Efik Eburutu of Nigeria    
Edidiana Edi Uforo

The Iboku people of the Eburutu tribe have been familiar with the worship of the Egyptian Sylvan deity, now called Ekpe, for as long as the tribe has been in existence. They therefore have had Ekpe for more than a millennium, though definitely not in the elaborate form they now have it. The original form of Ekpe was known to the Efik as Nyaña-nyaku or simply Mkpe (Aye, 2000; Akak, 1982) as it is invoked today, and is therefore the oldest form of Ekpe among the Efik people. The Iboku people, while in Arochukwu and Uruan, had only Mkpe in its simplest form. The name Ekpe is speculated to have come into use in the 15th century and reflected the leopard-infested jungle where the people found themselves in the early 15th century AD. The fraternity became elaborate in the early 15th century when the Efik people left Ndodoghi Island, some (the Ekpe Atai group) for Calabar and others (the Ema Atai group) for Creek Town, and acquired more of such mysteries and entrenched them in their original Nyaña-Nyaku.
Tradition says that a certain man Asibong Ekondo (Asibong Anating Ekpe Inyang Ekpe Atai Iboku), from Usuk Akpa clan (now called Idua) of the Efik kingdom presented some Ekpe grades to the Ema Atai group in Creek Town, while living there with his friend, Nkok Ofuta of Obutong, having obtained them from his father-in-law Ekondo, from Usakedet (Okon, 1989). Asibong’s wife Mutaka Ekondo understood Ekpe secrets because it was with her that Asibong first had contact with the mystery (Mettinon, 1892). Notable among the grades of Ekpe from Asibong Ekondo include Mkpe, Mboko, Mboko-mboko, Mbakara, Eboñko, Nnyamkpe and Oku-akama.
Over the years, there have been either erroneous presentations or deliberate misinformation about the place of origin of the man Asibong Ekondo and his wife, Mutaka. The first documentation of this spurious identity was at the enquiry into the dispute of the Obong of Calabar in 1963 where Asibong, an Efik man from Usukakpa clan, now called Idua-Asang Abatim, was referred to as an Efutman while Mutaka, an Efutwoman was said to be an Usukakpa woman (Hart, 1964; Oku, 1989, Aye, 2000). Some people even testified that Asibong Ekondo was a Qua person. It is pertinent to clear this point because descendants of this couple still live on in Idua today and watch, with dismay, as their origin is being twisted by self-seeking misinformed historians. Interestingly, the lineage of the couple’s third son, Ebito Asibong still keeps the Iyamba title of Ekpe in Idua today. Other prominent sons and daughters of the couple include the late Barrister Etim Ebito; one of the foremost lawyers of the Efik people who died in the 1930s, Late Etinyin Edem Asibong Etim Ebito Asibong, Etinyin Etim Umo Ating-Ita Ating Ndem Asibong (alias Etim Nkoro Nsa Nsa Efiom); the maternal grandfather of Great Duke Ephraim Eyamba IV, Madam Uyi Etim Asibong Etim Ebito (an early 20th century Efik poet), Chief Ating Edem Umo Etim Umo Ating-Ita Ating Ndem Asibong (alias Atiñ Edem Umọ Etim Ñkọrọ) who sold a large expanse of land in Idua to Joseph Henshaw (Efana Ekeng Iwatt) in the 20th century and Madam Ekanem Ndem Asibong Etim Ebito, fondly called Ekanem Ebito (Mettinon, 1892; Oku, 1989). The name Mutaka is never heard among the Idua people but is heralded among the Efuts in their salutations as Efut Mutaka. Other original names of the Usahedet people include Barika, Mesika, Besika, Akaka, Asama, Retuanda, Rakende, Rasako, Muete, Mahari (Calabar Festival Souvenir Programme, 1996) and Ekondo, the last of which is a major Efut clan today.
