Eket Information

Location: Southeastern Nigeria
Population: 1 million
Language: Eket (Bantu)
Neighboring Peoples: Igbo, Idoma, Bangwa
Types of Art: The masks and accouterments of the Ekpo society make up the greatest works of art in Ibibio society. Drumming and music are also important elements in Ekpo ceremonies. The wooden sculpture from this area is often very detailed, and artists are just as likely to capture beauty as they are the hideous forms of evil spirits.
History: The Eket are really a subgroup of the Ibibio, and their history is best described in that context. The Ibibio have lived in the Cross River area of modern day Nigeria for several hundreds of years, and though written information about them only exists in colonial records from the late 1800s on, oral traditions have them in the region much earlier than this. The Ibibio were very resistant to colonial invasions, and it was not until after the end of World War I that the British were able to gain a strong foothold in the region. Even at this time, however, the British found it necessary to incorporate Ibibio Ekpo traditions in order to impose indirect rule in the region.
Economy: The main economic staple in the region is the oil palm, the oil of which is extracted and sold to external markets. Among the Ibibio, those of the highest rank in the Ekpo society (Amama) often control the majority of the community wealth. The Amama often appropriate hundreds of acres of palm trees for their own use and, with the profits they earn, ensure that their sons achieve comparable rank, effectively limiting access to economic gain for most members of the community. The Ekpo society requires that its initiates sponsor feasts for the town, which foster the appearance of the redistribution of wealth by providing the poor with food and drink. In effect, this allows the disparity in wealth to be perpetuated in Ibibio society.
Political Systems: Individual villages are ruled by Ekpo Ndem Isong, a group of village elders, and the heads of extended families. Their decisions are enforced by members of the Ekpo society who act as messengers of the ancestors (ikan). Ekpo members are always masked when performing their policing duties, and although their identities are almost always known, fear of retribution from the ancestors prevents most people from accusing those members who overstep their limits, effectively committing police brutality. Membership is open to all Ibibio males, but one must have access to wealth to move into the politically influential grades.
Religion: Ibibio religion is based on paying tribute to the village ancestors. Failing to appease these ancestors will result in the wrath of the Ekpo society. The most important ancestors are those who achieved high rank while living, usually the house heads. They may control the fortunes of the descendants, and are free to afflict those who fail to make the proper offering, or those who fail to observe kinship norms. Ala is the earth deity and is appeased through Ogbom ceremony, which is believed to make children plentiful and to increase the harvest. It is performed in the middle of the year, every eighth day for eight weeks by each section of the village in turn.


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revised 3 November 1998