Ukara cloth

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

Tuesday 29 December 2020

Port of Old Calabar and the Bakassi region of the lower Cross River and Rio del Rey, 1878

(en Español al fondo)

Published by Paul Langhans in 1902 in Germany, this rare map identifies many locations fundamental to the myths of Cuban Abakuá, as discussed in The Sacred Language of the Abakuá, by Lydia Cabrera, 2020. It also identifies source communities for groups in present day Cameroon that migrated to Old Calabar centuries ago. The following is a brief list of key place-names that resonate with Cabrera’s entries. The place-names are identified starting in the west and moving eastward.

— The Èfìḳ communities of “Òbútòng” and “Àtákpà” are on the east bank of the Old Calabar River. In Cabrera, these relate to the “Efik Butón,” “Natakua,” “Efiméremo Natakua,” and other entries. 

 — Directly to the east is “Qua Town,” while Qua territory extends to the east, the likely source of the term “Abakuá.”

— “Jambeke” Creek is identified at the north of “Backasey Island.” This is a source for the Cuban title “Yambeke” (see the “Iyagara” and “Yambeke” entries).

— “Usaharet” (a.k.a. “Issangilli”) is the epicenter of Cuban myths of “Usagaré.” “Usaharet Creek” flows directly to the south.

— “Meta” is a large channel of water related to the Cuban myth of “Tanse Bongó meta,” the apparition of the Voice in the rivers of Usagaré (see the “Bongó mbarini” entry).

 — At the head of “Meta” is “Ibunda Creek,” named after the Ibunda community to the northeast. Ibunda was memorialized in Havana through the “Ibondá Efó” lodge created in 1871 (see the “Asoiro Ibondá” and “Ibondá Usagaré” entries).
     This entire region is identified as “Efut” territory, Èfût being the Èfìḳ name for the BàLóndó peoples from Southwest Cameroon who migrated to Old Calabar centuries ago.

 — “Ndian” Creek runs just west of Ibunda, emptying into the Rio del Rey. Ndian was transformed to “Odán” in Cuban narratives (see the “Akuekirí” entry).

— “Uruanie Ekpe Creek” and “Uruanie Ekpe” town are at the southeast corner of this map. The Úrúán people of contemporary Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, are thought to have migrated from here centuries ago (Essien 1993, 17–18). They participated in the Ékpè culture of the region and are the likely source of the Orú lineage in Cuban Abakuá (see the “Akari,” “Erón Ekoi,” “Irondó ntá,” “Urua ápapa,” “Uruana,” and “Uruápaoa” entries).
— The town of “Bekura” is to the north of “Uruanie Ekpe.” Bekura is central to the Cuban myth of “Usagaré” (see the “Awana bekura mendó,” “Bakokó,” “Bakura,” and “Bakurandió Bakura” entries).


