Ukara cloth

Ukara cloth
Ukara cloth detail, Etara community, Cross River State, Nigeria

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Reconstructing early photographs from the Cross River region

Inter-generational 'second' burial rite, Ékpè hall, Akin Kúọ̀ ["Qua"], Calabar, 1905
       The small boys on either side of this photograph are great-grandsons of the late Ntoe ‘village head’, who was long since buried. This is his 'second' burial, where the lineage member to replace the deceased is invested in his title(s). The scene, in front of the community Ékpè hall, displays ritual costumes indicating rites of the Ékpè ‘leopard’ society, the traditional institution for community policing and justice.
    The man seated on the throne, crown on head and staff in hand, is the first son of the deceased, now being invested as Ntoe 'village head'. His sons stand on either side: at right one dressed as Ìsìm Ékpè ‘long tail leopard’, a privilege of his royal status, the other at left with 'London's finest' top hat sporting nkàndà ‘peacock’ feathers that indicate his initiation, while a boy next to him presents a small drum with a cross marked with kaolin on the skin.

Reconstructed from three sections
    This image demonstrates a royal family lineage in the port city of Calabar, visualizing the idea of generational continuity in leadership and cultural heritage. This also happens to be the oldest photograph I found in the Kúọ̀ (Qua) community. The devastation of the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) assured the elimination of local archives and traditional architecture, never to be rebuilt. This photograph was hung in the visiting room of the palace of Ntoe Lawrence Ekong Etagbo IV (see my May 2016 post on his ‘second’ burial rites), who generously allowed me to scan it. I did, but in three pieces, since it was large and my scanner small.
      The support of the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, and specifically Henrik Alfredsson who trained me in photoshop, has enabled the reconstruction and repair of scores of photographs I scanned in Nigeria since 2004. These will contribute to a visual history of indigenous symbols of the Cross River region, offering clear evidence for cultural diffusion throughout southeastern Nigeria, Southwest Cameroon and later into Bioko and Cuba during the trans-Atlantic trade of the 1800s.
First daughter initiated into Ékpè society, Calabar. Etubom Bassey Ekpo Bassey archives. Date unknown. Image before and after repair

    Historic photographs of cultural displays offer meaningful perspectives into local values, especially when the photographs have been created and curated by the very subjects of the photographs. In the quest to understand the historic cultural networks of the Cross River region, I have archived photographs from scores of communities visited throughout the region. These collectively demonstrate a shared symbolic vocabulary developed through trade interactions over the centuries, both within Calabar and its hinterlands, as well as from trade with European merchants.

First daughter of late title-holder dressed as Abang 'pot' dancer. Muri Joseph Edem archives.
This royal Abang dancer was photographed in front the mkpòtò, a display of wealth through prestige artifacts, traditionally created at the death of a title-holder. Brass pots, hand made ùkárá  cloth and other valued heritage items are seen behind the dancer, upon whose head is a red feathered rod, a symbol of the Ékpè society. 
Condition of photograph before repair

First daughter initiated to Ékpè before marriage. Fernandes Studio archives, Calabar, 1920s.
Daughter of Ékpá women's society leader initiated as Moninkem, a coming-of-age maiden's dance. Mbarakom community, Akamkpa L.G.A., Cross River State

 Inside the homes of indigenous community leaders in the Cross River region, photographs are commonly displayed in the visiting room to portray important ancestors and family members, particularly as they engage in public stages of initiation rites that invest a leader with authority granted by the community elders, who ultimate represent communal ancestors. These photographs contextualize the legitimacy of the leader through a display of core symbols used during rites of belonging, of maturity and finally of leadership within a community. 
Ékpè leader holds monyo staff during investiture as Iyamba or lodge leader. Úrúán community, Akwa Ibom State. date unknown.  Thanks to Iberedem Fred Essien, Uyo.
Yam farmer with award winning harvest. Agoi-Ibami community, Yakurr L.G.A., Cross River State

Teenage girls dressed in finery for New Yam festival, Agoi-Ibami community, Yakurr L.G.A., Cross River State

Elder with symbolic cap, Agoi-Ibami community, Yakurr L.G.A., Cross River State
Young siblings initiated as Ékpè members. Efut Ekondo Clan, Calabar South. Muri Joseph Bassey archives.
Photograph before repair
Young first daughter initiated to Ékpè, Calabar. Etubom Bassey Ekpo Bassey archives.

