Colours, Flavours and Sights

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 23:00, views: 16 126


Obong N. J. Ekpo in front of the atang eko fence in his compound at Owok Ayakuk, EsseneObong N. J. Ekpo in front of the atang eko fence in his compound at Owok Ayakuk, Essene

Traditional Symbolism

Ekpe efre ntak, ntak otoho / If the origin is forgotten, the originator gets angry.
(Seeing things as they really are, not as they seem to be)
Ibibio proverb

Traditional symbolism in Nigeria is not as spectacular as the walls of Great Zimbabwe or as massive as the granite Egyptian pyramids; words like akwa, ibom, eka, signifying great, grand and ancient, often refer to inconspicuous but culturally important symbols, which arrest the respect and attention of any black African and evoke an awed, though they might arouse just a patronising sneer from a casual observer.

A small shrub with an upturned old pot underneath has a deep spiritual meaning, having been planted on that very spot at the ancient village square, years and years ago, by the founding fathers of that particular community as an altar for the worship of their ancestors and gods. The old cracked pot was once carefully tended by the traditional shrine keeper, who had the responsibility of maintaining the communication link with the ancestors. They, in turn, protected and guided the existence of their kindred and interceded with the deities on their behalf. The break of that link meant an unimaginable collapse of the well-established order of things, the loss of spiritual guardianship, chaos and calamity, lashed out by angry spirits, and these were to be avoided at all costs.

Communal social life was centred in the vicinity of such small shrines, located on judicial and coronation grounds and surrounded and protected by living compounds. In the past, witnesses say, huge trees of thick, dark foliage and tough, durable fibre, refuge of wild animals - leopards, pythons and eagles (legendary guardians by land, water and air) -enclosed and protected the sacred groves of the most powerful traditional societies (Ekpo, Ekong, Ebre).

Category: Ikot Abasi


Traditional Architecture

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 22:00, views: 14 952


The village head of Okoroinyong, Chief Festus Reuben Nteile, grandson of the founder of the village, at the trunk of the tallen sacred okwe (iroko) tree, which stood in the village square since its first settlementThe village head of Okoroinyong, Chief Festus Reuben Nteile, grandson of the founder of the village, at the trunk of the tallen sacred okwe (iroko) tree, which stood in the village square since its first settlementTo a stranger, a village compound surrounded by farmed plots and made of low thatched houses with clay walls which huddled under the canopy of tall trees, and served as living quarters, storage places (under the roof), kitchens and animal pens (at the back), represents a sign of poverty and darkness.1


A closer look at the cleanly swept surrounding, carefully trimmed and cleared undergrowth, and the methodically laid out compounds, reveals a long tradition of maximum space utilisation, economy and convenience. Each small village, or bigger town, consisting of several distinctive wards, has its own spatial organisation: a canoe landing beach (esuk), fresh-water stream (idim), several burial grounds (for different categories of people) and a central square (ata essien), where the community hall (efe idung), the market and the ancient shrine groves are located. Wide roads, bordered by tall palm leaf or stick fences (atang eko or око) and farm plots with neat stick-hedges, connect the compounds and village wards to the central square, where village elders (men and occasionally, women) meet in the evenings to discuss and decide on vital issues concerning the community. Here, public announcements on war and peace, farming seasons and traditional festivities, marriages, births, deaths and public contracts were made, disputes settled and judgements passed; and religious ceremonies were performed, to ensure the continued existence and welfare of the community and the success of its endeavours.

Architectural elements: Central pillar; bamboo fence; compound entrance (Courtesy: NM, Uyo)Architectural elements: Central pillar; bamboo fence; compound entrance (Courtesy: NM, Uyo)In the early days of colonial rule, here, on the open grounds, under the shade of a big tree (cottonwood/ukim, African oil bean/ukana, African nut/ekom or pear tree/eben), the deck-chair of the District Commissioner was placed and, with a local interpreter and two policemen in attendance, he shook hands with the head chief, passed the compliments of the big white father of the people (i. e. the Provincial Commissioner or Resident), and proceeded to state the purpose of his visit. After due consultation with his chiefs, the village head provided a response and the customary exchange of presents - a goat and yams for a dash of tobacco, cloth and beads - took place (Patridge, 1973:4).


