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1 TAKE IT TO THE STREE TS: PERFORMING EKPE/ MGBE POWER IN CONTEM PORARY CALABAR, NIGERIA By JORDAN A. FENTON A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREME NTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2012
2 2012 Jordan A. Fenton
3 To the Nigerian families who made this possible the family of Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V, the family of Mbong Atu Ausaji, and the family of Ekpen yong Bassey Nsa
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Many institutions and people are to thank for gracious support and advice during the all phases of this dissertation. Fieldwork conducted in Cross River State, Nigeria, was generously funded by the Jeanne and Hunt Dav is Research Travel Grant, Center for African Studies, University of Florida (2009) and the US Department of Education in the form of two Foreign Language Area Studies fellowships (2008 and 2009) and a Fulbright Hays DDRA fellowship (2009 2010). Thanks to t he Smithsonian Institution for funding research and writing phases of this project while I was in residence at the National Museum of African Art as a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow in 2011. I am forever thankful and indebted to my dissertation advisor, Ro bin Poynor, for his sincere efforts in making me a better thinker, writer, and person. While Robin is an influential teacher, as an advisor, there are no words that can succinctly summarize how remarkable and serious Robin is about mentoring his students. The dedication and time alone offered to his students speak to the personal importance he places on mentorship. I am so grateful for his assistance, guidance, and thoughtful constructive criticism offered over the years. I owe so much to him and words will never fully express the impression he has left on me. I also offer a special thanks to the rest of my dissertation committee: Victoria Rovine for her years of assistance, mentorship, and developing my writing skills, Gitti Salami and her constant support, thoughtful encouragement. I am indebted to Amanda Carlson for her generous assistance and advice over the years. Amanda has mentored and helped me in many capacities from fieldwork preparation, aid in establishing an Ejagham language program in Calabar, and thoughtful feedback on my work. I also thank Chris Kreamer and Mary Jo Arnoldi for their instrumental mentorship and guidance in
5 the development of my project and ideas. I am grateful to Ivor Miller for his assistance and support. I first met Ivor during the first weeks of fieldwork in Calabar and will never forget a random Saturday morning phone call that led to my first encounter with Mgbe ritual and masquerade. I thank Fred T. Smith, my M.A. advisor, for inspiring me and for his continued guidance. I also want to express my gratitude to Eli Bentor, Chris Slogar, Janet Stanley, Susan Cooksey, Jessica Martinez, Amy Staples, Amy Schwartzott, Chris Richards, Drew Thompson, Neelima Jeychandran, Pam Brekka, Jong Chul Choi, Nicholas Frech, and Joe Faulkner for their advice, encouragement, and support. During my time in Nigeria, I benefitted greatly from the hospitality, willingness to help, and friendships of so many indi viduals. I offer a s pecial thanks to the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments, and especially the museum of Calabar, who were invaluable hosts during fieldwork. I am indebted to Sunday Adaka and the rest of the staff of the Old Residency Museum, Calabar, for their kind efforts. Thanks to Ndidem (Dr.) Thomas I. I. Oqua III, Grand Patriarch of the Qua Nation for supporting my research. I am grateful as well to Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V for taking me in as his own son, teaching me so many things about and beyond his culture, and supporting me in all my research endeavors. I offer a heartfelt thanks to Mbong Atu Assagi for teaching me Ejagham, Pidgin English, and helping me navigate the city, and her daughters, Majong and Biriwud, fo r embrac ing Sara, my wife, and me as part of their family. I would like to express my gratitude to Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, who grew to become one of my very best friends brothers as they call it in Nigeria words will always fail to express the admiration and respect I have for him. I am indebted to Entufam Hayford S. Edet for taking me under his wing, teaching me many things about his culture, and, of course, for his patience. I offer thanks to Ubong Basil Ene, Lexay 1 (Alex Ema), and Okon Eyo for all they did
6 for me I am also grateful to Edem Nyong Eti and the late Eme Ekpenyong Bassey for their help with Efik translation. Many thanks to chief Emmanuel Edem Bozo, chief Francais Edet, chief Joe Edet, chief Dennis Edet Oqua, the Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) Mgbe lodge members, chief Imona, Calabar Mgbe, Entufam Orok Etim Okon, Entufam Agbor Ojong Okongor, and Charles Oqua for their efforts and support. I also want to thank my father, mother, and brother for their continued encouragement and support. Most important of a ll, I thank Sara for all that she has contributed to my life. She has long been my infrastructur e and I am grateful for everything she has willingly sacrificed and endured so that this project and professional goal s could come to fruition.
7 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 4 LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ ................................ ....................... 10 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 15 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 17 ................................ ............. 18 Cross River Art and Culture ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 23 Calabar ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 26 Pre Colonial Calabar ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 27 Col onial Calabar ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 30 Post Colonial Calabar ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 32 Ekpe/Mgbe and Nsibidi ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 3 5 Conceptual Framework ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 43 Ethnographic Approach ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 47 Structure and Chapter Summaries ................................ ................................ .......................... 50 2 CONFRONTATIONS OF SPACE: THE EKPE/MGBE SOCIETY AND CHRISTIANITY IN CONTEMPORARY CALABAR ................................ ......................... 55 The House of Ekpe and Mgbe ................................ ................................ ................................ 56 Further Markers of Ekpe/Mgbe Space ................................ ................................ .................... 60 Christianity and Ekpe: Early Confrontation ................................ ................................ ........... 68 More Recent Confrontation and the Rhetoric of Demonization ................................ ............. 73 Local Newspaper Disputes ................................ ................................ .............................. 74 Preaching against Ekpe/Mgbe ................................ ................................ ......................... 76 Reactions and Implications ................................ ................................ .............................. 78 Internal Debates in Qua Mgbe Lodges Today ................................ ................................ ........ 79 To Pour or Not to Pour ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 79 Disputing the Stone of Mgbe ................................ ................................ ........................... 82 The Burning of a Lodge ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 85 Tak ing it to the Streets ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 87 3 CLAIMING SPACE THROUGH PUBLIC SPECTACLE: THE CONTEMPORARY INSTALLATION OF AN EKPE/MGBE CHIEF ................................ ................................ 101 Fram ing Ekpe/Mgbe Chieftaincy as Spectacle ................................ ................................ ..... 103 The Contemporary Ekpe/Mgbe Chieftaincy Spectacle ................................ ................. 106 Preparation ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 107 Oath and Initial Assembly ................................ ................................ ............................. 113
8 Installation ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 119 Declaration ................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 123 Reception ................................ ................................ ................................ ....................... 134 Concluding Remarks ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 135 4 MULTIPLICITY OF MEANING IN UKARA NSIBIDI ................................ ................................ ....................... 158 Nsibidi (or Nsibiri) and Ukara ................................ ................................ ............................. 160 Secrecy as Restriction ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 164 ................................ .. 166 Interpretations of Ukara : The Flexible Nature of Spoken Nsibidi ................................ ....... 171 The Creation of an Informal Economy ................................ ................................ ................. 183 The Meaning of Multiplicity: Towards a Philosophy of Action ................................ .......... 185 5 PERFORMED NSIBIDI CHALLENGING KNOWLEDGE ................................ ................................ ....................... 200 A Contextual Account of Nsibidi Performed ................................ ................................ ........ 201 Towards Understanding Performed Nsibidi ................................ ................................ ......... 210 Performed Nsibidi in the Literature ................................ ................................ ............... 211 The Nat ure of Performed Nsibidi : Power through Play and Artistry ............................ 214 Challenge Arenas ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 220 Nyamkpe and Dibo ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 220 Informal and Formal or Sanctioned Challenge ................................ ............................. 229 Non masked Transformation during Formal Challenge ................................ ................ 230 Transgressive ................................ ................................ ................................ ................. 234 Performed Nsibidi ................................ ................................ ....................... 238 6 FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL: THE EKPE NYORO MASQUERADE COMPETITI ON ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 249 Nyoro ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 250 The Competitive Nyoro in 2009 ................................ ................................ ........................... 252 The Obong of Calabar Nyoro ................................ ................................ ........................ 253 The Botanical Garden Nyoro ................................ ................................ ......................... 258 Training for the Nyoro: A Shift from Formality to the Performative ................................ ... 262 From Local to Global: The Production of the Botanical Garden Nyoro .............................. 267 Politics and Masquerader Benefits ................................ ................................ ....................... 270 7 CONCLUSION: EKPE/MGBE AS INFRASTRUCTURE ................................ ................. 284 APPENDIX A LIST OF EFIK EKPE TITLES/BRANCHES ................................ ................................ ...... 287 B LIST OF QUA MGBE LEVELS AND TITLES/BRANCHES ................................ ........... 288
9 C LIST OF REQUIREMENTS FOR ATTAINING THE RANK OF CHIEF OF EKPE/MGBE ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................ 290 RE FERENCES ................................ ................................ ................................ ............................ 291 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 312
10 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 1 1 Map of Cross ..... 53 1 2 Approaching Mary Slessor Junction, Calabar, May 19, 2008. ................................ .......... 54 2 1 Akim Mgbe Lodge, Akim Town, Calabar, 2009. ................................ .............................. 89 2 2 Ekpe lodge, Bechei village, Umon, Jan. 30, 2010. ................................ ............................ 90 2 3 Ejagham Mgbe Lodge, Akamkpa LGA, Jan. 9, 2010. ................................ ....................... 91 2 4 Interior of compound w all of Efe Ekpe Asibong Ekondo, Calabar, Dec. 5, 2009. ........... 92 2 5 Stone of Mgbe from Bendeghe Etung Ejagham lodge, Ikom, Middle Cross River, Oct. 17, 2009. ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 93 2 6 Stone of Ekpe from Efe Ekpe Iboku, Creek Town, Dec. 30, 2009. ................................ ... 94 2 7 Stone of Ekpe from Efe Ekpe Asibong Ekondo, Calabar, Dec. 5, 2009. .......................... 95 2 8 Newly conferred chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa standing next to stone pillar supporting th e Efe Ekpe Iboku, Creek Town, Dec. 30, 2009. ................................ ........... 96 2 9 Stone of Mgbe from the Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) lodge, Calabar, June 27, 2008. ................... 97 2 10 Stone of Mgbe from the Kasuk lodge, Calabar, Jul. 18, 2009. ................................ .......... 98 2 11 Mgbe street performance st ops to pour libation, during chieftaincy conferment ceremony, Nkonib, Calabar, May 31, 2008. ................................ ................................ ...... 99 2 12 Expanded and renovated Nkonib Mgbe lodge, Calabar, June 3, 2010. ........................... 100 3 1 ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 139 3 2 Letter of invitation to chieftaincy conferment ceremony at the Efut Efe Ekpe at Atu, Calabar South, Calabar. ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 140 3 3 Celebrant Ntoe Mgbe (chief) Boniface Okon Effiom in regalia, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 141 3 4 Cover of personalized gift note pad distributed on behalf of Chief Effiom during his chieftaincy ceremony, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. ................................ ................. 142 3 5 Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) Mgbe lodge entrance block ed by hanging ukara banner, Calabar, May 23, 2008. ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 142
