Ekoi people, also known as Ejagham, are an ethnic group in the extreme southeast of Nigeria and extending eastward into Northern Cameroon. Ekoid Bantu languages are spoken by many groups, including the Atam, Boki, Mbembe, Ufia, and Yako. The Ekoi are related to the Efik, Annang and Ibibio people of southeastern Nigeria and have lived closely with them and also claim to have migrated from the Cameroons to their area. The inhabitants of Kwa, located near Calabar, claim to be the first Ekoi people to have migrated from the Cameroons.

 Ekoi people: Dance from the Ejagham-Bayangi clan from the Mamfe area in the Southern Cameroon

 Ekoi are known for their mastery of the art of sculpture, the Ekoi have developed one of the most complex forms of group organization based on or, at least, expressed through their art form. They are also best known for their Ekpe headdresses.
The Ekoi in Nigeria are found in Cross River State with a population of 122,000 and in Cameroon they are in South West Province, Manyu Division, Eyumodjok Subdivision; south Mamfe Subdivision west of Mamfe with a total population 71,000 people (Source: Ethnologue 2010).
Traditional Dancing , Ejagham tribe , Buea , Cameroon stock photo
Traditional Dancer  from Ejagham tribe , Buea , Cameroon

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

                            Ejagham people in canoe coming from Esagem

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

                                Ekoi (Ejagham town of Eymanjook,Cameroon

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

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

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

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

Nsibidi calabash 
Nsibidi big drum 
"Big drum"
Etak Ntaña Nsibidi 
"Etak Ntaña Nsibidi — Nsibidi's bunch of plantains. When the head of the house wants plantains he sends this sign to the head boy on the farm."
Nsibidi umbrella 
Nsibidi toilet soap 

"Toilet soap"

Nsibidi matchet 
Nsibidi woman 
Nsibidi man 
Nsibidi moon 
Nsibidi tortoise 
The origin of the word nsibidi is not known. One theory traces the word to the Ekoid languages, where it means "cruel letters", reflecting the harsh laws of the secret societies that hold nsibidi knowledge. In Calabar, nsibidi is mostly associated with men's leopard societies such as Ekpe. The leopard societies were a legislative, judicial, and executive power before colonisation, especially among the Efik who exerted much influence over the Cross River.
The origin of nsibidi is most commonly attributed to the Ejagham people of the northern Cross River region, mostly because colonial administrators found the largest and most diverse nsibidi among them. Nsibidi spread throughout the region over time and mixed with other cultures and art forms such as the Igbo uli graphic design. In 1909 J. K. Macgregor who collected nsibidi symbols claimed that nsibidi was traditionally said to have come from the Uguakima, Ebe or Uyanga tribes of the Igbo people, which legend says were taught the script by baboons, although one writer believes Macgregor had been misled by his informants
Nsibidi symbols

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

Uses: Court cases
Nsibidi was used in judgement cases known as 'Ikpe' in some Cross River communities. Macgregor was able to retrieve and translate an nsibidi record from Enyong of an ikpe judgement.
The record is of an Ikpe or judgement case. (a) The court was held under a tree as is the custom, (b) the parties in the case, (c) the chief who judged it, (d) his staff (these are enclosed in a circle), (e) is a man whispering into the ear of another just outside the circle of those concerned, (f) denotes all the members of the party who won the case. Two of them (g) are embracing, (h) is a man who holds a cloth between his finger and thumbs as a sign of contempt. He does not care for the words spoken. The lines round and twisting mean that the case was a difficult one which the people of the town could not judge for themselves. So they sent to the surrounding towns to call the wise men from them and the case was tried bv then (j) and decided; (k) denotes that the case was one of adultery or No. 20.
File:Ikpe nsibidi.jpg
The Ikpe from Enyong written in nsibidi as recorded by J. K. Macgrego
Ukara Ekpe
Nsibidi is used to design the 'ukara ekpe' woven material which is usually dyed blue (but also green and red) and is covered in nsibidi symbols and motifs. Ukara ekpe cloths are woven in Abakaliki, and then they are designed by male nsibidi artists in the Igbo-speaking towns of Abiriba, Arochukwu and Ohafia to be worn by members of the Ekpe society. Symbols including lovers, metal rods, trees, feathers, hands in friendship war and work, masks, moons, and stars are dyed onto ukara cloths. The cloth is dyed by post-menopausal women in secret, and young males in public. Ukara was a symbol of wealth and power only handled by titled men and post-menopausal women.

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

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

Nsibidi name written 
Nsibidi welcome 
Nsibidi talk 
"Two men talking"
Nsibidi door 
Nsibidi gun 
Nsibidi crossbow 


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

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

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

                    Ejagham people from Mamfe division,Cameroon

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

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

                                      Ejagham people

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

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

                           Ejagham farmer with their farm produce in canoe being ferried across a river

 Ceramics: There are different types of pottery, from jars for food to water pots, and they are for domestic use only. They come in varying shapes and sizes and are beautiful. They use them as decorations. -
Amaury states “They have almost secured a monopoly of trade with the South-Western Cameroons, where they find a ready market for salt, tobacco, cloth, and hardware from Calabar, which they themselves purchased in exchange for fowls, dried meat, sleeping mats, rubber and palm kernels.”

