Efik Eburutu of Nigeria    
Edidiana Edi Uforo

Efik history traces the origin of Ndem worship to their God’s basin (Usan Abasi), which tradition says was a sacred companion of the Iboku people from their oriental home. All through their migrations and sojourn among known and unknown host communities, the Iboku people remained attached to their “Usan Abasi” before which they presented requests of all nature. Waddell (1863) views it as a mimic of the “Ark of God” of the Hebrews. The attachment of the Iboku people to this basin was as fanatical as that to Ekpe, if not more. Being a deeply religious people, the Efik resented attempts by various host communities to belittle their “Usan Abasi” which they had known over centuries. Tradition maintains that the reason for migrations of the Iboku people from both Arochukwu and Uruan to present day settlements was religious and specifically revolved around their blunt refusal to worship their hosts’ deities namely, “Ibritam Inokon” (the Long Juju of the Aros) and Atakpo Uruan respectively.
A relic of the “Usan Abasi” found at Prince Esien Etim Ofiong’s compound is described as an iron-container measuring eight feet wide, eight feet long and about two feet deep, with the sacred ‘Oboti’ tree standing at its centre (Oku, 1989). The Ndem institution was, before the expansion of Ekpe in the 1st quarter of the 15th century AD in Creek Town, the highest institution among the Efik people. Efik paramount rulers were traditionally the Chief Priests when all the clans remained together as one. It was because of this overall power and authority that Efik paramount rulers were designated ‘Edidem’ (a corrupt form of Giddem) which by interpretation means “edi idem” (he is a deity) (Akak, 1982). The Ndem institution served as a link between the Efik people and the Supreme Being, “Abishai Gibbom”, corrupted today as “Abasi Ibom” (God omnipotent). In the republican era, the Priest-King position remained in all the twelve clans and a clanal Priest-King was referred to as ‘Etinyin’ or more fully, ‘Ete nnyin’ meaning “Our Father”. Since there were as many as twelve, if not more, Ndem Priests pooled from the various Efik clans (Esien Efik) or tiny republics as Waddell (1863) would have them called, a head priest called Chief Priest was still selected from the College of Priests and Priestesses from the various Efik Clans (Aye, 1967). This was the man referred to as King of Calabar in the diary of Antera Duke. Tradition maintains that the Chief Priest descended from the Eyo Ema Atai Ema Atai Iboku stock as the most senior agnate of the Iboku people (Mettinon, 1892). Two reasons are given why descendants of Edidem Eyo Eema were preferred for the position of Chief Priests. Firstly, when descendants of Ukpong Atai Ema Atai and Inyang Ekpe Atai broke away to found autonomous clans including Adiabo, Mbiabo, Obutong, Enwang, Abayen and Usukakpa, Ema Atai Ema and Atai Atai Ema kept the Iboku people and thus retained the original name of Iboku for a clan. Secondly, at the separation of functions in Creek Town by Edidem Eyo Eema, a chiefly priestly position was retained by him (Hart, 1964).
Clanal deities of the Efik people
A number of clanal deities come immediately to mind when discussions on “Ndem Efik Iboku” are thrown open. Worthy of note among these deities include Anantigha and Anansa, male and female deities respectively, of the Enwang people. The Enwang, a most deeply religious people, positioned their two deities at the two ends of the Calabar River frontage (Ata akpa); Anansa at their spring head, popularly called Enwang spring (Idim Enwang) where the Calabar Cement Company (CALCEMCO) was earlier situated, and Anantigha Enwang at the thickets of Iyonde, now called Anantigha beach (Esuk Anantigha) (Aye, 2000, Ebieme, 1988; Mettinon, 1892). In the late 17th century, Obutong clan was drafted into the secrets of Anansa deity by reason of their many years of peaceful co-existence and innumerable intermarriages, in the reign of Etinyin Andem Esemin Efiom Esemin Esu (Ndam Sindam) (Duke, 1890; Mettinon, 1892) which negates the opinion held by Akak (1982) that Anansa was first consulted by the people of Obutong. The event of Obutong’s involvement in Anansa worship is remembered as coming at the cost of lives of many Obutong men including Eso Asibong Akabom Oso Ukpong Atai Ema over a blunder he himself committed. Prince Otu Asiya Andem Asiya Eso Adim Atai Ema paid the supreme price with his life when he disappeared in Anansa’s sacrificial basin till this day (Mettinon, 1892; Anwa, 1910). The popular Efik saying “Oso ke esie, Eso ke esie”, which could be likened to the biblical ‘to your Tents Oh Israel’, is said to have originated from this incident. Consequent upon the departure of the bulk of the Enwang people from Calabar in the second half of the 18th century following Enwang-Nsidung conflict, Obutong people became more and more in charge of Anansa’s worship and the deity came to be known by present day Efik as “Anansa Ikang Obutong”. Anansa is by far the most popular, enduring and renowned deity of the Efik people (Akak, 1982).