11 3 6 Celebrant Effiom taking oath to ancestors, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. ................. 143 3 7 Mgbe chiefs prominently seated at tables, Nkonib lodge, Calabar, June 6, 2008. .......... 143 3 8 Lesser members seated at humble bench, Nkonib Mgbe lodge, June 6, 2008. ............... 144 3 9 mor ning feast, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. ................................ .............................. 144 3 10 Celebrant Esinjo Lawarence Nyong Akiba escorted to lodge by Mgbe chiefs, Nkonib, Calabar, June 6, 2008. ................................ ................................ ........................ 145 3 11 Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V, head of the Mgbe Nkonib lodge, bestows Effiom with the chieftaincy title isung Mafina, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. ...................... 145 3 12 Chief Effiom and fellow Mgbe chiefs and members pose for professional photographs, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. ................................ ................................ 146 3 13 Ty pical amount of food and drink at Nkonib Mgbe lodge during conferment rituals, Calabar, June 20, 2008. ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 146 3 14 Chief Effiom posing with Abon Ogbe masquerades for professional photograph, Nkon ib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. ................................ ................................ ...................... 147 3 15 Mgbe chieftaincy regalia of chief Francais Edet, Nkonib, Calabar, June 26, 2008. ........ 147 3 16 C hiefs dressed in latest fashions, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. ................................ 148 3 17 AG Best Traditional attire chieftaincy store at Watts market, Calabar South, Calabar, Sept. 25, 2009 ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 149 3 18 1900), EEPA 2000 003 0127, ................................ ................................ ................................ ......................... 150 3 19 ain Photographic Album (c. 1895 1900), EEPA 2000 003 0128, ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 150 3 20 Abon Ogbe clearing way for Mgbe procession during declaration phase, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 151 3 21 Abon Ogbe chasing non initiated during declaration phase, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................... 151 3 22 Abon Ogbe trampling on car hood during decl aration phase, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................... 152 3 23 Chiefs stop street procession to pour libation to ancestors during Esinjo Lawrence Nyong Akika declaration, Nkonib, Calabar, June 6, 200 8. ................................ ............. 153
12 3 24 Efik Ebonko masquerade by master artist Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, Calabar, Oct. 14, 2009. ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ 15 4 3 25 Successful declaratio n performance of Esinjo Lawrence Nyong Akika declaration, Nkonib, Calabar, June 6, 2008. ................................ ................................ ........................ 155 3 26 Unflattering and worn Abon Ogbe during Mgbe chieftaincy conferment street procession, Kasuk, C alabar, July 18, 2009. ................................ ................................ ..... 156 3 27 Canopies set up for celebrants reception, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. .................... 157 3 28 Ejagham Ekpe [Mgbe] society leopard dancers, Big Qua Town, Calabar, ..................... 157 4 1 Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V initiates a new Mgbe member during ritual. Dec. 12, 2009, Nkonib lodge (Ikot Ansa), Calabar. ................................ ................................ ....... 188 4 2 The Axari Hotel Stairway in the foyer of the Axari Hotel in, Calabar, created by Okpoke Ekong Okon in 2008. ................................ ................................ ......................... 189 4 3 Lodge decor ation of a tree and lion or leopard. Ikom, Middle Cross River region. ........ 190 4 4 Nsibidi motifs woven into raffia mane of an Mgbe Abon Ogbe performing during a chieftaincy installation at Nkonib, Calabar, June 29, 2008. ................................ ............ 191 4 5 Ukara nsibidi cloth, c.1950. ................................ ................................ ............................. 192 4 6 Ekpe titleholders wearing ukara abar Mgbe meeting on May 29, 2008. ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 192 4 7 Ukara banner blocking entrance into Nkonib Mgbe lodge during ritual, Calabar, May 23, 2008. ................................ ................................ ................................ ........................... 193 4 8 Ukara banner blocking the entrance into the inner chamber at the Efe Ekpe Atu, Calabar South, Calabar, Feb. 13, 2010. ................................ ................................ ........... 193 4 9 Mkpoto (canopy for the dead) honoring deceased Ekpe titleholder decorated with ukara Calabar, Feb. 8, 2010. ................................ ................................ ........................... 194 4 10 Ukara nsibidi used during my instructional sessions. Purchased from Watts market in Calabar South, Calabar in 2009. ................................ ................................ .................. 194 4 11 Detail of repeating rectangle motif from ukara ................................ .............................. 195 4 12 Table of Ekpe during ritual. Creek Town, Dec. 31, 2009. ................................ ............... 195 4 13 Detail of rectangle with dots and line motif from ukara ................................ ................ 196 4 14 Detail of repeating triangle motif from ukara ................................ ................................ 196
13 4 15 Detail of Okpoho motif from ukara ................................ ................................ ................ 197 4 16 Detail of lizard motif from ukara ................................ ................................ .................... 197 4 17 Detail of tortoise from ukara ................................ ................................ .......................... 198 4 18 Detail of two diagonal lines dividing a quatrefoil into four sections motif from ukara . 198 4 19 Two Isim performers (long tail) during Mgbe performance at Nkonib, Calabar, Nov. 7, 2009. ................................ ................................ ................................ ............................. 199 5 1 Member wielding the ikpa during street performance, Nkonib (Ikot Ansa), C alabar, June 29, 2008 ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 240 5 2 Fellow members cross staffs with Entufam Edet during his nsibidi performance, Okoyong, LGA, Mar. 20, 2010. ................................ ................................ ....................... 241 5 3 Fellow members cross staffs over central table with Entufam Edet during his nsibidi performance, Okoyong, LGA, Mar. 20, 2010. ................................ ................................ 241 5 4 Entufam Ed et manipulates staffs as walking aids during his nsibidi performance, Okoyong, LGA, Mar. 20, 2010. ................................ ................................ ....................... 242 5 5 Efik Nyamkpe masquerade during funerary rites for dece ased Efut Paramount ruler, Calabar South, Calabar, Nov. 20, 2009. ................................ ................................ .......... 242 5 6 Nyamkpe/Dibo publicly performing at the 7 th coronation anniversary of the Qua paramount ruler, Big Qua Town, Calabar, April 17, 2010. ................................ ............. 243 5 7 Chief of Ekpe informally performing nsibidi Okoyong, LGA, Jan. 8, 2010. ................ 244 5 8 Members staging a public sanctioned arena after chieftaincy conferment street procession, Kasuk, Calabar, July 11, 2009. ................................ ................................ .... 245 5 9 Member performing proper nsibidi sequence to claim performative space during formal challenge arena, Calabar South, Calabar, Nov. 18, 2009. ................................ ... 246 5 10 Seated chief challenges performing chief with nsibidi in a formal arena, Okoyong, LGA, Jan. 8, 2010. ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 247 5 11 Chief challenges Ekpe you th troupe masquerader, Calabar South, Calabar, Dec. 25, 2009. ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ 247 5 12 Two Ekpe youth troupes meet on streets and prepare for nsibidi challenge, Calabar South, C alabar, Dec. 25, 2009. ................................ ................................ ....................... 248 5 13 Ekpe youth troupe traveling by car, Calabar, Dec. 25, 2009. ................................ ......... 248
14 6 1 The Efik Ikot Ekpe is performed as part of the funeral rites for the Iyamba or Efik Ekpe lodge head. ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 279 6 2 Atat Ekpe (left) and Idem Ikwo. Costumes created in Dec. 2009 by Ekpenyong Ba ssey Nsa and workshop. Calabar, Dec. 25, 2009. ................................ ....................... 280 6 3 2009. ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ 280 6 4 Idem Ikwo with standard size raffia chest mane ( nyanya ) being called by an ekput handler also referred to as murua Calabar, Oct. 14, 2009. ................................ ............. 281 6 5 Fifth masquerade competitor executing his finishing move during the Obong of ................................ ............................ 281 6 6 Qua Kasuk Osam Mgbe demarcated with palm frond fence Calabar, July 18, 2009. .... 282 6 7 Efik Isim (long tail performer). Calabar, Oct. 14, 2009. ................................ ................. 282 6 8 Ekpe masquerade (from Akpabuy o LGA) during cultural parade. Calabar, Dec. 26, 2009. ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ 283 6 9 ......................... 283
15 Abstract of Disser tation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy TAKE IT TO THE STREETS: PERFORMING EKPE/MGBE POWER IN CONTEMPORARY CALABAR, NIGERIA By Jordan A. Fenton May 2012 Chair: Robin Poynor Major: Art History The Ekpe/Mgbe society is the most renowned cultural institution of the Cross River region (southeast ern Nigeria and w est Cameroon). The society was the governing body for many communiti es of the region, even into the colonial era. In Calabar, it was not only a regulating society, but was also modified in order to manage the transatlantic slave and oil trades during the docume nted history, recent scholars disregard its place in contemporary Calabar as merely recreational. This dissertation argues otherwise by exploring how why, and for what purposes Ekpe/Mgbe art and performance were of urbanization and continues to be into the present. The story of the recent permutations of the art of the Ekpe/Mgbe societ y in the city of Calabar, capita l of Cross River Stat e, Nigeria, demonstrates how so ulture or mo re correctly, long standing modes of cultural expression, are not only thriving in urban environments today, but are also still relevant for members who use the society to negotiat e the contemporary lifestyle in which they live. In this dissertation, I arg ue that the Ekpe/Mgbe society in Calabar is a socio political, financial, and cultural infrastructure for its members. I contend that in framing Ekpe/Mgbe as infrastructure, the ability of the society to become more public
16 through the claiming of space dur ing performance is absolutely critical for its contemporary relevance in Calabar. In order to grapple with why the Ekpe/Mgbe society i s still relevant beyond the level of heritage and how it thrives in the urban experience of Calabar, I examine its ritual masquerade performance, and knowledge system. Ekpe/Mgbe ritual and masquerade performances are important evidence for this study since they have morphed into cosmopolitan spectacles packed with layers of meaning about contemporary life teric language nsibidi an imaged and performed knowledge system, has also become more urban in the way it is learned and transmitted in private and in public. I therefore demonstrate that Ekpe/Mgbe ritual, masquerade performance, and nsibidi are being t aken to the streets in new and innovative ways.
17 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The story of the recent permutations of the art of the Ekpe/Mgbe societ y in the city of Calabar, capita ult ure or more correctly, long standing modes of cultural expression, are not only thriving in urban environments today but are also still relevant for members who use the society to negotiat e the contemporary lifestyle in which they live. In this dissertatio n, I argue that the Ekpe/Mgbe society in Calabar is a socio political, financial, and cultural infrastructure for its members. I contend that in framing Ekpe/Mgbe as infrastructure the ability of the society to become more public through the claiming of s pace during performance is absolutely critical for its contemporary relevance in Calabar. The dissertation further demonstrates vitality in contemporary Calabar is the ability of the society to be economically relevant both as a source of revenue fo r members and as a mec hanism to demonstrate status, wealth and power through performative display. In order to grapple with why the Ekpe/Mgbe society i s still relevant beyond the level of heritage and how it thrives in the rapidly modernizing urban environment of Calabar, I examine its ritual, performance, and knowledge system. Ekpe/Mgbe ritual and masquerade performances are important evidence for this study because they have morphed into cosmopolitan spectacles packed with layers of meaning about contemporary life nsibidi an imaged and performed knowledge system, has also become more urban in the way it is learned and transmitted in private and in public. Thus, I demonstrate that Ekpe/Mgbe ritual, masquerade performance, and nsibidi are being taken to the streets in ways that have never been done before. Although this dissertation is mostly concerned with Ekpe/Mgbe in contemporary Calabar, understanding how the society changed during the transatlant ic slave trade the early
18 Christian missionary period, and the colonialism era lays the foundation for its continued vitality in the present. A fundmental point I am trying to make in ths work is how the importantce of money and space, in my opinion, are underrepresented in the field of African art. In stressing the importance of space, this examination favors an approach from the perspective of performance rather than the more traditional object based analysis. Although I depart from strictly investigatin g objects, I treat Ekpe/Mgbe performances as if they are objects in motion In addition to my foucs on space and performance, t he broader objectives of this dissertation are to construct a contemporary history of a given masquerade culture e xamine the soc ial workings of masquerade and knowledge s ystems in an urban society, analyze the adaptability of visual culture and provide yet another example that deconstructs the myth conjured by the Western world that longer standing forms of African art are stuck i n the past, unchanging, or in any way static traditions Af ichotomy Art historians investigating long standing forms of African art have long grappled with the limiting labels the West developed under th e guise of cultural supremacy during Enlightenment, Romanticism, Imperialism, and colonialism. During these historical periods and intellectual movements, African art, like most non Western art and culture, was labeled as repla ced the more derogatory label palatable th e term still misconstrues long standing art forms into something they are not. The notion of African a rt s or society is a completely fabricated and erroneous conception that the West cannot seem to shake from its Victorian past (Kasfir 1992: 41). The terminology that classifies African ar t is thus a thorny issue that scholars have attempted to deconstruct early on in the formation of the discipline.