Category: Ikot Abasi


Arts and Crafts

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 21:00, views: 29 657


Women's carrying basket, akpan, with palm fruit bunchesWomen's carrying basket, akpan, with palm fruit bunchesThe traditional way of life embraced a galaxy of artistic expressions - story telling, poetry and dance-drama, wood and clay sculpture, puppetry, mask-making, masquerades, mural and body painting, etc., evolved in the complex socio-political, religious and economic pattern of community existence. As a rule, traditional art forms were highly functional and governed by strict aesthetic and deeply spiritual canons. They were used as effective means of social interaction and control and a vehicle for cultural transmission of traditional norms, values and experiences.

Craft work is practised seasonally: carrying baskets for farms produce are made at harvest time; climbing ropes (ikpo) for cutting palm fruits - when the palm fruits are about to get ripe; roofing mats and fibre string (tie-tie) - just before the rainy season.1 Farmers, palm-wine tappers and fishermen produce their simple equipment or purchase the more-specialised one at the area markets at Ete, Ikot Abasi, Essene, Ukam, etc. Professional pottery, woodwork, blacksmithing and weaving items are still produced through the group efforts of specialised families, working on commission or for immediate market sale.


Abang mbre, musical pot or pot-drum used in uta, ebre and other traditional plays and dances, and in church musical accompanimentAbang mbre, musical pot or pot-drum used in uta, ebre and other traditional plays and dances, and in church musical accompanimentUntil recently, the well known area pottery centre at Iman turned out a variety of water storage (abang itie), paJmwine (abang ukot), and cooking pots (ako afere), elaborate ceremonial pots (abang isong), grinding, mixing and soup bowls (ukop oko/usan efere), small ritual bowls (usan idem), musical pots (abang mbre), perforated round pots for drying crayfish and vessels of all kinds, sizes and shape. Ikot Ukpo Inua at Ibekwe was also known for making side-hole musical pots (abang mbre and abang uta.).2


The introduction of metal pots, which made boiling much faster, opened the way for different purpose iron pots and the cooking tripods. For centuries, local blacksmiths have reworked imported copper and iron bars, rods and sheets into staples, anklets and coiled eggings (owok). Small furnaces in the traditional blacksmiths' compounds still turn out metal utensils, buckets, iron tripods, knives, blades, matchets and hoes, traps and lamp stands, iron beds, musical gongs and rattles, spears, boxes and chairs. Metal sheets and welding materials previously obtained at the Opobo port now come from Aba market. Small children operate the traditional bellows connected with a wide clay pipe to the shallow fireplace at the Owok Ebio compound in Essene, which is believed to have learnt
hand-forging through association with Nkwerre (Igbo) artisans. A member of this family as a well-known Lagos goldsmith during the 1960s-1970s.


Category: Ikot Abasi


Ikot Abasi Dress and Fashion

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 20:00, views: 18 674


Mboppo girl in outing attire and okukin body design. Courtesy: Theresa IwokMboppo girl in outing attire and okukin body design. Courtesy: Theresa IwokTraditional dressing depicted sex, age group, associations and occupational activity. It was simple and practical and reflected the social status of the wearer. Children ran about naked, until their age qualified a girl for strings of waist beads (nkwa isin), and a boy - for a short waistcloth. For ceremonies, maidens and old women wore a short waist wrapper of woven or fringed raffia cloth (ikpaya or nkpin), which is still used in coronation and burial rituals of important chiefs. The elders used wrapper (skirt-like) around the waist pieces of cotton cloth (ekpang), sewn from woven strips, similar to the towelled sash on the chief's shoulder. A woven cap (bidak) with a feather and a head ring (okpono) completed the insignia. European traders and missionaries introduced imported cloth, which sold in fathoms of 21/2 yards each and replaced the traditional woven raffia and cotton wrappers. These were wrapped around the waist (ofong isin) - long for ceremonies and short for work or fight, or tied over the chest, over one shoulder or round the neck for leisure.


With the abundance of imported cloth, the men's loincloth/wrapper (usoobo) became very wide and gathered in draperies, held by a big roll on one side, while the women's dress developed into a double long wrapper (ufafak ofong isin) or a complete set with a blouse awang ye ndut), covering both the traditionally proscribed from public view lap, and the jctionable to the missionary bare breast. A head-tie covered the hair during church services.