Other clanal deities of note include Esierebom of the Henshaw Town people, Afia Ntan (Okon, 1989) of Mbiabo Ikoneto, Afia Obom of Abayen Ikoneto (Oku, 1989), Ekpenyong Ukim, Ekanem Ukim and Akpan Ekpenyong for Mbiabo Ikorofiong (Akak, 1982), Ukọñ Esuk shared by Adiabọ and Efut Ibonda people, Afia añwan of Adiabo, Ñkoño Esit Edik for Creek Town and Atim-Okpo-Ebot (Ñkaña, 1933). Aye (1967) includes Akpa Uyọk as yet another deity of the Creek Town Iboku group, but if Mbukpa Eyo’s ballad on Akpa Uyọk is to be believed seeing that it narrates a story, we do not see how Akpa Uyọk who once lived among the people could become a deity among the same people. Ñkaña (1933) in his award winning drama “Mutanda Oyom Namondo” gives credence to Mbukpa Eyo’s narrative, showing that Akpa Uyọk really lived and wore clothes. As Efik people are not known to worship what they know and understand, it becomes difficult to accept the notion that Akpa Uyọk was and perhaps still is a deity. The difficulty increases when it is considered that the name “Akpa Uyọk” is never invoked in any deital worship of the Efik people, except in reference to a person well advanced in age.
Ndem’s involvement in Efik Kingship installation
At the preparation of the “Ndem Shrine” (Efe Ndem) now called “Shrine of the Cobra” (Efe Asabo) for the installation of the Efik King “Edem Efiom Ededem Edak”, for the year 1901, a list of names of seven key people who were involved is reproduced from the entry record of Mettinon for Akwa Ederi, October 6, 1901 as follows; Itam Ibitam Antigha Itam Okpo Okpo Ene Eyo Ema (Otung-Chief Priest), Okon Asibong Eso Esemin Esemin Ating Anwa Efiom Esemin (Itak Mkpa Obutong-Ndom [white chalk]), Eyo Ating Esu Ating Eyo Ating Anwa Efiom Esemin (Ikot Esu Enwang-Nsen-itiat and Uto [yellow chalk]), Efiom Asiya Otu Efefiom Otu Asiya Andem Asiya alias Efiom Otu Ekong (Obutong Ikọt Adim-Iduot [red chalk]), Ewa Ekeng Inyang Ewa Ekeng Ewa Ansa Efiom (Nsidung-Awa mmọñ ibọñ [purple chalk]), Ekei Ene Ekpo Ene Okpo Okpo Ene Eyo Ema (Otung-Ndem Priestess) and Esien Ekpenyong Oku Esien Ekpe Oku Abasi Oku (Mbarakom-Awa mmọñ ñwed [blue chalk] ye Oboti) (Mettinon, 1892).