19 The early literature that fueled investigation of arts was rooted in stylistic investigation. In the pioneering exhibition catalogue Sculpture of Black Africa: The Paul Tish man Collection Roy Sieber and Arnold Rubin moved beyond broad and typical labeling conventions of the 19 50s and 19 60s. They structured their stylistic investigation of African art s are not totally discrete entities, but rather that contacts between groups, migrations of peoples, wars, and Open Frontiers expanded upon this approach. Bravmann made use of the Cercle de Bondoukou and west central Ghana and the grasslands of Cameroon to of African culture. His emphasis shifted to investigating how trade routes and market systems impacted art and cultur interregional, and even international trade networks have touched virtually all cultures in Black ( Bravmann 1973: 13) These observations enabled Bravmann to challenge the notion that African art does not embody change and that cultures are isolated and discrete units. facts of history for shorter periods of time cannot, however be ignored, and Africa has been 10). During the 19 One Tribe, One Style continued the dis course concerning stylistic investigation. She notes that scholarship characterizing the dy namics of styles and genres has been successful However at the same time, it lack s an historical d in working towards this s he soon realized that stylistic approaches alone could not meet this end. Kasfir realized that in order
20 main vehicle for investigat ion, since in most instances the evidence for stylistic change will not exist over such long time spans concentrate upon the introduction, diffusion, and demise or survival of particular insti tutions which are directly symbolized by concrete forms such as sculpture or regalia In the final years of the decade, Paula Girshick Ben Amos and Monni Adams summarized the field of African visual arts by addressing the historiograph y from both anthropological and art historical perspectives (Ben Amos 1989 and Adams 1989). Ben Amos notes that anthropological studies have primarily focused on context, while Adams addresses the popular style and object based art historical approach. Ada ms foreshadows not only more in depth studies on change and innovation in long standing forms of African art to come, but also that younge r generations of artists will engage 86). These important early works a long with others forged the p ath for more recent scholarship on long standing African art forms to move beyond style and to explore histories of exchange, global and local interaction multi disciplinary approaches, and the ways in whic art continues to embody change during the late 1980s, the field started not only to divide but once again to be plagued by issues of terminology. Many younger generations of African art scholars shifted their attention from so called primary journal African Arts Fredrick Lamp led the discourse exploring the lack of fieldwo contemporary arts] want to spend more time in discourse and less time in fieldwork perhaps
21 say led to a flurry of responses by a number of scholars. 1 The conflict of interest rooted to these early debates. Such discourse and methodological difference ha s resulted in t he field of African art history (Bentor 2005). The so category includes masquerade, shrines, figural sculpture, textiles, ritual based art forms, and many more. Non specialists or non enthusiasts generally understand these art for ms as unchanging, static, frozen in time, an d not parallel to those so can art understands that the so time. On the contrary this realm of art is fluid, dynamically chan ges through time and space and reflects contemporary consciousness, politics, ideas, and trends. On the other side of the approaching art from a more Western perspective o ne that includes Western media and studio based or academically trained artists In addition, the division has also led to another myth that so occupies urban cente rs. The division has led some to investigate the semantics of labels and develop new systems of classification Africa Explores: 20 th Century African Art addressed a broad range of contemporary African visual representations to 1
22 propose the categories of Traditional, New Functional, Urban, International, and Extinct ( Vogel 1991). John Picton responded by commenting that the use of the label tradition is still s definition proposed categories suggest some problematic dichotomies: Africa/Europe, traditional/contemporary, craft/art, and functional/aesthetic ( Picton 1992). More recently, Eli Bentor has offered that African art fo rms be categorized as rural or urban and further organized into the time periods of pre colonial, colonial, and post colonial in order to move beyond the traditional and contemporary dualism ( Bentor 2005). At the fifteenth Triennial symposium on African ar t in 2011 during a discussion on issues of terminology, the late Ivan Karp stated that the term traditional is the crutch limiting the field of African art today and suggested the terms traditional based and contemporary based. Only few have turned focu sed attention on how the two subfields are in dialogue with each other (Hassan 1999 and Kreamer 2009). Meanwhile, since the mid 1980s, in lieu of developing new terminology and categorical constructions, scholars interested in African visual arts have sought to deconstruct the notion of e monstrating historical dimension and contemporaneity with in integration of Ode lay masquer changing market s of bogolan in Mali and in the wider fashion world (Rovine 2008), Martha 2002), Thomas Seligman and Kristyne Loughran examination of Tuareg art and culture (Seli the demise and survival of Idoma
23 (Nigeria) and Maasai (Kenya) warrior hood art and practices during the colonial period ( Kasfir 2007) ameroonian confluence between Yoruba heritage, Osun Osogbo, and modernism (Probst 2011). This dissertation follows the above body of work to demonstrate further that t he arts of the so ity that so called In my opinion, little difference exists between these constructed categories. It is imp ortant to note that Artists and their w ork have not forged this divide; it is a result of scholarly discourse. The major difference, however is the intended market and audience T he investigation of Ekpe/Mgbe as infrastructure and its continued relevance in Calabar, Nigeria, is presented to reveal how local forms of expression are indeed thriving in urban environments In fact, urban Calabar and the wider rural cultural matrix of the Cross River region provide a perfect study area for investigating how lon ger forms of artistic expression have for long engaged with the forces of modernity Cross River Art and C ulture The Cross River region, encompassing southeastern Nigeria and West Cameroon, is home to many diverse but linguistically related peoples ( Fig. 1 1). The Ejagham, 2 Efik, Ibibio, Yakurr, Bokyi, Ekajuk, Anyang, Banyan g, and Widekum are often the most recognized peoples of the region. These peoples relied on local cultural and political institutions for governance Since migration into their pre sent locations, the peoples have long been engaged in constant historical and cultural interaction. Even though the region is ripe for studies addressing artistic 2 Formerly known as Ekoi
24 and cultural change over time, since the f ormation of African art history as a discipline in 1957, the region has not attracted much scholarly attention until recently. T 1943, the late G. I. Jones, the late Keith Nicklin, and Jill Salmons, foremost scholars of Cro ss River art, paved the way for future scholarship. My own work draws on the foundation laid by previous scholars. A significant wave of publications appeared during the late 1970s and 1980s. mmarized the region, its art forms, and institutions as involved in continuous stages of cultural dialogue (Nicklin 1983). Published a year later, but written much earlier, following the popular emphasis of object oriented analyses of style Jones collapse d individual ethnic styles of Eastern Nigerian art into geographical zones (Jones 1984). Accepting this model, others developed a scheme for understanding sculptural styles by further breaking them down into subdivisions based on ethnic styles and geograph ical locality (Wittmer and Arnett 1978: 55 85, Nicklin 1979: 59, and Campbell 1983). Nicklin and Salmons shifted from an object based approach to a stylistic examination focusing on context and interaction (Nicklin and Salmons 1984). Meanwhile, despite the preoccupation with style, investigation into archeol ogy (Ekpo 1984 and Eyo 1999), m 1974 and 1983, Harris 1984, Koloss 1984 and 2008, Leib and Romano 1984, Ottenberg and Knudsen 1985, and Nicklin 1991), and nsibidi (Thompson 1978 and 1983) started to take shape. The second wave of scholars conducting fieldwork on Cross River art and culture shift ed analysis to recent trends in the field: gender, tourism, histories of excha nge, cultural interaction, and how longer standing artistic expression of the Cross River embodies change Anthropologist
25 (Rschenthaler 1998). On the Nigerian side of the re gion, Amanda Carlson adds to the understanding of gender in her investigation of Bakor versions of nsibidi Leboku festival demonstrates th at recent Yakurr ritual is a construction of envisioned tourism and a production of locality on an imagined international stage. Further using the Leboku based art is i (Salami 2008a and 2008b). Others have addressed the history of artistic and cultural exchange in the Cross River region. In investigating masquerade trajectory and exchange in southeastern Nigeria, Bentor argues that t wo essential analytical strategies are needed : a history of how stylistic distribution progres to local genres of masking. In his study of the flow and interaction of masking genres between the Cross River region and the Niger Delta, Bentor suggests a regional identity can be formulated when masquerade ge nres and types are understood through the historical interactions that shaped such mas king genres into the various configurations throughout many different communities in southeastern Nigeria ( Bentor 2002). Along the same lines, but on the other side of the region, Rschenthaler charts the selling and buying of cultural associations and m asquerade societies from the seventeenth century to 2001. In documenting the history of purchase dissemination, Rschenthaler demonstrates the pivotal role of cultural associations and the importance of intellectual property in stabilizing a noncentralized region (Rschenthaler 2006 and 2011). dissemination and interaction suggests a shared artistic and cultural history along the coasts of
26 Cameroon and Nigeria and beyond (2002: 55). Particularly, Wilcox focuses on cultural exchange between the coastal la g o ons, the Niger Delta, and the Wouri estuary. The diffusion of culture is appro ached in two ways: canoe trade and migration. Wilcox examines three separate Duala artistic genres: canoe paddles, horizontal masks, and body mas querades. The Duala inhabiting the area of the Mungo, Wouri, and Dibamba Rivers, are also concentrated in the port city of Douala were the middlemen in European trade, which resulted in far reaching cultural exchange that fueled artistic appropriation betw een the Niger Del ta and Cross River groups (ibid., 44). on with style, resulting in static modes of analysis. Building on the foundation of the early authorities, in t he last 30 years, recent scholarship that investigates rural Cross River art and culture has invigorated the field with new modes of analysis. Such work demonstrates these peoples inherent capacity to appropriate continually in the face of change. In addi tion to studies examining art and culture, larger historical sketches of the region have been offered (Abasiattai 1990 and Jaja et al 1990). Along with migration and trade, long before and after the arrival of Europeans, at the center of the above scholarl y investigations of artistic, cultural, and historical flows that define the histories of exchange, purchase, and interaction among the Cross River peoples, a major impetus was the crucial port city of Calabar. Calabar The city of Calabar is home to the Efik, the Efut, and the Qua Ejagham peoples who inhabited the city as early as the beginning of the fifteenth century However, continued archeological excavation in Calabar unearthed a body of terracotta fragments, vessels, and figures that suggest a much longer history of occupation dating back to the fifth century CE (Slogar 2005 and 2007 and Eyo and Slogar 2008). Located in the most southeastern point of
27 Nigeria, the port city of Calabar occupie s the left bank of the Calabar R iver some 30 miles from the estuary where a number of rivers flow into the Gulf of Guinea. Pre C olonial Calabar The location and geography of Calabar led to early Portuguese visit s starting in 1472 (Efiong Fuller 1996: 1). About 200 years later Calabar rose as a major early West Af rican commercial port engaged in the transatlantic slave trade with Europe. The port city of Calabar has thus a long and layered history. During the pre colonial era, the accounts of European explorers, traders, missionaries, and the diary of Efik slave tr ader Antera Duke, provide the earliest documentation of Calabar (Told 1785, Holman 1840, King 1844, Hutchinson 1858, Waddell 1863, Goldie 1890, Kingsley 1899, Williams 1897, Forde 1956, Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010 ). Most scholarly investigat i on, co nducted by historians, address es pre colonial Calabar and its role in the transatlantic slave and subsequent oil trades (Aye 1967, Nair 1972, Latham 1973, Northrup 1978, Ume 1980, Forde 1956, Jones 1963, n.a. 1986a, and Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010 ). In t he vast historiography of precolonial Calabar all sources devote many pages to the central role of the Ekpe/Mgbe society in the early commercial success of Calabar. 3 C alabar, the slave and oil trade, and the Efiks appropriation of Ekpe as a m eans to negot iate international commerce thus merit attention. S ignificant trade at Old Calabar 4 did not begin until the early eighteenth century (Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: 48). The slave trade at Old Calabar started in approximately 1650 and declined around 1838, leading to the exportation of about 275,000 3 In the early literature, the society was referred to by its pidgin name Egbo. 4 rder to distinguish the town from the Kalabari River (for more see Nair 1972: 1 2).