A special costume is used by young maidens during their public outing after seclusion and training (mboppo): a knee-long wrapper, coiled brass leggings (owok), armlets (okoho ubok), and a profusion of beadson waist, neck and chest. Okukin and wikpong isong body designs and tattoos in dark lasting colours, face-marks and red and white pigment on the body, completed theirbeautified appearance, protected an umbrella. Ancient symbolism reflected in the and material of the dress, and the colour and pattern of body decoration, hairdo or beads.


Category: Ikot Abasi


The Richness of Traditional Cuisine

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 19:00, views: 11 063


Ikot Abasi food, like all Ibibio food is based on masses of fresh leafy vegetables - fluted pumpkin leaves (nkong uboong) and forest leaves (afang, ataama, editan, etc.), mixed with water leaves (mmong mmong ikong), or okra (etikke), which are available throughout the year. Vitamin-rich and cholesterol-low fresh palm oil (adan) and a rich variety of easily digested and rich in minerals sea-foods: river and sea-water fish - dried, smoked or fresh, crabs (isobo), and lobsters (nkonko), clams (nkop), periwinkles (mfi), prawns (obu), snails ekwong), etc., complement each dish.


The soups are always thickened and spiced with hot red pepper (fresh, or, dried and ground), cray-fish (obu) and additional ingredients like onions, tomatoes, ground melon or other seeds, grated coconut, cocoyam or pounded yam, okra, or potash (calcium carbonate, akang) and a dozen of aromatic and minty leaves and seeds: adusa, iko, ntoong, ata/uyayak, utasi; or, with sea-foods - each one of them adapted through centuries of culinary experience to a particular type of food.


Traditional Medicine

Healing is the restoration of harmony through the use of nature's herbs, but the greatest of healing balms is thought, reinforced by love...
Everything in nature is designed to meet human needs, but when a person transgresses the natural laws, he becomes sick. Harmony could be restored by the use of natural herbs, but caution is needed as the principle which restores health, could also destroy life.

(E. Ekpo, 1982)

Malaria, diarrhoea, constipation, worm infection and high blood pressure control - achieved through the use of herbs, included in the daily diet, such as bitter leaf (etidot), water leaf, afang, ataama, hot pepper (ntuen), etc. Every mother knows the therapeutic value of herbs from her backyard garden for controlling children's fever, eliminating worms, stopping diarrhoea or baby gripe, stopping bleeding and disinfecting wounds, or preventing pregnancy and miscarriage. Ripe sweet fruits - banana, paw-paw, plantain, etc. - were excluded from the diet, as they were believed to rot the stomach, while a medicinal plant, nyom ke iko (I don't want problem), was widely used in this aspect.


Category: Ikot Abasi


Ikot Abasi Town

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 18:00, views: 29 917


Cotonial relics of Government Station at Egwanga - the old government dispensary, European Hospital and WAFF barracks siteCotonial relics of Government Station at Egwanga - the old government dispensary, European Hospital and WAFF barracks siteThe Ibibio in Opobo Division
resent the name Opobo when applied to them and prefer to be called Ibekwe (Jones, 1956, : 35)


Known successively as Opobo, Egwanga and Ibekwe, Ikot Abasi town encompasses both modern amenities and historical relics of various nature and age. Egwanga (from the Opobo term egwenge, referring to over there) was established at the very beginning of the century as an administrative and commercial centre and divisional headquarters in the Niger Coast Protectorate. It was built up in the contemporary colonial tradition of segregation from the nearby native settlements, with which it has now merged. The Opobo Consulate building was transferred in 1903 from Norah Beach, below Opobo Town, to a commanding rise over the river at Ikot Iwuo, the ancient burial grounds of Ikot Abasi village.1 Like many other imported prefabricated structures of its period, it housed offices and stores (downstairs) and the residential quarters (on the top floor).2 The row of brick buildings along the Consulate Beach and Esuk Atai creek: the DO'S house and District Office, the government treasury, magistrate court and the model (for its time) post and telegraph office, the Judge's and Doctor's stilted bungalows, as well as the old barracks, prisons and hospital dispensary along Government Field, have outlived the wooden houses, from where British law and order were forced on the Ikot Abasi people as Opobo3 became a colonial outpost and administrative district headquarters.