                                Ejagham farmers

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

                                       Ejagham dancer

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

The Ekoi have seven clans and they are patrilineal, and this has implications for kinship links as well as ceremonial styles. A family is created from the father’s line. Anyone related to the father, grandfather, or great grandfather is a part of the family. Ute states that a wife is not a part of a husband’s family, but rather her fathers’
Ekoi clans represent kinship and initiation patterns that are reflected in the kind of sculptures worn during ceremonial occasions as expressions of the ancestral clan. Indeed, just as in all African societies, the Ekoi clans are ancestral. However, the specialized emblem of clan membership through the use of particular sculptures underscores the Ekoi's religious kinship as one of blood relation.
The Ekoi towns or villages are governed by a council of elders, which comprises of the oldest living member of each family. They also have a village chief called ntuifam etek. The council of elders is responsible for creation of laws and decision-making. Also, some of the clubs have members that help the elders govern. They are usually sent by the elders to enforce laws. For example, they may be asked to punish criminals. So, they wear masks and run around the village until their work has been completed.

                              Procession of Ekoi (Ejagham) elders

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

Religion is the heart and soul of the Ejagham people. The entire social, political, cultural economic and psychological life of the people is hard to analyse without religion at the centre.
The principal features in Ejagham religion are the cults of Ancestors and nature forces. Ancestors (Akibansi) Worship, Nature jujus (ajom) secret societies (Nkum), the principal events in life (Ojimi) and the commonest actions of the day all blend inextricably in the complicated ritual, (Talbot 1912).
Of actual Deities there are only two, Obasi Osaw (sky God), and Obasi Nsi (earth God), but of the less powerful Genii of trees, lakes, rocks and rivers, there are countless hordes. For the Ejagham people, the whole bush is peopled with these supernatural beings. Here, more truly even than in old Greece, the terror of Pan reigns supreme, says Talbot (1912). The belief is that they are created both by Obasi Osaw (sky God) and Obasi Nsi (Earth God). Obasi Osaw is father and Obasi Nsi is mother. The two are expressed in bird and tree worship as every small town has its “juju” tree with weaver birds inhabiting the tree. Talbot made an attempt at explaining this when he talked about the peoples myth on the wedding of earth and sky. Sky father and earth mother – for of all created things the bird is most to air and sky, while the tree, with its roots in the dark ground, reaching even, as in many Northern sagas, to the neither world is the best oldest personification of mother earth.
Ejagham Emanyampe from Manyu,Cameroon

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

                               Ejagham women

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

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

                                              Cameroon Èkpé and Cuban Abakuá

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

                             Ejagham men of Ekpe society

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

                                                       Ejagham people in disapora

The Ekoi people had a fear of witchcraft. At times they felt that their mother, daughter, sister, might be with in disguise. They sought protection from these witches using charms and other protections.
They believe in second sight (which is also a common belief among many westerners). They believe in contact with the afterlife. Also, they believe that dogs have second sight. These two concepts are interesting because they exist in our western society. It is interesting to think that many of us share beliefs with people whose cultural life has not really changed in, arguably, centuries.

                                                     Ekoi (Ejagham) man wearing traditional dress

CULTURAL MATERIAL (art, music, games):
The Ekoi are known for their realistic masks, which are important to a number of clubs. Dancing is also a very important aspect of Ekoi culture. The Ekoi people have many artwork including pottery, paintings and some beaded jewelry.
Ejagham traditional dancer

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

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

 Ordinarily, when one lives a normal life and grows old, it is expected by Ejagham people that there will be a funeral for the elderly man or woman or a member of one of the societies in the community.
 When somebody is sick, members of the immediate family, men and women diagnose the sickness and try their own known medication on the ailment. If the sick person continues to show serious “sick roles” then a diviner (Mbug-ebu) is consulted to know the cause of the sickness. All this is done in secret for fear witches and wizards come to know about the sickness and inflict or hasten death.
 As the sickness prolongs, close relations stay close to take care Mbiti (1969) puts it thus in his study of the Ndebele which is akin to some degree that of the Ejagham people. When a person falls seriously ill, relatives watch by his /her bedside. These relatives must include at least one brother and the eldest son (and a sister) of the sick man, because the two or three are the ones who investigate the cause of the illness, which is generally magic bewitchment or the gods, and take preventive measures against it as prescribed by the “Mbugebu (diviner). Normally ancestors, gods and spirits are appeased through sacrifices to avert the death of the relative. This out pouring of affection on a sick relative shows itself further in the care given to the sick person’s children and wife. At a point, when the relation is notices to pass through excruciating pain and suffering, the relative begin to call on the ancestors to take him/ her home. Eventually the person dies. In Ejagham tradition, corpses are neither embalmed nor kept beyond twenty four hours. The reason is simple. As you came so shall you return. Immediately one expires, the relations give him or her a bath and dress him/her up before announcing his /her departure to the world of the dead with a cry.
 The funeral rite somehow begins here, but it will be treated in detail under a separate heading (funeral rites). The grave is dug by young men in the community and the body is disposed of according to the person’s status in the community. Details are in the rites. This is done amid prayers, incantations, songs, curses of suspected killers, and praises on the deceased on his or her area of prowess.


(Burial) in Ejagham is a transition rather than annihilation. This is why there is no embalmment. This is mainly from the fact that life continues after this one on earth. What leads to this belief is the belief in the existence of a village or community for the departed (Mfam Akibansi). Probably it is the mystery of human existence that leads to this belief or desire to continue living.
Okini or bidding the departed farewell to the other “village” or “Community” is an interesting rite.
 The first step is during the time of ill health or sickness. While a member of the community is sick all work is done by immediate members of the family. During this time of sickness, there is neither farming nor hunting as the case may be, so the family is starving.
Whosoever goes to the farm on return, gives a little thing as a mark of solidarity and good will for the sick to get well soon so as to join in farming, fishing or hunting for the continued survival of the family and the community. The belief in doing this is that, the gods, spirits, ancestors, nemesis, will be well disposed towards the good spirit exhibited by fellow members of the community, and respond favorable when one offers sacrifice for any purpose. Uttering words like “kpin-o-o” (live o o), they wish the sick person life because of his or her kith and kin. The belief here is that, there is a continuation of another form of existence. One must complete the one here first before going to join the ancestors.

