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 Nigeria applies to place the kp (leopard) initiation society
on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Other names: Nymkp (in parts of Cameroon), Bnk (in Equatorial Guinea), Okonko (in Igbo), Abaku (in Cuba), kw (in Korop, both Nigeria and Cameroon)

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (see criteria) is made up of those intangible heritage elements that help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance. In 2008 the Committee incorporated 90 elements (formerly proclaimed Masterpieces) into the Representative List. During the period from 2009 to 2013, it has also inscribed 192 new elements on this List. 


EN: kp (leopard) initiation society

Representative List

File reference: 685

Nomination form ICH-02: English 13 Mar 2014
Consent of communities: English 26 Mar 2014
ICH inventory: English 26 Mar 2014
Mandatory photographs: Slideshow
Film ‘Ekpe initiation society’ (08:07): English 26 Mar 2014


The kp 'leopard' society represents an ancient African institution that provided the supreme functions of governance in communities of the Cross River region of Nigeria and Cameroon, before the colonial intervention. Possession of this graded initiation society with representative body-masks confirmed the autonomy of a principality. kp had four major roles in pre-colonial life: The conferment of full citizenship; holding a title in kp accorded one the status of full citizen with rights to make decisions having implications on the entire community, much as the respect accorded to the ‘toga virilis’ in ancient Rome. kp was the no-nonsense community police, with the power to discipline and — as a measure of punishment — confiscate the property of a community member who disobeyed the law. kp also provided entertainment with dances, music, and body-mask performance for members. Finally, kp was a school for esoteric teachings that revealed ideal stages in a person’s life to achieve maturity within their community, as well as cognizance of the possibility of reincarnation. kp still exists in hundreds of communities with a common set of symbols and values, namely truth and justice. Through the trans-Atlantic slave trade, kp has chapters in Malabo as well as in Havana and Matanzas, Cuba.

Traditionally, kp titleholders were male descendants of the founding fathers of a community, that is, of royal lineage. Non-royalists who achieved heroic deeds like defeating enemy warriors or slaying a leopard were often bestowed kp titles. In some communities the royal women's society plays a prominent role in important kp ceremonies. Because kp developed over the centuries through the accumulation of titles, the numbers and names of kp titles vary from one community to another. For example the fks of the port of Calabar have had nine titles since the mid-nineteenth century, while hinterland Cross River communities tend to have less titles.

Nevertheless, the leading titles are consistently found in multiple communities of the Cross River region and in Cuba. Leading kp titles are ymb, who acts as the overall chairman of a lodge; Mbk, who represents the esoteric 'Voice' of the leopard; Mbkr, who represents the transition from material to spiritual life; bnk, who represents the 'universal mother' of the society that 'gives birth' to initiates; Nymkp, who represents discipline amongst membership and is active during funerary rites; and Nknd, who represents the highest moral teachings of kp. Many distinct language communities have local names for other titles.




Before Calabar Burns, 8/8/2008 Press Release from the Etubom Traditional Council of the Efik Nation on the murder and mayhem committed by Cross River State government backed militias, with photos of some victims. 

Ekpo Ekeng
, Youth leader of Cobham Town and member of Calabar Mgbe, is interviewed on the recent events in Calabar, 8/08


Constitution of the Calabar Mgbe, 7/08 This Cross River, Nigeria, organization has as goal reunion with all Ekpe, including those in Cuba (Abaku).

Ekpo Ekeng, youth leader of Cobham Town, Calabar, on the Paris Cuba-Ekpe Encounter
, 5/08



Links/Enlaces top

Abaku (in Cuba) 

Calabar Mgbe or kp.



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