Eket Ethnic group in Nigeria
The Eket live in Akwa Ibom State and parts of Abia State. Some people consider them a sub-group of the Ibibio. Some Eket people deny any ancestral link with the Ibibio people while others believe they share common historical ties. The Ibibio first settled in Ibom before migrating overland to Uyo/Abak areas. The Eket people settled in Eket and thus they remained detached from the core Ibibio area. They developed a different speech that is now slightly different from the Ibibio language. Secondly, some of the Eket people claim to have come from Andoni while some claim to have come from Ibuno. Irrespective of linguistic and dialectic divergences, the people of Akwa Ibom State came from the same geographical area and are people of the same stock. This explains the homogeneity of their culture and spirit of hospitality.
According to the 2006 national census, there are about 300,000 Eket people in Nigeria. Eket is the second-largest city in Akwa Ibom State. The name also refers to the indigenous ethnic group of the region and to their language. Eket is now an industrial city with a population of over 200,000 and when the entire urban areas of Nsit Ubium, Afaha Eket and Esit Eket are added, the combined population is 364,489.
The people of Eket are believed to have migrated from Cameroon during the Great Movement of the Bantu Stock of Africa. The migration brought the people to the location around the mouth of Cross River, which they claim as their first settlement with Oron people along the estuary of Cross River. The movement continued along the coast into the Qua Iboe River Territory, their present location.
Eket people had early contact with the outside world long before the slave trade era. In 1850, European trading companies like UAC, PZ and GB Olivant, French and German trading stores were established in Eket. And in 1887, Rev. Samuel Alexander Bill landed at Upenekang (Ekang’s place, which was then a fishing settlement in Eket) by sea and established Qua Iboe Church of Nigeria, and converted Eket people to Christianity. By 1905, the area was reduced to Oron, Eket, Esit Eket and part of Nsit Ubium. Although the British signed a treaty with the Eket people in September 1884, British Administration really started in 1885.
Eket continued to be a District until after the Second World War when it was made a Division with a wide area of authority. Eket has existed as an Administrative Headquarters for more than one hundred (100) years. In 1967 when the Yakubu Gowon administration divided Nigeria into 12 states, Eket became one of the ten (10) Divisions in the then South Eastern State. With the 1976 Local Government Reforms, Eket became one of the 301 Local Government Areas in Nigeria. Eket Local Government is an offshoot of the Qua Iboe District of 1885. The Qua Iboe District embraced what is today most of Akwa Ibom State including Esit Eket, Onna, Ibeno, Nsit Ubium, Etinan, Abak, Etim Ekpo, Oron, Mbo, Okobo, Urue Offong/Oruko, Udung Uko, etc.
Between 1893 and 1899, Eket became one of the consular posts with the first District consul appointed in 1898. Eket is popularly known as “Idong Mfianwe.” This name is anchored on two major reasons: first, there is a town in Switzerland called “Eket.” This buttressed the fact that the first person to write on Eket was a Swiss national. Second, Eket was in those days in the late 19th century the hub of political and economic activities just like Calabar and Lagos. This led to the heavy presence of white colonial administrators and businessmen in Eket. In fact, there is an elevated land inhabited by the whites, which is still referred to as “Abod Okokoro” or “Abod Afianwe” located at Ikot Ibiok.
Eket Local Government occupies the South Central portion of Akwa Ibom State spanning Northwards between Latitudes 4o33′ and 4o45′ and Eastwards between Longitudes 7o52′ and 5o02′. Eket is bounded on the North by Nsit Ubium Local Government Area, on the East by Esit Eket Local Government Area, on the West by Onna Local Government Area and on the South by Ibeno Local Government Area/Bight of Bonny. The physical relief of Eket Local Government Area is basically flat, though with some marshy river-washed soils around the banks of Qua Iboe River. Eketland falls within the tropical zone wherein its dominant vegetation is the green foliage of trees/shrubs and the oil palm tree belt. The Local Government has two seasons: the wet season and the dry season.
Eket is also the name of the main sub-language that they speak, a Benue-Congo language. Both Eket and Ibibio languages are similar but sufficiently distinct to give away the precise district the speaker originates from. The Eket people call their own tongue Ekid, the language spoken by Eket people in Eket Local Government Area. It conveys a unique culture and identity.