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

Since it is against Ejagham custom to keep a corpse (Nkuh) beyong twenty four hours after expiry, the body is disposed of after the grave is dug through the night. Like what seems like a short rite, the women will all sit round the corpse crying and wailing “ejen tebere’ (safe journey); “chong - - o-o” (Adieu); “Katan mba – o” (don’t miss your way); “Kayini abon – o” (don’t forget your children); Kayini nju –o (don’t forget the family); ‘Kayini mfam eya – o” (don’t forget your community). If it is a young person or in an event ofsudden death, the language changes. “Kakam – o (Don’t let it down or fight those who kill you); “Yigi eyonge” (retaliate); “Ko abo erong” (take them also to where you are going). It is on the last reasons above that a knife or razor or any weapon is included in the coffin.
 While the young men are digging the grave (oyim esimim), the men are doing the supervision. At completion, the men and a selected few, enter the room where the corpse is kept and give directives on what is to be done. This is a stage where the departed member of the society is about to be sent to the home of the ancestors. The corpse is carefully placed in the coffin. His or her best clothes and other belongings are included. The belief here is so that life over there will be comfortable or at least less burdensome. The inclusion of the said items will make the departed less dependent on other at “mfam akibansi” (village or country of the dead). The coffin is now led in a solemn procession to the grave. After lowering the coffin into the grave, the grave is covered and a heap of red earth must be made.This is in preparation for the next stage in the rite of burial.

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

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

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

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

Mgbe Display
 The most conspicuous and colourful rite is the display of the different ‘Ogbe’ (the plural form of Mgbe). The songs used depict unity, community fellow-feeling etc. sample: ‘Ebonko Njag erom” (repeat four time). (Ebonko – an arm of Mgbe that calls for unity among members is here portrayed as a concerned traveler).
The idea here is that, at the death of a member of this society, Ebonko must fulfill this demand of making sure he is there to show the mourning community a sense of concern and to bid a member farewell. After the Ogbe display, it is believed that the departed member has journeyed safely and arrived amid.

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

 What guides the people in their rites is their world view. Ejagham people have been using the above rites over the centuries and it keeps them together. It makes them unique. However, contact with other cultures especially the Christian culture, is influencing their rites.


                                   Ejagham man

Men's and Women's Associations

                                Ejagham men from Mamfe,Cameroon

The Ejagham live in a large, sparsely populated area of the Cross River in the tropical rainforests of southwestern Cameroon and southeastern Nigeria. Theirs is a subsistence economy; women fish and grow crops; men hunt and are owners of most of the fruit trees and the small number of domestic animals. Patrilineal in social organization, the Ejagham account for approximately 150 villages of rather small size (usually 100-500 people, rarely more than 5,000). Each village is governed by a council of elders and is represented by a chief, who holds a ritual office. Social activities take place mainly in women's and men's associations or societies, the majority of which own masks or headdresses.
Figure 2. Monenkim ("circumcised child") performing at her coming-out ceremony after a year of seclusion. During this period of initiation she was under the authority of Ngbe, the men's Leopard society, rather than a women's association, and learned some of Ngbe's dances and mimes. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler. 

The women's associations include Ekpa-Atu, which maintains social order and upholds women's principal laws, and whose members perform a secret dance at night; Njom-Ekpa, a graded secret association with a sculpted headdress carried by a female dancer; Egbobha, which owns a similar sculpted headdress; Belo, a secret association restricted to the Obang Ejagham (Southern Ejagham), which does not own sculptures; and Ngbogha-Ndem, a society for first-born daughters that erects the life-size commemorative statues documented by Mansfeld. There are also a number of savings and credit associations for mutual help and security, the latter being more popular in areas bordering towns.

These women's associations function alongside the various mask-owning men's associations, which include not only several less important societies for young boys but also Angbu, the young men's secret society, and Ngbe, the graded and secret Leopard society for adult men-today the most important of the men's associations. Several dance societies, some with a mixed male and female membership, also exist. The old associations owning the famous skincovered masks often found in Western collections still persist in some villages.

Figure 3. Dancers of the Nkanda age grade of the Leopard society, performing with the okum ngbe masquerader at a monenkim's coming-out ceremony. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo Ute M. Roschenthaler

In most cases an Ejagham association was founded by a specific person who is remembered when offerings are made to the society's ancestors. A mythical account of its origins may also exist. Successful associations were bought by interested neighboring villages, which thus acquired the secret knowledge and the right to perform their dances and songs. Societies spread in this way throughout the entire Cross River area along trading routes between the coast and the Cameroon Grasslands. NjomEkpa is still spreading to villages of the Keaka Ejagham, the Leopard society to the Grasslands. Other associations, like the men's Angbu and the women's EkpaAtu, are ancient, and no one remembers how they began. Ekpa-Atu is certainly one of the oldest and most fundamental of Ejagham societies, unifying all the women of a village. While many important rituals and dances have been taken over by associations, others have persisted in conjunction with them. An example of the latter is monenkim, girls' initiation, which is linked to the Leopard society.