The Anansa deity is said to have possessed an egg-stone (Nsen-Itiat) to whom requests are made. Tradition says that Prince Antai Orok Ating Anwa Efiom Esemin had left Calabar with the “Nsen-itiat Anansa”. During their fight with the Idua people in 1803, Prince Esu Ating Eyo Ating Anwa Efiom (alias Esu-uko Ating Eyo) had retrieved the stone from him and brought it back to Anansa shrine after he had settled in Ikot Esu. The egg-stone object of Anansa is referred to in the 3rd line of the 11th stanza of a 1913 ballad by Princess Uta Etim Asibong Etim Ebito of Idua Asang as reproduced hereunder.
“Ubom Ekpe ye Ekañ eda uman usuñ
Ubom urua mkpoduoho, ñkpiñini ofut ita
Nsen-itiat Anansa Esemin Esu
Itiat-Ekpe Asibọñ Atiñ Ekpe Ete” (Ebito, 1913)
English translation
Ekpe and Ekang canoes led the man
Trade canoe full of items with three handless matchets
Egg-stone of Anansa Esemin Esu
Ekpe stone of Asibong Ating Ekpe
Excerpts of Ndem procession of the 20th century
The procession for Anansa worship translated from the entry records of Mettinon for Akwa Ederi, February 12, 1908, is presented as follows;
“The process began in the morning heralded by the royal talking drum, on the roof top (Obodom enyọñ ọkọm) and the Efik drum “Ekperikpe”, both of which eulogized the deity. The procession took off from the house of the Chief Priest and headed for the shrine. At the head of the procession was a young teenage boy (Ibiadim) bearing the “Ika”, the Efik split sword for divination, in his right hand. He was followed immediately by a spotless young girl of about seven years old with a-day old chick hanging from her neck. This young girl was herself followed immediately by a spotless boy, aged about twenty-one carrying a basket of sundry things (inuak udia) on his head. The Ndem Priestess followed and behind her a college of fourteen teenage girls bearing combs, mirrors, raffia clappers, a pair of cow horns, wooden gong known in Efik as “Oti” and seven men that just attained manhood (30-35 years) all bearing swords. The Chief Priest, head neatly shaven and smeared with coconut oil, followed with a small white bowel containing spring water obtained from Enwang spring. He (the Chief Priest) was flanked on his right by the “Nsen-itiat and Uto” bearer who had a sword slung across his waist, and on his left by the “Ndom” or white chalk bearer. The trio was followed immediately by a line of blue, red and purple chalk bearers. The people itemized above all appeared in white apparel, but while the Chief Priest and Priestess wore white overalls, all others went in loin cloth around their waists with bare upper trunks inscribed in ancient hieroglyphic “Nsibidi” writings with the white chalk (ndom). All deital men (except the Chief Priest) and women wore white head bands, walked bare feet, with white raffia necklaces, wristlets and anklets indicating their total purity of royal descent.
At the entrance to the shrine, the “Uto Anansa” cut open the veil of tender palm leaves (ekpin). The boy with the split sword then entered, followed by Ndem Priestess and her team. Few of the girls kneeled and others stood mirroring the Priestess who sat on a stool made of brass. Before her was an old tray or basin within which stood an “Oboti” tree (Usan Abasi). Beside the tree was a roundly-folded pad of grass made from “mkpatari”. The Chief Priest emptied the water from his bowel at the base of the Oboti tree and placed the roundly-folded pad of “mkpatari” into the bowel. He then collected the egg-stone from the bearer and gave it seven knocks and dropped it into the bowel. The egg-like object opened up in seven concentric layers to reveal a colourless fluid-like yolk. Next, the yellow chalk-bearer surrendered the chalk to the Chief Priest who sprinkled it on the colourless fluid. Fresh spring water was added to the dish containing the egg, but the water and the egg never mixed. As the fluid turned yellow, much like the yolk of a normal chicken egg, the Chief Priest made requests and other chalks were presented amidst eulogies in honour of Anansa. Next, the Chief Priest presented the basket of sundry things (inuak udia) and all watched till it disappeared.
