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Pre-Colonial Economic Activities

Author: nick on 14-09-2013, 21:00, views: 22 806


Fishermen casting their netsFishermen casting their netsThe pre-colonial Ikot Abasi people also engaged in a wide range of economic activities, notably, agriculture, fishing, hunting, craft/industry and trade (see Physical Features and Natural Resources). Agriculture was particularly important in the area because of available fertile and excellent land for the cultivation of palm trees and food crops. Farming was carried out by both men and women and the major crops cultivated included yams and vegetables (Ina, 1989: 19).


Fishing was another popular occupation in the area and was often combined with farming. The fish caught included mullet: grandisquamis, tilapia: malatica and chrysichthys waiter (Ejituwu, 1991: 49).


Hunting was also popular and widespread. It could be done by one person. But, generally, it was carried out in groups of three or more people. The animals hunted included deer, grasscutter, antelope and leopard (Ekong, 1983: 62). Of all the animals, leopards were probably the most dreaded. To many people they were synonymous with enemies and their killing was therefore regarded as a community service. Since the capture and killing of a leopard involved a high degree of skill and courage, it became a symbol of bravery. The leopard's carcass provided an important source of meat while its skin served as a symbol of authority and the wearing of it conferred power on the wearer (Ejituwu, 1991: 50). It was probably the importance attached to leopards in the society that gave rise to the formation of Man Leopard Society (Ekpe Owo) and its menace in Opobo Division in the 1940's.



The Leopard
A strong, elegant animal of the wild cat family, regarded as a symbol of power and dignity. It was central to the cultural traditions and folklore and considered a religious totem and guardian of ancient shrines.
It was killed out of fear. Its beautiful skin and parts of his body, i. e., whiskers, teeth, claw nails had cultural significance.
It controlled the food crops eating animals, but is now almost extinct, due to deforestation and hunting.


The Wine Palm
The wine palm, ukot (raffia venifera), ranks second in importance after the oil palm. It is planted and personally or family owned, reaching maturity for tapping after 20 years. Incisions are made just below the top of the tree (iso ukot) and the sap drained into a pot, tied immediately under it. A small smouldering faggot is then placed in the hole and covered up with plantain leaves to prevent the fire spreading. The next day this is collected every morning and evening and a further slight cut made; every 2-3 days fire is applied.
Fermentation is assisted and the drink is improved in taste by placing the powdered bark of edat tree, obtained from near Essene.
A tree produces from 1 to 3 pots a day for three months, after which it is used for roofing mats and sticks, raffia, piassava and other materials.
(Uyo District Assessment Report, 1937)

Craft or cottage industry practised included the carving of canoes used for fishing, t processing of oil from palm fruits, and the distilling of alcoholic drinks from palm wi (Cheesman, 1932: A). Small wattle and mud houses of rectangular ridge pole construct thatched with palm leaf mats were also common. They were scattered and not grouped in compact quarters (Ibid.).


A very important economic activity, and perhaps the most common one was trac This involved exchange of products in local and distant markets. In local or internal tra people met in periodic markets such as those at Ukam and Ete, and exchanged tht foodstuffs, livestock, fish, palm oil and palm wine, and pottery wares (Ita, 1983: 1). Loi distance trade involved exchange of goods in distant markets at Eket, Ibeno, Ibagwa, Ik Ibritam, Abak, Azumini and Ikot Ekpene (Essien, 1992: 3-4).


I have often seen on market roads a little space cleared by the wayside, and neatly laid with plantain leaves whereon were very tidily arranged various little articles for sale - a few kola nuts, leaves of tobacco, cakes of salt, a few heads of maize, or a pile of yams or sweet potatoes. Against each class of articles so many cowries, shells or beans are placed, and, always hanging from a branch above or sedately sitting in the middle of the shop, a little fetish. The number of cowries shells or beans indicate the price of the individual articles in the various heaps and the little fetish is there to see that anyone who does not place in the stead of the articles their proper price, or who meddles with the till, shall swell up and burst.
(Mary Kingsley, in Eyo, 1979: 12)

At first the exchanges were done by barter. Later, various forms of commodi currencies were used, notably, manilla, a U-shaped brass wire (Okpoho), and cow (mbamba). The Imo and Qua Iboe Rivers, Essene Creek and its numerous tributaries ai foot paths were the major means of transport and trade transaction (Cheesman, 1932 A).


Early currency: cowry: shells of the cyprea monetta

Imported from East Africa, cowries were most generally used in West Africa since the 19th century. Along with cloth and salt, they were the most prized exchange medium in the Niger Delta by the mid 19th century, where they were counted in strings of 40. heads of 50 strings, and in bags of 10 heads, 20,000 cowries worth 10 dollars (in Baikie, 1854 and Hutchinson, 1856).


From all this, it can be said that long before their contacts with Europeans, the people of Ikot Abasi had developed a viable economic system based on farming, fishing, hunting, industry and trade. The exchange of the products in local and distant markets not only drew Ikot Abasi people closer to their trading partners, but it also encouraged co-operation and inter-relations among them.


Brass rods (okpoho)

A rod cost one shilling in 1856 and 1/4 of a shilling in 1902. Wires were worth a penny each, and by 1902 slumped to eight for a penny. (UAC Statistical Economic Review, March 1949; Pedler, 1973: 206)

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Category: Early History and Trade Contacts

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