Puerto del Viejo Calabar y la región de Bakassi del Río Cruz y Río del Rey, 1878

Publicado por Paul Langhans en 1902 en Alemania, este raro mapa identifica muchos lugares fundamentales para los mitos del Abakuá cubano, como se analiza en La lengua sagrada del Abakuá, por Lydia Cabrera, 2020. También identifica las comunidades de origen de los grupos en el actual Camerún que emigró a Old Calabar hace siglos. La siguiente es una breve lista de nombres de lugares clave que resuenan con las entradas de Cabrera. Los topónimos se identifican comenzando en el oeste y avanzando hacia el este.
— Las comunidades Èfìḳ de “Òbútòng” y “Àtákpà” se encuentran en la orilla este del río Old Calabar (Viejo Calabar). En Cabrera, estos se relacionan con el “Efik Butón”, “Natakua”, “Efiméremo Natakua” y otras entradas.
— Directamente al este está "Qua Town", mientras que el territorio de Qua se extiende hacia el este, la fuente probable del término "Abakuá".
— "Jambeke" Creek se identifica al norte de "Backasey Island". Esta es una fuente para el título cubano "Yambeke" (ver las entradas "Iyagara" y "Yambeke").
— “Usaharet” (alias “Issangilli”) es el epicentro de los mitos cubanos de “Usagaré”. "Usaharet Creek" fluye directamente hacia el sur.
— “Meta” es un gran canal de agua relacionado con el mito cubano del “Tanse Bongó meta”, la aparición de la Voz en los ríos de Usagaré (ver entrada “Bongó mbarini”).
— A la cabeza de "Meta" está "Ibunda Creek", llamado así por la comunidad Ibunda al noreste. Ibunda fue conmemorada en La Habana a través de la logia “Ibondá Efó” creada en 1871 (ver las entradas “Asoiro Ibondá” e “Ibondá Usagaré”).
Toda esta región se identifica como territorio “Efut”, siendo Èfût el nombre Èfìḳ de los pueblos BàLóndó del suroeste de Camerún que emigraron al Viejo Calabar hace siglos.
— El arroyo “Ndian” corre al oeste de Ibunda y desemboca en el Río del Rey. Ndian se transformó en "Odán" en las narrativas cubanas (ver la entrada "Akuekirí").
— “Uruanie Ekpe Creek” y la ciudad de “Uruanie Ekpe” están en la esquina sureste de este mapa. Se cree que el pueblo Úrúán del actual estado de Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, emigró de aquí hace siglos (Essien 1993, 17-18). Participaron en la cultura Ékpè de la región y son probablemente la fuente del linaje Orú en el Abakuá cubano (ver “Akari”, “Erón Ekoi”, “Irondó ntá”, “Urua ápapa”, “Uruana” y “Uruápaoa” entradas).
— La ciudad de "Bekura" está al norte de "Uruanie Ekpe". Bekura es fundamental para el mito cubano de "Usagaré" (ver las entradas "Awana bekura mendó", "Bakokó", "Bakura" y "Bakurandió Bakura").


Sunday 5 January 2020

Calabar community Ùkwà dance, Cross River State, Nigeria

Ùkwà dance group from different communities in Akpabuyo L.G.A. with Efut, Èfị̀k and Kúọ̀ ["Qua"] members. I. Miller photograph

This troupe was invited to Ikpai Kúọ̀ ["Qua"] Town to honor a deceased member of the Ùkwà dance society, Ntufam ('high chief') Odo Solomon Edet, an Ntoe Ùkwà or Ùkwà Chief, who was buried on 14 December 2019. Ùkwà is a war dance featuring the use of early European swords, characteristic of the Calabar people, reflecting their centuries of trade with European merchants (see September 2016 post for details). Ùkwà is an initiation society, therefore when a member dies, society members will assemble to play Ùkwà to send his spirit into the beyond, thus informing ancestral members that a great son of theirs is joining them.

Ùkwà members take over the street running in a spiral formation counterclockwise. I. Miller photograph
An initiation club has spiritual implications, therefore their members prepare themselves against afflictions that would diminish their performance, and protect them from sword wounds. As they move throughout the town, they stop at the homes of prominent deceased members to salute them, and to pay obeisance to great Ùkwà leaders who passed on the tradition to the present generation.

Traditional Ùkwà dress codes include abundant cloth as a sign of wealth. The ferns serve as camouflage with protective implications. I. Miller photograph
Prior to their play, Ùkwà members pour libation to appease deceased members and the ancestors of the land. They eat special foods in their meetings and observe taboos to protect them from injury. Their sword handles are bound with bright red cloth meant to ward off sword injuries from an opponent. The mbóbó 'cloth sashes' around their chests present them as intimidating and great warriors. They dance barefoot to receive energy from the earth.

Libation is poured by an elder of the family of the deceased before Ùkwà outing. I. Miller photograph
Next to the elder pouring libation is Ntufam Edem Inok, PDP Chairman, Cross River State, who helped promote this event by inviting all the Ùkwà members to assemble in Calabar to honor the deceased.