                                            Ejagham men

Girl's Initiation and the Leopard Society

The Ekwe Ejagham (Western Ejagham) honor a first-born daughter by secluding her as soon as she has given birth to her first child. The parents reserve a room for her in their compound, which only certain persons may enter, and provide her with as much food as she desires. Called monenkim, the "circumcised child," since the seclusion begins with a clitoridectomy she remains there for as long as her parents can afford it, usually about one year. The initiate practices special dances and receives instructions on preparing ritual food, on marital life, and on Ejagham art traditions. During this entire period the rnonenkit is not affiliated with her immediate family, which no longer has the right to protect her. She is under the rule of Ngbe, the men's Leopard society. Her father, who most likely belongs to Ngbe, informs its members of her confinement by inviting them to the community hall to drink palm wine.

At the end of her seclusion, the family must once again invite the Ngbe members to eat and drink. This is the occasion of the monenkim's coming-out ceremony, when she performs at the center of the village to confirm her new status as the mother of a child, a woman ready for marriage (Fig. 2). Her costume includes a skirt of bells, a decorated fan and a flywhisk, and white ornaments on her face and body. At the turn of the century the monenkim also used black juice to draw signs called nsibiri on her cheeks and forehead.

The event begins with a dance by the Nkanda, a junior grade of the society (Fig. 3). It consists of several male dancers who appear with the mask called okum ngbe. From time to time one can hear the roaring voice of Ngbe, the society's most hidden secret. Then the monenkim performs a Ngbe dance dedicated to the large slitdrum of the village, using Ngbe mimes learned during her seclusion. She next entertains the relatives, villagers, and guests with the repertoire of songs and dances she rehearsed during that time. The girl imitates the Nkanda4 dancers, miming the content of her songs; the women in the audience answer as a choir. The spectators comment avidly on the monenkim's performance; if they appreciate it, they will give her many presents and urge her to continue for several hours. At the turn of the century the monenkim would dance around with a large calabash, beautifully decorated with nsibiri signs, to collect gifts for her parents.

The fact that the men's most important association dances at the girl's coming-out ceremony, thereby completing her initiation, confirms the interdependence of men's and women's institutions. The Leopard society is responsible for the monenkim during her confinement. She in turn learns some of the society's dances and mimes that are its secret visual language, and she imitates specific movements of its dancers. Late in life she may take part in Ngbe as an honorary member. Moreover, women are the society's mythical founders. As the story goes, they discovered the secret of Ngbe in the water as they were fishing one day, and took it home. The women realized it could be used as a powerful institution, but after one of them revealed the secret to her husband, the men appropriated it for their own use.

The Ngbogha-Ndem Association

Long before colonial times, the Keaka Ejagham developed the Ngbogha-Ndem association, which modified the seclusion for first-born daughters. According to myth, the first ngbogha-ndem fell from the sky into a large mboma tree. She wore strange dance attire and spoke to the awed spectators in a language they did not understand. Later she married and taught some of the women her secrets. The Ngbogha-Ndem association quickly spread to other parts of Ejagham country and to neighboring ethnic groups (Ruel 1969) (Fig. 4), partly replacing the monenkim initiation ritual for first-born daughters (younger daughters continued to receive a smaller monen kim). Unlike the monenkim, whose completion of the ritual is not tied to membership in a women's society, the ngbogha-ndeni becomes part of the association for first-born daughters upon her emergence from seclusion.

 Figure 4. Dancers of the Ngbogha-Ndem association, photographed by Mansfeld (1927: fig. 93). This women's society is no longer active, and only a few members are still alive.

Today initiations are no longer practiced, and only a few elderly members are alive. In contrast to a nionenkim, who is initiated after the birth of her first child, a ngbogha-odeni began her initiation at puberty, staying in a room in her father's compound for three to five years. During this time, bathing was forbidden. Instead the girl prepared her skin with coconut milk, the oil of pumpkin seeds, and white clay. Like the monenkim, the ngbogha-ndem underwent periods of strict seclusion, when she could not leave the room at all, and had to uphold serious taboos. She learned the association's secrets, including their secret language. On her neck, back, arms, and legs, she also received the scarifications of beauty to which only members were entitled, as well as beauty marks, often incorrectly described as tribal marks, below the temples. At the turn of the century these consisted of seven concentric circles (Fig. 5); today young people prefer two or three small strokes on the cheeks. During other, less stressful, periods of seclusion, the novice practiced dancing. If by chance she met a stranger she would fall death-like to the ground practice to which the term ngbogha-ndem literally refers-and only a member of the association would be able to revive her.
Figure 5. A member of the Ngbogha-Ndem association, photographed by Mansfeld (1927: fig. 132). The scarified concentric circles on her cheeks are marks of beauty.

As with the monenkim, the ngboghandem's seclusion ended with a big celebration featuring abundant food and drink. Everyone would be anxious to see the extraordinary beauty the novice had acquired during the long years of confinement. Wearing a costume even more elaborate than that of a monenkim, she performed all the dances she had learned to the admiring audience. Like a monenkim, she married after the celebration, her husband paying twice the usual bride price. Most initiates were allowed to have a fiancee during their seclusion so that by the time they emerged, they had given birth to one or two children. A ngboghandem enjoyed high status and was regarded with reverence throughout her life. She carried her stool with her to communal meetings, and was allowed to sit, like chiefs and elders, whereas all others had to stand. She was also among the first to be served refreshments.

Figure 9. Principal dancer of the Njom-Ekpa women's association with carved headdress. The main Mamy-Wata-like image in the box is surrounded by armed figures. Some of the dancers satirize male roles. At right, a dancer mimes a hunter; at left, an attendant carries a mirror. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler.

Whereas a monenkim is under the rule of the Leopard society during seclusion, the ngbogha-ndem remained under the rule of the women's association. The only men who performed in the association were the drummers, honorary members. Although the mythical founder was a woman, the Ejagham say the historical founder was a man. He was among those remembered during the offerings given by the eldest woman to the association's ancestors.