Muri Cobham Antigha Edet IV, Efut Ifako Clan, Creek Town, Odukpani L.G.A., Cross River State, Nigeria. The Muri is surrounded with symbols of leadership : crown, staff, ùkárá cloth and a prepared calabash gourd
Photograph reconstructed from five sections.

These images are a few from a huge archive I am assembling for a publication about heritage symbols, their meanings, and values. This premodern heritage continues to be practiced, in spite of the chaos of identity and economic pressures resulting from British colonialism, the warrant chief system, the Pentecostal churches, and global capitalism. The practice is diminished, and displayed in fragmented forms as fewer young people are enthusiastic about the sacrifices required to learn from elders. Nevertheless, the wisdom of custodians of tradition in the Cross River region suggests that renewed awareness of inherited practices and languages is fundamental to building a peaceful and balanced contemporary society.
A collage of some other restored photographs from the Cross River cultural region

Monday, 1 April 2019

Manyu Ékpè Funeral Rites in Yaoundé, 2019

Manyu Ékpè procession in Yaoundé, March 29, 2019
A delegation of Ékpè ‘leopard’ society initiates, as well as family members, traveled from Mamfe, Manyu Division of southwest Cameroon, to Yaoundé, the Cameroon capital to honor and reclaim the body of their leader and father, who had recently transited to the ancestors. Mr. Tanyi Bantriri Egbe Stephen Tataw held the Ékpè title of Seseku, the highest among Manyu people.
Poster for funeral of Seseku Stephen Tataw (1948-2019)
The title Sese-ku means ‘Lord Tortoise’ or ‘the Wise Lord’ in the neighboring Òrọ̀kọ́ culture to the south of Mamfe, according to linguist Blessed Ngoe. In Bàlóndó culture, which is under the umbrella term Òrọ̀kọ́, the tortoise is often referred to as “Tata Na-ku”, ‘Father Mr.-Tortoise’, rendered phonetically as “Tàátà nàákúù” (Kuperus 1985: 130, 142).
Tortoise shell instrument is played in the funerary procession
The tortoise shell is fundamental to Manyu Ékpè practice as a powerful communicative instrument and a sacred sound vibration, known as nèwèn-Békúndí in Kenyang language. Therefore the tortoise shell was necessarily present for these rites.
Since 1960-61, with the independence of The Camerouns from French and British colonial rule, there has existed a Manyu population in Yaoundé, the capital. The Manyu people are comprised of Éjághám-speakers, Kenyang-speakers, and Anyang-speakers (collectively known as Bayangi people), and all of them participate in Ékpè ‘leopard’ society culture. In Yaoundé, Manyu people gather at the Manyu Cultural Center on Rue Martin Tabi Essomba in Yaoundé 4. It was here that Seseku Stephen Tataw was honored on March 29 by the Manyu community after preliminary rites in the funerary home.
Ékpè mask purifies the hearse before the procession begins
After the hearse arrived with the coffin, the Ékpè members purified the vehicle, then led it in procession to the cultural center.

Mùrúà ‘the chanter’ with wooden rattles
The procession was led by Mùrúà ‘the chanter’ with his wooden rattles, then the mask, called Emanyankpe, followed by the title-holders, the musicians and finally the coffin.
Percussion ensemble moves the procession
Inside the hall, a shrine was constructed to receive the coffin. Adorned with plantain leaves, palm fronds tied in symbolic ways, and mfam leaves, this shrine represents the sacred forest of Ékpè.

Funerary shrine representing the sacred forest of Ékpè

Tied palm fronds (left), mfam leaves (right)
Around this shrine, the Sesekus, divine chanters and musicians performed the final rites for the deceased Seseku, to ensure his spiritual journey to the land of the ancestors and gods, and to ensure the continuity of the Ékpè institution.
Ékpè members surround the shrine for the final rites
The rites concluded, the deceased was carried in a community caravan nearly 700 kms back home to Mamfe for further purifications before internment to mother earth.

