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The Ibibio Hinterland

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 14:00, views: 3 940

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The Qua Iboe Church at Ikot Usop, displaying the characteristic Qua Iboe Mission architectureThe Qua Iboe Church at Ikot Usop, displaying the characteristic Qua Iboe Mission architectureBeyond the coastal sand barrier and mangrove swamp lie the fertile farmlands of the Ibibio, where the primordial tropical forest has been cleared to give space to hundreds of small farm plots under rotational agriculture. Open horizons of undulating land stretch before the eyes, punctuated by groups of palm trees, straight and tall, towering over fallow bush and planted fields. Clumps of wine palms and bamboo line up the swampy banks of numerous streams and rivers. Mixed crops of young and tiered farm growth - fluted pumpkin, spreading along the ground; corn stalks, raising leaves above; and yam tendrils, climbing the higher shrub stalks, thoughtfully left for that purpose during the bush clearing, infuse fresh green colour in the brown-and-black, burnt-bush landscape.1

 

Small villages spread out in compound clusters near streams and rivers, the sources of water and traditional routes of communication and transport. Groups of low wattle-and-daub houses huddle under the overhanging canopies of big trees. A line of coconut trees, plantain and palm groves, and garden plots, fenced with bamboo sticks, indicate their presence. Wide, cleanly swept, shaded alleys connect the individual compounds and are blocked at night by stout protective barriers of rough wooden styles and fallen palm tree stalks. At dusk, women and children, who have left home in the early morning hours, file back from the farm or market, with basins and baskets of farm produce or bundles of firewood balanced on their heads. Soon after, water having been fetched from the nearby stream, the smoke and smell of numerous fireplaces indicate that preparation of the evening meal is in progress.

 

Bicycles, single or in groups, carrying stock of market wares, stacks of dry fish, tins of vegetables oil or calabash containers of palmwine, pass along the road by dainty Qua Iboe Churches, which pierce the sky with the high steeples of their peculiar architecture, or by the more sombre Catholic and Apostolic Church buildings, bordered by well-kept compounds and spacious school grounds.

 

Giant trees tower over Ikot Osukpong village squareGiant trees tower over Ikot Osukpong village squareHuge tropical trees mark old sacred grounds and provide shade and shelter from the heat of the tropical sun or the drenching torrents of rain, their dark green, glossy foliage contrasting with the light emerald green of new vegetation growth. In the evenings, their silhouettes darken against the white and grey cloud-shaped sky (rarely true-blue in colour), as shadows stretch, longer and longer. Glowing embers of live charcoal are carried across in hollowed plantain stem, thin smoke rising, the kindling ready at hand to start off the cooking fire. Soon after, the glow of bush lanterns punctuates the falling darkness under a luminous sky, filled with incredibly big and bright stars. Distant drumming and singing fill the darkness and welcome the thin disk of the moon, floating gently in the night canopy. The sweet smell of herbs, blossoms and spices drifts in the air...

 

Some of the most remarkable features of the Ibibio settlements are their markets. Each village and town has its own daily and evening market, where local exchange of goods and services, news and gossip is carried out and meetings, traditional ceremonies and recreational activities are held. The numerous, small-scale market women are female farmers, who supplement the family income through part-time trading activities. Larger market centres, still located along the pre-colonial water-ways, function periodically and alternately on certain established days of the 8-day Ibibio week. In the past, local producers, traders and middlemen from as far as Aro, Bonny, Ogoni, Opobo, Obolo, Qua Iboe, Ibeno and Oron came there to exchange local agricultural and industrial produce, imported goods, labour and services. Large quantities of palm produce could be obtained at each of these places and able-bodied men could be hired to paddle them in canoes down the creeks, to the trading factories at the Opobo river. Opobo and Bonny trading agents were settled at the central market places, like Urua Essen, Urua Ete, Ukam, Ukan and Ikot Akpabong, to facilitate the collection and transportation of hinterland produce to the international trading ports along the coast.

 

The Amangbauji's evening market, dominated by women and an assortment of fresh food items in baskets, bags or tins, is a most picturesque sceneThe Amangbauji's evening market, dominated by women and an assortment of fresh food items in baskets, bags or tins, is a most picturesque sceneBy the 1920's the Egwanga-Essene-Ekparakwa road carried a dozen motor cars and lorries a week and the regular transport to Aba consisted of a Tuesday and Friday lorry trip. Passengers and goods could be transported by the well known throughout Southern Nigeria Weeks Transport Service, whose lorries plied, once a day, the main roads of Opobo (Egwanga)-Ikot Ikpe-Ndiya-Ikot Ubo-Oron (en route to Calabar) and Opobo (Egwanga)-Ekparakwa-Azumini-Aba, picking and dropping passengers along the way. Those who missed the early morning Oron lorry from Opobo, had to wait for the Aba one and join another one at Aba, bound for Calabar via Oron (Udoma, 1989; A. U. Ekpo, 1996).

 

The collapse of the Opobo port export trade by the mid-century, did not destroy the internal exchange network, as specialised markets (like Urua Obodom, the Obolo fish market) or area centres (Urua Ete, Ukan, Urua Essen, etc.) continued to exist, readjusting to new requirements and, when necessary, relocating closer to the new roads.

 

Road transport in 1920's (Courtesy: Irene Brightmer)Road transport in 1920's (Courtesy: Irene Brightmer)

 

Notes

 

1 Bush burning is done at the beginning of the year, in preparation for the new crops planting, to clear the dry shrub and fertilise the soil

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