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More Interesting Facts About Ekpo Society (Part B) - Ibom Heritage


Ekpo festival, like other festivals in Nigeria, is invented to  serve some to the people who inherit such festivals  – socially, politically and economically. However, there are  some aspects of such festivals which consciously or  unconsciously promote criminal and anti – social behaviors  among these people. This paper, therefore, examines the  Ekpo festival among the Ibibio of Nigeria. It examines the  Ekpo festival in areas of initiation into Ekpo secret society,  the purposes of Ekpo festival and finally the bad aspects of  the festival in promoting criminal and anti-social behaviors  as long as the period of the festival lasted.

  1. Literature Review

Ibibio secret societies performed multifarious functions  ranging from religious, moral, social and humanitarian, to the  economic, political and judicial (Udo, 1983). One of such secret societies is Ekpo Onyoho which controls Ekpo Onyoho masqueraders. One interesting aspect of Ekpo festival is the  parade of different Ekpo onyoho masquerades with different  masks which connoted different names and meaning.

Masks are forms of covering or disguise utilized for the benefit of transforming the wearers from familiar individuals to conventional characters. Masks do two things: First, they take away the person we know and invest the wearers with something awful and non human – a god or evil. Secondly,  the masks rehabilitate the wearers’ faces and create the  problem of identity (Obuh, 2005). Masks are mechanisms which manifest the inner transformation of the wearers (Ganyi et al, 2013). Masks are not form of deceit or just for concealment but a personification of spiritual power and authority (Obuh, 2005). Masked dancing is concerned with the enactment of power, manifesting traditional norms and investing ceremonies with ancestral authority. Masks enhance the status of men’s association and symbolize the group authority (Nicholls, 1997). In summary, masks symbolized one facet of Africanism for all indigenous African culture

It has been observed that some festivals restricted the movement of women, children and uninitiated during the seasons of such festivals. Ekpo festival controlled by Ekpo society among Ibibio of Nigeria is one of such festivals. Udo  (1983) argued that during Ekpo festival season, nonmembers, women and children were usually kept indoors.  Women were banned from going near any bush either for collection of firewood or harvesting of food crops, unless members (initiated) led them into the bush, a practice that  has been abused, for some members would not lead such  women into the bush unless they have sexual intercourse  with them. Similarly, Akpan (1994: 49) wrote in his article:  Women and non-members cannot go to the market or perform activities outside their homes: food, water and firewood must have been obtained in advance. Hence, Ekpo festival causes economic retardness and violates the fundamental human right of movement during its season. It was the criminality and the anti-social behaviors of Ekpo festival that this paper sought to explore.


Methodology of the Research

This study adopted survey design. The collection of information from a sample of individuals through their responses to questions was involved (Schutt, 2004). The study areas are: Ituk Mbang, Ikono Obio and Ndom Uruan in Uruan Local Government Area and Ikot Udo in Ibesikpo Local Government area, all in Akwa Ibom State. The study populations were the Ibibio in the above mentioned Ibibio communities. The communities of study were purposely selected because they serve the interest of this research work.  It was based on the judgment that they will facilitate the investigation carried out in this study (Neuman, 2003; Adler and Clark, 1999). The respondents were sampled (six respondents) using convenience sampling. They were the respondents readily accessible to and therefore convenient  for the researcher (Adler and Clark, 1999). In-depth – interviews were conducted with the respondents as a method of data collection. Photographs also formed method of data collection. The data from the in-depth interviews were analyzed using content analysis (manual). The samples of materials to be included in the analyses were decided. After this, the categories that are going to be measured were defined. Finally, the recording units (each item in its entirety) were chosen (Johnson et al, 2001). The photographs that formed part of the data collection were also analyzed using the same content analysis. Conclusively, ethical issues were given strong consideration. The consent of the respondents was sought before the commencement of the interviews. The respondents all agreed that their identities be disclosed in the writing of the report of the study. .


  1. Discussions of the Findings

It is impossible to wear Ekpo masks during the Ekpo festival or to take part in any of Ekpo activities without being initiated into Ekpo secret society or Ekpo cult. Hence, the discussion during the in-depth interviews started on how people are initiated into Ekpo cult and different organizations  within the Ekpo cult. According to Mr. Okon Williams of Ndon Uruan, Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, cult is divided into different organizations thus:

Awad Ekpo, Ekong Ekpo, Ikpe Ekpo, Akpan Obobom,  Inyoon Ekpo (cripple), Eka and Ette Ekpo, Okpok Ododo  Okom and Inven Ekpo (Bird). Among all these organizations, Awad Ekpo was the commonest Ekpo cult group that any male can join provided he can afford the  cost of initiation.

Regarding the initiation into Ekpo cult, we have two types as explained by Mr. Victor Samuel (20 years) of Ikot Udo,  Ibesikpo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State:

We have two types of initiation (Forceful initiation and Voluntary initiation). There was always a law during the season of Ekpo that non- initiated should not go out of their houses to do anything outside. Any person (male adult) who goes out would be forcefully arrested and made to be a member of Ekpo cult. He has to give all the items required for initiation and pay also the required money for initiation. After this, he becomes an initiate whether he likes it or this is against his will. For the voluntary initiation, this is when a person voluntarily goes to the Chief and requires being an initiate. He would be asked to bring all the items and money required for the initiation before he can be eventually initiated.

According to Mr. Ime Okon Etim of Nung Ikono Obio (40 years) of Uruan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State:

It is a must for the people who want to be initiated into Ekpo cult to go to the Chiefs compound to present palm wine, animal and money for the initiation.

The process of initiation involves swearing an oath of secrecy as related by Mr. Efefiong Umoh of Ituk Mbang,  Uruan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State:

When a person wants to become an initiate of the Ekpo cult, the person will be taken to Akai (the forest) and he will swear on Utok Ekpo (the oath of secrecy) and will  offer palm wine and an animal (as specified) and money.  Everything given by the new initiate will be shared among the old initiates. Hence, the person becomes a full initiate of Ekpo cult.

However, the items and money collected during the initiation  from the new members may vary from one organization of  Ekpo to the other as duly explained by Mr. Okon Williams of  Ndon Uruan in Uruan Local Government Area of Akwa  Ibom State:

The initiation is done through the collection of items such as palm wine, animal and money, the collection may differ considerably in each organization (the cost being higher)  for instance in Ekang Ekpo, the cost of initiation is higher  than that of Awad Ekpo and due to this high cost of  initiation, some men and young boys are disqualified from  being initiated. In Ayara Ekpo, the initiate to be gives all  the items like fish, crayfish, yam and other ingredients  needed. Women will then be taken to the palace of the  Head of Ekpo cult, who will cook and pound the yam. The  fish that is used for the cooking is wrapped with plantain  leaf and all the initiates would be invited to the Chiefs  palace to eat. The new initiates would wear masks  (masquerades), go round the village and thus become full  and notable initiates of Ekpo cult. The main determinant  of the initiation into any of these organizations is the  collection of items and payment of prescribed money.

The survey conducted investigated the activities involved in  Ekpo festival staged by Ekpo cult and the purposes served by  Ekpo festival during the Ekpo season. The stages involved in  Ekpo festival as compiled from indepth-interviews conducted  with Qim Etim (43 years) and Edet Ayim Offiong (79 years)  are explained below:

The Ekpo festival is a seasonal festival that usually takes  place between the month of August and December in our  case (i.e. Nung Ikono Obio Village in Uruan Local  Government Area of Akwa Ibom State). The festival  undergoes these stages:

Stage 1






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