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Essene Town

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 12:00, views: 4 698


Sketch map of Essene Town square, showing the sacred shrinesSketch map of Essene Town square, showing the sacred shrinesThe mother town of all the Ikpa is Nnung Assang, known as Essene.

(Cheesman, 1932)


Originally named Nnung Assang, Essene received its name from the nearby Essene creek, which was known to the Opobo people as Esseneobio river.1 Its full name, Nnung Assang Ntan Aran Akama Ohio Offiong, traces the relationship of its founder Akama to one of the ancient centres of Ibibio dispersal. It is the most numerous settlement in the area, referred to as a town (obio) with 10 wards in the early colonial records,2 and by 1963 encompassing a population of 6,298 people, over 53 % of the entire Ikpa Nnung Assang clan.3 Until recently, on the strength of its primogeniture of origin, spiritual shrines and ceremonial importance, and a strong warrior leadership, it retained the cohesion of a cultural centre of all Ikpa Nnung Assang settlements of the present Ikpa Nnung Assang, Edem Aya and part of Ikpa Ibekwe clans, including Akpabom in Eastern Obolo. Its farmlands extended as far as Ikot Esenam (in Oruk Anam), Ikot Ekara, Ikot Etefia, Ikot Osudu and Ikot Usop.4


Essene Town Square with the sacred trees, the efe and market shedsEssene Town Square with the sacred trees, the efe and market shedsMany of the compounds (ekpuk) and each ward (owok), retain their meeting halls (efe ukot/efe obong), located in the ward's square or the chief's compound, where elders sit in the evenings to discuss, over a drink of palmwine, the local news and affairs.


The site of the first Nnung Assang Essene settlement is at the ancient Ata Essien Eka Obom, where the head of the Ekpo Nyoho society keeps custody of the shrine and final resting place (Ise/Ufok Akama) of the founder. Near-by are the Akai Ekpo (the Ekpo society grove), the ancient founder's residence, Ikpeti, and the Ibritam site, where a concealed pit-trap opened under the victim and he never came out again.5


Iso Akama shrine at Ata Essien Owok Essen, square, Essene. The sacred totem pole is said to have given warnings of imminent disastersIso Akama shrine at Ata Essien Owok Essen, square, Essene. The sacred totem pole is said to have given warnings of imminent disastersThe main town square is Ata Essien Owok Essen, the village square of Owok Essen, established by Akama's second son, Essen. Close to the asan ntin, where the big, chief's drum (obodom ubong) announced important events or a chief's death, is the big breadfruit tree (itak udia mbom ekpo), shading the efe anana ntong (shed without roof) - high court of the town elders. There cases of serious nature, like theft or murder, were reviewed. In the shade of the nearby mango tree, is the itak mbok/adaha mbok (place of pleading) - the traditional supreme court of appeal, from where the condemned person was taken to the ancient Ikpeti grove for execution. Only a tree, named after him, remained to tell his story there.


Sketch map of Essene Town and its component villages (Owok)Sketch map of Essene Town and its component villages (Owok)Still in the town square, enclosed with eyei (palm leaf fronds) stands the ancient totem pole of the ancestor's shrine, Iso Akama, said to have been brought from Uruan by the founder, the great warrior Akama. It is known for giving an advance warning of impending calamities, the last of which was sounded at the coming of the Biafran soldiers during the Nigerian Civil War, when the school children were shot along the main Uyo-Ikot Abasi Road.


Opposite it stand ho Abasi Ubong, the coronation grounds, where town chiefs are crowned, the homo tree, marking the the Iso Atakpo shrine, and the women's shrine, Iso Nto Ibaan, kept by the oldest woman in town. The dress of a caught female thief was hung there as a public sanction against the offence. Apart from the maltreatment the culprit got in the hands of vengeful women and others, when she was publicly paraded through the town and the market place, she was ostracised for life, her name was sung in derisive songs, and even her husband and children carried the social stigma after that.


Sts. Peter and Paul's primary school, Essene, which also served as a church hall during the weekends, and continues to accommodate community meetings and public ceremoniesSts. Peter and Paul's primary school, Essene, which also served as a church hall during the weekends, and continues to accommodate community meetings and public ceremoniesIn the opposite corner of the square is the Udut Eka Ekpo shrine, before which the famous Eka Ekpo masquerade comes to stand and has to be pulled away by force. A symbol, anyang, is placed on a strong akwa stick opposite that place, to indicate the coming out of the Ekong masquerade.