“Uto Anansa” is the chalk that enables hearing. It gives life to Anansa who only sees without the chalk. If the fluid turns red, which it seldom did, a human would have to be sacrificed. Interpretations and wishes of Anansa are conveyed to the Chief Priest through the Priestess. The wordings of the eulogy reflect supremacy and royalty of the deity (blue and purple chalks) and they that minister before her. It also reflects her anger when descecrated (red chalk) and her mercy when appeased (white chalk)” (Mettinon, 1892).
One of the songs usually rendered at Ndem worship is reproduced hereunder;
“Ndem Efik, se nnyin imọwuhọ ida, Abasi Abasi
Anansa Ikañ, se nnyin imọwuhọ ida, Abasi Abasi
Afia añwan, se nnyin imowuho, ida Abasi Abasi
Ata Ọkpọ Uruan, se nnyin imọwuhọ ida Abasi Abasi
Ukọñ Esuk, se nnyin imọwuhọ ida, Abasi Abasi
Anantigha Eñwañ, se nnyin imọwuhọ ida, Abasi Abasi
Añwakañ, se nnyin imọwuhọ ida, Abasi Abasi
Ọkpọrọ! Ọkpọrọ! Ebe itip itip, ñwan itip itip.
Itip itip iba idiaha ñkpọ enyọñ utañ”
Also reproduced hereunder is a popular stanza of one of the eulogies on “Uto Anansa Ikañ” (the yellow chalk) of the 1st half of the 20th century, often played by Efik talking drum.
“Ekpenyọñ Ekpenyọñ Odusu
Osim usen Ndem uko awari Uto
Ekpenyọñ Eyọ, uko eden owo
Eñwan ọsọñ ekot ikpamfum
Ikpamfum eye ke idaha eñwan eto
Edi ọsọñ akaha ekot akañkañ
Ekpenyọñ Ekpenyọñ Odusu (Mettinon, 1892)”
A most important object in Anansa worship was her egg-stone object. The object once used for the day returns to a stone which will never break until after seven days. Without this object the deity would not function. A most difficult part of the deital worship was in getting the object to open for enlivenment by the yellow chalk, “Uto”. The entry records of Mettinon for Akwa Ederi, July 25, 1918 reports “inability to open the egg-like object and failure of the entire Anansa sacrificial process” (Mettinon, 1892). Later attempts made by the two major lineages of Esemin Esu in Obutong Itak Mkpa (Etubom Ekpenyong Okon Asibong Eso Esemin Esemin Ating Anwa Efiom Esemin Esu as ‘Ndom’) and Ikot Esu (Prince Ekpenyong Eyo Ating Esu Ating Eyo Ating Anwa Efiom Esemin Esu as ‘Uto’) to revive Anansa worship in 1941 (Akwa Ederi, May 21, 1941) also proved abortive. Both men died in 1950 and all hopes of reviving the esoteric rituals of Anansa Ikang were lost forever (Mettinon, 1892).
Traditional installations of Efik Kings usually took place at Efe Ndem. It has been so from time immemorial when the Edidem-elect will stand by Usan Abasi and take his oath of office, which, for the most part, included his commitment to the defense of the kingdom against external influences especially in times of war, maintenance of the sanctity of the Efik race as one indivisible whole and appeasing the gods for wealth, good health, guidance and prosperity. Singing, dancing, drumming and general entertainments formed the most part of Ndem worship (Okon, 1987) but these songs generally had a more dignified approach and their presentations more soul-touching. It was therefore not difficult for the Efik people, a naturally musical and theatrical race, to transit effortlessly from the music for their deities to that for the Christian God in the 19th century. The age-long involvement in things sacred but mundane developed into things more divine and the slaves taken from Calabar overseas were reported to be given to making “music that touch the heart”. Ever since the little mission party of Reverend Hope Masterton Waddell arrived on Efik soil, the story of Ndem Efik Iboku gradually grew into a historical perspective and would have been lost completely but for the sheer force of habit of the Efik people where they live in perpetual reminiscence of their rich history by way of ballads, eulogies and their songs.