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Traditional Institutions For Men

Author: nick on 13-09-2013, 18:00, views: 2 974

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Last remains of Akai Ekpo grove at EsseneLast remains of Akai Ekpo grove at EsseneEkpo Institution

 

The Ekpo society is probably the most popular traditional society in Ibibio and Anaang communities of Akwa Ibom State. There appears, however, more awe attached to the Ekpo masquerade and the entire practice of the society in Ikot Abasi than what obtains in other places. Firstly, the membership of the society is restricted to mature and older men of proven integrity and valour. Secondly, one has to spend greatly to get fully initiated into the society. Thirdly, the Ekpo society was regarded as the highest law-and-order enforcement agency in the area before the advent of colonial rule. No woman was supposed to set her eyes on an Ekpo masquerade, and doing this without the masquerade knowing about it might result in the woman giving birth to a monster that would look like the masquerade. The Ikot Abasi Ekpo masquerade carries a very sharp machete, which can be readily used in dealing deadly blows on women coming his way, or, at times, on men non-initiates of the society. Because of the fear, reverence and awe, attached to the society and the barring of women from seeing Ekpo, the masquerades were restricted to certain areas of the town or village, and completely banned from wandering into the major trunk roads (usung ukwak) or market area. This is very much unlike what happens in some other LGA's of the state where Ekpo masquerades wander about everywhere, terrorising people.

 

Ekpo Nyoho ceremonies are performed at certain times of the year and during the death of any of the members. The monument, called the Eka Ekpo, is erected every seventh year, and during this period, which extends up to one month, the whole town is under the siege of the Ekpo masquerade. Many sacrifices in appeasement of the gods are carried out during the ceremonies.

 

Ekpo Masquerade rules
 
Members are expected to perform according to strict rules and are liable, on the breach of such rules, to as severe (and in some cases more severe) punishments and exactions, as when non-members offend the society. For instance under no circumstance must the masquerade:
 
  • Flog a woman, except where she does not show fear and respect by trying to run away, or where a husband of such a woman authorises a few strokes of the whip for her.
  • Pursue or whip a child, a pregnant woman, a woman carrying a pot of water, carrying a child, or wares from the market. (In these cases, a masquerade, should in fact, run or hide its face from them).
  • Or molest those returning from church or school.
A masquerade, which hurts a woman, or frightened a woman returning from, say, market, spring, or farm would find it hard to exonerate himself from blame or justify his action. To be found guilty always meant heavy fines.
 
The only occasion where a masquerade could be justified, if it molested a woman, was if the woman did not try to run away from it. and worse still, if she stood and tried to stare at the masquerade, endangering exposure of his human identity.
 

With the advent of Western civilisation and the influence of Christianity, membership and initiation into the society has dwindled, although some young people are now trying to revive it. The awe attached to it, however, has greatly diminished, compared with what obtained before.

 

A female branch of this society known as Akananwan Ekpo (Old woman of Ekpo), is one of the few of its kind still surviving in the state.

 

Ekong Institution

 

This is a traditional society for male children, initiation into which means that the boy has reached manhood, and can, therefore, display his courage and boldness as a man by joining Ekong (meaning 'war'). The Ekong itself is masked and armed with a bow and arrows, which are used against offenders, particularly, young girls, who are not supposed to see the Ekong. Those boys who are not initiated into the society are also attacked by the Ekong masquerades.

 

Ekong Masquerades (Courtesy: A. Ekpo)Ekong Masquerades (Courtesy: A. Ekpo)The Ekong masquerades usually come out during certain festivals of the year, and particularly during Christmas and the New Year periods. At such times, a large number of the masquerades may come out, controlled by a leader, and followed by many boys drumming, singing and dancing.

 

Ataat Institution

 

Atat was another cultural society, practised by the men. The awe attached to this was almost as great as that of Ekpo Nyoho. Atat was a cult for the younger people and it involved a lot of acrobatic performances, with the young men displaying their agility at jumping, vigorous dancing and contorting of the body. The Atat masquerade usually used raffia, beautifully woven to cover the face and the body. He usually carried a broom or stick, and not a machete. This cultural display has now been virtually abandoned.

 

Idiong Society

 

Idiong was the society of senior citizens in the society and members paid high entrance fees. The society was divided into two distinct sections: Diviners and Practitioners of Traditional Medicine. The Idiong priests who were diviners were consulted about many things, particularly personal and social problems or calamities, while the practitioners of traditional medicine dispensed medication to the sick and to those suffering from psychic ailments. It was quite involved in the social and political life of the people in the community, as it gave advice regarding present and future events affecting the community. The members were very powerful and influential and some of the priests, Mbia Idiong, had a strong say in the selection of village and clan heads.

 

An Abia Idiong (Mbia Idiong: plural) was a wizard and a diviner, who was supposed to be endowed with supernatural powers to interpret the mysteries of life, convey messages of the gods to give guidance in daily life and settle disputes, to reveal the truth, unravel the past and look into the future. An Abia Idiong deals with medical and herbal Idiong; he combines divination with curative medicine. Before the advent of modern western orthodox medicine and Christian religion, the abia ibok was the chief consultant in medical and spiritual matters.

 

Inam Society

 

This was another sacred society for old men of over seventy years, who sought to revitalise their spiritual and physical qualities. The person had to undergo a period of confinement in a special Inam shrine called Ekuk Inam. During the confinement, the neophyte had to perform some rituals to usher in peace and prosperity to the community, and had to maintain a high standard of spiritual and moral purity. A man could undergo inam purification a number of times in seven-year cycles. This tradition has long been discontinued.

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Category: Tradition and Culture

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