Egwanga House (Source: NAI)Egwanga House (Source: NAI)The European Reservation included the dozen or so commercial establishments (factories) with their warehouses, offices and workshops, and their agents' residential quarters, built on reclaimed swampland behind the trading beach. The beach served as a produce depot, from which company lighters evacuated palm produce to the sea-going ships, moored midstream in the river. The beaches were named after trading hulks (Dayspring, Whydah), pioneer trading agents (Fenton's, Hooper's, Lyndhurst's, etc.), or the trading firms that used them (Gaizer Yard, Mclver, Newberries), etc. Names changed with the change of factory ownership, but the memories were retained in the collective recollection of the local people, like the one of the mystified Enwang the owner of the Opobo Store (Farmhouse), who lived near the waterside and was visited by Mammy Wata, the mythological mermaid-wife. He was reputed to be able to spend days in the water; and his big house, ufok Enwang, was a magnetic attraction for children of the surrounding settlements.4


Category: Ikot Abasi


The River

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 17:00, views: 16 412


Century Portuguese CaravelThe lower portion of the big Imo River, known variously as Rio de pew de Sintra by the Portuguese (Talbot, 1926, 1: 182), River Loitomba or Compotora by the Dutch, Nkontoro and Otunkong by the Obolo (Eneyo, 1991: 32; Ejituwu, 1991:7 5, 138, 141) and Opobo or Jaja's River by the European traders, but now referred to as Ikot Abasi River, provides a natural harbour for all types of water-craft in its 10 kilometre-long and opens directly to the Atlantic ocean estuary. Its deep navigable channel allows easy high-tide access to canoes, launches and engine boats into the hinterland creeks.


The early memories in the area are of Potoki (Portuguese) caravels, anchored offshore, beyond the river sandbar, which sent boat crews to procure slaves from the big markets and coastal baracoons (bamboo enclosures for slaves), and to exchange metal bars, manilla, clothes, tobacco and rum for ivory, timber, and agricultural products.


They often conducted slave raids on the nearby settlements in order to complete their cargo. Eket oral traditions tell how African children were lured aboard ship with food delicacies and fanciful presents, and, when a good crowd of them had been gathered, the ship suddenly lifted anchor and sailed off, amid the kids' wailings (Nkereuwem, 1994).


A boom of canon gunfire announced the arrival of a slave supercargo, causing a great excitement on shore, and a flotilla of local canoes streamed to it, bringing fresh vegetables, fruits and other objects of trade for exchange. Fast topsail schooners and brigs, Dutch, French and English, continued the slave trade until it was declared illegal at the beginning of the 19th Century.


Category: Ikot Abasi


Opobo Island

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 16:00, views: 13 040


View of the river estuaryView of the river estuaryOpobo (Town/Island), the heart of King Jaja's short-lived but powerful commercial empire, was established after his flight from Bonny in 1869 at the site of small fishing-port islands, situated at the river estuary.


After securing his position through brotherhood pacts and intermarriages with the neighbouring Andoni, Ogoni, Ibibio (Kwa) and Igbo people, Jack Jaja Pepple, now King Jaja, took the title of Amachachi (Amanyanabo) i.e., Founder and Owner of the Town and proceeded to establish his will and name on the river. Commanding the approach routes to the richest hinterland markets and relying on the network of markets, trade colonies, agents and local middlemen, and on its close relationship with the Miller Brothers of Glasgow, the small city-state grew under Jaja's leadership into the most important Delta port after Bonny. Its swift flotilla of fifty war canoes, full of armed warriors and fitted with breach-loading Gattling guns, was a formidable force on the rivers. Long after Jaja's demise, the 15,000 Opobo Island inhabitants remained almost exclusively engaged in trade and owned houses at all important trading centres and canoe-landing beaches along the Imo and Qua Iboe River tributaries, returning to Opobo 3 to 4 times a year, mostly during the annual end-of-year festivities (Webber, 1927).


The small Opobo Island, known as Kilibiama to the Bonny, Okoloba to the Andoni and as Idoro to the neighbouring Ibibio settlement of Ikot Abasi, is seen across the river from Uta Ewa beach, lying serene and desolate on the water. Its narrow streets, twisting among traditional clay-sticks-and-zinc compounds, colonial storey houses and spectacular sky-rising buildings, shrines and canoe-sheds, competing for every free inch of soil, attract visitors from far and near.