This collective activity exemplifies how a dynamic culture like the Ékpè institution is carried into diaspora by its members wherever they may go and maintained collectively as a mutual-aid and spiritual society. Even with the multiple pressures of the so-called modern world: labor migration, wage slavery, environmental destruction, the impact of monotheism (Islam and Christianity), western education, and so on, indigenous community networks like Ékpè have proven resilient and utile for the well-being of its members, their families and communities.

Ayuk, Raphael. 2019. CERDOTOLA scholar and Manyu community member.

Ngoe, Blessed. 2019. Scholar of Òrọ̀kọ́ language and culture. Personal communication with the author by email. March.

Kuperus, Juliana. 1985. The Londo word: its phonological and morphological structure. Tervuren, Belgique: Musée royal de l’Afrique centrale.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Literature in the Èfị̀k language

Cover: E.N. Amaku, Inyang Abasi Ndem (Lagos: Thomas Nelson [Nigeria] Ltd, 1973).
There exists a small but significant body of published literature written in the Èfị̀k language that seems to document indigenous folktales and fables, poems, mythic histories, plays, and learning tools for children. Written from the 1930s to the 1980s, these texts were used in schools and theaters of the former Calabar Province, which included what is now Cross River State (created in 1967) and Akwa Ibom State (created in 1987), and parts of Abia and Ebonyi States. While some of these texts have been translated, even rudimentarily, into English and in one case into French, most have not. To promote the culture and history of the Calabar region globally, this author seeks to organize a translation team to render this literature into English, and eventually Spanish, so that people of the Western Hemisphere can access the ‘Carabalí’ heritage of their ancestors, since thousands of people from the Calabar region were forcibly migrated from Argentina to Canada over the 350 year course of the nefarious trade where they were known as ‘Carabalí’.

In Calabar itself, the earliest document written by an Èfị̀k speaker was probably the Diary of Antera Duke (1785-1788), written in Pidgin English to record trade and social interactions (Behrendt et al. 2010). Writing in Èfị̀k language seems to have begun with Scottish Presbyterian Missionaries in Creek Town and Calabar from 1846 onwards, who translated Bible lessons into Èfị̀k (Goldie 1901: 241, 303-304). But these indigenous twentieth century books in Èfị̀k are something else: they document indigenous values and perspectives.

Because the Èfị̀k-speaking communities on the banks of the Calabar and Cross Rivers became the middle-men to European traders from the early 1600 onwards, Èfị̀k became the lingua franca of the entire region through trading networks, up to Arochukwu (Abia State), Bende (Abia State), Oban (Akamkpa L.G.A.), Ọrọ (Ọrọn L.G.A.), Umon Island (Biase L.G.A), Usak-Edet (Isangele, Ndian Division, S.W. Cameroon), and so on. When the trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished by treaties between Èfị̀k chiefs and the British in 1842, Èfịk leaders invited Presbyterian missionaries to Calabar for purposes of education. Arriving in 1846, missionaries Hope Waddell and others began to write sermons in Èfị̀k using the Roman alphabet, while in 1862 Goldie created an Èfị̀k-English dictionary of over 640 pages that remains the standard. As European and newly converted African missionaries began to set up churches along the Cross River to the north, they used the Èfị̀k texts, reinforcing Èfị̀k as the lingua franca of the ‘new regime’.

The authors of the indigenous literature in Èfị̀k were school educated and many were teachers. In 1933, educator Esien E. Ñkaña wrote Mutanda for a national competition by the colonial government to create indigenous texts for use in classrooms. While the text is in Èfị̀k, and labeled “an Èfị̀k folktale,” it’s better described as a folktale from the Cross River region, because multiple language groups who speak Èfị̀k-Ìbìbìò, Éjághám, Ìgbò, and so on, enjoy shared cultural institutions like Ékpè (community justice), Nkugọ or Mọnénkíìm (maiden’s training) as well as shared cuisine. Many of the character names in Mutanda are Bàlóndó, like Mutanda itself. The point is that indigenous Èfị̀k literature expresses cultural ideas of the entire region, and is not limited to the Èfị̀k-speaking people.