Ùkwà musicians incite the warriors with their traditional hot rhythms. Note the two-toned double iron gong, rattles and wide membrane drums. I. Miller photograph
After the libation at the town hall, Ùkwà dance goes into full swing. I. Miller photograph

Warrior dance masquerades. Left to right: The helmet masks are female and male. At right, M̀kpọ́kpọ́rọ́. I. Miller photograph
Okpon ibot 'big head' masks dance in a pair, the female with elaborate coiffure and decorative feathers, while the male is covered with ferns and protects his wife with a sharp weapon. The hooped rings around their waists make them appear robust and gorgeous.  The M̀kpọ́kpọ́rọ́ 'skull mask' is considered dangerous because it can capture victims under its expansive black cloth.

Okpon ibot 'big head' masks dance in front of the high table of chiefs attending the funeral ceremony of their deceased member. I. Miller photograph
The helmet masks of the Okpon ibot 'big head' were in the pre-colonial past covered with human skin derived from enemy warriors. Later, animal skin was used by highly skilled craftsmen. In the present there are no longer master carvers, and the wood is painted with enamel paints. The objects on the decorative heads identify a royal couple, because porcupine quills are used by chiefs, while the feathered rods and coiled hair are used by royal women.

Red feathers and porcupine quills are typically used by chiefs of Éjághám communities. I. Miller photograph
The uncle and brother of the deceased play Ùkwà at Okon Inok village, Ediba Kúọ̀ ["Qua"] Town. I. Miller photograph
Esinjo 'family head' and Mgbe chief Ekong Edim Inok Ibok Odo Kasuk and Ntufam 'high chief' Dr. Abu Solomon Edet exchanging sword greetings at the entrance of their village hall at the commencement of the Ùkwà ceremony.

Banner for the funerary rites of Ntufam Edet, with grandchildren of his family eagerly participating in the Ùkwà activities. I. Miller photograph

Monday 23 December 2019

Ǹkàndà-Dibo in Úrúán Ìnyàng Àtáàkpọ̀, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria

Ídèm Ǹkàndà. I. Miller photograph
The people of Úrúán Ìnyàng Àtáàkpọ̀ are unique in Nigeria for their display of Ékpè Ǹkàndà, a royal branch of Ékpè traditional society that Úrúán ancestors carried along with them in their early days of migration from  Ùsàghàdèt (colonial name: Isangele), in contemporary Cameroon. Ǹkàndà is displayed on very important royal functions, such as the 'second burial' of a deceased Nsomm (paramount ruler), and sometimes during coronations. The display showcased here was authorized by the current Paramount Ruler/ Nsomm V of Úrúán, H.R.M. Edidem Atakpor Cosmas Bassey Nkanga, in his palace at Íkót Edung Úrúán, Mutaka Clan, with the support of Obong (Barrister) Otu Medo, and Obong Awawa Eka-Enang.

Sign post leading to the palace of Nsomm V - Oku Mutaka. Photo by Ifiok Inyang.
Prominent Mbong Ékpè (plural for Obong Ékpè) from the seven traditional clans of Úrúán ('Essien Úrúán Itiaba') were present at the occasion to honor this reception of Dr. Ivor Miller during his research visit to Úrúán in December 2019. In his 2009 study "Voice of the Leopard", Miller identified Úrúán as one of the sources of Ékpè in Cuba, known as Abakuá. 
Obong Ǹkàndà of Issiet Ekim Úrúán calls the assembly to order with the nkong 'iron bell'. I. Miller photograph
At the center of Ékpè culture are the drums and the drummers, who were at their best to spur up and incense the Ídèm Ǹkàndà to reach its transcendence during its gyration.

Left to right: Etubom Efut, Etubom Ata Diboya, and another drummer. I. Miller photograph
(video clip of drumming to be inserted here).