Clay or Cement Statues
The Ejagham explain that one of the major advantages of belonging to an association is that its members will dance at one's funeral. The higher the deceased's status, the more important the associations that perform. Membership in Ngbogha-Ndem requires not only a funeral performance but also a statue placed on one's grave or, more commonly, in front of one's house (Figs. 1, 6-8; p. 2).
 Figure 8. Ngbogha-Ndem statues a year after construction. Their broken limbs now serve as places to prepare food or dry laundry. Keaka Ejagham, Cameroon. 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler.

When a ngbogha-ndem dies, her corpse must be carried from her husband's to her parents' house, since among the Ejagham the patrilineage is responsible for the funeral celebration. The body is placed in a sitting position and dressed in the woman's dance costume, including a staff with a flywhisk and an ape's thigh bone. Notified by the patrilineage, the association members gather to dance the entire night; during this time they are served by the deceased's family. In the early morning the men bury the deceased behind the house.
The big funeral celebration usually takes place several months or years later. One week before the celebration is to begin, the members of the NgboghaNdem association are called together again. Following their instructions, the patrilineage of the deceased now arranges for the fabrication of the statue, a memorial made only for a ngbogha-ndem. The association members oversee its construction, consuming large quantities of beer all the while. Surrounded by a fence to hide the process, first a house to shelter the statue and then the statue itself are erected. Women, among them specialized potters, would model the life-size figure in clay on a scaffold made of sticks brought by young men. Today, however, a bricklayer models the image in cement, a far more durable but also more costly option. Finally, association members paint the statue and decorate it with elements of the deceased's dance attire.
Figure  7. Ngbogha-Ndem statue. First made of clay in 1966, this example was rebuilt in cement in the 1980s. Usually the figures are left to decay. Note the telephone motif on the cloth around the neck. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Rbschenthaler.

The statue depicts a woman seated like a chief or elder and representing an honorable status in society. She sits upright, but with her legs supporting her elbows so that the arms are slightly elongated. The body is brightly colored in white or yellow and has broad stripes of red or blue, the same as those painted as a sign of beauty on the bodies of women in several of the dances. The eyes, made of cowrie shells or mirror glass, and other facial features are enhanced by black lines. The cheeks display small beauty marks painted in black, and additional designs adorn the face. The figure wears a head tie symmetrically ornamented with cowrie shells, crowned by a multitude of blue, black, and white feathers and one bigger white feather. A fashionable "modem" shawl covers her breasts, and a skirt adorned with cowries and a piece of leather draped with numerous bells are tied around the waist. She wears necklaces of beads and raffia tassels, including a special necklace made with the skulls of two small bush animals. Actual rattles and arm adornments may be tied around the upper arms and ankles, or, alternatively, their representations may be modeled in clay. Small boxes containing shiny white stones are sometimes placed at the wrists. At the turn of the century these statues were also decorated with many snail shells and small decorated calabashes. The right hand holds a special staff surmounted by a flywhisk of cow hair, a sign of status. The left hand holds the thigh bone of an ape, sometimes painted with stripes. These are all elements of the deceased's dance costume. Her personal belongings, such as porcelain cups, plates, and work materials, as well as loincloths and precious items, are placed on the ground around the figure or hung from the roof. In carefully constructed houses, the walls are decorated with the same designs used in body painting.

Figure  1. Clay statue for a deceased member of the women's society Ngbogha-Ndem. Keaka Ejagham, Cameroon, photographed in the early 1900s by the German colonial officer Alfred Mansfeld (1927: fig. 95).

The Ejagham claim the statue is a "portrait" of the deceased. Yet it certainly does not depict the subject as an old woman, even though old age is greatly respected. Instead the statue represents the Ejagham ideal of beauty, which a women manifests most clearly at the end of her seclusion at initiation. Some examples may suggest specific facial and body characteristics, but generally the statues are idealized figures, without individualized facial features. A statue's singularity is instead expressed through the deceased woman's personal belongings placed around itlike the personal possessions of deceased chiefs and respected elders which are displayed in commemorative spaces or on trees. Special hairstyles, facial paintings, or ornaments are not signs of specificity As for the facial beauty marks, I saw concentric circles on the temples of nearly all elderly people; the ones on the ngboghandem were made with particular care. Nevertheless all the memorial figures now bear the small marks on the cheek that young people prefer today, not the circles on figures photographed by Mansfeld at the turn of the century. The beauty marks on the statues follow contemporary fashion and are not necessarily those the deceased actually wore.
Figure 6. Life-size commemorative figure in its house. Erected on the grave of a member of the Ngbogha-Ndem women's association, it wears the dance attire of the deceased. Earlier figures were made of clay (Fig. 1); this one is made of cement. Keaka Ejagham, Cameroon. 1988. Photo: Ute M. Rbschenthaler.

On the day of the big funeral celebration, the fence protecting the statue during construction is removed. The guests view the statue and make comments about its beauty, as they did of the novice at her coming-out ceremony, and about its similarity to the deceased. The ngbogha-ndem dance around the figure and sing praise songs in honor of the deceased. They are served by her family The festivities conclude with an offering to the association's ancestors, performed by the most senior member. The statue is then left to decay. If it is made in clay, it soon perishes; if it is in cement, it may remain for years. After the head or the arms are broken off, the remains often serve as places for drying laundry or preparing food (Fig. 8).

