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Ekpe Elders react to Cuban AbakuŠ

Cuban AbakuŠ fueling a resurgence of traditional Ekpe culture in Cross River Delta, Nigeria

Statement made by ‘Iberedem’ Fred Eno Essien, ‘Ukai’ of Ibibioland, and prominent Ekpe leader from Uruan, 1/08

Chief Ekpenyong Eyo Honesty Eyo II, reflects upon the impact that knowledge of Cubban Abakua is having upon Ekpe leaders of the Cross River region, 1/08

Chief Ekong Imona reflects upon the impact of the Cubans in Calabar, 2/08

Transcript of a statement made by ‘Iberedem’ Fred Eno Essien
, ‘Ukai’ of Ibibioland, and prominent Ekpe leader from Uruan
In Uyo, January 16, 2008; revised on paper on January 21, 2008. 
(‘Iberedem’ and  ‘Ukai’ are two honorific titles, meaning ‘one who is dependable’.)

Fred Eno Essien responded after Dr. Ivor Miller’s presentation on Cuban AbakuŠ history in the Palace of Ntisong Ibibio, Ntisong III, Obom Ibibio, Obong (Dr) Essien U. Ekidem, January 16, 2008, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.

The knowledge of Cuban Abakua is having an impact on the contemporary Ekpe of the Cross River Basin. Seeing the level of response to Dr. Miller’s lecture exhibited by distinguished elder citizens of Akwa Ibom, as a large community of Ibibio and lesser Ibibio tribes, was very rewarding. Their response gives me motivation to work harder. What I mean is that I have been on a crusade for the revival of our culture: As a tourism consultant, I have always been in favor of indigenous culture, which could be restructured and uplifted, projected to a stage that it would attract international interest, and bring in the benefits that are expected of a highly competitive tourism business. In Nigeria much of what we see these days are cultures grown from external influences, and in this part of the world —†Akwa Ibom and Cross River States and into the Camerouns —†one very outstanding indigenous cultural wealth that we have is the Ekpe society. But over time, interest in Ekpe has waned perhaps due to strong Christian religious influence and deep political maneuvers of state, and so much has happened, they have cast aspersions upon the dignity, quality, and content of Ekpe that a lot of people have literally ‘gone to church blindly’, and have doubted the validity of holding on to that which is unequivocally theirs. This has not done well for us, because today, we have serious societal problems – we know that this would not have been so if Ekpe principles still held sway today.  

Such problems as rape, robbery, murders, and general vandalism committed mostly by youths who are not properly in control because of low moral values. These are very worrying, and government today makes a lot of noise, uses a lot of money without getting expected results, and I know that because  of the Christian religion, because of the maneuvers of government, the elders who have an answer to these problems stand aside, they don’t want to interfere, and things grow worse everyday. Ekpe is an instrument which is comfortable for use by the elders in controlling social problems. So one has always thought, ‘can there ever be a way that these people could be empowered, energized into doing what we know they could do to put society back on track?’ It has been a very difficult question to answer, and very little has been done about it, so Ekpe has been relegated to just the celebratory aspect of our cultural wealth that you see in local festivals, such as tourist events superficially enacted. It’s a far cry from the deep philosophies manifested visible in the grandiose funerals exhibited by the monarchy of the passage of a king. It’s very depressing to the psyche and dignity of our people.  

So, right out of the blue,this lightning bolt from Cuba came, through my very good friend and brother, Dr. Miller.  I can’t tell you how excited I am. What we have in mind now is a program whereby we can use this clear example of this success of Ekpe as a societal block-building equipment, that could be used properly to put things in proper perspective, give full attention to worrisome issues from an all-encompassing strategy of nation-building at the rudimentary stage. When you want to treat society, you use moral issues; once the youth know that there are mechanisms of control in place, well established by our forebearers, then the capacity to control them is established. Cuba has shown us that what we believed in is alive and applicable today to solve problems. Cuba has shown us that we are not wrong about what we thought of our forebearers. Cuba has shown us that besides the Christian religion, there is a complementary alternative, because there is no conflict between Ekpe and Christianity. So these are two instruments that could be used together, with clear definition of areas of control. In fact the Native Administration through the hierarchy of chiefdom, would be given a clear responsibility and therefore be seen as partners with government in controlling society for a balanced development. So I am very happy!  

Therefore what we have been nursing in our minds about the dream of working together here in this part of the world for the emancipation of our people through the use of indigenous cultural policies will come to bear, now that we know that we are not alone. We are ever so happy and grateful to the Cuban Abakua for bringing us back to our senses. Clearly the message is: “Hey, you had it, we have it, it worked for us, we don’t see why it won’t work for you.” So we’re going to embrace this resurgence, we are looking forward to a revival of our cultural systems through the leadership and moral principles of Ekpe. And we think the development of an international platform linking three large groups: Cuban Abaku∑, Calabar Mgbe (of Cross River State), and Efe Nkomo (of Akwa Ibom State) will generate that level of structure that we need to do things here. I know that here in Akwa Ibom, judging from the depth of support that I saw yesterday from the Ntisong Ibibio, supreme patriarch of the Ibibio race, I know that we will succeed. We are ready to build solid structures, a center for community development. Among such structures should be the creation of an Afro-Cuban Friendship Forum, with a center in Akwa Ibom State, where we would have a resource center, library, a Cuban cuisine restaurant, and a shrine for the memory of our brothers and sisters who died with dignity in spite of the condition of slavery they were cast into. We want to see a situation where Ekpe lodges will be restructured to reflect the fact that we have satellite shrines in other areas of the world. I think that this center could be a rallying point for all peoples of the world of Ibibio extraction and Ekpe lineage who want to come together one more time.

The Cross River basin has been split into three major political zones that share an Ekpe heritage: we have Akwa Ibom State, Cross River State, and the Republic of Cameroon. There are many lodges in Cross River State, but the pinnacle of administration for all these lodges is Calabar Mgbe. In Akwa Ibom, the pinnacle of administration for our Ekpe lodges is Efe Nkomo. So Efe Nkomo and Calabar Mgbe are administrative power-heads for the system of Ekpe lodges in the Cross River Basin in Nigeria. The Afro-Cuban friendship forum would be a strongpoint in the renaissance, because it promises a concentrate of legacies of Ekpe from both areas, in one location outside of Africa. It is a platform to demonstrate the validity, the longevity, and the sustainability of Ekpe.

Remember, we say in Ekpe: “’Abasi ikpaha, Afo ukpaha.’ God will not die/ you will not die.” (In an Ekpe context this means that the institution will survive the death of its current members).top

Chief Ekpenyong Eyo Honesty Eyo II, reflects upon the impact that knowledge of Cubban Abakua is having upon Ekpe leaders of the Cross River region 
Recorded statement made in January 2008 and revised by  Chief Eyo, a member of Calabar MgbŤ

I am Chief Ekpenyong Eyo Honesty Eyo II, I am a native of Creek Town and Henshaw Town in Calabar. I am an Ekpe title-holder in Efe Ekpe Eyo Ema, my title is Mboko-mboko.

I participated in the 2004 International Ekpe Festival when the Cubans arrived, and I also performed in Paris in 2007 on stage with the Cubans. My impression of Cuban AbakuŠ is that I hold them in a very high esteem. I would love the Cubans to come down so that people may see them and know them, because we thought that the Cubans are not existing, since their forefathers were taken to that place and they died, and they thought that was the end of the Cubans. So my impression is that we should bring them to Calabar; let people know that their great-great-grand-children are still existing. When the AbakuŠ sing their Ekpe, they start calling upon different owners of Ekpe here in Africa, and it has a very high meaning for me. When their forefathers left, the impression is that they disappeared forever, but now we know that they still have the Ekpe society in them, they hold that Ekpe, they did not forget it in spite of their torture. The message is that we here should educate our people, that those brothers who were taken away for slavery, that their children are still alive, and we should respect them, honor them, and be happy to see them.

Chief Ekon Imona reflects upon the impact of the Cubans in Calabar

(recorded statement made in February 2008, and revised by Chief Imona).

I  am Chief Ekon Effiong Ekon Imona, I am a native of Big Qua Town in Calabar. I am an Ekpe initiate; the holder of Ntoe Mabo in Big Qua Town lodge. Currently I am the secretary of the Big Qua Clan MgbŤ (Ekpe). I am equally the President of Calabar Mgbe, comprised of Efiks, Efuts, Okoyong, Quas, Umon people, etc, etc.; we are actually making efforts to make sure that other areas which have MgbŤ are equally registered in Calabar Mgbe.

At one time in my life, I did not associate myself with Mgbe, even though I was a title-holder. But the advent of the coming of the Cubans into Calabar for the International Ekpe festival in 2004 awakened a revival in my life. I asked myself: if the Cubans, who were taken from the soil of Africa to where they are today, could sustain Mgbe for over 200 years, why should we in Calabar allow Mgbe to die?

There are a lot of things fighting Mgbe, wanting it to die, for instance the Churches around us here, they say Mgbe is fetish, and they preach against MgbŤ. But if people who left here centuries ago, were able to keep Mgbe for so long, and they are still wanting it to exist, then there is something in MgbŤ.

I am so happy that a person like Dr. Miller, who has other areas to study, has decided to drop all that to come and study Mgbe, because it means that there is something in Mgbe which God has put in it, and we must make sure that Mgbe does not die.

If I had my way, we should modify Mgbe to bring in women, because they are the people sustaining the Churches today. Women have been made Bishops, and because of that people are going to church. But here, we are keeping Mgbe secrets away from women, and they are the mothers, they are the first teachers of the child, and the first teacher calling the child to say, “look, my friend, that Mgbe you are going to is not good,” and the child will follow the mother’s advice.

I can remember even my wife when I was chanting in Mgbe, we say, “Mbanma nsin owů, nsin ndi to,” (meaning: I have reached the peak of Mgbe, I have initiated people, and also my own children into Mgbe), and my wife would say, “go to orphanage, and look for the children you will carry and give,” because they believe that when you say “Mbanma nsin owů,” you are offering a child as a sacrifice to Ekpe. That has been our belief in this part of the world. With this situation, if we have a way of bringing in women into Mgbe, you will see that nothing will happen to Mgbe in the near future.

Ekpe in fact is an important vehicle to maintain peace in the region, and we have recently formed an association called Calabar Mgbe in order to bring all Ekpe groups together. Since the Efiks, the Efuts, and the Quas are always fighting each other, we felt that we could use Ekpe to bring unity between these groups. Calabar Mgbe started at Eyo Ema’s shrine; the birth of Calabar Mgbe is meant to unite these three ethnic groups in Calabar. Because we have everything in common through Ekpe. And the rules in Mgbe, the laws, what happens in Qua land happens the same way in Efik and Efut land. Forming this association is a means of bringing in peace which the Church cannot give us.

Among many other achievements, last December 2007, Calabar Mgbe sent a contingent to Paris to perform with Cuban AbakuŠ, and that trip has brought some awareness amongst our people, and with this a lot of people are wanting to become members of Calabar Mgbe, because they have seen that Mgbe is now an international phenomenon.



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