28 slaves, ranking Calabar as the fifth highest port in total slave exports. The palm oil trade then rose as the chief source of overseas trading in the 1820s. At the time of the slave trade, the Efik inhabited the coastal areas of Calabar, which was segmen ted into different towns: Duke Town, Old Town, Creek Town, and the Guinea Company Towns Each town or ward was composed of extended family units, which split into different wards through the centuries. For example, in Duke town, Efiom Ekpo lineage split into the Henshaw, Ntiero, Duke, and Eyamba wards, and in the nineteenth century, Duke Town witnessed the development of the Archibong ward (Behrendt, Latham, and No rthrup 2010: 16). Each princ ipal family competed for trade with Europeans, sometimes resulting in violent confrontations. 5 Wards were led by family heads, who acquired great wealth and status in Efik society as well as prominence in the newly cr eated Ekpe institution. D uring the e ighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Efik obtained Ekpe and modified it in order to facilitate the trans Atlantic slave trade. Ekpe minimized tension among competing Efik merchants. Because political rivalry exis ted in Old Calabar, Ekpe was able to exer t control over political leaders and therefore played an important role in political equilibrium. According to born man in Old Calabar, however rich and powerful, could afford not to be a member of Egbo and thereby submit to its control; no r could he exercise authority except through the society and as a me Jones 1956: 144 145) For the Ejagham in the hinterlands and those in the Calabar area, prior to and during the slave trade, Mgbe served as the socio political and religious vehicle even into the period of European and colonial intervention. The coastal Efiks did not have an institution that could negotiate their 5 For example, a battle between the Dukes and Henshaws led to the establishment of Henshaw Town in the mid eighteenth century. In a nother instance, the bloody massacre at Old Town between 1805 1809 greatly strengthened Latham, and Northrup 2010: chapter one).
29 changing needs. Once the Efik did obtain E kpe, their version was, like that of others, political and judicial, but it also endured modification in order to handle the changing patterns of commercial, social, and religious life at Calabar brought about by European presence. One major change to Ekpe during the mid eighteenth century was the enforcement of t he coll ection of debts, facilitating trust and fair exchange between Efi k traders and European captains. Another was the fining and sanctioning 6 of those who violated trade policies Europeans lived on their ships, and all trading was done by credit. The supercargoes would unload commodities to those Efik traders considered trustworthy. The ships then waited for up to a year sometime s while the trader obtained enough slaves and palm oil for the goods credited. The entire trade credit system depended on Ekp e as the only legal means for recovering debt (Jones 1956: 124 and 141). According to British traveler James Holman: when a person cannot obtain his due from a debtor the aggrieved party applies to the Duke (Ephraim) for the Egbo drums: if the Duke accede s to the request the If the complaint be just the Egbo is sent to an offending party to warn him of his delinquency and to demand reparation, after which announcement no one dares mov e out of the house inhabited by the culprit until the affair is settled, and if it is not soon arranged the house is pulled down about the ears in which case the loss of Capt. Burrell of the ship Heywood of Liverpool held the rank of Yampai and he found it exceedingly to his advantage as it enabled 393). The passage is quite revealing as it demonstrates the rapidity with which Ekpe reprimanded o ffenders and how forcefully Ekpe chastised if necessary. Equally as interesting, the passage reveals that European captains found it advantageous to become members of the organization (Nair 1972: 17 18). 6 Jones discusses seven ways Ekpe sanctioned offenders (see 1956: 142 142).
30 Indeed, the influence of Ekpe was essential to the success of the Efik slave and palm oil trading networks. As many argue, once the Efik obtained Mgbe and modified it into Ekpe, their version was resold to communities upriver, enabling inland peoples to become credit worthy in the Efik system (Nair 197 2: 19, Latham 1973: 39 and Ottenberg and Knudsen 1985: 38), which in turn unified a fragmented region. The Efik built a 30,000 sq uare mile commercial zone that linked to even wider trading routes. The three year extracts from 1785 1788 of the diary of Duke Antera, a prominent Efik merchant, coupled with European traveler records, establish that the Efik became powerful middlemen as early as 1720 and that later in the 1780s, their trading network extended south to the Cross River estuary and upriver to inclu de Ibibio districts, Arochukwu, Umon, and routes linking to the Cameroon grasslands (Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: chapter 4). Through the trading eras, especially during the transatlantic slave traffic, the Efik relied heavily on the Ekpe instituti on to mange their changing needs. The pre colonial literature demonstrates how vital and malleable the Ekpe society was not only for commercial success but also for managing European presence until the eventual British colonial encounter. Colonial Calabar The authority and role of Ekpe/Mgbe was drastically decreased during the colonial period. M i ssionaries and colonial officials continued efforts to stamp out local forms of religiosity and governance as attempted during the pre colonial days. Ironically, ho wever, the early colonial era also produced informative ethnographic sketches on Cross River peoples, art, and culture. On the Cameroonian side of the region, Alfred Mansfeld documented many aspects of Ejagham art and culture (Mansfeld 1908). In Nigeria, C harles Partridge, a district commissioner, described masquerade societies and their art forms in some detail (Partridge
31 1905). John Parkinson provided a lengthy discussion on the Efik Ekpe and the Ejagam Mgbe society lodge (Parkinson 1907). The most exten sive account was offered by P. A. Talbot, British colonial Administrator who worked primarily among the Ejagham of the Oban district, but also documented a number id descriptions of Ejagham architecture, Mgbe and other masquerade societies, nsibidi folk tales, stone work, body decoration, religion, and general world view are invaluable sources for any serious study about the Cross River region. Important to the cur rent study, Talbot wrote that the Talbot 1912: 37). This early characterization suggests that communities were separate but relied on similar organizations for local governance. At the same time, Talbot acknowledged that Ekpe/Mgbe was evolving differently in Calabar than in the rural north, which he described as practically unchanged ( ibid. ). ovide a contemporary study of how the recent history and development of Calabar has shaped its masquerade culture into something quite different from the rural hinterland versions. Despite the ethnographies, scholarship investigating Calabar art and culture from the colonial era is almos t nonexistent. Most scholarly attention to colonial Calabar addresses of colonialism on Calabar (Udo 1967, Nwaka 1976 and 1986). In an article on the city p ublished in Nigeria Magazine in 1956 during the waning days of colonial rule, the vitality of Calabar culture is discussed and vibrantly illustrated as alive and well. Most attention is given to the continued existence of Efik Ekpe and the Efik marriage c ustom (n.a. 1956). On the other hand, based on fieldwork conducted in 1958 1959, anthropologist Warren Morrill asserted that Ekpe
32 had seriously declined due to the conditions of urban life in Calabar (Morrill 1961: 231). In k and Igbo pop ulations ada pted to the changing conditions o f Calabar, he concluded that they successfully negotiated the urban environment th r ough he foundation for my argument that frames Ekpe/Mgbe as an infrastructural support system for members non cultural forms of urban sustainability, by comparing his research to the arg ument I present in this dissertation, I see a discernable pattern emerging. From the late 1950s to the first quarter of the 21 st century, local peoples have continued to negotiate the changing conditions of life in Calabar through participation in communal and/or cultural associations. Post C olonial Calabar Shortly after Nigerian independence in 1960, the steady decline of Calabar witnessed during the colonial days quickly came to an end. The intensified when it became the capital of N war started According to Ayo Olukoju, it was the civil war and the forced migration of people into Eastern Nigeria that accounted for the rapid urbanization of t he region com pared to t he pre war After Cal abar became the capita l, and during the oil boom of the 1970s, the city witnessed a massive influx of migrants, resulting in citywide building and revitalization (ibid.). Also during the 1970s, Calabar was interacting more closely with larger Within a decade of being made the capita l city of the state Calabar transformed into an administrative, political, and commercial center (Hackett 1989: 25 and Inyang et al 1980: 24). The population of Calabar in 1977 was estimated at about a quarter of a million (Ekanem 1980: 26) Both Nigerian Census reports of 1991 and 2006 indicate a population just under
33 400,000. In fact, the reports suggest a slight decrease in population f rom the 1990s to the early is about three million. In either case, within the forty year span that brings us into the twenty first century, Calabar has continued to de velop as a highly modernized urban center Today it features hi ghways, shopping malls, Western style grocery stores, fast food restaurants, a small marina amusement park, a free trade zone, and an athletic stadium and sports complex that recently host ed the U 17 World Cup in 2009 (Fig. 1 2) The current populace represents a growing multi ethnic assortment of peoples: local ( Efik, Efut, and Qua ), and non local Nigerians and international Considering the historical depth of the city and its vast preco lonial historiography, it is surprising to note an even greater absence of scholarship addressing Calabar and/or its art and culture from the independence and post colonial era s. After the pattern of urbanization during the late 1960s and 1970s, Calabar wi tnessed not only tremendous growth and development, but also saw many local publications that characterize the city. Growing tensions between church groups and cultural associations lead to 1975, re sulting in a published rep ort debating the place of long standing culture in a modernizing city (n.a. 1975). Other sources highlighted the general growth and development of Calabar (n.a. 1986b) and the way in which culture is a useful mechanism in nation s tate building (Unoh 1986). fishing industries since the Biafra conflict (Inyand el al 1980). Yet another published seminar investigated the potentials of an expo rt processing zone (n.a. 1992). Meanwhile, as local publications address ed the changing conditions of Calabar, written and published discourse fueled ethnic tension. The important local Efik historian, E. U. Aye
34 everything is married to ethnic politics: whether in employment, promotion in service, award of contracts or scholarships, admissions into places of also ex tended to locally written history. Ute Rschenthaler has shown that the local historiography in Calabar is elusive, often seen as a ploy for power as authors or scholars write history on their own ethnic groups to better position their own ethnicities in o ngoing conflicts over land ownership, origin, hegemony, and history (Rschenthaler 2002). Rosalind Hackett offers the most comprehensive examination of contemporary Calabar. Her book, Religion in Calabar is an historical and contemporary study of the reli gious pluralism contemporary Christian, Pentecostal, Evangelical, and spiritual churches scene while charting udy, few other scholars have result of the transatlantic slave trade. Although his interest is based in pre colonial and colonial history, his work also documents the contemporary cultural aspects of the versions of Ekpe/Mgbe in Calabar and the wider Cross River region (Miller 2004 and 2009). While Amanda Carlson has worked on rural Mgbe and nsibidi from the mid dle Cross River region (Carlson 2003), she has recently turned her attention to the city to offer an investigation of the recently expanded tourism project Carnival Calabar (Carlson 2010). Despite these important works, however, the contemporary art and cu lture of Calabar is yet to be written. My investigation into the contemporary arts of Ekpe/Mgbe seeks to address the glaring dearth of literature on post colonial Calabar. Before discussing the conceptual framework that structures my approach to
35 analyzing the forces of urban modernity on a particular cultural as sociation in order to argue Ekpe/Mgbe as infrastructure, some discussion of what Ekpe/Mgbe and nsibidi are required. Ekpe/Mgbe and N sibidi Ekpe/Mgbe is mostly an all male hierarchically organized s ociety involved in ancestral veneration in which i nitiation is crucial for the attainment of membership. More recently in Calabar, wives of chiefs are initiated as honorary members but do not participate in lodge ritual. All initiation and ritual activitie s usually occur at the Efe Ekpe (Ekpe lodge) or Osam Mgbe (house of Mgbe). Each lodge is autonomous and wields considerable local power. In Calabar today as in the past, each Efe Ekpe or Osam Mgbe manifests its influence over the community through a number of rituals and ceremonies mostly in the form of initiations and funerals. Nowadays, lodges manufacture elaborate public performances involving a number of members and masquerades for greater affect. t o characterize Ekpe, Mgbe, and other variants found in the Cross River region into a nice, neat genre. However, I consider this label clumsy, aw kward, and counterproductive because of its generalizing tone: it not only completely misrepresents the institut core, but also barely scratches the surface of the society (see chapter 5 for full discussion). the different linguistic terms Ekpe/Mgbe are used togethe r to include all groups that make use of the society in Calabar: the Efik, the Efut, and the Qua In other words, this dissertation endeavors to favor the local names and locality by using Ekpe/Mgbe when data reflects all three groups Mgbe will be used to designate Qua evidence,
36 while Ekpe denotes Efik and Efut findings. 7 A larger ethnographic sketch of the Efik, the Efut and the Qua peoples is beyond the scope of this dissertation. Ekpe/Mgbe was once the governing institution for many communities of the C ross River region. Generally, the society administered the political, the judicial, and the executive powers of the community. However, the governing duties of the society depend ed on the local needs of the particular community. An example is how the Efik changed Ekpe during the transatlantic slave trade. More recently, most have discussed the diminishing influence of the society. However, I have observed during fieldwork investigation that in the rural areas of Akamkpa, Ugep, and Bechei Ekpe/Mgbe is stil l the local means of government. In those cases, authority is vested in the hands of the titleholders or members holding the highest ranks where they take on the roles of judge and jury during communal trials. In Calabar, I have also observed that the soc iety is still socio politically relevant. T he head of the lodge, known as the Iyamba ( in Efik ) or Se Dibo ( in Ekin, the Qua language ) is the highest ranking member. Thus the authority of the entire lodge resides with him. In rural Ejagham communities such as those located in Akamkpa the clan head and the Iyamba are separate positions, occupied by two different men. However, the Akamkpa clan head is still a member of Mgbe, but he does not hold a position of power in that lodge. Yet for the Qua, the offices of clan head and Se Dibo are occupied by the same person. According to Qua local leaders and the wider community, l ocal politics operate more smoothly since the two separate governing entities that characterize the rural Ejagham are collapsed into one in t he Qua system. 7 Outside of Calabar among other Ejagham peoples, the names Mgbe and Ngbe are used. Other versions of the society are found among the Igbo (in Arochukwu, Bende, Abam, Abriba, and Ohafia) and are locally known as Okonko.