Ídèm Ǹkàndà greets the assembly in front of the palace. I. Miller photograph

The Ídèm Ǹkàndà is unique for being covered in the ùkàrà royal cloth used by Ádághá Ékpè (Ékpè title-holders). Each section of ùkàrà has its own rich story to tell to initiates. Its conical head is crowned with bàsònkò, a colorful plumed rod. Behind its head is a stylized winged 'hat' with mirrors believed to receive cosmic energies. Around its chest is the nyànyá, made of dyed raffia representing the forces holding the sacred forest. Around its waist are three colored colored cloths, typically white, yellow and red, representing purity (and marine forces), solar energy, and vitality. The ǹkáníká 'brass bell' at the waist acts like a siren, to alert all in the area that Ǹkàndà, the supreme authority of the region, is present.

Ídèm Ǹkàndà plays Ǹsìbìdì with Ikpọ̀ Ǹkàndà 'universal circle of life'. I. Miller photograph
As a royal authority, Ídèm Ǹkàndà has several attendants who manipulate symbolic implements that represent the different levels of the planet and life, as captured in its Ǹsìbìdì language on ùkàrà cloth, also known as ùkàt in Ìbìbìò-speaking regions of Akwa Ibom State.
Ídèm Ǹkàndà with two other attendants. I. Miller photograph
Following Ídèm Ǹkàndà are three attendants; one in charge of the Mfa, a forked staff, another in charge of Ube Ékpè or Okpoyom, the sacred vessel of M̀bọ́kọ̀, and the third manipulating the Ikpọ̀ Ǹkàndà 'universal circle of life'. All these objects are also covered in  ùkàrà / ùkàt cloth. Ǹkàndà is known in the physical plane as a 'war dance', but on the spiritual plane as a 'war against ignorance in human-kind'.

The back of the Ídèm Ǹkàndà, with attendants. In red vest is Obong Awawa Eka-Enang, former Chairman/Mayor, Úruán Local Government Area. I. Miller photograph

The use of body-masks in the Ékpè 'leopard' society of West Africa is quite diverse, each region having its own speciality and distinctive practice. Whereas Ídèm Ǹkàndà covered in ùkàrà cloth is prevalent in Úrúán, the nearby Èfị̀ks and Kúọ̀s ["Quas"] of Calabar have other variations. All histories of Èfị̀k migration agree that centuries ago, Èfị̀ks lived in Úrúán and migrated to their present positions from there. Until the late 20th century, during the coronation of the Obong of the Èfị̀ks of Calabar, an Úrúán prince was required to be present to place the Ntinya 'crown' on his head. When Èfị̀ks play Ékpè Ǹyàmkpè, it is common for a participant to shout out: "Ka  Úrúán!" ("we are going to  Úrúán!"). Nevertheless, although the Ǹkàndà grade is central to Èfị̀k Ékpè, the Úrúán style Ǹkàndà mask is not played there.

Ǹkàndà play, Efe Ékpè Iyamba, Bayside, Calabar, 1976. Effiiom Effiwatt photograph.
The above photo was taken during the 'second burial' of the Obong-Iyamba of Efe Ékpè Iyamba in 1976, identified in the Hart Report as "Effa John Eyamba, Eyamba XIV" (Hart 1964: 55, paragraph 158). Ǹkàndà mask is not present, but the seven Ǹkàndà dancers each carry specific tools for the dance. From right to left, the dancers hold: two animal horns (ebrambi) carried in front of the group to guide the movement of the play; Ikpọ̀ (the hoop) is used to guide the Ídèm Ǹkàndà; a  two-pronged stick; a long stick, a machete, a basket, a gun. Ǹkàndà is popularly known as a 'war dance', but in the present this is merely theatrical. Specialists claim that esoterically, the dance represents a 'war on ignorance', that gives spiritual insights to initiates with the curiosity to learn.