Ibibio-Efik, also known as Ibibio and Efik, is the major dialect cluster of the Benue-Congo language family called Cross River. Efik proper has national status in Nigeria and is the literary standard of the Efik languages, though Ibibio proper has more native speakers. Efik is a dialect cluster spoken by about 3½ million people of Akwa Ibom State and the Cross River States, making it the sixth-largest language cluster in Nigeria after Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, and Kanuri.
The Eket have a form of caste or class system with the “Amama” being the highest caste, and they are notable for undertaking traditional potlach-like feasts in which the poorer people are fed en masse. In addition to the Amama, groups of “Ekpo Ndem Isong” class rule individual villages and towns, and their will is enforced by the “Ikan” class (traditional masked police) to which entry is by merit rather than birth.
The Eket people are traditionally fishermen and farmers. Eket is noted for sea food production. Farm crops range from yam, cassava, coco-yam, plantain to maize and vegetables. Forest resources include timber, palm produce. Water is abundant in the Niger Delta, and the vegetation is luxurious. However, over-farming and other poor farming practices are depleting soil nutrients on many farms and plots.
Also, Eket land has an abundant deposit of crude oil and clay. An oil refinery is currently under construction in the outskirts of the city along Oron Road. The city has a stadium complex, an airstrip as well as other infrastructures of importance. It also has a number of hotels such as Villa Marina, Royalty Hotels, Crystal Palace Hotel, Roseboom Hotels, and others. Eket due to its industrial nature is a relatively expensive city. The government plans to upgrade the city by expanding its infrastructures such as building and rebuilding major roads in the city and the construction of housing estates.
In the 1990s, western environmentalists were concerned over the activities of oil exploitation in and around Eket by major oil companies such as Shell and Mobil. Eket is the thriving hub of a new oil and gas business, with more than 250 companies providing support services such as catering, flights, and exports. However, this success has caused problems, especially a reluctance by local young men to engage in traditional work such as fishing. There are vocal local campaigns to increase the percentage of oil revenue that is given to the local community.
RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND PRACTICES
Eket people believed in Ala, the earth deity which they celebrate and worship. They also revered and worshipped their ancestors in addition to seasonal agricultural festivals. Although Eket is one of those communities that embraced Christianity early, traditional religious practices are still prevalent. At the top of their pantheon of deities is the Supreme God (Abasi Anyong).
Christianity in Eket land: Nigeria’s relationship with Europe dates back to the 15th century when Portuguese Catholic Missionaries got to Benin and Warri. But it was rather sporadic until the 19th century with the arrival of the Presbyterian Church at Calabar on April 10, 1846, led by the Rev. Hope Masterton Waddell. Other missionaries were to follow, notably: the Rev. (later Bishop) Samuel Ajayi Crowther led a team of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) into the Niger in July 1857 and Ikot Abasi in 1902. Pastor Samuel Alexander Bill came to Ibeno in 1887; the Methodists arrived in Oron in 1893 and the Lutherans got to Ibesikpo in 1935. The relationship became much complex when Christian evangelism joined hands with European commercial and colonial enterprises. These three co-ordinated aspects of the Europeans – the missionaries, traders and colonial administrators – largely shaped the making of modern Akwa Ibom State in particular and Nigeria in general. One of the most effective tools of evangelization used by the Christian missionaries was western education. Today, most Eket people are Christians, but a good number of them also practice traditional religious rites such as ancestral worship. There are no known Muslims in Eket or in Akwa Ibom as a whole. But there may be one or two converts to Islam in the northern parts of the country.
Eket people have a very rich oral tradition. Through oral culture, they have been able to preserve their history, being the vital link between their present and their past. This has assisted the different groups to define their identity and transmit same to their children. The codification, preservation and transmission of these traditions occur at different levels of the society at family, lineage, village and clan levels. Eket is blessed with a rich and enviable cultural heritage. Its many cultural practices include burial, coronation, marriage, status initiation, land-holding, extended family system, harvesting of palm fruits, births and child-naming ceremonies.