Also, the concept of what is Èfị̀k has varied at different times along a continuum from the narrowest possible scope (a subset of the mother tongue of Calabar metropolis) to the broadest (the lingua franca of the Cross River region, including many terms and idioms adopted from further flung districts in the area now known as Ìbìbìò). For example, Goldie's 1862 Èfị̀k dictionary includes many entries that today would also be understood as Ìbìbìò. From a historical point of view there is no right or wrong in this question of how to define the scope of a named language. Perhaps the most neutral and historically open-minded approach is to inclusively allow everything into a liberally identified category of "Èfị̀k-Ìbìbìò", following the example of Ọyọyọ (1943).

First page of O. I. Ọyọyọ's 1943 study.

What follows is a list of books in the Èfị̀k language that the author has identified, with sample pages when possible. The idea is to work on scholarly translations of them to share with readers in English around the world.

Amaku, E.N. 2004. Efik Eburutu (Mme ido ye edu uwem mo). Calabar: Glad Tidings Press. ISBN: 978-305410-04.

Amaku, E.N. 1933/1987. Ufọkuto ikọ Efịk. [‘Precious Store-House of the Èfị̀k Language’ (poems in ballad form about historical events)]. Calabar, Cross River State: Paico. 133 pages.

Amaku, E.N. 1973. Inyang Abasi Ndem. A play. Lagos: Thomas Nelson (Nigeria) Ltd.
Amaku, Inyang Abasi Ndem, p. 45

Amaku, E.N. 1963. Ikut Adaha Etie Do. Calabar, Nigeria: Thomas Nelson and Sons.

Amaku, E.N. 1935-52. Edikot Nwed Mbuk [‘Story book reader’]. Vols. 1-5. Dundee: Printed by Geo E. Findlay, Victoria Printing Works, 6 Victoria Road, Great Britain (Reprint London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd).
Amaku, Edikot Nwed Mbuk, v. 4
Amaku, Edikot Nwed Mbuk, v. 4, p. 58

Amaku, E. N. N.d. Ekong ke Efik Eset [‘Fables of the Ancient Èfị̀k’]. Èfịk Translation Bureau. 20 pages.

Edet, Mary J. 1976. Obufa Edikot Nwed 5. Lagos: Macmillan Nigeria Publishers.
Mary Edet, Obufa Edikot Nwed 5, 1976.
Mary Edet, Obufa Edikot Nwed 5, 1976, p. 16

Edyang, E.A. 1982. Sịdibe. A play. Ibadan: U P Limited.
E.A. Edyang, Sịdibe, 1982.
E.A. Edyang, Sịdibe, 1982, p. 34
Edyang, A. 1971. Asibong–Edem. Institute of Èfị̀k Arts and Culture. Èfịk Literature Series. First Èfị̀k Drama Book. Calabar: Hope Waddell Press. [The biography of an historical figure who was reincarnated. “The belief in akanga (vow or promise made by individual before the deity prior to birth), and the psychic traffic and communication between the terrestrial inhabitants and the world of spirit deities.” (Aye, Ed. 1985: 17).]

Eyo, E.A. 1960. Mbuk Ekim ye Ungwana ye Ukpep Nkpo. Liverpool: Philip, Son & Nephew, Ltd.

E.A. Eyo, Mbuk Ekim ye Ungwana ye Ukpep Nkpo, 1960.

E.A. Eyo, Mbuk Ekim ye Ungwana ye Ukpep Nkpo, 1960, pp. 40-41

Ñkaña, Esien Ekpe. 1933/ 1960. Mutanda oyom Namondo. "Standard V Reader - Translation Bureau issue". Liverpool : Philip, Son & Nephew.
Esien Ekpe Ñkaña, Mutanda oyom Namondo, 1933/ 1960.
Esien Ekpe Ñkaña, Mutanda oyom Namondo, 1933/ 1960, pp. 12-13.