The Njom-Ekpa Association
The women's Njom-Ekpa association, like the monenkim, is mythically connected with the men's Leopard society. The Ejagham continue the origin myth of Ngbe: after the men had taken Ngbe away from the women, they feared their anger and gave them Njom-Ekpa instead. From then on, the women had their own association and their own secret, the secret of nkem, the python.
Like Ngbe, Njom-Ekpa spread from the Calabar area to the Ejagham in Cameroon several decades ago. It is presently found in every village of the Ekwe Ejagham and is gradually spreading eastward to villages of the Keaka Ejagham. Bringing the association to a village is a costly enterprise. It entails acquiring the secrets, the grades, the offices, and the rights to perform the dances and songs. A carved headdress must be commissioned and the association members of the other village invited to eat and drink as long as is needed to teach the secrets, rules, dances, and songs. The women of the principal families of a village decide that they want the association. Each participating patrilineage buys one of the offices, which is transferred from one generation to the next. In Njom-Ekpa there are at least eight offices, among them the owner of the headdress. Because the owner assumes most of the cost of commissioning the sculpture, she has the prerogative over that office.
Ejagham people from Cameron

The majority of women in a village join; they do so right after marriage. If a woman's family has bought the rights to an office, she can hold this office after some time. If she marries into another village-among the Ejagham marriage is usually virilocal-she may enter the association and hold her office there. In most villages the association has two grades, but there may be only one or as many as three. Members are positioned, as is Ejagham society on the whole, on three levels according to age, status, and behavior. The newly initiated, who know some of the rules and almost none of the association's secrets, are the "children," or messengers. The next level is the "adults," who comprise the dancers and singers; they are more knowledgeable about the secrets and adhere strongly to the association's rules. Finally, there are the "elders," or wise women (Fig. 10), who enforce the rules and who "sit on the mud bed," that is, take the seats of honor at assemblies; the most senior woman makes the offerings to the ancestors. At a dance they may allow the "adults" to perform in their names the roles associated with their offices. For example, the carved headdress is usually danced at festivals not by the owner but by one (or two) of the younger members known for their dancing ability.

Figure 10. Elders of the highest grade of Njom-Ekpa. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler.

Like the Ngbogha-Ndem, the NjomEkpa association dances at the initiations of new members, the funerals of deceased members, and the communal festivals to which they are invited. When all guests are assembled in the village center, the women of the association parade through the entire village. The choir positions itself next to and behind the drummers, who, as in Ngbogha-Ndem, are the only male members and play a minor role in the association. Then the dance group, composed of at least nine women, appears.
Some of them imitate and satirize typical male roles to the delight of the spectators: two or four "guards" run around carrying swords and machetes to control the dance floor; the "protocol leader" shakes his rattle; the "hunter's dog" searches for prey; the "soldier" points his gun at the audience; the "policemen" (called "blue bottoms") frighten with their large rods; the "fool" dances incorrect steps and behaves very impolitely; the "soothsayer," carrying an animal hide in his hand, throws two pairs of divining chains which he awakens by knocking at them with a stick, as real soothsayers do with a bushpig tooth (Fig. 11). Then there is the dancer of the headdress, accompanied by two or four young girls, each holding a mirror (Fig. 9). By directing their mirrors at the dancer, they guide her movements. When they step forward, she must follow suit; when they step backward, she is drawn after them. This group remains in the center of the dance floor while the other performers communicate with the public.
Figure 11. Njom-Ekpa dancer miming a male diviner. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler. 

The sculpted headdress consists of a large box painted with stripes; small mirrors are inserted into the wood on each side. Pieces of cloth tied to the box allow the dancer to balance it easily on her head. The box contains one large figure and several smaller ones, which vary from village to village according to the imagination of the individual carver. On some of them, the central figure wears her hair in long curled or spiraled braids (Fig. 12)-a well-known style depicted on older skin-covered female heads; on others, she has long, smooth black hair or four short, thick braids on top of her head. She holds one arm up with a python in her hand. A second python is seen curling around her body, sometimes in the company of a crocodile or a dragon. With the other hand she holds a mirror in front of her face. Usually the figure wears real earrings, and her cheeks are decorated with small beauty marks. The six or seven smaller figures placed around her have female bodies but wear modern men's clothes and hold machetes, sticks, or swords painted with stripes. Each of them is represented by one of the dancers.
Figure 12. Njom-Ekpa headdress in the typical Cross River mask style. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1987. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler.

The model for the central sculpture is a foreign print that is said to have inspired the depiction of the water spirit Mamy Wata (Salmons 1977, Drewal 1988). The Ejagham, especially the association members, however, say it represents their female ancestor who inaugurated the association in the village. They insist that it is not Mamy Wata, because she lives in the sea and not in their part of the country Nevertheless, for Ejagham women an image of Mamy Wata is an appropriate representation of their ancestor: it incorporates the features of a beautiful and respected woman, and it comes from a foreign world symbolizing the mysterious powers brought by the ancestor and controlled through the association.

                                                         Ekoi headdress

Of the wooden sculptures owned by Ejagham women's societies, those of Njom-Ekpa certainly are the most elaborate. I have seen two other types of sculptures used by women's associations in dances. The carved box of one of the headdresses contains a central female bust surrounded by four smaller human figures, and the entire headdress is brightly colored in oil paint, as all the new ones are, rather than covered with skin. It was used by a dance association, Egbobha, that existed in only one village (Cover; Fig. 13). The dancer was accompanied by four young girls carrying mirrors and decorated calabashes. Another association owns a headpiece with four faces-two brown male faces and two yellow female faces. The latter two, like the modern Ngbogha-Ndem funerary statues, have small beauty marks on the cheeks. Feather plumes decorate the top of the headdress, and pieces of white cloth surround the base.