Ǹkàndà play, Ikot Ansa/Nkonib, 2008. I. Miller photograph

As seen in the above photo, the Kúọ̀s ["Quas"] of Calabar play Ǹkàndà with the same seven attendants. While the body-mask is made from raffia, like the Ídèm Ikwo 'messenger' mask, the Ntang Ǹkàndà 'peacock feathers' in the hat at the back of the head represent the presence of Ǹkàndà.

Ǹkàndà display, Ekondo Titi, S.W. Cameroon. Nanji Cyprian photograph.
Among the Balondo people of SW Cameroon, Ǹkàndà is an important Ékpè display. The photograph above shows a raffia body-mask similar to that of the Kúọ̀s ["Quas"], but a distinct head piece.

Ironically, artistic depictions of Ékpè masks in Havana, Cuba in the 1870s show a remarkably close resemblance to the Úrúán Ídèm Ǹkàndà. The following image created in the 1870s by a Spanish artist has become iconic of Cuban Ékpè, known as Abakuá. This resemblance with Úrúán suggests the presence of Úrúán people in Havana at this period.

Victor Patricio Landaluze, (illustrator). 1881, Havana, Cuba.

Ékpè specialists in Calabar have identified Landaluze’s drawing as an Ǹkàndà mask. This visual recognition is supported by their interpretation of the Abakuá phrase “Itia Ororo Kánde”, an Abakuá place name for the town of Regla, where Abakuá was 'born' in the early 1800’s. In Èfị̀k, this was interpreted as: ‘Itiat oyóyò Ǹkàndà’, ‘The birthplace of Ǹkàndà in Cuba’. In Èfị̀k: Itiat ‘stone’ (symbolizing ‘foundation’); oyóyò ‘beautiful’, ‘the greatest’; Ǹkàndà, an Ékpè grade. (Engineer B.E. Bassey 2004 pers. com.)
            Thanks to these insider interpretations, Abakuá culture can finally be removed from the context of “slave culture” or “criminal groups”, where it has existed in much of the literature until now. Ékpè is historically understood as a royal tradition of community leaders and trained Ókù ‘priests’, a perspective that has been maintained internally among Abakuá leadership in Cuba.


Bassey, (Engineer) Bassey Efiong. 1998/ 2001. Ekpe Efik: A Theosophical Perspective. Victoria, B.C.: Trafford Publishing.

Essien, Dominus. 1993. Uruan People in Nigerian History. Uyo: Modern Business Press.

Hart, A. Kalada. 1964. Report of the Enquiry into the Dispute Over the Obongship of Calabar. Official Document No. 17. Enugu, Nigeria: Government Printer.

Landaluze, Victor Patricio (illustrator). 1881. Tipos y Costumbres de la Isla de Cuba. Havana: Antonio Bachiller y Morales. 

Miller, Ivor. 2009. Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba. UP of Mississippi.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Darlington Offiong “Duke” (1949 - 2019) “Highlife is Alive!”

Darlington Duke and his daughter Glory. “àsuá nkpó owo” (‘Envious People’)
Darlington “Duke”, a highlife musician from Bayside (Àtákpà), Calabar, Nigeria, generously guided me through the history of popular music of Calabar. Darlington was the band leader at the famous Luna Night Club in Calabar until it closed in the 1990s. With the Luna Professionals Band, Darlington recorded "Eka mi inyeneke mkpo", a great example of Calabar highlife with the èkọ̀mbì rhythm. While used traditionally to celebrate the presentation of maidens emerging from the "fattening room" after months of seclusion and training, in this highlife context, èkọ̀mbì is used for enjoyment and symbolic of Èfị̀k culture. What is interesting in this "modern" highlife song, is that the "traditional" theme of a local Ndem spirit is evoked playfully, signaling the persistence of traditional belief in spite of a booming industry in Christian churches.
     The lyrics of "Eka mi inyeneke mkpo" in Èfị̀k language with translations are:

     Ndem Efik mo di onogho eka mi inyeneke mkpo,
     Èfị̀k goddess, as you know, my mother has nothing,
     Inyeneke nsenunen uwa idiong
     She has no native egg to sacrifice
     Inyeneke ebot nko.
     Neither does she have a native goat.
In Calabar, Darlington presented a weekly radio program called “Highlife is Alive!” From 2004 onwards, he helped me collect an impressive array of vinyl recordings on 78, 45 and 33 rpm discs that embody the musical legacy of the Calabar region. At the end of this report is a transcription of Darlington’s narration of his own musical biography within the history of Calabar urban highlife.
Darlington's recent and last CD release has the following tracks, mostly in the Èfị̀k language:
“àsuá nkpó owo” ("Envious People")
“Ekpenyong Ita special”
“Inim Enem Uyo” (“Sweet Parrot Song”)
"Boko Haram Menace"
“Sob Úbók Wàt Údèng” (“Paddle Fast”)
“Asase àsè” (“Achievements”)
In 2004, Etubom Bassey Ekpe Bassey introduced me to Darlington in my quest to understand the musical heritage of Calabar. Because important episodes of the history of Afro-Cuban people are embodied in Cuban popular music, I wondered what could be learned through a comparative study of Calabar and Cuban music. Collecting vinyl in Calabar was the West African side of a comparative study of trans-Atlantic musical continuity and innovation. But as I’ve experienced over and over in Calabar, the lack of serious research into the cultural history of the region requires documenting that history before embarking on a comparative study of the Americas.
Nka Ima "Group of Love". From Ikot Ekpene, this is Annang cultural music recording with instruments used in Afro-Caribbean music.
Nka Ikemesit "Group That All Agree With".

Nka Ikemesit "Group That All Agree With".

In 2004, Darlington introduced me to Mr. Demmy Bassey, an Èfị̀k highlife musician and composer who played in Ghana in the 1960s. Bassey (d. 2007), was a member of the Èfé Ékpè Ìyámbà lodge of Àtákpà, and a descendant of Chief John Coco-Bassey (d. 1899) a famous Èfị̀k-speaking trader who traveled as far as Sierra Leone, and worked with the British colonial administration (Oku 1989: 210).  
The wooden gong, called Òbòdóm in Efik-Ibibio is related to the "catá" of Cuban rumba.
  Demmy’s compositions were recorded with the following Ghanian highlife groups:
1) Black Beats of Ghana recorded “Abasi do” (There is God) on Sept. 6, 1960 in Accra.
2) Members of the Black Beats formed the Ramblers Band, which recorded “Se eyen mi do” (Take Car of My Child) in Ghana in 1964.
3) E.T. Mensah recorded “Keyere Móng” (Go and Take Your Bath).
     Demmy’s career demonstrated many links between Ghanaian highlife and Calabar, a phenomenon until now undocumented. Demmy Bassey had several recordings in the Èfị̀k language, including:
Demmy Bassey. “Tin Akpan Iko, the best of Demmy Bassey.” Phonogram seteo (PL) 119. Lagos.
Demmy Bassey. “Inyang Nta Demerede: Tribute to Chief Inyang Thomas Henshaw.” Calabar, Nigeria. 
Inyang Henshaw & His Top Ten Aces. Efik Gold vol. 1. Philips 6361 020.
The first of a ten volume collection of Chief Inyang Henshaw's compositions in the Efik language
Bassey’s tribute to Henshaw gave respect to an Èfị̀k musician in Lagos who composed and recorded at least ten LPs of highlife in the Èfị̀k language, often using the popular èkọ̀mbì rhythm of the maiden’s dance of Èfị̀k communities, parallel to the Moninkem dance of maidens in Éjághám speaking areas. Darlington told me:
“In Lagos, Inyang Henshaw was the main Èfị̀k son who was doing very well in Highlife and èkọ̀mbì music; he had so many records to his credit. He was the recording manager to Phillips Recording Studio in Lagos until he passed on. Another group in Lagos was the Calabar Cultural Party.”  
‘Ase’ – Traditional. Ima Edi Obio Group, led by Ekpe Ita. 1975. Philips. 6361-109 (LP). Made in Nigeria.
Through Darlington’s musician networks, he identified many personal archives of vinyl in the Calabar urban region and into rural villages. We visited the family homes of musicians, most of them deceased, to dig through dusty boxes of vinyl, seeking recordings in the languages of southeastern Nigeria. We found them in Èfị̀k, Éjághám, Ìbìbìò, Ohafia (Cross River  Ìgbò), Qua, and other languages. 
Darlington reported: "In terms of traditional cultural music, Ekpe Ita was the lead musician to record the real typical culture of the Èfị̀ks. After him there was another group known as Nka Okop Unen Ike, playing the same way, but Ekpe Ita had the upper hand in that culture."
 Some of the LPs were recorded by local cultural troupes playing initiation club music of the rural villages, like the following:
"Mbre Ekong Annang", an Annang cultural group that plays warrior music
Nyama Asabo Akata, cultural music of the Akata initiation club. Akata performs annually in village where the "voice of the ancestors" reports the immoral activities of villagers