Ñkaña, Esien Ekpe. 1933/ 1984. Mutanda: The Search for Namondo. Translated by Sam Eyo-Abidua. Calabar: Samson Publishing.

Ñkaña, Esien Ekpe. 2009. Mutanda à la recherché de Namondo. Translated by Margaret Mary P. Okon. Paris: Éditions L'Harmattan.

Okon, E.E.E. 1985. Nkukunkpoyoriyo [‘Locust’]. Èfịk Fiction. Ibadan: Evans Brothers (Nigeria Publishers) Ltd.

Okon, E.E.E. 1976. Uyi Efiong Esien [‘The story of a woman’]. Calabar: Hope Waddell Training Institution Press Ltd.
E.E.E. Okon, Uyi Efiong Esien, 1976.
E.E.E. Okon, Uyi Efiong Esien, 1976, pp 106-07.

Otop, Asuquo. 1993. Mme Ndem Kedi!! [‘The Gods are Coming!’]. Asuquo Otop. Ibadan: JIS Printing Press.

Udiana Edikot Nwed: Mbuk, Nke, Mbre ye Uto. 1930. Èfị̀k Translation Bureau Ewet Emi. C.M.S. Niger Bookshops: Port Harcourt and Branches.
Udiana Edikot Nwed: Mbuk, Nke, Mbre ye Uto, 1930.
Udiana Edikot Nwed: Mbuk, Nke, Mbre ye Uto. 1930, p. 21

Udo-Ema, A.J. and O.E.E. Anwann. 1971/1973. Edikot Nwed 1. Uyo; Ibadan: Oxford UP.
A.J. Udo-Ema & O.E.E. Anwann, Edikot Nwed 1, 1971.
A.J. Udo-Ema & O.E.E. Anwann, Edikot Nwed 1, 1971, p. 41

Udo-Ema, A.J. and Mary J. Edet. 1987. Nwed Usem Nnyin 2. Ibadan: Macmillan Nigeria Publishers LTD, 57 pages. ISBN: 978-132-773-1.
A.J. Udo-Ema & O.E.E. Anwann, Nwed Usem Nnyin 2, 1987.
A.J. Udo-Ema & O.E.E. Anwann, Nwed Usem Nnyin 2, 1987, p. 78.

Umana ye Eno, Akpa Nwed Iko Efik. 1968. Pupil’s book. Ibadan: Longmans of Nigeria Ltd.
Umana ye Eno, Akpa Nwed Iko Efik, 1968.
Umana ye Eno, Akpa Nwed Iko Efik, 1968, p. 42.

Usoro, Udo A. 1973. Iduo Owo (a play). Lagos: Nelson (Nigeria) Ltd.
Udo A. Usoro, Iduo Owo, 1973.
Udo A. Usoro, Iduo Owo, 1973, pp. 32-33

Aye, Efiong U (Editor). 1985. The Efik Language and Its Future. A memorandum produced by APPELLAC (Association for the promotion of Efik Language, Literature and Culture). Calabar: Glad Tidings Press.

Behrendt, Stephen, A.J.H. Latham, David Northrup. 2010. The Diary of Antera Duke, an Eighteenth-Century African Slave Trader. New York: Oxford UP.

Goldie, the Rev. Hugh. 1874/1964. A Dictionary of the Efịk Language, in Two Parts. Ridgewood, N.J.: Gregg Press (Original 1862).

Ọyọyọ, O. I. 1943. A summary of study in Effik-Ibibio language, with particular reference to orthography. Calabar : Henshaw Press. OCLC Number: 652183458. 20 pages.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Cross River Monoliths: Living Heritage Stones

Monolith custodian evokes ancestors through the capped stone, Òwòm community. I. Miller photo, 2016