Figure 13. Dancers of the women's Egbobha association. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler.

This sculpture corresponds more directly to the skin-covered headpieces carried by women on certain occasions early in this century (Partridge 1905). These carved heads once resembled those of their male counterparts. Today the technique and the coloring have changed. Often, as with Njom-Ekpa, the women own entire boxes with carved figures, while the men are content with simpler headpieces. Women dance with their faces unveiled, but the men cover theirs.

Skin-covered Headpieces
The male and female skin-covered masks of the Ejagham, worn in dance by members of men's associations, further exemplify the complexity of meaning inherent in African images (Fig. 15). Although no longer produced, some still exist and must be worn on the rare occasion of a funeral celebration for an honorable elder who had been an association member. The masks of the young men's associations are now covered not with skin but with colorful industrial paint. The criteria for membership have also changed. Membership previously corresponded to personal success in hunting, headhunting, or other accomplishments for the benefit of the community; today, anyone may enter.
 Figure 15. Skin-covered headdress representi9ng the late Ma Nto-Ayi. It is said to have been carved at least 70 years ago by the deceased's husband, Ekumkpe Ataikum, "to express his grattude." The mask. now owned by his brother, is worn with a red silk costume and performed at funerals and an annual village ceremony. Qua Ejagham, Nigeria, July 1971. Photo: Keith Nicklin.

As in the older associations, male and female skin-covered masks almost always perform together. Sometimes, instead of a male-female pair of masks, a single dancer wears a janus-faced example that combines both elements (Fig. 16). The female face can easily be recognized by its yellow or white coloring; the male, which always faces front, is usually painted black or brown, like the blackened faces of Ejagham warriors. Female images display beauty marks (though not the older configuration of concentric circles), body ornaments, and occasionally, as on the older skin-covered examples, nsibiri signs-especially the one signifying love and reverence with which the monenkim preferred to decorate their faces at their coming-out ceremonies. Nsibiri signs are only occasionally seen on male masks. Both types, however, usually reveal filed front teeth as a sign of beauty. The hairstyles of the female skincovered masks include elaborate braids as well as some of the designs Ejagham youths used to shave into their closely cropped hair. The male faces often wear a beard, though Ejagham men themselves do not. The new headpieces, especially the male ones, have modern hairstyles with combed hair and a part. Some of the masked dancers, like the Njom-Ekpa association's main dancer, are accompanied by a young girl. P A. Talbot photographed a number of these girls wearing nsibiri signs on their faces (1912).
Figure 16. Janus-faced mask, okpon ibuot, of a warrior's association. The backwards-looking female face is visible here. The mask is dancing at the installation of his Highness Ndidem Edim Edim Imona of Ntoe of Qua, Calabar, Nigeria, April 1975. Photo: Keith Nicklin.

It is difficult to retrace the exact meaning of the skin-covered masks; headhunting has not been practiced since the turn of the century, and the Ejagham are not fond of talking about this custom. The chief allowed only successful warriors or their direct followers to commission a skin-covered headpiece, which would then remain in the lineage of the owner. One of his sons would become a member of the association concerned and wear the mask at his father's funeral celebration to honor him. In this context, it represented the deceased. After the son's death, the headpiece would in turn be danced at his funeral and represent both him and the original commissioner, and so on, as Mansfeld observed in 1908.
Like the Ngbogha-Ndem figures and the Njom-Ekpa headdresses, the men's masks are not portraits of individuals. Whereas the female faces usually have idealized features, however, some of the male faces are distorted. In fact, a number of the latter depict enemies and bear foreign facial markings. This understanding of the masks-as portraying foreign or idealized figures and representing ancestors-also explains why skulls (of enemies or large animals) could be worn like wooden heads and why they too were said to "be" the ancestors. Talbot (1912) mentioned, for example, that a masked dancer wearing a skull was received by the audience with "roaring laughter," a response that certainly would not be appropriate for the appearance of an ancestor. The Ejagham explain that the ancestors owned the mask and were associated with it, but it was never the skull of an ancestor. In the course of the festivity both could be invoked-the ridiculed enemy and the honored warrior. 
The female headpieces represent respected women. Women assisted the men in wartime; without their help the men could not win a battle. Robert Farris Thompson mentions the example of a shoulder mask with a male and a female face, said to represent a warrior and his wife, who contributed to her husband's success. The mask and its dance group performed a warrior's dance at which warlike behavior was mimed and accompanied by praise songs about the couple (1974:175). In another village, a single head was said to "be" the wife of a respected man who wanted to honor her with a mask (Fig. 15; Nicklin 1974:68). In the Etan Mbembe association a female mask might even perform in an aggressive male dance (Fig. 14).
Figure14. Recently made female headpiece of Etan Mbembe, a men's dance association. The mask, perceived to be male, mounts up "as high as the top of the palm trees." Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler.

As we already have seen with the Njom-Ekpa headdress, masks not only portray women but also are dedicated to them. The female headpieces depict idealized beauty-likely to be foreign, like Mamy Wata-which is suitable for honoring respected women. In a similar way, the male masks represent the heads of enemies or animals (yet not all of the latter are conceived as male) and signal the power of the owner to control them or their spirits.

