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Old Essene Market

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 13:00, views: 4 363

140

There are many markets in the Division, the principal ones are all on

the waterside and are owned by Opobo traders. The biggest is at

Essene, with many others on the various creeks and watersides

(Brooks, 1917)

 

Urua Esen, the site of the famous Essene market, offers the tranquillity of a pastoral landscape - cultivated farmlands, punctuated by few concrete ruins of old buildings, newly planted pumpkin leaves and corn plants, among which glitter the glass of square-faced gin bottles.' A line of tall coconut trees marks the waterside, where canoes from Brass, Bonny, Okrika, Ogoni and Andoni, and from the up-river Anaang and Igbo creeks used to land, laden with trade goods or slaves, yams and palm oil. Founded by Essen Umo Essen Akama of Essene and named after him, long before the founding of Opobo Town, Urua Essen (called Ahia Essen or Essen's market, by the Bonny traders) became the end port of the Aro trade route overland and a major hinterland outpost of the Delta trading states by water (Umo Essen, 1980). It attracted middlemen, long-distance traders and small-scale Ibibio producers from the Qua Iboe and upper Cross River basins. The control over it promoted violent disputes and armed fights, one of which is said to have caused the Bonny War of 1869 and led to the Opobo emigration to the nearby island (Cheesman, 1932).

 

Jaja of Opobo established his undisputed authority over his Essene market, and called it after himself Da Jaja. He developed it by settling its hinterland with his people, (dependants), engaged in both palm oil production and trade, and placed his Opobo boys (traders) in charge of the waterside beach. He jealously protected the area from outside encroachment, European or African, and maintained the status quo through friendly relationships and frequent visits with the nearby Ibibio chiefs (including his friend, Chief Itak Eto, the village head of Ukan). Ritual oath-swearing against direct trading with the Europeans and swift and terrorising punitive expeditions by armed contingents enforced his will.

 

The remains of two trading hulks, sunk at the mouth of the Essene creek and the abandoned nearby African Association trading factory, witness to the international interest in the market's produce catchment trade and the effectiveness of its internal trade mechanism. Even after Jaja's removal and numerous armed Consular visits Essene market retained its indigenous middleman's position, warding off European encroachment in the manilla-based exchange of palm oil, palm kernel and piassava for cloth, gin, tobacco, snuff and gun-powder.

 

The first District Clan Court, which served 55 towns and over 5,000 taxable males at Ukan, Essene, Minya, Ikot Imoh, Etefia and Ikot Efre villages in 1927 (Ann. Rep., 1927), was established here in 1902 and contained a court building, a lock-up, scribe's and court messengers' houses. The first court president was Chief Udo Umo Edem Ekim, selected as owo edongo utom okonsi (messenger to government) of Essene (Umo-Esen 1980, 1982). Other warrant chiefs, like Itak Eto - a man of strong character and with influence; Ekpa Owo and Itak Ikwot, were, reportedly, staunch supporters of the traditional societies and were

suspended for holding illegal courts in their compounds (Swanston, 1920; Purchas, 1921).

 

In most cases, people still took their cases to the traditional chiefs and court records read: This matter was settled at the village meeting, where (such and such) decision was given. The Native Court usually ratified this judgement. In 1930's the court was reorganised on clan basis and traditional elders were asked to sit in an advisory capacity, their comments being recorded to guide the visiting District Officer (Cheesman, 1932). Swearing was done on the Bible - for Christians, or by traditional mbiam oath - for the rest (Uko, 1984). Many cases concerned disputes between Christians and pagans.

 

400 inhabitants - Ibibio, Andoni, Bonny, Igbo and Ogoni, a school, a church and a native court (now the site of a gmelina plantation), were recorded here in 1963, but the Civil War events and destruction sent the stranger elements back to their original homes. The old market site, near which the Ikpa Nnung Assang twin mothers' settlement (ikot ibaan ekpo) used to be located, has reverted to its original owners - the Essene Town Caretaker Committee. The Essene market itself has been relocated to a new permanent site along the Ikot Abasi - Port Harcourt road, next to the modern Padonica Petroleum Filling Station.

 

Notes

 

1 Mouth-blown square-shaped bottles for Geneva gin were used by Hoytema & Co. and the companies of Hasekamp and J. S. Melcherz in Holland and imported by German and British firms in the second half of the 19th century. Machine-blown bottles were produced early in the century in the factories' own glass furnaces and flooded the Nigerian markets until World War I, when the German trade was liquidated. The glass factories of the distilleries closed down soon after that (V. I. Ekpo personal correspondence).

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