Thanks to Darlington's guidance, we collected these and many other rare recordings, now preserved in the Amherst College Special Collections archives. Well done Darlington!!!!
Darlington Duke Biography
(July 28, 1949 - June 21, 2019)
Interviews December 2014 & May 8, 2016, Calabar with Ivor Miller

"I was born on here in Calabar and when to the Calabar Public School before joining the Hope Waddell Training Institution. I joined my elder sister in Enugu, where we started performing on Enugu Television in the 60s. When the Civil War broke out in 1967, I had to leave Enugu and stayed at Abakaliki, now the Ebonyi State capital and I was a singer with the big band at Rendezvous Hotel. After sometime I went to Onitsha to play with the Afro Dance Band led by Igochiko Okwechime from Delta State of Nigeria, who sometimes played with Fela Anukulapo Kuti. We left Onitsha to stayed shortly in Aba, and then stationed in Port Harcourt.
This was when the real war started so to escape from all the bombings we ran from Port Harcourt with musician Emmanuel Ntia, who took us to Abak in the former South Eastern State, now Akwa Ibom State. We settled in Abak still playing the music, until one fateful day the war now came in from Calabar to Uyo and the army was heading to Abak, so we all ran away. The Nigerian Army and policemen were pursuing the people in Abak. I and the bassist, Victor Okodi, managed to get to Aba, spent the night there, and some other musicians told us about a band in Owerri that my players knew. So we moved to Owerri to play with the band. But since the war was moving from one front to the other, we finally left Owerri to Oguta, a place with two lakes, Oguta I and Oguta II. While there I joined the Biafran Army and we continued playing and I was heading the Military Band. When the war ended I was a Warrant Officer II. We were at the edge of the river at Oguta lake, and people trying to flee by crossing, so the villagers had to withdraw all the canoes from the beach so that nobody could use them to cross the river, so we crossed the river on foot when the water was down about midnight. The following morning we heard the announcement that the war is over, that Biafra has surrendered and we were very happy to be free from all the bombings and shootings.
After several days on the road trekking without any transportation, I returned back home, when Etubom Rex Williams came to pick us, we went to Uyo to play very serious highlife music. We made about three or five albums, with about seven tracks of mine. Finally I came back again in 1975 to join late Bustic Kingsley Bassey at the Luna Night Club in Calabar, until he died in March 1978. I then became the Band Leader at the Luna until it closed down. So many groups came in to Luna, like Sunny Okosun, Fela used to come in from Lagos and  others from Delta State like Tony Grey and so many other pop groups because Luna was a popular spot.
For several years in Calabar I’ve presented the radio program “Highlife is Alive” on Cross River Broadcast Corporation (CRBC).
 Highlife area started when we were youths and we saw our seniors playing something like “kokoma”, a combination of drums, which is a very fine rhythm. The kokoma rhythm uses square drums of different sizes which are the very big, medium and smallest and they would play up to about eight to nine drums with gongs. They produce very nice sounds and the rhythm is very tight.
Even in Ghana some musicians are still recordings kokoma beats. The beat is highlife but with a little difference, they play it on a steady beat and it consists of different types of drums. This highlife originated from that kokoma rhythm until so many artists came out like Kwaro Brothers.