Research on the carved “Akwanshi” monoliths of Cross River State, Nigeria, has led to the question: “How do contemporary inhabitants of the region relate to these centuries-old stones?” Thanks to concerned community members, we found some answers in a rural village at the bank of the upper Cross River.
In Calabar, Prophetess Justina Odey, whose spiritual name is Hebzibah, told me about her calling as a herbalist and healer. She is president of Shiloh Deliverance Ministry, which she describes as a Pentecostal church with over fifty members, but others may describe as a “healing center.” In an interview with Dr. Abu Edet of the University of Calabar and me, she reported being inspired by her great-aunt, a healer in the Bakor region famous for its “Akwanshi” carved monoliths, these days a five hour drive north from Calabar along the tortuous federal Calabar-Ikom highway.
Prophetess Justina Odey during interview, Calabar, 2016. I. Miller photo
Prophetess Odey's father Vincent Tawo told us his daughter received the spirit that guides her from his mother’s sister. His aunt was a healer, initiated through a 14 day solo retreat in the local forest, who ever after used her powers to protect villagers. A career police officer, Mr. Tawo felt his aunt’s powers protected him from the dangers of his job:
“My aunt said I will work and be retired but no harm will come to me. In fact, the group that joined the police force with me have all died, but I am still alive.“
Mr. Vincent Tawo during interview, Calabar, 2016. I. Miller photo
Mr. Tawo also told me about the living power of a monolith in the village:
“There in our village the stone was brought by our forefathers; the stone is respected and they believed the power of the street is controlled by the stone. The stone inside the village and the one outside is almost the same; that is why it is respected and the stone is carved with a face, hands, and so on. The stone is in the village square, and anything done in the village is being done by the stone.”
Tawo described a relationship between the monolith in the village, another carved one nearby, and the belief system of his community. In his pioneering report, Allison documented “A recently carved stone near the village” of Òwòm, indicating a relationship between earlier carved monoliths and more recent ones (Allison 1968: 41). Mr. Tawo also reported attempts to traffic the monolith for sale:
“There was a time when some people came to the village and met a chief to sell the stone to them; I was annoyed and told them the stone was our ancestors, that he doesn’t have any right to sell the stone.”

Allison 1968 map of monolith sites, with Iyala and Nkum at bottom, and Òwòm village marked as "33" and Nkum Akpambe as “32”
In 2016, these intriguing narratives led me to visit the village, called Òwòm, guided by Prophetess Hebzibah Odey, as she likes to be known. Upon arrival, the Clan Head, the custodian of the monolith, and several other key figures in the village were extraordinarily helpful. First the Clan Head poured libations with palm wine, alerting all that guests had arrived, requesting a peaceful visit.
HRH Ogaba Joseph Okojan, Clan Head, Iyala-Nkum, pours palm wine libation. I. Miller photo, 2016
The Clan Head presented a small monolith held inside a sculpted wooden vessel, with an iron spear and an iron symbol of royalty (known as íkà in Efik), that served as a community shrine.
Long round stone inside a carved wooden figure, with iron symbol. I. Miller photo, 2016

