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 Pau 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