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For an account the festival, see Cuban Abakua Participate in the Ekpe Festival, 
December 19-26,  2004, Cross River State, Nigeria

The Investiture of Lady Elizabeth Ayo Eremie into the Ekoretonko Lodge, Calabar, Nigeria, 9/05


Ebongo Masquarade - Calabar
Photo by Mr. Mpkan Ekpe Bassey

International Ekpe Festival
Calabar, Nigeria: December, 2004

The 3rd annual International Ekpe Festival took place December 2004  in Calabar, Nigeria, organized by local Ekpe leaders with the sponsorship of the Governor's Offfice of Cross River State. Ekpe culture is shared among many groups in Nigeria and Cameroon, and this year the special attraction was a visit of Cuban Abakua musicians, whose traditions derive directly from those of the Calabar Ekpe. The festival announcement cited Dr. Ivor Miller's essay on trans-Atlantic cultural connections (African Studies Review 2005):

Ekpe Musicians, Calabar
Photo by Mr. Mpkan Ekpe Bassey

"The Cuban Abaku society — derived from the fk kp and Ejagham Ngb societies of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon — was founded in Havana in the 1830s by captured leaders of Cross River villages. . . . Abaku intellectuals have used commercial recordings to extol their history and ritual lineages. Evidence indicates that Cuban Abaku identity is based on detailed knowledge of ritual lineages stemming from specific locations in their homelands, and not upon a vague notion of an African “national” or “ethnic” identity. . . . After publication of samples of Abaku phrases from a commercially recorded album (Miller 2000), Nigerian members of the Cross River kp society living in the USA informed me that they had recognized these texts as part of their own history. fk people in the USA had learned about the Cuban Abaku and were actively searching for contact with its members. The website (now defunct) had references to Cuban tourist literature on the Abaku in Spanish; our communication led to what was perhaps the first meeting between both groups. The privilege of examining this material with both Cuban Abaku and fk kp members has provoked me to grapple with questions of using oral history materials as new evidence for rethinking the African Diaspora in the Caribbean. A specific example can illustrate this interpretive process:top

Title translates as "group of young proud Efik."
Etubom Asuquo Etim, at left, is producer and mask maker from
Efe Ekpe Eyo Ema in Calabar

"Okobio Enyenisn, awana bekura mendo/ Nnkue Itia Ororo Knde Ef Kebutn/ Oo kue” 

This phrase is part of an Abaku chant memorializing the actions of fk and Efut leaders who helped found the society. Abaku leaders interpret this phrase as: “Our African brothers, from the sacred place/ came to Havana, and in Regla founded Efk Ebutn/ we salute the kue drum.”

Mr. Orok Edem, an fk scholar residing in the USA, equated “Ef Kebutn,” the name of Cuba’s first Abaku group, with “Obutong,” an fk town in the Cross River region. He interpreted many Abaku terms as deriving from bkp, an fk term for the Qua settlement in Calabar, originally formed by migrants from the Ejagham-speaking area to the north. 
After connecting with Edem, I was invited to facilitate an exchange between a group of Cuban Abaku and West African kp at the fk National Association meeting in New York in 2001. In preparation for this event, I introduced Asuquo Ukpong, an fk kp member, to several Abaku musicians at a local cabaret performance. As they played, Ukpong enthusiastically identified many possible relationships to fk culture in the form of dance and musical instruments. During an Abaku chant, Asuquo danced towards the Cuban musicians; then as the lead drummer stepped forward, Asuquo gestured symbolically with his eyes and hands. A Cuban Abaku dancer joined them, also using a vocabulary of gestures dense with symbolism. This was perhaps the first time that kp and Abaku members had met in a performance context, and their ability to communicate through movement contrasted with the divisions between them created by Spanish and English, their respective colonial languages. 

A week later, a group of Abaku attended the fk National Association meeting. An dm kp

Ekpe Musicians in Oban, Cross River State
Mr. Akpan Essiet, photographer
National Museum, Calab

costume, visually very similar to that of the Cubans, danced to the accompaniment of a large ensemble of musicians and chanters. In the 1860s, Rev. Goldie translated this fk term as: “Idem ...A representative of Egbo [kp] who runs about the town.” Essien (1986: 9) reported dm as ‘masquerade’ in bb.

As the Cubans prepared to perform, they realized that their reme — a term derived from fk pronunciation of “dm Ef” — costume lacked the ananyong (ritual waist sash), as well as the nkanik bells placed over it. In fk, “-kan’-i-ka, n. 1. A bell . . . Nyee kanika, Ring the bell, by shaking it.” Lit. ‘shake bell.’top

"Obane Sese Condo" - an Abakua 
banner from Matanzas, Cuba, 
derived from Oban, Calabar, 
home of the musicians upper right.
Photo by Ivor Miller.

 They explained that an reme cannot function without these, together with herbs and a staff in the hands. As kp masquerades are nearly identical to those of Abaku, these items could be lent by the fk. This interchange of ritual objects occurred in a matter-of-fact fashion, a further indication of cultural similarity between the two areas.

Similar use of nkanik ‘bells’ was recorded on both sides of the Atlantic. While in the Cross River region in 1847, Rev. H.M. Waddell described two kp masked dancers wearing bells: “Two Egbo [kp] runners in their harlequin costume entered the town to clear the streets. Their bells, dangling at their waists, gave notice of their approach.” In the streets of Havana, a late nineteenth century description of the Three King’s Day processions notes the Abaku “covered in coarse hoods . . . so large and bulky that to their sides arms and  legs appeared like simple appendages. . . . they marched slowly . . . behind the dancers, who did not cease, in their startling convulsions, from shaking the many bells they carried bound to their waists” (Meza 1891)."

The title "Ubane" refers to Obane, 
Cross River State, in this album 
by Mongo Santamaria

Visiting Calabar from July - September of 2004, Miller shared information about the Cuban society with Ekpe leaders; in response he was initiated into the lodge known as Efe Ekpe Eyo Ema, who are major sponsors of the Festival. By receiving the title of Isun Mbakara, Miller became an unofficial ambassador on behalf of Cross River Ekpe in their planned encounter with Cuban Abakua representatives.





Ekpe celebration in Calabar, 9/04
Photo by Mr. Mpkan Ekpe Bassey


For an account the festival, see Cuban Abakua Participate in the Ekpe Festival, 
December 19-26, 2004, Cross River State, Nigeria

See also our Abakua page.

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