The town square was the main arena of social life, where important traditional ceremonies, affecting the town were performed and masquerade plays from different owok displayed. There, the Second Battalion of the Nigerian Regiment gave a full military display during its visit in 1953, joined by all ex-servicemen in the area.


The Regina Coeli College emblem

A large community hall of local construction accommodated the weekend entertainment of youths from all surrounding areas, the shops around it providing the necessary refreshments. Main roads lead from the square and its small daily market to all sections of the town, where clusters of traditional clay-and-bamboo houses with periodically smoothened and, in places, patterned in black floral designs walls, form extensive compounds, shaded by tall trees and palm-leave-mat fences with the traditional. Formal portal entrances, with guardrooms, are still occasionally seen, leading to the inner, master's quarters. Here and there, pretty cement masonry buildings of 1940's and 1950's, with prefabricated multi-sectional windows and decorative fancy blockwork design, indicate the improved social status of the early educated elite - teachers, traders, company and government clerks. More recent modern bungalows and few storey buildings with long-span iron roofs, aluminium and fibre glass fittings, mark the prosperity of Essene indigenes at Port Harcourt, Lagos, Warri, Uyo and Calabar. The modern health centre, spread out on the other side of the Port-Harcourt road, the First Bank branch, Post Office building, bore-holes and rural electrification installations, jointly sponsored by the community, DFRRI and the local government, are intended to improve the quality of life of the rural population, which looks out to employment in the nearby township.


The sites of the first Qua Iboe Mission settlement (of 1912) and the first Roman Catholic Church ground (1918) at Ute, which was started as the first outstation of the Anua parish (Uyo), and was known for calling its adherents by the sound of a coconut stem, beaten with a stick, are still preserved.6 The Roman Catholic Mission was later moved to its present extensive grounds and became a parish centre in 1930, with Sts. Peter and Paul's primary school, a convent and a girls' school.


The first secondary school in Opobo Division, the Regina Coeli College, was established there in 1956 and its products filled up the numerous vacancies for mission teachers, parish priests, civil servants and company clerks throughout South Eastern Nigeria.


Sts. Peter and Paul's Church, headquarters of the Roman Catholic parish at EsseneSts. Peter and Paul's Church, headquarters of the Roman Catholic parish at Essene

When the Catholic Bishop, Rt. Rev. J. Moynagh, came on his regular parish headquarters visits, the mission schools' children lined up both sides of the road, up to the Uyo highway, waiting long hours to receive him. On each Empire Day, they trekked all the way to the Government Field at Egwanga, many kilometres away, where the official celebrations and inter-school athletic competitions took place.


Shortly after the roof of the old native church collapsed in the big storm on Easter Friday, 1953, the Irish Reverend Fathers and Sisters rallied around and replaced it in Rev. Fr. J. Pettit's time with a new, magnificent church Sts. Peter and Paul's, from where Roman Catholicism and modern education were extended to the Ogoni, Ibibio and Igbo areas of the lower Imo River.


Medical Missionaries of Mary

Essene Catholic Mission was also a medical missionary outpost, where the Medical Missionaries of Mary came once or twice monthly from Anua (near Uyo) to supplement the government doctor's visits from Egwanga and the services of the government dispensary at Ikot Akan.


The town-crier made a public announcement about each visit and the sick people from Essene and the surrounding areas gathered at the primary school for treatment. The very sick were taken back to the mission hospital at Anua, while prescriptions for others were given to the Reverend Father to administer. Baby shows were also organised by the Reverend Sisters and presents were given to the healthiest Christian babies (Mbaba, 1996).


The so called African Churches: the Apostolic, the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, the Christ Army, etc., established soon after the European ones, built up modern (the Apostolic) or traditional buildings, and spread out in the nearby settlements.