Many erroneous impressions have also been given about Ekpe, none of which has been able to stand any serious analytical scrutiny. An impression is given that Asibong Ekondo sold Ekpe to the Efik (Ema Atai) people. A question that immediately comes to mind is why people kill people who sell things to them, as the Ema Atai people did (Okon, 1989, Mettinon, 1892). Secondly, if Asibong’s intention was to sell Ekpe to the Ema Atai people, did he have to live in Creek Town to do that? If it was a purchase, what did the Efik people give him in return, being that trade then was by the barter system? Although Akak (1982) holds that Asibong later sold four other grades of Ekpe to the Iboku people, contemporary traditions of some Efik families hold that Okpoho Ekpe was introduced many years later, precisely in the 19th century, into Ekpe by King Eyo Honesty II (Eyo Eyo Nsa Odo Efiom Ekpo alias Eyo Eyo Inyang Esien Ekpe Oku) and this title has remained in his house till this day. An ancient Okpoho Ekpe song says “Okpoho Eyo Eyo eyen Inyañ, Makara ada edi” (White men brought the Brass Ekpe of Eyo Eyo, the son of Inyañ). The history of Ñkanda Ekpe is similarly linked to King Archibong II (Eyo Asibong Ekpo Efiom Okoho Efiom Ekpo alias Eyo Asibong Minika) of Archibong House of Duke Town, wherein tradition holds that Ñkanda paraphenelia were captured by Eyo Asibong from Obodom Etak Ukim shrine and entrenched in the sanctum of Ekpe in 1821 after the Efik-Obodom war (Oku, 1989). A post-war eulogy that relives the story goes thus;
“Eyo Asibọñ Minika
Eyo Asibọñ akan Da
Akan Okpodom Etak Ukim
Akan enye ọbọ ide
Oyei bari Ñkanda” (Oku, 1989).

Another erroneous belief in Ekpe is that Etinyin Esien Ekpe Oku Abasi Oku Atai Atai Ema was the man who purportedly bought these secrets from Asibong Ekondo and by that became the founder of Ekpe Efik Iboku (Hart, 1964; Akak, 1982; Oku, 1989). It is a misinformation because Asibong Ekondo was a contemporary of Etinyin Oku Atai Atai Ema who was the great great grandfather of Etinyin Esien Ekpe and lived and died in the 15th century. Etinyin Esien Ekpe lived and died in the 18th century and was probably born in the last decade of the 17th century. The contemporaries of Asibong Ekondo were Edidem Eyo Ema Atai Ema Atai Iboku (Iboku), Oku Atai Atai Ema Atai Iboku (Iboku), Ukpong Ukpong Atai Ema Atai Iboku (Adiabo), Efiom Ekpo Efiom Ekpo (Iboku), Esemin Esu Ekpe Inyang Ekpe Atai Iboku (Enwang), Eton Ukpong Atai Ema Atai Iboku (Mbiabo Ikorofiong), Esien Ndem Inyang Ekpe Atai Iboku (Abayen), Efiom Ukpong Atai Ema Atai Iboku (Mbiabo Ikoneto), Ntekim Osukpong Inyang Ekpe Atai Iboku (Usukakpa), Adim Atai Ema Atai Iboku and his son Eso Adim (Obutong) and Oso Ukpong Atai Ema Atai Iboku (Obutong). Besides, the Oku Atais were not even in Creek Town at the time Asibong Ekondo, Obutong and Adiabo were there (Aye, 2000; Mettinon, 1892), so they could not have received Ekpe from Asibong Ekondo. Lastly, Etinyin Esien Ekpe could not have been the founder of a society that was by far older than his own great great grandfather, not to talk of inviting Eyo Eema who had died in the 15th century, to bestow any title on him (Anwa, 1910).
These errorneous impressions given at the Hart enquiry of 1963 forced a deductive submission by the commissioner that “it is true that Ekpe was not original to the Efik people but that they acquired it from some of the peoples whom they had contact” (Hart, 1964). This conclusion was a bit hasty and unreasonable as it is akin to saying that the English language was not the language of the English people since they had acquired some Spanish, French and German languages over years of contact with people who use these languages. All over the world people grow, develop and make progress day by day by acquisition owing to contacts and exposure, Efik included. It is not possible that by acquiring other forms of Ekpe into what the Iboku people originally had as Ekpe, the fraternity would cease to be theirs. Ekpe Efik Iboku remains, both in its original and embellished forms, a property of the Efik people and the people are inalienably associated with it. The Mkpe (Nyana-nyaku) played by the Arochukwu people today remains a lasting testimony of Efik ownership of Ekpe as Efik people are not aware of any record that the Aros ever bought Ekpe from anybody. What they have, by their oral tradition, is what the Iboku people left with them in the last quarter of the 13th century AD when they (Iboku) left for Uruan. 