37 This is one reason why Mgbe is still politically relevant at the local level in Calabar The Efut also have a similar local political structure to that of the Qua. Another reason why Ekpe/Mgbe is still locally powerful resides in its authori ty to administer land rights and ownership. In Efik, Efut, and Qua communities, the rights to own and build on land requires permission from Ekpe/Mgbe. Another important facet of Ekpe/Mgbe is its religiosity. While the discussion of Ekpe/Mgbe as religion i ancestral veneration practices. Most documentation on Ekpe/Mgbe stresses its religious t he misunderstanding that the society worships a bush or leopard like sprit. For example, certain ritual situations require the sounding of the voice of the society. The voice is a roaring like sound that emanates from the inner chamber of the society lodge It is known as Mboko or the mystical Ekpe/Mgbe. Non initiates fear this element and speculate as to what they think makes the roar, and thus fanciful stories have been created due to its secrecy. The Mboko or mystical Ekpe/Mgbe is closely linked to the a ncestral veneration practices that define the religious aspect of the society. At the time of my work, all members and ritual practices stress ed the inherent connection between living members and deceased members. Pouring libation or verbally chanting to the members during ritual and everyday life. Most members deeply believe in the power of ancestors to mediate and intervene in the actions of the living. Gi ven the gerontocratic structure of Ekpe/Mgbe, ancestors and usually elderly members hold the highest seats of authority. I
38 conceptual category (Kopytoff 1997). In deed, since ritual, rules, and regulations of Ekpe/Mgbe favor the elders, the stress of ancestral veneration can be seen as an extension of bolstering the authority of the elders. In order for members to understand the Mboko and its ancestral connection to the society, init iation into the society and the subsequent acquisition of knowledge is crucial. Acquiring Ekpe/Mgbe knowle dge forms the foundation for the ways in which members begin to understand all aspects of the society whether political, religious, or mystical. After membership is attained, an initiate may pass through a number of subsequent initiations for further advancement. The acquisition of esoteric knowledge ( nsibidi ) is conceptualized as a form of initiation even if not transmitted during fo rmal ritual It becomes the responsibility of the member to acquire knowledge on his own. The knowledge is the basis for the bush, and aquatic realms and is central for continued advan cement. The body of knowledge, known as nsibidi is manifested in an imaged and performed language that informs all ritual, performative, philosophical, and ancestral aspects of the society. Most literature on nsibidi favors the imaged version which falls under the more general category o nce used by the wider public tha n that of nsibidi as literacy among the Bakor Ejagham, she also offers a thorough literature review (Carlson 2003: 30 44). Most literature on Calabar Ekpe/Mgbe has favored the Efik version due to its role during the transatlantic slave trade. Scholars and writers have thus explored the origin of the society, how the Efik obtained it, its role during the slave trade, and its hierarchical structure. The question as to when and how the Efik obtained Mgbe and modified it into Ekpe, and how their updated version served as a trade facilitator that was then used and diffused throughout the Calabar region and continued upriver a nd beyond is an interesting and ongoing discourse ( see
39 Talbot 1912: 37, Hart 1964, Aye 1967: 70 73, Latham 1973: 35 39, Abalogu 1978: 78 79, Ekpo 1978: 74, Northrup 1978: 108 110, Ottenberg and Knudsen 1985: 37 and 94, Nciklin 1991: 7 15, Bentor 2002, Kolo ss 2008: 63, Anwana 2009, and Behrendt, Latham and Nor thrup 2010: 27 36 and chapter 4). The origin of Mgbe/Ekpe in Calabar is uncertain and disputes still rage today. The Qua mainta in that they brought Mgbe at the time of their migration from Cameroon dur ing the fifteenth century to the sixteenth century According to Efik oral history and European accounts, Ekpe was most likely established among the Efik between 1720 and 1729 (Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: 32). Some Efik claim that they brought Ekp e to Calabar from their old settlement west of the Cross River, but others believe the Efik acquired it from an Efut people, who occupied Isangele or Usak Edet along the Rio del Rey in south west Cameroon (Nicklin 1991: 7 13). The debate concerning the ori gin of Efik Ekpe has become quite complex and has turned into a discussion about when different branches were introduced into Calabar. According to h istorian A. J. Latham, dr Calabar in 1964 Asibong Ekondo came from Usak Edet and sold eight branches of Ekpe to Esien Ekpe Oku near the mid eighteenth century ( Latham 1973: 36). However, Hart dismisses the story as merely an allegory and suggests that Esien Ekpe Oku was never an owner of Ekpe an d that Asibong Ekondo was not Efut, but rather Efik (1964: 64 65, 67 68). A local Efik that Ekondo brought Nyambe, a five step institution, back from his travels to Kongo and gave it to Eyo Ema II as a gift, who in turn gave Esien Ekpe Oku custody of it. The Efik then transformed Nyambe into Nyamkpe. Latham corroborates that Nyamkpe and Okpoho, the brass
40 branch, were the two highest levels of Ekpe ( Latham 1973: 39 ). However, Efik elders and chiefs of Ekpe, who I interviewed, are absolutely certain that the first branches of Ekpe were Mkpe, Mboko, Mboko Mboko, Mbakara, and Ebongo. Later, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Nyamkpe, Oku akama, Okpoho and Nkanda were added to Ekpe. In 1828, Holman documented five branches 1847, Reverend Hope Waddell noted ten branches of Ekpe (Holman 1828 and Waddell 1863) Some scholars suggest that this documentation between th e 1820s and 1850s records result of increased trade earnings (Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: 33). Today, Efik chiefs and elders estimate the add ition of Okpoho and Oku akama to sometime during the eighteenth century, while the Nkanda branch was founded in 1821 (Oku 1989: 65 66). On the other hand, t he Qua maintain that their titles and branches have not changed since their migration from Cameroon. At the top of Qua organization are Dibo (Nyamkpe), Isua Dibo, Nkanda, E tore (Okpoho), and Oka akama. Interestingly, the five higher grades of Qua Mgbe contain the four subsequent or secondary Efik titles that were added later. Or, to be fair, most of the first five Efik titles: Mboko, Mboko Mboko, Mbakara, and Ebongo are the secondary titles in which in turn became their primary and whether later the primary branches were obtained only to become the secondary is uncertain. Although an historical construction of branches and levels is beyond the scope of this investigation, I offer a list of titles/branches comp il ed from previous sources and my own fieldwork investigation among Efik lodges (see appendix A). However helpful such lists ar e for documenting the organization of Ekpe, what becomes obscured is the purpose of the branches and levels within the larger structure of the society. Since most attention has emphasized Efik
41 Ekpe, I offer a discussion of Qua Mgbe levels, branches, and ti tles to understand the nature of the better Qua M gb e is divided into four levels: Abon Ogbe, Dibo Nkanda, Asain Dibo, and Nyema M gbe. Once a member has reached the fourth level, the initiate is designated as a chief and is appointed t o one of 25 senior or junior titles (see appendix B) These 25 positions serve as the backbone for Qua M gbe operations and organization. For the most part, each title is a representation of a specific domain of the society, each with its own masquerade and set of knowledge that explains its meaning and philosophy. Hence, a given title represents a branch of the institution. In Qua Mgbe, the lowest level, Abon O gbe, is the primary level, which grants the initiate a basic level of membership that allows acce ss int o the Osam M gbe or lodge during ritual It is an entry level intended for young boys, typically those under the age of five. Abon Ogbe is not a required level of initiation and may be used when boys are deemed not ready for full initiation. The seco nd level, Dibo N kanda, endows the initiate to full member ship. He may now start the process of learning the se cret knowledge associated with M gbe. Upon initiation into Dibo Nkanda the member may wear ukara cloth the chief insignia of membership. However, m embers of Abon Ogbe or Dibo Nkanda are not permitted to wear shoes, a wristwatch, or elaborate dress inside the lodge. Also women, usually the wives of the Nyema mgbe, can be initiated into this level in Calabar The third level, Asain D ibo, is the prereq uisite for chieftaincy. Members are initiated into this level with the understanding that they will be advancing into the fourth and highest grade. Asian Dibo is not required for elevation into chieftaincy, however. The benefit of this level permits initia tes to wear shoes inside the lodge.
42 The Nyema Mgbe or chiefs of M gbe is the highest and most prestigious level in Qua M gbe. Initiation into this grade indicates the highest level of rank and these individuals are a llowed to wear chieftaincy caps and sho es and to carry walking sticks within the lodge. These items of dress also visually distinguish the chiefs from lesser members, since the cap and walking stick serve as the primary symbols of M gbe chiefta incy, leadership, and hierarchy Admittance into Nye ma M gbe is very costly and is acknowledged by an elaborate day long celebration discussed in chapter three. Once the chief has obtained his title, he may choose to replace his current position with another he wishes to hold when the office becomes vacant. Additionally, according to Qua regulation, one cannot become a village head or clan based official without being initiated into this rank. Ekpe/Mgbe/Ngbe organization, levels of initiation, and titles or branches are different from region to region. Hans Kembong, Cameroon, allowed me to make a comparison between rural and urban Mgbe structure and organization. For example, the Qua Mgbe stratification is not the case in the version of Mgbe Koloss investigated in rural Kembong ( Koloss 2008: 64 75). Additionally, no individual lodge organization. 8 A review of the Ekpe/Mgbe/Ngbe literature has led me to concl ude that the notion of the society as a universal Cross River association should be completely dismissed. In fact, such comparisons attest to the fact that the society has evolved differently from group to group and of course from area to area. Besides the attention to origin and organization, sociologist Daniel Offiong offers an historical sketch of the changing nature of Ekpe from the pre coloinal days through the post 8 I would like to thank Eli Bentor for this comment dur ing a series of email exchanges with me about individual lodge history and grade/level/branch organization. Email correspondence with Eli Bentor, April 5 12, 2011.