In the 1950s the Ekwaro Brothers were playing highlife and èkọ̀mbì music. I don’t know how the name Ekwaro Brothers it came about, but I think it’s from the combination of the names of the musicians. We were young people then while they were senior people, and the band is no more.
In Lagos we had another group called the Calabar Cultural Party, which was supported by Chief Inyang Henshaw. Henshaw was a Calabar man from Henshaw Town who was the recording manager to Phillips had been a drummer in Kano, the Northern part of Nigeria. He emerged as the best composer of our time. We rate him as No. 1 at composing highlife music. He came to Lagos and became the Production Manager at Phillips Recording Studio, enabling him to produce so many albums at that time. Henshaw was the main Efik son doing very well in Highlife and èkọ̀mbì music, with so many records to his credit. Another important highlife group in Calabar was Bustic Kingsley Bassey.
Mr Bassey Effiong was the leader of the Ekwaro Brothers, who played the rhythm guitar. We also had people like Peter Effiom who sang vocals on some of the tracks, for example “idoreyin ke esit owo”. After that Peter Effiom left to form his own band, The Rabalac Messengers (“Calabar” spelt backwards). In West Africa, Nigeria and Ghana plays Highlife music; no other nation plays Highlife music except those two countries. My inspiration is mostly from Ghana Highlife music because I believe they do it better; that's why most of our compositions here are similar to that of Ghana.
èkọ̀mbì rhythms are in Highlife because Highlife is a cultural music of the people. In Calabar, èkọ̀mbì is a very popular dance of the maidens in Efik clans. Traditionally, the maidens dance it after they emerge from the “fattening room” where they prepare to be wives and mothers. At times when we say Highlife we call èkọ̀mbì Native Highlife. So they are all walking together even though the rhythms are different. The Highlife has a faster tempo than the èkọ̀mbì, and the way of dancing too differs.
The music of Inyang Henshaw has become part of the tradition in Calabar. He recorded so many compositions that people admired and loved. He was the production manager for Phillips Recording Studio in Lagos, so he had the chance of recording his own music. I used to go there for recording with Rex Williams.
In terms of traditional cultural music, Ekpe Ita was the lead musician to record the real typical culture of the Efiks. After him there was another group known as Nka Okop Unen Ike, playing the same way, but Ekpe Ita had the upper hand in that culture.
Some of the main groups in Calabar music history are the Ekwaro Brothers, Bustic Kinglsey Bassey, The Anansa Professionals, the Messengers Band and several others. From Calabar, Leonard Bassey is now based in Ghana working with the professional Ohuru Dance Band of Ghana and did some tracks with the Ramblers of Ghana. His son is now running a musical outfit in Ghana, Bassey House of Music. We also had the late Demmy Bassey who was recording in Ghana. We had a very good saxophonist named Alfred Uko who is late now.
I cut my album titled “àsuá mkpó owo” (‘Envious People’) with my Golden Tones band. It’s an eight piece band, and I am number nine. We play all kinds of music: Highlife, Jazz, Reggae, Blues, and Calypso. I am a very good Calypso singer like Mighty Sparrow.
The young people are now playing something different; let me say that they are playing copyright, but some are still playing Highlife music for traditional marriages or memorial services."


Oku, Ekei Essien. 1989. The Kings & Chiefs of Old Calabar (1795-1925). The Association for the Promotion of Efik Language, Literature and Culture, Calabar (APELLAC) Calabar: Glad Tidings Press.