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Resistance to Colonial Rule

Author: smith on 17-09-2013, 16:00, views: 2 583

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Notice of the ISU Deputation Visit. (Source: Prof. M.E. Noah)The Man Leopard Murders

 

In the social sphere, a major achievement by the ISU was the Union's undertaking, when government efforts failed, to suppress man-leopard murders that occurred in the 1940's in some areas of Opobo, Abak and Uyo Divisions among the Ibibio and the Anaang. The man-leopards (Ekpe owo or ekpe ikpa ukod), simulating leopards in their dress and manner of killing, were hired to commit the murders by aggrieved persons seeking vengeance over matrimonial or land disputes, default or misuse of osusu (co-operative) payments, etc. which the Native Courts failed to settle impartially. Partial or non-refund of dowry, desertion or adultery by a wife, or rejection of a suitor could motivate the aggrieved man to revenge through man-leopard murder (Udo-Affia, 1947; Anon, 1946). The practice of child marriage further exacerbated the situation. Additionally, cheap or so-called one-manilla divorce, instituted by the District Officer F. R. Kay in Abak Division, whereby only a very small portion of the dowry (one manilla) was refunded to the husband in some cases of divorce6, motivated many husbands to take the law into their hands. In Opobo Division, murders occurred at Ibesit Okpokrok, Ikot Ukpong Eden, Ibesit Anwa, Ikot Ikpene, Idung Ntuk Uma, Ikot Akama, Eteben, Ikot Idem, Ikot Udoro (Anaang), and Essene, Ikot Akpa Obong, Ibekwe Akpan Nya, and Ikot Obio Okoi (Ibibio), among others. By May 1947, when an ISU delegation toured the Leopard Area with a view to stopping the murders, over 100 persons had been killed by man-leopards, especially in the Anaang areas, where the murders originated (NAE ABAKDIST. 1/2/92).

 

The tour of the ISU delegation undertaken with approval by the Government, lasted from May 27 to July 31, 1947. It was a tremendous undertaking. Government provided several lorries and a police escort, proclaimed the affected area a Man-Leopard Area on which it billeted 300 police men, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew (Udoma, 1987: 117-120). A police force headquarters for the Leopard Area was established at Egwanga under I. E. Hodges, Superintendent of Police. The delegation itself comprised 52 prominent men representing the ISU and the NA's drawn from all the six Ibibio districts (Schofield, April 1947).

 

With incredible exertion and speed, the delegates visited altogether about 250 villages in the Leopard Area in Abak, Opobo and Uyo Divisions (Usen, 1947). Representatives from Opobo Division were William E. Ufot, Akpan Unwa Afia, William Umo, Sampson Ayara Akpabio, Udo Udo Essien, Inyang Essien Owo, Willie Akpabio, and Ukang Akpan Obong.

 

Determined to blot out the stigma and shame inflicted on the Ibibio Nation by the gruesome murders, the Union resorted to traditional methods of crime and social control, regarding them as much more potent and deterrent in suppressing' the' murders than the police and military actions which the colonial government had applied in vain. The methods involved the use of eyei (young palm leaf) which was kept and shared out to the people, an elephant tusk, and traditional swearing. Suppression of the man-leopard murders was made the more difficult by the simultaneous occurrence of killings by animal leopards in the area.

 

Initially, at every village visited by the delegation, all adult males were obligatorily assembled at the village square, their attendance being checked against the tax list. Women and children also attended. Several delegates addressed the people on the evils of the man-leopard practice. Village problems, notably land and dowry disputes, were discussed and settled, and pieces of advice were given. The assembly then divided into two groups -Christian and pagan - and prayed aloud for the murders to end: the Christians, with their hands lifted up and clasped; and the pagans with their hands touching the ground. A goat and a fowl were ritually slaughtered as sacrifice and the people dispersed (Schofield, 1947 A; Udoma, 1987: 132-134).

 

The ISU Deputation on tour of Opobo Division. (Source: Chief U. U. Afia)The ISU Deputation on tour of Opobo Division. (Source: Chief U. U. Afia)The delegates had worked for about three weeks when a man leopard murder occurred on June 7, at Ediene Atai which was, ironically, the Police Headquarters for the Man-leopard Area. This was eight days after the delegation had visited the village on May 28 and the villagers had taken the oath never to practice man-leopard again. This murder forced the delegation to apply a psychologically more intimidating form of swearing by the Bible for Christians (Psalm 7, verses 3-5), and by the doll (doll swearing) for pagans (Ufot, 1983). The doll swearing was described at the time thus:

... a piece of bamboo stick was cut about nine inches in length (just the size of a doll), dressed on one end with ordinary fibre round it in the form of a ring and the other end dressed with beads, the middle rubbed with chalk mixed with water and sand from the village shrine. Two sticks with stoppers on one end are produced and hoisted on the ground, the doll being placed on them cross-wise with one palm leaf (eyei). Without taking to the mouth, any person called upon to swear would only take up the dressed doll-like stick and embrace it while administering the necessary oath and afterwards replace it on the sticks (Usen, 1947).

 

The penalties for flouting the delegation's orders were severe. For reporting late at the village square without reasonable excuse, 231 men at Asong were each given six strokes of the cane on the buttocks or would otherwise be prosecuted at the Native Court. If a person ran away and avoided the oath, his house was demolished and he himself was banished from the community (Usen, 1947). For re-occurrence of man-leopard murder after the people had taken the oath, the delegation fined Ediene Atai one cow, 600 manilla, 120 yam tubers, and 12 fowls, and re-swore the men on the Bible and the doll (Usen, 1947).

On its own part, the British Government proscribed the Idiong society for alleged implication in the man-leopard murders. Idiong priests claimed, among other things, to divine a client's adversary, which allegedly led the latter to commit murder in revenge. Many Idiong priests were arrested and imprisoned and their paraphernalia confiscated.

 

High Court session at Egwanga during the man-leopard trials in 1945, headed by Justice Gregg from Calabar. Courtesy: NM - CalabarHigh Court session at Egwanga during the man-leopard trials in 1945, headed by Justice Gregg from Calabar. Courtesy: NM - CalabarThe ISU strongly protested to Government at the suppression of Idiong, convinced that the society was hoary and noble, and that the priests, many of whom were highly distinguished chiefs and prominent men, were innocent. The Union itself in the end fell out with its General Secretary, Usen U. Usen, who had been Secretary to the Delegation.

 

As soon as the Delegation's tour ended, Usen secretly submitted a report to Government on the tour implicating Idiong and many leaders of the Union in the man-leopard murders, whereas the Union was already contemplating suing the government for reparation for illegally - in the Union's view-confiscating and destroying Idiong artefacts and paraphernalia and imprisoning Idiong priests (Udoma, 1987; Ufot, 1983). Regarding Usen as a traitor to the Ibibio Nation, the Union expelled him.

 

Thus attacked by the ISU and the colonial government, the man leopard murders gradually subsided as from early 1948 (Butcher, 1948). By then over 70 persons had been convicted by the Courts for man-leopard murders and executed (Fountain, 1948).

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Category: Ikot Abasi in the Socio-Political Development

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15 October 2017 18:55

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