Eket traditional music has many musical instruments. Iquot is one of them. It is used in non-ritualistic orchestras to add to the ensemble. This is most popular with the Ekpri Akata orchestra which performs at night. There are also the four-note Xylophones used for communication. The four notes in the instrument enable the player to talk to the community, imitating the rise and fall of human speech. Uta (guard horns) are orchestral which produce notes that are not (unlike in western music) in direct relationship with one another but blend to produce a distinctive rhythm that excites the dancer. Expat Obon is a ritual rattle used by the Obon secret society. There is also the Ekput used by diviners to invoke the spirit of the ancestors. Another rattle instrument that is produced from raffia is the Nsak which produces a bell rhythm when played. Ikon Ikpa, a small set of drums pantomimic expressions, is another important instrument that is used by Ekpo society.
Other Eket musical instruments include Ikpa Mboto, the thumb piano and Anana a musical bow rarely seen today; there is a horn-like trumpet called Oduk made from the horn of ram; the Ikon Eto (wooden xylophone) and Obodom (wooden drum) are also, popular instruments of the Eket people; and Ekere (twin gong) is another the special instrument used for ritual ceremonies, it consists of a large conical one called Nkwong and a smaller one called Akankan.
Masquerades: In the pre-colonial era, the Akwa Ibom people used traditional cultural institutions such as Ekpo and Ekpe to maintain order in society. These institutions stood out as the government of the time. Ekpo is founded on the belief in life after death and is regarded as the soul or ghosts of ancestors that return to the land of the living in masquerade form to participate with their kinsmen in communal festivals such as farming and rite of passage.
As a male secret society, membership is strictly by initiation; hence, every the aspect of Ekpo is designed to strike awe, fear and caution among women and non-initiates. The varying tones and pitches of drums arranged closely together could be mistaken by an unfamiliar ear for the sound of a battle.
In the pre-colonial era, Ekpe served as the government of the people, performing such functions as judicial, administrative and religious duties. Based on the concept of the leopard being the king, the powers and exploits of these masquerades in the enforcement of social norms and discipline were enormous. Today, although the functions of Ekpo and Ekpe masquerade as instruments of government have been overtaken by modernity, the ritualistic and to a large extent, the entertainment functions are still very relevant to the people.
Ekpo members are always masked when performing their policing duties, and although their identities are almost always known, fear of retribution from the ancestors prevent most people from accusing those members who overstep their limits, effectively committing police brutality.
The Ekpo society uses several types of masks, among them polychrome panel-masks, unique in Africa, consisting of two panels, one supported by the other at the top. There are also round masks for the yam and yam harvest festival, characterized by a moon shape or consisting of two disks superimposed or a single one topped by an anthropomorphic head. The idiong society is an organization of diviners, who are often members of the Ekpo society. Their oval masks are very characteristic, with eyes pierced in a crescent moon shape and frontal bands in the shape of a ring. These bands are reminiscent of the palm fibre or goatskin crowns, which every new initiate received. Another association, called Ekong after the god of war, uses marionettes in its ceremonies. The ogbom society celebrates Isong, the goddess of the earth, spouse of the god of heaven and source of fertility and fecundity among humans, animals, and plants. In the great ogbom masquerades, the tops of the headdresses form figures that stand as high as 30″.
Other important masquerades are Obon, Atat, Utue-ekpe (spider), Ubom Isong (land canoe), Ntok Odio-Odio, Obio Okpo etc. These masquerades make Akwa Ibom State proud during carnivals and festivals both within and outside the state.
Because of their long interaction with the white men, Eket people always look neat and knowledgeable and thus attracted the name “Ndito Mfianwe” (white people). Eket people are very enterprising, sociable, accommodating and hospitable. They are a special breed of people imbued with love and bounded by strong ties of common aspiration. They have a strong passion for oral traditions. They believe in caste and class systems in their community.
Some people look down on the Eket people because they eat dog meat. But the Eket people eat dog meat because they believe that it has some healing powers. Also, there is a general misconception that the Eket people are sexually promiscuous or immoral. The Eket people disagree with this.
Mr P.E. Akpan is an Aba-based pastor, teacher, author and enterpreneur. He hails from Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.