Otung Ntuen Ibok in Ikot Osukpong with the chiefs wooden prefabricated house, the wonder of Opobo District during his timeOtung Ntuen Ibok in Ikot Osukpong with the chiefs wooden prefabricated house, the wonder of Opobo District during his timeEssene pays homage to two historical compounds - Otung Ntuen Ibok at Ikot Osukpong and Otung Umo-Esen in Owok Essen II, the home base of two prominent Ibibio activists, nationalists and traditional chiefs. Old and new, traditional and modern blends in Chief Ntuen Ibok's compound, which produced three successive and prominent Warrant Chiefs, and which was turned by the last of them, Chief Ntuen Ibok, MBE into a base for the Ibibio Union activities. The general Union meeting, which took place at the efe Ntuen Ibok on 24lh April, 1934 expressed sympathy with the recent death of the president of the Essene branch of the Union, Mr. Iffot. On 25th January, 1936 and on 3rd April 1937 the Union met again at Chief Ntuen Ibok's Council Hall and discussed the selection of a representative to the Legislative Council. But on 1st July, 1947, when the Ibibio State Union Delegation, touring the Man-Leopard affected areas, met all Ikpa Nnung Assang people at Essene, the crowded hall seemed empty in the absence of Chief Ntuen Ibok, who was arrested as Idiong society member.7


Chief Ntuen Ibok, Warrant Chief of Essene and a Ibibio unity and progressObong Otu Aman Umo Esen IX, Clan head of Ikpa Nnung Assang and village chief of Essene

State visits took place at his efe obong, as people from far and near, European officials, overseas visitors and Africans came to meet him. Chief Ntuen Ibok's imported palace, which was the wonder to the area, now squats in dilapidation, and the compound has changed, but various antiquities, stored in his 1960's storey house, remind of the agile and intelligent Essene chief, who was a pillar of Ibibio unity and entrepreneurship and a friend of all, but whose rule saw a division among his subjects, some of whom remained loyal to the traditional obong isong chieftaincy line.


The piercing sound of the nkom drum of the village town-crier, who announced every morning the news, summons and orders of the day, has been replaced by the brass bell pealing in the hand of a young cyclist. But the booming of guns at village festivals, big burials and important ceremonies, the colourful costumes and plays of the traditional Ekpo Nyoho, Ekong and Ikwot Ube groups, and the peculiar staccato beat of the drums, still gather the Nnung Assang people at the village squares. The attractive samba dance and songs of 50 years ago re-echo in the modern church services.


Despite modernisation, the memories of the past and the deeds of the ancestors are still very much alive in Essene.

Nkom ibit, the towncrier's drum, symbol of the Essene Club, Lagos. The town crier (nsung idung) was reckoned second to the village chief




1 See Jaja, 1991: map opposite p.1

2 Roger Casement, 1894.

As a town, by the traditional Ibibio measure of importance, was regarded any big settlement of many inhabitants, a big market, powerful shrines and priests, and great warriors. (Ekong, 1977) or a settlement of 2.000-10,000 inhabitants (Northrup, 1979: 89). There are presently 14 wards in Essene, each with its own village square, meeting hall, ancestral shrine, water stream and several compound clusters; and each clamouring for recognition as a separate village, in order to reap the benefits of the modern administrative svstem.

3 Cross River and Akwa Ibom State Population Bulletin, 1983-90, p. 61.

4 Oral tradition, Dr. Udoma filed numerous court cases on behalf of Essene people claiming their farmland in some of these places (A. Ekpo).

5 Historical notes on Essene have been provided by Sir, L.U. Etuko, Dr. A. U. Ekpo, Rev. Fr. F. Mbaba, Rita Hamilton Uko (1984) and Innocent Alphonsus Usoh of Owok Essen I (1996, mimeographed).

6 K. S. Okpokpong and T. A Nwa, Centenary History - Essene Parish (1980, mss), reproduced in the Programme for the Diamond Jubilee of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Essene, July 3,1993.

7 See proceedings of the Ibibio Union meetings in Noah, 1988: 171-172; 177-181; 201-205 and Udoma, 1987: 122-129; 137.


Extracts from Brief Memories of His Eminence, Cardinal Dominic Kkandem

Extracts from Brief Memories of His Eminence, Cardinal Dominic Kkandem
The chosen lamb of God
when still being called
Father Ekandem then
The first and the only
Indigenous Father In Calabar province...
Sojourned to SS Peter and Paul
In Essene, then in boom,
To do his pastoral duties there,
And to bring back strayed souls to God.
There the divine lot fell on him
And through Bishop Moynagh,
The diocesan Bishop then
The good news of his promotion
To Bishopric was sent...
In 1954 the plan of God for him came true
And he was ordained Bishop
The High priest of God Most High
To rank with the successors of
The Apostles of old. And to lead a large community
Of people to God...
from Programme for the Celebration..., 1993

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