The Complementarity of Men's and Women's Associations
All of the performances or art forms I have described honor respected persons, most obviously in the context of funerals. Men's masquerades have yet another important function. Aside from public festivals, where everyone may see them, they come out in certain instances when social order must be restored-when a serious crime has been committed or an association's law has been violated. Then, with the elders' permission, and after a messenger has announced the event, one or several masks appear. These dancers run through the streets threatening villagers with their weapons. During this time all uninitiated people must stay inside their houses behind closed doors and windows.
The elders of the village are responsible for maintaining the social order and the laws given by the ancestors. As senior members of the associations, they can also impose new laws which are sanctioned by the ancestors and reinforced by the threatening masked dancers, today, mainly those of Ngbe and Angbu, the young men's secret association (Fig. 17). Sculpted heads are not carried on this occasion.

Figure 17. Angbu dancer with a carved mask. Ekwe Ejagham, Cameroon, 1988. Photo: Ute M. Roschenthaler.

The Ekpa-Atu women's association is summoned if the laws imposed by male elders conflict with the women's principal laws, an epidemic threatens the community, or anyone insults a woman's femininity. This is the case, for example, when insurmountable political problems arise, or when a woman carelessly drops her loincloth or the men's goats destroy the women's gardens so that they cannot provide enough food for the family. To restore social order the women meet at night in the village's main streets, dancing naked and singing songs about their mystical powers. Then it is all the men who must remain inside their houses, behind locked doors and windows. In more serious cases, the women wash their bodies, the water they use becoming a powerful charm that makes men impotent or kills those who have offended the women's principal laws.
Ekpa-Atu complements Ngbe and Angbu. Instead of using masks, women of this association use their nakedness, which can affect men's potency in the same way that men's masquerades can affect women's fertility (Roschenthaler 1996). Performances by both the masqueraders and the naked dancers stress the dancer's anonymity and "uniformity" (Kramer 1993/1987), whereas performances at funerals publicly celebrate the lives and achievements of individual, respected persons, both women and men. In this latter context, men's and women's masquerades are similar. Indeed, they are referred to by the same name, eci okum, or masquerade (literally "head of the association"). The difference is that the faces of the women who carry the sculptures are unveiled.
One reason why male masqueraders cover their faces is that they use the same disguise for both kinds of performances: the threatening one, where their personal identities cannot be revealed, and the public one, where anonymity is not that important. Women have two different "disguises": the threatening naked dance in the night, in which their anonymity does not depend on the wearing of masks, and the masquerade with the carved headdress at public ceremonies.
The interdependence of Ejagham men's and women's institutions is constructed through myths which are lived in their rituals and enacted in their associations. Both men and women own influential institutions for important social purposes, and in most of them a gender-crossing honorary membership is possible. These institutions are complementary not only in their ability to maintain social order but also in their public funeral performances.
The second funeral celebration requires that statues be modeled for members of Ngbogha-Ndem and that masks be performed for members of mask-owning associations. On this occasion both men and women are honored in praise songs sung by the women's choir. In most men's public masquerades, male and female aspects are combined; it is particularly noteworthy that a female image could be worn to perform an aggressive warrior's dance. The meaning of the masks therefore depends largely on the choreography of the performance and on the songs.
Instead of emphasizing men's predominance in masking and the apparent absence of this activity among women, we should focus on the intentions of those who perform in men's and women's institutions. The Ejagham seem to regard the sculpted headdresses owned by women's associations as belonging in the same category as men's masks. This interpretation is underscored by the fact that they are given the same name. Thus, the Ejagham concept of masquerades, including not only dancers with veiled faces but also those without, suggests that we must consider alternative modes of African masking classifications. 

This article is based on field research carried out in 1987 and 1988 among the Ejagham of southwestern Cameroon. It was supported by the Nachwuchsf6rderung des Landes Berlin and the German Academic Exchange Service. I extend my thanks to all the Ejagham women and men who assisted me in the field and responded with patience to my questions Shirley Ardener, Brunhilde Biebuyck, Sally Chilver, Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Heidrun Mader, Zoe Strother, and Tobias Wendl have read earlier drafts of this article, and I am grateful for their comments. Any remaining infelicities are mv own.

A Ekoi figure with 4 horns.
30" tall
wood and animal skin
The important art forms of the Ejagham people are connected with the institution of the Ntoon and with the men's and women 's associations. The best known of these art forms are the large, skin-covered headdresses (crest masks), which may have one, two or even three faces, and the 
smaller headpieces, which may represent a head or an entire figure.These exceptional headdresses are owned by associations whose members are men or women of the same generation but membership is often further restricted to those who have performed certain feats or are proficient in particular skills. In the past, for example, there were associations of hunters and of men who had killed leopards. The masks, which bear the same name as the society that owns them, are worn during funerals, initiations and other events. Some are startlingly naturalistic and may be portraits of known individuals; others are highly stylized.

There are two principal types of masks: helmet masks that cover the wearer's head entirely and crest masks, often referred to as headdresses, which are attached to basketry caps worn on the top of the head. Both types were made by an artist who carved the form from a single piece of 
wood and covered it with soft, untanned antelope skin that had been soaked in water for several days. He stretched and tacked the skin into place until it dried and stiffened. Eyes, scarifications, and hair were often carved separately and pegged into the finished piece. Before being worn, the 
headdress was painted or colored, then adorned with metal pieces, wooden pegs, real hair, porcupine quills, feathers, or feathered rods stuck into 
holes at the top.

The most distinctive of these elaborate sculptures are the realistic female headdress topped with curled "horns" representing elegant hairstyles. They would have been secured on the wearer's head by a string under the chin, with the body covered entirely by a long gown. These might have been worn by a woman in the context of an Ejagham women's society called Ekpa, which was responsible for the education of the girls in preparation for marriage. The headdress could represent a girl that evokes ideal female beauty and is ready for marriage. The depicted hairstyle 
was worn during the coming-out ceremony following the girls' seclusion.

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