|Poster announcing the calendar of events required to mark the demise of a Calabar Traditional Leader.|
As seen in the above announcement, 'traditional rites' comprise a series of events in which the fundamental cultural displays of the royal families are performed; this is to ensure the continuity of the community's cultural heritage, and also to inform the ancestors that an important person is joining them. Also seen in the announcement is the term 'Qua' for the 'Kúọ̀' communities of Calabar, who are ancestrally and culturally related to the Éjághám-speaking groups of the borderlands of Nigeria and Cameroon. While 'Qua' is the colonial spelling, 'Kúọ̀' is the phonetic spelling (the dot under the 'o' denotes it as an open vowel, or 'aw').
In the current case of H.R.H. 'Ntoe' Lawrence Ekong Etagbo IV of the Akim 'Kúọ̀' Clan of Calabar, his physical death occurred on February 8, 2015, but was not announced to the public officially until April 16, 2016, through the "Iyuk" wooden gong played with two sticks to reproduce human speech. At dawn, the gong was placed on the roof of the Osam Mgbè (Ékpè hall) of the Akim 'Kúọ̀' community to awaken the community to the news. Immediately after this began the "Eku Otung" (Public Cry), a procession of the Daughters and Sons of the Royal Families. The Daughters move in a procession through the town carrying staffs of office; when they reach the home of a deceased Royal Father or Mother, they will stop, point their staffs to the compound in memory of the ancestors of that family, and sing songs of praise to them.
Meanwhile the leaders of the Mgbè 'leopard' society gather at the Osam Mgbè (Ékpè hall/ Town Hall) to prepare for the afternoon Mgbè displays. Suddenly, the Mystical Mgbè disappears from the Town Hall in reaction to the gunshot that announces of the loss of the Ntoe 'Clan Head'. In response to the loss of the Mystical Mgbè, the primary symbol of authority of the community's independence, the town's people must remain quiet, in mourning, and on guard. Spontaneous drumming or quarreling in the township is taboo; transgressors will be fined.
The next major event occurs Friday night, April 22, when the Mgbè members of the community begin to search for the Mystical Mgbè in order to capture and return it to the Osam Mgbè. Once it is finally caged in the Ètím Mgbè (sacred Ékpè bush), the next day all the Ntoes of the 'Kúọ̀' Clans of Calabar prepare their musicians, dancers, masquerades and chiefs in their Osam Mgbè. Pictured below is the team at Ikpai Ohom 'Kúọ̀' Clan Town Hall.
|The Ntoe of Ikpai Ohom 'Kúọ̀' Clan (Ntoe Ito Nyong Orok) raises his staff in the center, while Okom Mgbè masquerades and an Iké Mgbè dancer (with bow and arrow) surround him. I. Miller photo.|
Once each team is gathered and libations are poured, they move in procession to towards Akim 'Kúọ̀' Clan area to show their support. Below, the Ikpai Ohom 'Kúọ̀' Clan team begins to move out to the accompaniment of percussion and song.
|The Mgbè group of the Ikpai Ohom 'Kúọ̀' Clan moves in procession towards the Akim Clan area. I. Miller photo.|
As the Mgbè group of each 'Kúọ̀' Clan enters the Ètím Mgbè (sacred Ékpè bush) of the Akim 'Kúọ̀' Clan community, they assemble as a coordinated 'Kúọ̀' nation group. Below, one of the young Iké dancer arrives.
|The Mgbè delegations of each Clan leave the main road for the Ètím Mgbè (sacred Ékpè bush). I. Miller photo.|
Once all the Clan representatives are gathered, they leave in a coordinated procession from the bush to the Osam Mgbè of Akim Clan.
|A 'bush spirit' masquerade moves in the procession, wearing dried plantain leaves with a civet cat skin (representing a leopard skin) attached to its back. I. Miller photo.|