The Clan Head explained:
“The stone I showed to you is ancient and from my forefather Odioga; they use it to sacrifice to the ancestors of Òwòm village. They will call the ancestors to come and eat in the village; both men and women will be there and we cook pounded yam properly with palm wine. They will throw it on the ground and sacrifice it straight to the ancestors and throw blood with feathers so that good luck will follow the young ones and the unborn children; we pray for safe delivery, good luck, good job opportunities, no fights or troubles, etc. That is our tradition as inherited from our great grandfathers.
Orecho Eku means the stone used for sacrifice and to pray to the ancestors; wine and food is poured so that the ancestors will listen to both men and women, and it was done according to the way the ancient people did it.
We pray almost like singing; when pouring libation I call my grandfather and other paramount chiefs, then I move to the other villages along Iyala, we are five villages, and call all the chiefs and pour libation for my visitors so that all will return home safely.”
The Clan Head, Iyala-Nkum, stands with inherited symbols of authority. I. Miller photo, 2016
The monolith custodian then brought us to the monolith, a large basalt stone, with smaller stones around it: one was a carved miniature with a manila bar in front to represent prosperity. Many smaller round stones surrounded the monolith. 
The monolith shrine with surrounding stones, plants, and slit gong. The Egwi shrine is up the hill, left. I. Miller photo, 2016
In the early twentieth century, Talbot described such rounded stones as representing eggs and therefore the fecundity of locals in the Ekoi region (an umbrella term where the majority language is Éjághám).
“According to Ekoi superstition, all egg-shaped substances, such as oval stones, etc., exert a favourable influence on generation” (Talbot 1912: 122).
“All stones rounded by water action into oval form are sacred to Nimm. . . . The object of all is to promote fertility. They are looked upon as the ‘Eggs of Nimm’.” (Talbot 1912: 96).
Nimm, meaning ‘spirit’, is the Éjághám equivalent of Ndèm ‘spirit’ as known in Efik and Ibibio-speaking communities. Talbot described, Nimm as “above all, the object of the women’s devotion . . . Her priestesses have more power then those of any other cult, and the society which bears her name is strong enough to hold its own against the dreaded ‘Egbo [Ékpè] Club’.” (Talbot 1912: 2). Talbot further described how an Éjághám speaking community was founded through the interaction of representative stones of both Ékpè and Nimm initiation clubs, but that’s another story. 
The custodian placed a chief’s cap on the monolith and evoked the ancestors in the presence of village leaders. 
Monolith custodian beats the slit gong to announce our activity. I. Miller photo, 2016
Monolith custodian evokes community ancestors in the presence of the Clan Head. I. Miller photo, 2016
The custodian then led us a shrine up the hill used to protect locals against spiritual attacks. In front of the shrine was a circle of stones, known as Okwa in many Éjághám-speaking villages, where chiefs sit to make important decisions.

Circle of stones on patio of Egwi shrine for chiefs to sit. I. Miller photo, 2016
The interesting thing is that Òwòm village in Nkum Iyala is not Éjághám-speaking. Allison (1968: 14) reported: “[T]he Nkum and Iyala . . . language . . . has affinities with Idma.” Armstrong (1983) called the Idma of the Nkum community “Yala (Ikom)” and the Idma to the north “Yala (Ogoja).” This means that Yala groups on the Cross River, historically affiliated to the rest of the Idọma-speaking cluster further north, were acculturated into the “Akwanshi” monolith culture of the Éjághám-speakers in the Bakor region.

            This is corroborated by another example, the “Nkum Akpambe” mentioned by Allison (1968: TOC) are Idma-speakers in Obubra L.G.A., south of Nkum Iyala on the Cross River. Oral tradition of the Éjághám-speaking Nta Clan reports that a monolith at Nkum Akpambe mentioned by Allison (1968: 31, 41) was obtained from Eganga, an Nta village across the river from Akpambe during conflicts between both groups. (Dr. Frank Enor, 2018 pers. com.). These examples are among many others showing the Cross River region as a shared cultural zone within great linguistic diversity.
The  custodian beats iron gongs at the Egwi shrine to announce our visit. I. Miller photo, 2016
Through interviews with locals, we learned more about the shrine and women healers of the past. Richard Ogagbo, born in 1949 in Òwòm, told me:
“I am a son to Mama Anejo Eyo the herbalist woman who died in 1993. She was a native doctor and everybody in Iyala knew her. There was a time when she started seeing all those things, she disappeared from the village and stayed in the bush for fourteen days before returning. She came out with fairies, who communicated with her and told her when anybody entered her room in her absence. There was a time she went to the farm and we were gossiping her but when she returned those fairies reported to her what was said. Such a person is called Onya brija meaning ‘fairy white’. The spirit is a bush spirit, not a mermaid, that is why it is called abrija.
She healed many people from disease; if you came to her she would heal you freely, she didn’t take money, that was the work she did. She would sleep and dream and tell you what will happen to you and it would happen. She helped many people around our area, so many people used to come here.
She would cast out witchcraft and make them confess, and after that they would be free. There is nobody like her again to reveal a witch. But healing of the bone, personally I know the medicine because she taught me as the son.”
The shrine custodian during interview, with Profetess Odey. I. Miller photo, 2016
 Another elder, Daniel Obono Agbo Òwòm, born 1925, told us about the shrine:
“This juju [shrine] is called Egwi. When evil is coming to the community, either witchcraft or water society, the juju kills it. Anybody disturbed by witchcraft or mermaids is brought here and we gather all the foods eaten by the juju, like fowl, and kill it. The juju will then stand with the person and help to heal them. The juju helps in all type of sickness.
The founder of this Egwi was Mr. Ojong Obaje; he started when he was young; while sleeping he dreamt all the medicines of the juju and when he rose saw what he dreamt. Many communities came here to buy this Egwi and when they got to their communities they changed the name, they don’t call it exactly as the founding name.”
Egwi shrine interior with stone base. I. Miller photo, 2016
James Onawu, a retired army man, returned to the village and was elected as the second in command to the chief of the shrine. He reported:
“The juju helps us everybody, both small and big. But when the church came, some people ran to the church and didn’t believe in it because of evildoers. Just few people are remaining to look after the juju and I am the spokesman to the juju.
The power the juju has is when somebody plans to kill another, the victim runs down to us and we do the spiritual things so that the juju will take care of that person. The juju drives wizards from the community and some of them have run to the church. Even there was a time I tried to do bad and the juju held me and I confessed before it left me.
Those that have gone to church the juju doesn’t fight them until when they want to do bad, that is when it can kill you. The juju is not a bad thing, it is close to God and protects the community and keeps everything in order. Even if there is war coming the juju doesn’t allow it to come down.”

