Ukara cloth

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

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.

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