Category: Ikot Abasi


Down Below

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 15:00, views: 6 823


Mangrove trees in a channel of Okoroinyong Creek. The white bird, ata, feeding on the exposed in the low tide muddy bank.Mangrove trees in a channel of Okoroinyong Creek. The white bird, ata, feeding on the exposed in the low tide muddy bank.Below Opobo island lies Queenstown, the Edim Nta of the Ibibio, Ogbologbo of the Obolo, the Kwenlama of the Opobo, populated and named in 1887 after Queen Victoria by Chief Uranta and his people, who left Opobo at the height of Jaja's dispute with Consul Johnston, accepted Christianity and placed themselves under British protection (Jaja, 1977: 53).


Here, the river flows grandiosely into a wide and calm estuary, the water mass opening out to an endless sea horizon, controlled by powerful water mechanisms and weather elements. Heavy storms, high waves and jagged lightening flashes churn the water during the rainy season, while gently ebbing waves and brilliant sun-drenched and cloud-patterned sky caress the seascape in good weather. Dreaded by the Obolo fishermen as a giant sea serpent, which has one end in the ocean and the other in the sky, the violent sea tornado, seen on the ominously calm horizon of water as a brilliant spot of light with a long dark line crossing between sea and sky, is a spectacular and fearful experience, hardly survived by any small fishing craft, which it has overtaken.1 In good weather and at ebb tide, the river sandbar can be clearly seen, gently breaking the ocean waves and providing a perfect spot for recreation.


Small lush-green islands, sheltering tiny fishing communities and isolated sand beaches, dot the sides of the river, while bamboo stick fences map out the borders of the fishing grounds in the estuary. Open dug-out canoes, fishing and farming boats, large and covered cargo boats, transport goods from Port Harcourt, Lagos, Oron or Fernando Po. Sailboats, with or without engine, cast fishing nets and traps in the river.


They harvest the fishing grounds and cross the estuary to land at the Opobo Island beach, at Ikot Abasi, or at one of the tiny fishing ports along the river.


The Imo River estuary, including the creek-crossed and swampy land mass below Opobo Island has been historically referred to by the local inhabitants as Down Below.


Category: Ikot Abasi


Eastern Obolo

Author: nick on 24-08-2013, 14:00, views: 10 104


St. John's Anglican Church at Okoroinyong, built in 1918St. John's Anglican Church at Okoroinyong, built in 1918Na dey tings wey you give us, Papa

Na im wey we dey manage am so.

(Church chorus)


The history of the Eastern Obolo (Andoni), whose little settlements are scattered among the mangrove swamps along the coast - from the left bank of the Imo River to the Qua Iboe River estuary and beyond - is full of myth, voyage and mystery.1 Their traditions contain elements of Bonny, Opobo and Ibibio culture. Living off the water and subsisting on seafood and its exchange with agricultural produce inland, they developed a good understanding of the interdependence of the elements in their ecosystem- the (male) soul of the great mangrove trees, which is linked to the (female) soul of the ever shifting water, to produce and hold, against the devastating elements, their offspring - the mud. On the harmony among these three, depended the survival of all aquatic life and the human existence (Talbot, 1926: 1).


The Obolo dug-out canoes and house boats, equipped with all necessities for on-board living and fitted, nowadays, with out-board engines, dominate the coastal fishing waters of the Bight. Small camps, okorombom, huddled on the sandy lagoon or estuary beaches, serve temporary shelter and fishing camps, while they follow the fish schools for months on end. Smaller boats, paddled by women and children, traverse the inner creeks and channels, engaged in shell-fish gathering and clam-breeding to supplement the men's catch during the off-season. Women also cure and smoke the fish, on made by them cane frames and take it to the market. The trade with dry fish and sea food in the Opobo and Bonny-controlled markets in the region sustained Eastern Obolo prosperity in the 18th and 19th Century. Obolo tradition maintains, that Obolo boats controlled the trade to the inland Moco (Ibibio) and Ngwa (Igbo) country upriver for the past three centuries,2 also engaging coastal piracy. During the 18th century wars with the Ogoni and Bonny for dominion of the hinterland trade routes, the Obolo blocked the markets and stopped all trade on the rivers. Both Jaja, who took a solemn oath of brotherhood at the Yok Obolo shrine to be allowed to pass and settle at the Okoloba (Opobo) Island, and his European partners who came to the river to trade, acknowledged their decisive presence.


Category: Ikot Abasi

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