This narrative suggests that the juju is a focal point for public commentary, a forum where individuals can accede to collective needs and requirements. But those who may be unjustly exploiting their neighbors can dodge the collective will by running to the church, with a veneer of respectability paid for in tithes.

This short but productive visit made it clear that the monolith heritage of the region is still very strong in some communities, despite many contrary forces embodied in persisting colonial legacies of the patriarchal church, government and rudimentary education that tend to dismiss such heritage practices as “primitive” and “demonic.” In response, some local churches use biblical names and phrases as a public shield while in fact the main focus of their ministries are healing through herbal remedies and prayers as practiced in inherited traditions. 

Signboard for Prophetess Justina Odey “Hebzibah" Ministry, Calabar. I. Miller photo, 2016
In Calabar, Profetess Odey remembered her conversion experience of five years ago as “the light of God came upon me burning so severely and talking to me.” She told me:
“Six months after I had started, God started showing me herbs and their different purposes and cures. I go to the bush and pluck them myself, I process them and give to patients, and they take it home free of charge. He [god] asked me to write this information down, and warned me that I should not collect one naira from anybody, that he is giving me this privilege on a platter of gold. He showed me all those who had died for lack of medicine, and he now said that he is showing me how to help as many people as may come to me. And that is what I have been doing, by the grace of God. Up to today God has not allowed anyone to die in my hands and He will never do. These five years have past as if it were one, with no rest.”
Signboard for Prophetess Justina Odey “Hebzibah" Ministry, Calabar. I. Miller photo, 2016

—Allison, P. 1968. Cross River Monoliths. Lagos: Nigerian Federal Department of Antiquities.
—Armstrong, Robert G. 1983. “The Idomoid languages of the Benue and Cross River valleys.” Journal of West African Languages. Vol. 13, n. 1 : 91-149.
—Talbot, Percy Amaury. 1912. In the Shadow of the Bush. London: William Heinemann.

Dr. Frank Enor, Department of History & International Studies, University of Calabar. July 4, 2018.
—Prophetess Justina Odey 'Hebzibah', president of Shiloh Deliverance Ministry, 47C Atamuno Street, Calabar South. Interview  with Ivor Miller and Abu Edet April 9, 2016, Calabar. Revised by Prophetess Odey on May 12, 2016.
—Richard Ogagbo. Born in Òwòm village, 1949. Interview May 12, 2016, Òwòm village.
HRH Ogaba Joseph Okojan, Clan Head, Iyala-Nkum, Ikom Local Government Area, Cross River State, Nigeria. Born 10 April, 1945. Interview May 12, 2016.
James Onawu. Interview May 12, 2016, Òwòm village.
—Daniel Obono Agbo Òwòm, born 1925.
—Vincent Tawo, father of Justina Odey Hephzibah. Interview 29 April, 2016.