43 colonial period (Offiong 1989). Despite the art his torians and anthropologists who have focused on the artistic aspects of rural Ekpe/Mgbe/Ngbe (Ruel 1969, Ekpo 1978, Abalog u 1978, Thompson 1974 and 1983 Leib and Romano 1984, Ottenberg and Knudsen 1985 Koloss 2008, Nicklin 1991 Bentor 1994, and Carlson 2003), the art and performance of th e Calabar versions has eluded scholarly attention. This dissertation sets out not only to fill the present void in literature on pos t colonial Calabar, but also discuss the ways in which the urban environment has shaped the artistic vitality of the Ekpe/Mg be society. Conceptual F ramework I argue that in contemporary Calabar, Ekpe/Mgbe is an economic, cultural, and political infrastructural support system for its members. My argument is informed by Abdoumaliq which he investigates how residents in Johannesburg, South Africa, are engaged in economic collaboration to negotiate the challenges of urban sustainability (Simone 2008). Fundamental to my argument is how the society and its members have transformed the i nstitution to reflect the changing nature of the urban city in which it now thrives. To demonstrate its cosmopolitan character, I turn attention to how Ekpe/Mgbe ritual, performance, and gestured nsibidi have become more public than in the past. I further argue that the relevance of Ekpe/Mgbe today stems from its ability to claim space successfully through the medium of performance. Central to my argument of Ekpe/Mgbe as infrastructure are thus performance, urban influence, and power. Approaching Ekpe/ Mgbe ritual, masquerade, and nsibidi from the perspective of performance is the backbone of my analysis. Early on in the development of the field of African art history, Herbert Cole proposed an analytical shift to approach African art as process rather than f or m (Cole 1969a). Six years later, in the catalogue African Art in Motion Robert Farris Thompson expanded the discursive field for examining African arts from the perspective of
44 analyses of African visual culture have significantly grown (Nunley 1987, Drewal 1992, Arnoldi 1995, Harding 2002, Reed 2003, Gott 2008, Salami 2008a, and McNaughton 2008). Performance based methodologies have become second nature for approaching the comp lex layered meanings embedded in multi media forms of expression. Due to wide range of possibilities, performance theorist Richard Schechner includes everything from the everyday to the sacred play, sports, theater, dance, social dr ama, ceremonies, and rituals (Schechner 2003). Africa performance is a primary site for the production of knowledge, where philosophy is enacted, and where multiple and often simultaneous disco urse 2). In analyzing Ekpe/Mgbe ritual, masquerade, and gestured nsibidi through the lens of performance, I too am interested in the multidimensional layers of meaning packed into a single performance. M y interest in analyzin g Ekpe/Mgbe from a performance paradigm stems fro m the ways in which the urban experience of Calabar has transformed the once private rituals into nuanced public forums where members enact power, rekindle connections with their ancestors, engage in local p olitical discourse, endeavor to sustain themselves, and embrace their cultural heritage. My attempt to analyze the changing permutations of performance in an urban locality lay masquerade in Freetown, Sierra Leone. According to Nunley, Ode lay masking troupes are so indicative of urban Freetown that the youth take them to the streets to compete for public recognition through the medium of performance (Nunley 1987) For Ode lay members, these performances have become battles for space and mechanism for asserting youth power in the urban environment of Freetown The Ode
45 lay case resonates with the ways in which Ekpe/Mgbe members are exploring the potentialities of ritual, masquerade, and nsibidi to claim space d uring performance in Calabar. The recent special issue of Africa Today on visual experience in urban Africa also explores the inherent interrelationship between urban and visual experience in her examination of Kumasi funeral proc essions. Gott de monstrates that in Kumasi long standing forms of expression are contemporary exhibitions of cosmopolitanism (Gott 2008). The correlation between urban experience and visual experience and vice versa informs the dynamic relationship between Ekpe/Mgbe and Calabar. Another facet of Ekpe/Mgbe as infrastructure is its ability to serve as a financial crutch for members. Today, all Ekpe/Mgbe activities initiation, performance, and transmission of knowledge, to name a few are enveloped in financ relationship to commerce, especially dur ing the period of the transatlantic slave trade (Nair 1972, Latham 1973, Northrup 1978, Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010 and Rschenthaler 2011). However, most investigations of Ekpe/Mgbe, as well as other contemporary versions of long standing genres of African art operating during the post colonial period, fail to address the importance of money. Victoria Rovine, on the other hand, has shown that in urban Bamako, Mali, b ogolan cloth has taken on a completely new financial configuration that separate i t from
46 climate of a : 3). This di ssertation follows Rovine in order to emphasize the monetary side of Ekpe/Mgbe for two reasons: to further deconstruct the construction and to assert extension of its vitality and power in t he urban experience. The ability of Ekpe/Mgbe to demonstrate power effectively is critical for understanding continued vitality in Calabar. Fundamental to my understanding of power is W. idea and phenomenon (Arens and Karp 1989). Indeed, Ekpe/Mgbe power encapsulates the political, the religious, the economic, and the social all at once For example, local political authority resides in the office of lodge head or chief of the society. The ancestral aspects of the society are a n extension of religious power. Also, power is further found in the acquisition of nsibidi knowledge, which then allows the member to profit from that knowledge through its demonstration and performance What is signif icant for understanding Ekpe/Mgbe power is that performance activates it in all contexts. I therefore draw from Alfred Gell approach investigating the social activation of art to include y to affect agency in Calabar today (Gell 1998). M y framework also employs Clifford Geertz has referred to as a semiotic or interpretive analysis of culture (Geertz 1973). This approach is best equipped to capture t he complexity of culture in the words of Geertz, call symbols), culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly that is, thickly
47 contextualize how Ekpe/Mgbe performances embody power and the urban experience. Ethnographic A pproach This investigation is based on about 15 months of fieldwork conducted mostly in Calabar. I also made a number of trips into the Cross River hinterland to establish a case for urba n/rural comparison and contrast. Specifically, f rom 2009 2010, I completed 12 months of fieldwork The experience built upon two previous trips to Calabar during the summer months of 2008 and 2009 during which I studied the Ejagham and Nigerian Pidgin lang uages Most of my time in Calabar was spent closely studying the six prominent masquerade societies of Calabar and the nsibidi knowledge system and language. The Ekpe/Mgbe society and its nsibidi commanded most of my attention. Although I spent time invest igating Ekpe/Mgbe in the middle Cross River, my knowledge about the society in the hinterland is limited in comparion to the Calabar verions. accepted by the six societ ies with the honor of initiation into each, investigation became much easier. My fascination with the idea of ethnography and initiation stems from a number of works I read as an undergraduate student (Biebuyck 1973, Binkley 1987a, and McNaughton 1988). Th ose works inspired my enthusiasm not only to research restricted masquerade societies and indigenous knowledge systems, but also cultivated my interests in the dynamics of initiation. I started my journey of initiation i n 2008, during my language studies and preliminary investigations into masquerade, when I was invited to be initiated into the Qua Mgbe Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) lodge at the level of Nkanda. I would like to thank HRH Patrick Inok Oquagbor, clan head and shrine head of the Nkonib and the Mgbe lodg e for the honor of initiation, support, adopting me as his son and later also taking in Sara, my wife, as his daughter as well as and providing his own roof as my home in 2009 F ollowing the initial initiation, when I returned a
48 year later in 2009, I was c onferred with a n Mgbe title, isung Mbakara, and continued further initiations into the depths of the society. M y initiation and subsequent initiations were explained as necessary if I were to inquire about and publish on Ekpe/Mgbe and its nsibidi Ekpe/Mgb e initiation and being taken in as a son to Ntoe Oqua also led to some of my initiations into the other thriving masquerade societies of Calabar. Initiation was also one of the major reasons for my success in studying the arts of the other restrictive soci eties. The Mgbe initiations, status as son of Ntoe Oqua, and wide respect he had in Calabar marked me as a trusted outside inquirer. In fact, as I was told much later at the end of my fieldwork experiences, my real initiation took place when elders intervi ewed me to determ ine if I was worthy and trustworthy enough for initiation rather than my actual ritual initiation. After the initiation, members were much more receptive to my questions and inquiries. Both secret and non secret information was openly tau ght and shared with me. In fact, I am formal contexts, I can never disc uss, while others I am very free to write about and include in this dissertation. In all my initiations, I took oaths to the ancestors, as all do during initiation to I was annoyingly careful to ask and elders would forewarn me that what I was about to see or hear was sensitive and for my ears or eyes only. To protect the members who want and must remain anonymous, I withhold their identities. For example, as a member, I cannot reveal under any circumstance the identities of masqueraders, even though a number of non members are well aware. Only retired masqueraders can be identitied.
49 During fieldw ork investigation I made use of the following methods: direct observation and documentation, formal and informal interviews, and analysis of archival material. During the entire period of fieldwork I observe d, document ed, and participated in a number of performances. I document ed these through photography and video and use d these visual mater ials to analyze masquerader s choreography, costume, ritualized space, and the integration of the participants and the audience. As an initiated member, I was almost c ompletely unrestricted in my photographic and video coverage of events. Documented events include d secret society gatherings and performances, ritual performances, agricultural festivals, funerals, initiations, and communal meetings and gatherings. E lders and communal leaders also granted me access to their own personal and communal audio, video, and photographic documentation of masquerades and have graciously offered me the privilege to use this material. All photographic and video footage were aids used during interviews, discussion, and when my teachers instructed me about the knowledge of the society. I was also graciously permitted to investigate the archive of the local newspaper, The Nigerian Chronicle F ormal and informal interviews and surveys we re conducted with a broad spectrum of members, performers, spectators, artists (mask makers), and community members. Interviews with spectators and non members added a non initiated perspective to masquerade spectacles and ritual activity I was further ca reful to interview and survey elders, the middle aged and youths of both genders to gain a complete understanding of the social functions of Ekpe/Mgbe and masquerade culture within this changing urban center. My initiation was absolutely crucial in the do cumentation process and later in constructing my argument that in urban Calabar, Ekpe/Mgbe is a contemporary economic, cultural, and political infrastructural support system for members. In spite of the fact that I
50 cannot reveal some of the things I observ ed and participated in, initiation allowed me to witness, members economically and politically gain from Ekpe/Mgbe. In this way, I fully embrace writing myself into th e ethnographic accounts included in this dissertation. Structure and Chapter Summaries Following this introductory c hapter, I explore in Chapter 2 be space was contested by early missionaries and continues to be challenged by the increasi ngly Christian population of recent decades. At the center of the discussion are the Ekpe/Mgbe lodge as an architectural entity and a ritual space and the stone of the society, the physical markers of sacred space during ritual. The chapter demonstrates how recent Christia n demonizing rhetoric aimed at long standing forms of culture has led Ekpe/Mgbe members to challenge and dispute the markers of space as well as ot her ancestral practices of the society among themselves Chapter 3 Claiming Space through Public Spectacle: the Contemporary Installation of an Ekpe/Mgbe Chief performance to take the debate abou t the place of so thoroughly describing the contemporary Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy conferment rite, I present how it has morphed into an elaborate cosmopolitan public spectacle rather than a closed sec ret event it was in the past. I argue that the recently expanded Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy spectacle has become a calculated attempt of the society to assert its wealth and power and a means to reclaim space forcefully through the medium of performance Chap ter 4 Ukara Nsibidi Nsibidi for attention to the ways in which the urban experience of Calab ar has
51 influenced the transmission, esoteric knowledge system known as nsibidi Chapter 4 investigates how the privatization of nsibidi teaching has led to an expanded informal economy that d efines its transmission and further fuels the multiple verbal explanations of a given nsibidi motif. While Chapter 4 examines nsibidi depicted on ukara cloth, Chapter 5 provides one of the fi rst in depth investigations of the performed version. In Ekpe/Mgb e performance and ritual contexts, the imaged version is meaningless if one cannot demonstrate its knowledge through the med ium of performance. Chapter 5 thus investigates the ways in which the performed version of Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi is a mechanism for the demonstration of power and knowledge. Particularly, I discuss the phenomenon of performed nsibidi and the arenas in which the gestured art is manifested in contemporary Calabar. The urban experience of Calabar has transformed the performed version and its arenas into more public and even transgressive affairs. Members have thus taken performed nsibidi to the streets not only to demonstrate their knowledge, but also to advertise their abilities to interested members. I therefore argue that performed nsibidi is an example of Chapter 6 brings together the ideas of space, ostentatious display, public performance, and nsibidi knowledge. I examine how the recently expanded masquerade competition known as The Botanical Garden Nyoro is a multi faceted state funded but locally produced modern display of culture staged he event, I demonstrate how the arena is not only a major display of Ekpe/Mgbe heritage and power, but it is also a financial source of sustainability for Ekpe/Mgbe masqueraders, who showcase their performance and nsibidi knowledge to compete for large cas h prizes on a global stage. T he case
52 concludes my argument framing Ekpe/Mgbe as an infrastructural support system for members to negotiate the urban experience of Calabar and that its continued vitali ty is dependent on the ability to successfully claim space through the medium of performance.
53 Figures Figure 1 1.
54 Figure 1 2. Approaching Mary Slessor Junction, Calabar, May 19, 2008. Photograph by Jord an A. Fenton
55 CHAPTER 2 CONFRONTATIONS OF SP ACE: THE EKPE/MGBE S OCIETY AND CHRISTIAN ITY IN CONTEMPORARY CALABAR Secret societies or power associations in Africa, either agential or coming of age, exert influence over the community in a number of ways. O ne primary method is the demonstration of agency through the control of space. Society lodges or meeting houses and the realm of the bush are common examples. The well known Poro societies and the Komo associations from West Africa or the Mukanda initiatio n institutions from Central Africa all make use of spatial prohibitions during meetings, performance, initiation, and ritual. Ekpe/Mgbe is no different in this regard. During important peri ods, non initiates or even low ranking initiates are prohibited fro m entering space that has been declared open only to members of certain levels. Only through initiation can non members free themselves from such spatial exclusion. Further, in most of these societies an inextricable link to the wilderness informs their m ost secret or mystical force from which they draw their power. The wilderness connection, which reinforces their ability to administer spatial separation, is often expressed through various art forms whether static or performative (Anderson and Kreamer 19 89: 33). In rural areas of Africa, the village/wilderness dualism accounts for the separation of everyday space from the dangerous and unpredictable realms of the bush (ibid., 29 30). However, the urban nature of Calabar complicates this model. The villag e/wilderness dichotomy in the city dissolves into one physical space. Everyday life and societies like Ekpe/Mgbe operate and sometimes compete with one another for the same social space. This chapter delves into the spatial confrontations between the Ekpe/ Mgbe society and Christianity. Particularly, I investigate how Ekpe/Mgbe lodges, markers of spiritual space, and the pouring of libations are contested by the modern nature of the city of Calabar coupled with the recent intensification of Christian ideolog y starting in the 1970s and continuing into the present.
56 The chapter starts with a lengthy discussion about the markers of Ekpe/Mgbe space. The society lodge and stone of Ekpe/Mgbe are the most fundamental symbols of the society. They are not only physic al demarcations of space, but they also operate on the mystical and spiritual plane. Attention then turns to how early missionaries contested the authority of Ekpe through challenging its space. The strategy employed by the early m issionaries provides the conceptual framework for understanding how Christians continue to challenge Ekpe/Mgbe in contemporary Calabar. Today, Ekpe/Mgbe is contested in media outlets and during Christian services through demonizing rhetoric. Debates have raged about the place of l ocal culture in a city like Calabar. The chapter ends by demonstrating how these external disputes are now debated among members within lodges. The markers of space I opened with are the center of such argumentation. In some cases, the pouring of libation has been discontinued, stones of Ekpe/Mgbe have been removed, and in an extraordinary instance, one lodge was set afire. By presenting how members currently debate art forms and practices that relate to the society spatially, I demonstrate that in Calabar, Ekpe/Mgbe ritual space is not one dimensional. It contains a myriad of configurations that collectively define, negotiate, and apply the doctrines of the society as individuals see fit to their own unde rstandings, interpretations, and meanings. The H ouse of Ekpe and Mgbe The Ekpe or Mgbe lodge is the center of the society (Fig. 2 1). Most meetings, activities, and rituals take place in this structure. The Efik and Efut refer to the building as Efe Ekpe while the Qua call it Osam Mgbe. Both loosely translate to shed or house of Ekpe/Mgbe. For the
57 shrine, a totem 1 In 1912, Talbot observed the following about the Mgbe lodge in Oban: The importance of the society is obvious even to the most careless visitor to any land where it has gained a foothold, for the Club house is th e principal building in every town. Even the smallest village has its Egbo shed, and when a town decides to migrate the first thing done, so soon as the fresh sight is cleared, before even of the Club house. A small shed, called Ekpa Ntan (the house without walls) is erected to mark the spot where the Egbo house is to stand (Talbot 1912: 39). 2 Once the site is chosen for the lodge, the rest of the community can be established. With the loca tion of the Mgbe lodge determined, the rest of the community is constructed. Libation then the compounds for the rest of the community follow (ibid). After the dwelling structures are complete, the construction of the lodge commences. In the old days, the building process was a community wide project (ibid., 265). In fact, women applied mud to the walls of the society house, which then they decorated (ibid). In 1846, Rev. Hope Waddell documented one of the earliest descriptions of an Efik Ekpe lodge in Creek Town: shed, with its end to the street and quite open in front. Several immen se posts of solid mangrove supported the ridge pole. A broad seat of hard beated clay ran down the two sides; the further end was closed by a recess for Egbo mysteries; in front was the great Egbo drum, fixed to the frame, to be beaten only on occasions of Cam[e]roon country. On both these and the drum was the blood of sacrifices (Waddell 1863[1970 ]: 250). In Oban, Talbot recorded a lodge not unlike the Creek Town example. It too was an open front structure crowned by an overhanging roof supported by a series of posts. An Isinn tree was 1 Interview with chief (Hon.) Hayford S. Edet, Nba Odoso (village head) and secretary of t he Qua Constituted Assembly of Clans, June 15, 2008. 2 the establishment of a Mgbe house (see 1912: 349 355).
58 planted directly in front of the lodge (Talbot 1912: 265 266). However, it should be noted that Talbot documented a number of differences between Ejagham Mgbe lodges from community to community. The diversity of Ekpe/Mgbe lodge architecture is also apparent from other early 20 th century sources. The Ekpe/Mgbe shed s were described by others as rectangular two room structures with mud brick walls and sheltered by v shaped roofs supported by a number of columns (Partridge 1905: 208 and Parkinson 1907: 262). Today, the Efe Ekpe and Osam Mgbe are still rectangular two r oom buildings. I, like Talbot, observed tremendous stylistic variation from community to community. In addition, today the lodge is made of cinderblock and cement. Tin sheets are used for roofing. The renovation and expansion of lodges is a n important rec ent trend in Calabar, and when the integrity of the lodge becomes suspect, it is completely rebuilt, usually three to four times larger than the original. In contrast to the general decline of the society in rural areas, in Calabar, the society thrives. Re cent attempts to enlarge and expand the lodge demonstrate not only the vitality of the society in Calabar, but also indicates that members are attempting to update their structure to match the changing and rapidly expanding nature of the city. A specific c ase will be discussed. Location, location, location Traditionally the Ekpe/Mgbe lodge is situated at a prominent location within the community. In fact, Talbot provides a diagram of a typical Ejagham community layout (1912: 266). In the plan, the Mgb e lodge is situated in the center of the community flanked by two rows of houses. Talbot mentions that the space in front of the lodge, where performances were
59 enacted, was left vacant (ibid.). Clearly, the diagram illustrates that entire communities were once configured so that the society lodge, its space for masquerade, and activity were central. Today, in rural areas, the lodge is still located at a prominent location in relation to the village. For example, in the village of Becehi at Umon, the Ekpe lod ge was built prominently in an area just beyond the cen tral area of the community, near the fringe, where the bush and village meet (Fig. 2 2). In Becehi, buildings constructed after the lodge for housing purposes were erected so that the Ekpe lodge re mains as the central focus of the community. In fact, the space immediately in front of the lodge, used as the dance arena for Ekpe masquerade and performance, has been intentionally left vacant because not only is it space for the society, but it also mar ks the center of the community. Upon entering the community from the beach after walking along a footpath, the traditional way to access this village, the first visible marker is the open space and the Ekpe lodge. The placement of the lodge in the center o f the community is not unlike the orientation of an Ejagham lodge located in the Akamkpa LGA (Local Gover nment Area) Indeed, approaching the village from the road, the Mgbe lodge is located in the back of the community (Fig. 2 3). A vast open dirt and gra ss space is situated in front of the lodge, marking the center of the community. Houses occupy the land to the left and right of the lodge and extend outward to the entrance of the village. Comparing the Bechei and Akamkpa village layouts reveal striking s imilarity to the plan Talbot illustrated in which the society lodge was the center of the community. However, this traditional scheme has changed, especially in Calabar. Recently, due to urbanization and population increase, housing and small scale commerc ial structures have disrupted the more traditional and prominent location of the lodge. In Calabar, differentiating lodge structures from housing compounds and commercial buildings has become difficult. For example, it is common to pass by an Ekpe/Mgbe h ouse
60 without even recognizing it as such. The open space once reserved for performance has been urbanization rooted in the 1970 s, it is common for everyday housing structures to Some lodges in Calabar, however, have made the effort to reclaim their space. The Efe Asibong Ekondo, for example, has recently constructed a compound wall that encompasses bot h the lodge and the performance space situated in front (Fig. 2 4). Such cases in Calabar demonstrate recent so serve this function. Further Markers of Ekpe/Mgbe S pace In addition to costly compound construction, some more long standing devices are still used to safeguard the environment of the society. In front of most lodges, a pair of trees stand : one palm an d one oboti tree, whose leaves are used to demarcate impassable boundaries for the symbols, the ukara textile, across the faade of the lodge during ritual (see chap ter 4 for more through discussion). Yet another symbol hung in front of the ukara cloth during ritual is an accumulation of Oboti leaves and palm frond. 3 The symbol indicates to members and non members that the mystical voice and spiritual essence of the s ociety is within the lodge. While these elements should be understood as warnings to non members, they are minor in comparison to the Efik Itiat Ekpe or Qua Isu Dibo also known as the stone of Ekpe or Mgbe. For the Efik and Qua, the stone generally refers to the spirits of the society. In fact, the Itiat Ekpe and Isu Dibo is 3 There are two types of palm fron d: young and old. The younger variety has a yellowish color and is thought to be more spiritually potent. Therefore, only yellowish palm frond is used for this purpose. Among the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria, young palm fronds are also considered sacred and used as a boundary or warning (see Doris 2011: 87).
61 not only the most important spiritual and mystical agent of the society, but it is also understood as a sacred marker of space since in most cases, the stone is permanently located in f ront of the lodge. These markers can be understood as indexes of Ekpe/Mgbe power. Anthropologist Alfred Gell has argued that such art forms affect social agency through a complex relationship mediated by the maker/artist, spiritual entity, and recipient/co nsumer (Gell 1998). Itiat Ekp, the pillar, and Isu Dibo Before discussing Calabar examples, I address stones documented in other areas of the region. Throughout the Cross River region, the stone, although quite diverse in style and use, is a princi ple feature of most Ekpe, Mgbe, and Ngbe versions. In Cameroon, for example, Alfred (1908: 218). Some years later, in the 1950s and 1960s, Malcolm Ruel conducted work among the support in the aca or meeting house of its owner; when formally set out, a variety of objects cover or fixed a collection of feathers, twisted copper or brass rods of the type that was formerly used as currency, two chains with p adlocks holding the stone to the ground, a tortoise shell, decorated calabashes, certain seeds, a white cloth around Ruel discusses the s tone as a critical component of the acquisition and establishment of a lodge (ibid., 221). During the 19 80 s, 2004, and 2005 Hans Joachim Koloss, a German anthropologist, conducted fieldwork among an Ejagham peoples in Kembong, a city located south of the eteh Mgbe in 1980 (2008: 71). The
62 example is quite sim fixed to a central pillar, but it is large and vertical in shape and various elements are attached to it. According to Koloss, the stone is the rightful possession of a leader of Mg no leader of Mgbe owns a stone since acquisition costs are high, and the possession of such a powerful object has led to an overwhelming f ear of a short life span (ibid). Although Koloss records that the stone is not used during Mgbe ceremony and ritual, annual sacrifices are made there in the name of the ancestors (ibid). John Parkinson, writing in 1907, provided a lucid description and dr awing of a stone of Ekpe or Mgbe in southeast Nigeria: This is a very conventionalised human figure. The head is represented by a feather cap, the arms by two feathers standing out from either side, the body is a cylindrical piece of wood, coloured white a nd yellow in broad horizontal stripes. At the base of the body is a slightly hollowed horseshoe shaped dish, while the lower edge is either side. Immediately above the dish ar e three flattened pieces of bronze or brass, hooked at the ends, and on either side run up brass rods, bent into curves like those assumed by a worm or snake. It is, of course, impossible to obtain full details of these things, all of which doubtless have their own meanings, concerned with the religion which one cannot but suppose was the fundamental element in Egbo, whatever it may be now (1907: 263). Parkinson did not indicate the location of the stone or what was characterized as wood as he so richly des cribed. He claimed that all Efik Ekpe and Ejagham Mgbe lodges and their stones are Despite being made of wood and lack of measurements, the placement agai nst a pillar, plethora n interesting likeness to Cameroonian examples discussed by Ruel and Koloss. A stone of Mgbe that I documented in the old city of Ikom (approximately four and a half hours north of Calabar by car) is not unlike the versions recorded by Ruel, Koloss, and
63 Parkinson. The stone of Mgbe is the propert y of the Bendeghe Etung Ejagham lodge (Fig. 2 5). It is the most stylized human representation I have ever seen. T he stone features a human head with eyes, nose, and an open mouth. Triangular forms suggest arms. A painted leopard shown in freely dangle to the floor. The centra l pillar stands immediately behind the stone. A painted is obscured by the head of the stone. The variety of large scale stone s documented from Cameroon and Iko region. In southeastern Nigeria during the early twentieth century, Talbot recorded some interesting information a bout Mgbe stones and other varieties from southern and c entral Ejagham important element of the Egbo house, is not only anthropomorphic in nature donning a hat like element on its crown b ut also stands before the sec ond pillar of the society lodge (1912: 40, 141, and 265 and 1926: 782). However, not all were fixed to a central pillar. Other styles beyond the cylindrical variety were also documented. A precisely cut rectangular Mgbe stone from Mkpott was described and photographed (1912: 172 and 219). It too was adorned with a hat like feature and was not attached to a pillar, but located outside the lodge, near the entrance. Another example from Ndebbiji was drawn and briefly described (1926: 782). Li ke the others, it too was short, anthropomorphic, and placed before a central wooden pillar. types of stones either placed in front of the lodge or at other types of shrines. 4 4 An interesting example is the small shrine at the entrance of a compound dedicated to Obassi Nsi, an earth goddess and principle Ejagham deity recorded by Talbot (1912: 16). The shrine consisted of a tree, carved anthropomorphic
64 deity and female society) were also mentioned. For example, he reported the importance of a critical ceremony for the establishment of a new community (ibid., 262 263). According to Talbot, in some communities, in other communities, the earth deity var iety was small and egg shaped. In fact, Talbot mentions concealed medicine (1912: 96 and 219). Together, the Mgbe and Nimm stones, in the words of Talbot: are the symbols of the male and female tutelary jujus of the club, and it is before these that all sacrifices are offered and prayers made to them and to the Idemm, the spirits of the ancestors who had been members of the club (1926: 782 784). reveal that both stones were frequently placed in front of the Mgbe lodge and seem to be intimately connected. Moreover, Talbot importantly concluded that among the Ejagham different cultural associations, secret societies, ancestral veneration practices, and the amalgamation of Ekpe/Mgbe and Ndem/Nimm is still the case today. In fact, the Efik Ekpe pillar and Itiat Ekpe and the Qua Isu Dibo still express the intimate connection mostly through symbolism The snake decorating some pillars, for example, is a dual symbol for Ndem/Nimm and Ekpe/Mgbe. post, and a stone that received sacrifices (see Talbot 1912: 21 for drawing). Yet another example discussed by ervations, the Ejagham made use of a number of stones for different spiritual and religious purposes. It is interesting to compare the stones recorded by Talbot, Parkinson and the Ekpe/Mgbe stones still found in Calabar today to the well known stone monoli ths discussed by Philip Allison and those attributed to the Bakor Ejagham in the middle Cross River region since those are too anthropomorphic, cylindrical, and possibly represent ancestors or spiritual entities (for a discussion see Allison 1968 and Carls on 2003: 145 149).
65 Despite clear descriptive ac counts, an anthropomorphic suggestion, their importance for establishing a new community, and the connection between Ekpe/Mgbe and Ndem/Nimm, little has been understood about these intriguing stones. Documentation from Calabar reveals that the stone of Ekp e/Mgbe is not only a multi layered art form, but also spiritual and mystical in nature. Differences between Efik and Qua versions require discussion. The Efik and Efut Itiat Ekpe is a sculpted cylindrical stone decorated with a series of white and red ora nge bands (Fig. 2 6). I observed, however, several variations. Some lodges feature long basalt versions, while others have qualities of entirely different igneous rock without painted circular decoration (Fig. 2 7). During initiation into some Efik lodges, neophytes are told to stand on the essential stone during their oath. In addition, during ritual, not only are libations poured over such stones, but they also receive other forms of sacrifice. The stone is also said to receive a number of separate sacr if ices throughout the year. According to Bassey E. Bassey, an explai ned to me that a lodge cannot exist without the stone. It is the repository for the spirit of deceased members, an icon of ancestral potency, and a facilitator of communication between living and deceased members. In short, it is the power of the society. In con trast to the findings of Ruel, Koloss, Parkinson, and Talbot, the Efik Itiat Ekpe I documented were never discussed as human like, nor were they attached to a pillar. They were located outside, usually found in an area some feet away from the front of the lodge. The Efik Efe Ekpe or Ekpe houses that I observed usually featured an elaborately decorated wooden pillar. In the Efut Atu lodge, I documented a pillar with a snake, crocodile, tortoise, and fowl carved in high relief. The animals are also elaborate ly painted. In an Efik lodge
66 at Creek Town, the central pillar was made of masonry instead of wood (Fig. 2 8). It did not feature carved animal designs, but a number of evenl y spaced white bands encircle from the bottom to the top. 5 Both the animals and ba nds symbolize a number of ideas, including the connection between Ekpe and Ndem. In most Efik and Efut lodges, the pillar was located in the exact center of the lodge interior. According to an Efut Ekpe chief, the pillar is critical to the society; it not only relates to the ancestors, but is also the architectural element that supports the lodge. The pillar is interpreted as a testament to the importance of the ancestors, those past members responsible for the establishment of the society. In other words, the pillar is not only a practical support, but serves as a spiritual device as well. Unlike the Efik, Qua Mgbe lodges do not feature a decorated central pillar. Only an Isu Dibo is present. The examples I documented were worked basalt, cylindrical in fo rm, and measuring approximately two feet high by 5 inches in width (Fig. 2 9 and 2 10). Qua versions are almost identical to those recorded by Talbot. Not unlike the Efik version, Qua Isu Dibo receives sacrifices. It is also decorated with white and red or ange bands from bottom to top. The lodge. The general shape and cap like element, according to Qua members, connote an anthropomorphism. The stone dons a cap to d ifferentiate its status in the spiritual realm from lesser deceased members not unlike living Mgbe chiefs, who earn the right to wear hats once they become titleholders. In fact, during the initiation at which a member receives a title, thus 5 Interestingly, an Itiat Ekpe was placed at the bottom of the stone pillar; the lodge featured two stones of Ekpe, one inside and the other outside. Some shrine heads buy and collect important elements of the society in order to enhanc e the prestige of their lodge. The example of the Iboku lodge at Creek town demonstrates this idea; the Iyamba or lodge head, chief Efiok Ekpenyong Nsa, is known as quite the Ekpe collector. He is one of the most senior chiefs in all of Calabar in terms of when he took his title, and prides himself on a well furnished lodge along with a comprehensive knowledge to explain and properly use those objects.
67 becoming a chi ef of the society, a goat is slaughtered and its blood is poured over the Isu Dib o. The sacrifice symbolizes the chief initiation into the mystical depths of the lodge. Additionally, during ritual, the Isu Dibo or Mgbe stone regulates the rules of the so ciety. For example, lesser members are not entitled to enter the lodge with hats or shoes a right reserved for the chiefs. The Isu Dibo, located at the entrance into the lodge thus serves as a warning and reminder to younger members who have not poured blo od upon the stone. Mgbe chief Emmanuel Edem different titles and masquerades of the society. He further indicated that it has an intimate connection not only to the bush but also to the abasonko a feathered plume attached to the Dibo masquerade, the most fierce and spiritual masquerade of the entire society. 6 Mgbe members also use another phrase to explain the stone, Ekpo Dibo, meaning ghost of Dibo. 7 A chief discussed with me how the Isu Dibo or Ek po Dibo protects members during ritual by curbing dangerous energies away from the lodge. Further, the stone serves as a warning to non members. 8 Those Dibo or Ekpe sum, the Qua, not unlike the Efik, understand the stone as a potent spiritu al presence for the society. Clearly, the above analysis demonstrates the presence of regional styles of the stones of Ekpe, Mgbe, and Ngbe throughout the Cross River region. It is interesting to note that in and 6 Interview with chief Emmanuel Edem, March 8, 2010. Other Qua and Efik members confirmed the connection. See chapter 5 for a further discussion about the feathered plume and its importance to the Efik Nyamkpe and Qua Dibo masquerades. 7 Interviews with Entufam Hayford S. Edet, March 29, 2010 and Prince Okoro Edim Ntoe, April 25, 2010. 8 Interview with chi ef Joe Edet, April 21, 2010.
68 around the region of Calabar, the stones are smaller and less obvious. Is it possible but highly unlikely, that the Calabar style is recent and reflects a calculated attempt by members to hide their stones from the growing pressures brought about by Christianity during the mid nineteenth century ? Unfortunately, with lack of evidence, such enquiries remain hypothetical. Nevertheless, the introduction of Christianity had a great influence on the Ekpe society. Missionaries discouraged indigenous aspects of life and culture, laws were passed against long standing practices, and once ultimate the power of Ekpe, slowly faded. Accounts from Calabar during the late 19 th and middle 20 th centuries reveal a common interest by European missionaries to stamp out the influence and practices of the Ekpe society (see Waddell 1863, