from the tree from which the mask is carved. The nkubia tree is the dwelling place of the spirits of youths who died accidentally. According to divination, these spirits, unsettled because of the manner of death, rose from the grave to reside in the tree.
Akpan Ekpo calls upon Nkubia only in times of great crisis, when the village is seriously threatened. He is an added weapon, a show of strength. Society members, especially those from another village, would confront Adiaha Unak but not Nkubia. Even other masked Ekpo fear him. In the past he was always accompanied by Akpan Ekpo or Adiaha Unak, often tethered with a long rope. Akpan Ekpo controls Nkubia through intricate incantations and powerful charms.
This masked character is infrequently seen today; some years he does not appear at all. Perhaps it is because there are fewer intervillage conflicts in which he plays his principal role, but it is also true that he is unpopular: people fear that they will take on the madness associated with him.
Nkubia masks are intended to be even more frightening than those of Adiaha Unak. In addition to exposed teeth (Fig. 7), they may also have the great fangs of a ferocious beast of the forest. (Fig. 7 omitted) The pain of sticks driven into his face especially induces Nkubia into madness (Fig. 8). (Fig. 8 omitted)
In contrast to Adiaha Unak and Nkubia, Udo Ekpo, which serves the senior grades (do means "second"), is friendly and benign. He usually goes out alone and is meant not to harass people but rather to reinforce Adiaha Unak's demands for law and order. This role is usually played by an older boy who will become an Adiaha Unak. There are liable to be a fair number of this junior mask in a village at any one time.
The faces of Udo Ekpo are more naturalistic and even child-like than those of the preceding characters (Fig. 9). (Fig. 9 omitted) Their smooth faces and open eyes create an impression of innocence. Hairstyles are emphasized. The small heads sometimes carved atop the masks of Nkubia and Udo Ekpo are not markers of grade or rank, but rather are protective images that symbolize the inseparable connection between the living and the dead.
Ukpaka Ekpo (called Ekong by the Anang) is the entry role in the Ekpo society. The word ukpaka means "useless person," one who is not very tough or quick-witted. Ukpaka Ekpo are servants who go out to beg money and food from everybody. The player tend to be a little younger than those who play Udo Ekp--usually boys 11-13 years of age. Nonmembers, the uninitiated, and even women may come into close contact with Ukpaka Ekpo. Like Udo Ekpo's, the face of Ukpaka Ekpo is naturalistic and childlike, with wide-open eyes, but it is perhaps even less sophisticated in appearance and character (Fig. 10). (Fig. 10 omitted)
Ekpo society masks become more particularized as the mask wearer matures. The characters of Udo Ekpo and Ukpaka Ekpo masks are virtually unformed. Adiaha Unak and Nkubia masks exhibit greater individuality Akpan Ekpo masks are the most individualized, clearly portraying the personality of the wearer.
Carving the Mask
The spirit of an ancestor may be represented by many masks. Different masks may portray the same spirit as angry, serene, or vigorous. The appearance also varies according to the role to be played. Although these masks are highly individualized, they must convey the general theme or symbolism of the owner's grade. For example, the personality of Adiaha Unak and Nkubia must be angry, fierce, or fearsome. How this look is expressed is up to each artist. The work of a good Ibibio carver results from the interplay of the client's view of his own features and strengths and the artist's perception of his client's personal characteristics. The artist, who himself must maintain the image of the institution, is not an impartial judge.
The creative freedom of Ibibio carvers is particularly evident in the masks of Akpan Ekpo, each of which has a distinctive character. Since the men who play Akpan Ekpo can generally afford to pay higher prices, we may presume that these masks are among the best that Ibibio artists could produce. Those who perform Akpan Ekpo are respected men in the community, and artists consequently take requests for their masks more seriously than they do the requests for masks of lesser rank. They try to make the portrayal reflect the qualities and reputation of the owners as much as possible.
Not every village has a carver, but a single village may boast several. Today most Ibibio carvers of Ekpo masks live in Ikot Ekpene, an Anang town. Though a mask is sometimes included in the initiation fee, a society member must usually commission one. He pays half the price when the order is placed and the remaining half when the mask is ready to be picked up. The carver may attach raffia to the mask or paint it with charcoal or river sediment (black), ochres or camwood (red), or kaolin (white). Alternatively the customer may have this done by another artist. Most members learn to perform the mask with a raffia attachment.
The mask is strung with raffia at the beginning of each Ekpo season; during the off season it is hung, minus its fiber, on a family shrine or a village shrine in the sacred bush, near the place where Ekpo sessions are held. No women or boys are supposed to go near them.(7) To appease the spirits of the masks, the native doctor pours a libation of human or animal blood, chicken feathers, and yellow ochre over the masks before they are used again.
With the exception of the Nkubia character, the kind of wood used for carving a mask is not fixed. The ukot (palm wine) tree, whose wood is very light in weight, is the most widely used, especially for large masks. Cork wood (Musanga smithii) is also often chosen. A mask that will have carved permanent detail requires a denser variety such as iroko (Chlorophora excelsa), ebony (Diopyros), or mahogany (Swietenia).
The woodcarver offers a sacrifice to the tree before felling it. Afterwards a chunk of wood is carried to an isolated hut where it is carved; the hut is in the bush near the village shrine and off limits to nonmembers and women. The artist's conception of the mask is guided by either an old mask to be duplicated or the client's verbal description. Most carvers work without using any drawings. In the first stage of carving, machetes and chisels are used to rough out the features of the mask. In the second stage, the mask is dried slowly to prepare its surface for smoothing with the ukouk leaf. Then, using a knife and scraper, the artist carves the face, feature by feature from top to bottom, and sands the piece. The next step is painting-and attaching headgear and raffia.
The mask is not complete when it leaves the hands of the carver: it must be consecrated through rituals performed under the supervision of Akpan Ekpo, which include libations to propitiate the ancestors and a sacrifice to the mask's newly adopted spirit.
Morality and the Masks
John Messenger examines the distinction between good/beautiful (mfon) and ugly/evil (idiok) Ekpo masks (1973:121-23). According to Messenger, a deceased person who had led a good, moral life is represented by a beautiful mask when he visits his family; and one who had led an evil life is impersonated by an ugly mask. Messenger's explanation of the distinction between good and evil is accurate. I have found, however, that the representation of these concepts in mask use is oriented more toward the idea of justice, which is the basis of Ibibio morality, than toward the ancestor's moral qualities. The relationship between Ekpo and the community does not depend significantly on how a mask looks but rather on whether the laws of the community have been obeyed or violated. When a masked Ekpo shoots a woman or a nonmember with his bow, it is not because the Ekpo is ugly or wild, but because these people have left their houses on an Ekpo day, which is viewed as an act of defiance and disrespect for authority. In assuming the spirit of the ancestors, the wearer of an Ekpo mask executes the collective wishes of the community's forefathers. If an individual violates community morality, his action causes concern to all forefathers in general and to his own ancestors in particular.
Thus each Ekpo carries messages of good will for good behavior, and ill will for wrongdoing. Its forbidding appearance warns of the unmistakable consequences of violation. In other words, the threat of evil is used to ensure good. Akpan Ekpo and the village chief use both beautiful and ugly masks as messengers. The masks' actions are specifically directed toward the maintenance of law and order. The difficult task for Akpan Ekpo is to regulate the excesses of Ekpo characters in the performance of these duties. If, for example, an Ekpo enters a person's premises to harass or injure someone, he is held accountable; Akpan Ekpo may fine him or suspend him from wearing his masks. From the inside, the society is a very disciplined organization.
The Mask Carver
Ultimately the artists who carve the masks are responsible for creating the psychological relationship between masked Ekpo and village members. By calling upon certain widely recognized metaphors, the artists evoke the sentiments desired by the members of the secret society. They create images of fear as a means to control and manipulate the people. The intimidating behavior of mask wearers reinforces the artistic effort. On seeing characters like Adiaha Unak or Nkubia, even from a distance, nonmembers of the society run for safety. Their appearance is a warning to every person in the village to behave in an orderly way or face swift reprisal.
The artist knows his people. He knows that they obey village rules only if they fear the consequences of disobedience. The masks must be frightening in order to invoke the threat of force and authority necessary for the masked characters to maintain order. Artistic talent in such circumstances is measured by the carver's success in accomplishing this artistic cum socially defined objective. The successful Ibibio carver also demonstrates that art is a universal language, or at least that metaphors of the Ibibio are shared by non-Ibibio. When the latter regard Nkubia and Adiaha Unak masks as frightening or horrible, then the artist has made his point. His goal is for every viewer to react in precisely this manner.
Ekpo images of power and invincibility, and its symbols of retribution and punishment, are expressed and maintained through the works of the carvers. Upon their shoulders falls the social responsibility of creating effective instruments for the maintenance of law and order. Their talent cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the history and cultural values of their community. In Ibibio, as in other parts of Africa, the people relate to many aspects of life through art.(http://academic.csuohio.edu/curnowk/curnowk/html/akpan.html)
The Dynamics of Music and Culture in Traditional Ibibio
Society of Nigeria
Ekpa, Aniedi E. - Department of Music, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom
Traditional African music is music in oral tradition. It is that tradition in which music and aspects of music making are passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, or through empirical observation and imitation. Fundamentally, it is a collective art, a communal property whose qualities are shared and experienced by all members of the society. And until recently, this music was organized as an integral part of community life within the framework of recreational, social, cultural and political institutions. But it was never an object for trade; rather it catered for that aspect of traditional beliefs, ideas and wisdom.
However, the traditional Ibibio does not only regard music as a repository of traditional knowledge and beliefs, but also as a means he can reach out and establish a constant, uninterrupted link with the spirit world and the supernatural.
To the Ibibio, music and life are inseparable. There is music for many of the activities of everyday life as well as music whose texts express his attitudes to life: his hopes and fears, his thoughts and beliefs. Since music is so intimately bound with Ibibio worldview or cosmology, it then becomes symbolic, spiritually potent and situational.
Occasional musical activities
It is a common practice in traditional Ibibio society to incorporate music into events of the life cycle. Because of the sacred nature of each event, the types and forms of music associated with each are socially restricted. Social musical activities express the normative values of Ibibio people. Its enactment often reflects the occupational, secular and social beliefs of the people, and displays what the society values most.
Most Ibibio social musical activities concern themselves principally with the treatment of themes of chastity and other adorable virtues. The theme of pride of maidenhood is treated in Mbopo (fattening) songs and dances. It centres on the chastity of the maiden prior to her marriage. Virginity and chastity of an Ibibio girl prior to her marriage bestow honour and pride particularly on the girl, her parents, her fiancé and the community in general. But in this 21st century, what is the situation? Is it still a virtue adorned and admired by us?
Abang (pot) dance is performed during the ceremonial outing of the maiden from the fattening room (ufok mbopo), where she has been confined for months. While in this seclusion, she is fed with all the traditional delicacies that would make her plump as a pot (abang), from which the name of the dance is derived. There are other maiden dances, which are performed on moonlit nights to welcome the new moon as well as for communal entertainment and relaxation. Notable among them is Abinsi dance. In the past, the dance was a traditional wooing dance in which young men who were intending to marry participated by picking a dance mate from among the female dancers. The girl of his choice was usually his intended future wife. The male suitors attended the dance with lanterns, which was emblematic of the clear vision that would enable them pick the right girl.
Nollywod actress Nse Ikpe-Etim, an Ibibio native from Akwa Ibom state in her marriage attire with her groom.
Throughout the performance, dialogue is never used. Every communication is by miming and romantic gestures, which are easily understood and interpreted into verbal language by the audience. The theme of their songs centres on social control. When the songs are well rendered they serve as the community news medium on important happenings in and around the community. Comments may be made about a beautiful girl who is promiscuous; the aging woman who marries a man many years her junior; the prominent man in the village who is a disciplinarian by day and an armed robber by night. Today, this dance is performed mainly for pleasure and relaxation.
Birth and marriage are celebrated with music in Ibibio society. Puberty musical groups perform at such ceremonies, treating texts of those songs as birds of passage‟ for the occasion.
In addition to the events of the life cycle, there are social groups such as warrior organizations and guild groups, whose memberships are based on gender and age. The music performed by these organizations is reflective of their roles in their respective societies. Ukwa, a war dance musical performance, is usually staged to depict a band of traditional soldiers who protect the community from the enemies. Their songs are fast and animated. Before the commencement of the performance, the Ekong Ukwa masquerade
(war skull masquerade)- mkpokporo, in its black flowing attire emerges from the nearby bush, holding a sharp machete in his hand. It then runs round town heading for the palace, singing in a recitative style in falsetto tones, to herald the arrival of the performers.
One important thing with this performance is that it cannot come to an end without bloodshed. This makes the performance very dreadful, but spectacular at the same time. As the performance goes on, the drumming
becomes vigorous in tempo and sends the dancers into a state of excitement and valour, or to the extent that when they engage in mock- battle, they often sustain bodily injuries.
Ubom-Isong (land canoe), is a dance-music performed by girls, reflective of a people whose occupation is fishing. It is a miniature portrayal of the supplication to the sea goddess to fill the fishing nets with seafood. Each of the dancers wears a hoop on the waist all of which are strung together to form a boat. They sing as they engage in mock paddling:
Nkà mì éwàt údèng (My mates paddle canoe)
Àmì nwàt íkpók étò (I paddle bark of wood)
Funeral dirges form one of the social song repertoires. The organization is usually based on gender. When it is certified that a ruler is dead, the talking drum sends the message across to the people. Women's group sings their dirges separately under a competent leader in the family. If no such leader is found, the family hires someone and charges her with the responsibility.
Iban Isong dance is a women's dance by a women‟s group responsible for fighting male chauvinism (Ndok ufok ebe) directed against their members. They rebuke and warn male members of the community against disrespect for their women folk. As they do not tolerate any indiscriminate utterance and blackmail of women by men, any man charged for such offense is given a fair trial by the clan's council and penalized if found guilty. Subsequent involvement in the same offense is regarded as deliberate, and the society must seek redress. This they do by visiting him nude at night in his room, with singing and dancing. Writing about their activities in the society Udo submits:
This club is very strong in the riverine areas of Ibibio, for
example, among the Efik, Etoi, (sic) and Uruan etc, any
man who abused a woman by talking about her sexual
anatomy was deemed to have committed a grave crime
against Iban Isong Esit. The aggrieved woman usually took
the case, privately to the Iban Isong Esit... (Udo,
When the day for punishing the culprit is fixed, the women begin to watch his movement until they make sure that he has gone to sleep in his house that night. Then the women would surround his house and wake him up. When he comes out of his house to see who was calling him, they would make him sit in a central and conspicuous place, while all of them strip themselves naked and stand before him, forcing the man to look at them. Their faces and bodies painted black and holding objects made in the shape of a woman's uterus in
their hands. They rain curses upon him and call upon the gods and goddesses to kill him whenever he attempts to make love with any woman. The man who falls into this kind of trouble usually dies soon after the visit by these women.
Ebre dance was performed during the period of harvesting of new yams. Taken its name from a bulbous root of yam variety, women were allocated this yam to plant in their farms and took part in the celebration. Each woman was expected to go to the farm and harvest this yam and present it to her husband in a symbolic way as a mark of respect. Members of this association were women with high level of morality. Virgins only were allowed to join as members. No thief or adulterer was allowed to join the group. They were also concerned about indignities of women by men.
Recreational music activities
Recreational music activities enjoy the largest variety of musical types and forms in Ibibio society. This is due to the fact that they are neither ritually nor ceremonially bound. They are performed not only for evening
entertainment, but also on other occasions of a festive or social nature. Songs and dances like mkpok-eto, nsasak, nsa-isong etc, are all recreational musical performances.
Evening musical entertainments feature recreational songs performed by the king's wives in the palace or court. As noted by E. N. Amaku (1954), the king's wives perform praise songs for their husband as they accompany themselves with household utensils and thumb pianos (mbutu). Each wife supplies a phrase and punctuates it with her name.
Gilbert Rouget experienced something similar, at the Porto- Novo Palace. He writes:
... the court music most frequently heard is performed by
the wives of the King .... At the palace as well as in these
different houses, the King‟s or Chief‟s wives, under the
leadership of an elder, forms a group in charge of ajogan
music. Four wives chosen from among the youngest stand
in front of the others and sing and dance (Rouget,
Folktales about acts of bravery are usually recounted. The men at the court accompany the performance with drums, while the women dance and the King gives them drinks in appreciation. The king’s daughters, sisters and female house- helps are organized by the wives to entertain the King with Ikpaya dance. Here, dancers dress in raffia costumes and sing and dance.
Most recreational songs could be heard at festivals as appendages to the main music event of the occasion. It is common to find them performed at funerals just to add colour and provide entertainment to the audience. Wherever recreational musical group is found, they are only there to entertain and have no ritual intentions.
The origin of some recreational musical groups in Ibibioland is difficult to trace while their instrumental repertoire are not standardized, due to influences of acculturation from the neighbouring ethnic groups--Efik, Ibo, Quas, Ekoi, and Ejagham. There exists some amount of interchange between these societies and different language groups, especially in these areas where social interaction has been greatest and prolonged. Some recreational groups whose memberships are drawn from the ethnic group afore-mentioned have hybrid song texts, styles of dancing and drumming. The reason for this is not too far to seek, nor is this out of order. Of all the musical activities, recreational activities are the most prone to diffusion. The creation of musical types for recreational use is a continuous process. New types spring up through the leadership of creative individuals whenever people begin to get tired of the usual ones. It is in this sphere that innovations in the use of instruments, in styles of dancing, in styles of singing are first tried out.
Since recreational musical activities are not socially restricted, except where they are considered to be harmful or detrimental to the moral fabric of the community or society, they are often transitory. They come and go with the craze of time. Musical types that are respectable and sufficiently attractive in style and content tend to be practiced over a long period of time.
Incidental or functional musical activities
Incidental music activities in Ibibio community, like in any other African society, are organized as a concurrent activity. That is, it serves as background music or catharsis for the execution of certain group activities and domestic chores such as grinding, pounding, mowing, mopping, nursing a baby with lullabies such as the following:
Éyén dáíyá ndíên, éyén dáíyá ndíên
Nkékà íkìbê mbá, ákâ mbá ásáká ìtá
Baby sleep now, baby sleep now
I went to pluck pear, but pear is not ripe
A good baby sitter is usually praised in lullabies
During informal story telling sessions, children and parents alike sing songs to relax and pass the evening. Fishermen sing while mending their nets while farmers sing to accompany their work routine. Individuals who sit in a market place or walk on the street to hawk their wares relieve their boredom or sun--burnt passion with music. Below is a typical fishermen‟s song:
Sóng úbók wàt ìnyàng (Row fast, row fast)
Sóng úbók wàt ìnyàng (Row fast, row fast)
Ké édìm kédí-ó-ó-ó-ó (Rain is coming-o-o-o-o)
Sóng úbók wàt ìnyàng (Row fast, rain is coming)
Ké ‘dìm kédí (is coming)
Sometimes the texts of songs may not necessarily reflect the particular work being undertaken; for functional songs cover a wide range of topics such as self-pity, death, rivalry, hope, disappointment, sadness, love, theft, poverty and so on. A woman who is mowing may sing a song that satires another woman who was caught stealing.
Ritual-Ceremonial musical activities
Every religion needs a way of affirming its fundamental spiritual, philosophical and cultural principles which have been handed down in writing or by word of mouth over hundreds of years. This is necessary if the deeper sense demanded of a religion is to continue to be fulfilled and the religion itself is to continue to exist as a holistic system within a process of social development.
The consciousness of ritual/ceremonial musical activities in Ibibio nation is based on shared ideas, which concern both the interpretations of its religious thought and the concrete realization thereof in ritual situations. This then expresses itself as cultural manifestations in music, dance and language or code. The individual elements of such manifestations-the repertoire, musical instruments and terminology, make it possible for „outsiders‟ to recognize its members for the purpose of identification or differentiation.
Ritual musical types are the most restrictive of all. As mentioned above, it is a means through which the individual or group may reaffirm and re-enact the events of antiquity. In a typical ritual situation, the group stands naked and unashamed, as it were before its gods, goddesses, ancestors, mother earth and the elemental forces. Most ritual activities are two-fold: private and public.
Private rituals are restricted to members of the priesthood and designated elders of the community and may use little or no music. For instance, when a King (Obong) wants to worship his personal god or pay homage to the clan‟s ancestral spirits, only the palace priests and chief drummer are allowed to be present.
This is a ritual occasion for personal and private rituals, and sacerdotal observances that do not require the full participation of a ritual assembly; for these rituals are concerned with the affirmation of Obong’s structural
relationships with the supernatural. Ritual materials-songs, symbolic use of musical instruments, dances, incantations, prayers, and other activities are considered as classified knowledge, which cannot be found or placed at public domain. For at no time in the long history of mankind has such material been made accessible to non-initiates or even available for study and analysis. At the level of ritual performance we are considering, the materials relate to this group at the most profound levels of their being.
It must not be ruled out that the selection of and use of music may depend to a large extent on the kind of rite and whether it is conceived as private or public. For there are customary rites that form part of the normal behaviour, rites incorporated into celebrations and ceremonies, including confirmatory
and status-marking ceremonies, kinship ceremonies and commemorative festivals as well as rituals of worship. On the choice of ritual materials, Nketia affirms that:
Since the symbolic transformation that takes place in ritual
is constituted by action which draws on sound, kinesic and
visual codes, music which heightens the intensity of
emotion generated by a rite or integrates the aural, the
kinesic and the visual similarity enhances the ritual
process. Accordingly, the music for a ritual occasion may
include not only contemplative music such as chants and
other music for listening, but also music that stimulates
personal involvement in a ritual occasion through
participation and interaction (Nketia, 1984:112).
Ritual activities such as annual harvest or commemorative festivals, deification of gods, warding off of evil influences in the community, are considered public and members of the community are required to participate. A sort of shared knowledge and experience takes place here, although the forms and types of musical activities identified with such rituals may be socially restricted. Based on the particular ritual being performed, the choice of musical instruments and song texts must reflect the significance of the occasion. In most cases, the musical instruments are considered to be the physical representations of the gods being worshipped and are accordingly revered as such. Such god as Fri-Obukpong, which literary translated means „blow the horn‟, is induced by the sound of horn for its affective presence. It is for this reason that ritual drums used in Ekpe, Obon and Ekpo cults often induce possession, as the gods are akin to the sound of these instruments.
A similar experience is reported among the Shona of Zimbabwe, where ritual events called bira devoted to the ancestors are held periodically. The principal instrument played on such occasions is the plucked idiophone called mbira dza vadzimu. Paul Berliner reports that:
In the context of the bira, the people believe the mbira to
have the power to project its sound into the heavens,
bridging the world of the living and the world of the spirits
and thereby attracting the attention of the ancestors. In the
hands of skillful musicians the mbira is able to draw spirits
down to earth to possess mediums (Berliner, 1978:190).
Musical instruments, which are used for these performances are considered to be the physical representations and characteristics of the gods being worshipped. Such musical instruments like horn are used by ndem priests as a call to worship. Mmurua (ritual rattle) and Ekomo Ekpe (ekpe skin drum) are used in Ekpe musical performances only.There is a very thin line of demarcation between ritual and ceremonial musical activities in Ibibio society. The ceremonial musical activities may be divided into two categories. The first consists of musical types used for public rites, which may be observed as a follow-up to complete secret rites.
When a King (Obong) is to be installed, public rites involving music for enthronement are performed before all to witness and participate. If the performance rites are without any interruption from the participants or the gods, the Obong is taken into the sacred chamber for the secret part of the rites. At this point, the group relates to the spirit world through high-ranking priests and traditional leaders, who are regarded as the representatives of the spiritual forces. They perform the remaining ceremonial songs and dances until the whole ceremony is completed.
Since traditional leaders play spiritual, priestly functions, political and social roles, and act as the pivot of social cohesion as well as intermediaries between the gods and their people, they protect the musical types and instruments identified with their office. These high-ranking priests also have their musical instruments, but no such musical instruments or music may be used outside their designated roles without the expressed permission of the ruler, as their musical instruments are regarded as part of the State regalia.