The government of Ekpe
Despite these improbabilities, there is something that cannot be taken from Etinyin Esien Ekpe Oku Abasi Oku Atai. He was a visionary leader of the Ekpe society in his time and spearheaded the arrangement and constitution of Ekpe into a democratic and political instrument of government with well articulated functions for each of the ten tiers of Ekpe as we have them today. He used Ekpe government to maintain law and order in his society and to broker trade peacefully with the white slave supercargoes of his days. He is regarded as Musunko Iyamba Ekpe or Iyamba I in Ekpe Efik Iboku.
The Iyamba is not an Ekpe grade but a title given to a person regarded as the president of the society. The Efik people refer to it as “Andikara Ekpe” (ruler of Ekpe) (Aye, 2000). Next in line is Obong Ebonko Ekpe who is regarded as the society’s Vice President. Etinyin Esien Ekpe Oku previously kept these two titles to himself, viz Iyamba and Ebonko (President and Vice-President respectively). The Eyamba title was later transferred by Etinyin Esien Ekpe to his elder brother, Ekpenyong Ekpe Oku while the position of Vice-President was given to his son-in-law, Eyo Nsa Odo (Willy Eyo Honesty) just before his death. Ekpenyong Ekpe Oku also, in later years, transferred the Iyamba title to his son-in-law, Ekpenyong Ofiong Okoho before his death. The Iyamba title has been monopolized by the Ekpenyong Ofiong Okoho family till this day, except in very rare cases like those of Efiom Edem Efiom Okoho, Edem Asibong Ekpo Efiom Okoho and Orok Ededem Ekpo Efiom Okoho. Similarly, the Ebonko title has been monopolized by Eyo Nsa House till this day.
Ekpe, as an instrument of government, could take life and could give it. It could condemn a whole family, clan or town to a very heavy fine and would take steps to get it promptly paid. All the Ndidem, Etinyins and Mbong of the Efik kingdom could never escape its laws and edicts. The laws were written with the hieroglyphic form of writing, intelligible only to members of its highest grades. The Efik people refer to this writing as ‘nsibidi’. Although all Efik clans, settlements and towns were autonomous in the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (the republican era), they were all brought under the umbrella of Ekpe authority which kept them as one indivisible tribe.
At the time of Antera Duke (Ntiero Edem Efiom) in the late 18th century, there were four Ekpe lodges for the Ema Atai branch of the Efik people; one for Iboku sub-clans in Creek Town and Duke Town, one for another Iboku sub-clan called Cobham Town, one for Obutong and Adiabo and one for Mbiabo. Enwang and Usukakpa clans of the Ekpe Atai branch shared a lodge (Ebieme, 1988; Mettinon, 1892) while Abayen maintained a separate lodge (Aye, 2000). It is important to state that other clans like Eniong, Ito, Ukwa, Itu and Eki also had either separate lodges or shared one with another because it was absolutely impossible for any Efik clan to survive without Ekpe in those years of unhealthy tribal feuds. Membership was and still is open to men and women, boys and girls, rich or poor, bond or free, but the nobles whose ancestors helped to work this unique society into what it is, still call the shots in some lodges of the society today.
Socially, Ekpe as a supreme authority of civil government helped the weak and the poor and protected them from oppression and injustice from the strong and the rich nobles of the society (Akak, 1982). The Efik people of old swore by Ekpe, promised by it and consulted it in the face of challenges (Aye, 2000). The supercargoes trusted it and got themselves initiated into it. They exported it to their countries of origin and adopted it as a political instrument of government. All major tribal decisions were taken by Ekpe at a council of worshipful masters. A decision to go to war with an offending tribe was taken by Ekpe (Mettinon, 1892; Young, 2012). The decision to evangelize Calabar was taken by Ekpe. The decision not to buy or sell on Sundays or hold markets on God’s day was taken by Ekpe (Waddell, 1863). The decision to put a stop to twin-killing was taken by Ekpe (Waddell, 1863). Ekpe was the instrument that compelled the Efik people to go to church, sit in it and listen to God’s word (Waddell, 1863; Goldie, 1890). It was the tenacity of this honourable society and the doggedness and ingenuity of its worshipful masters that made Calabar a city of light, civilization and attraction. This is the instrument that greatly influenced the psyche of the average Efik man and woman; the instrument that shaped the people into this friendly, amiable and hospitable group in Nigeria.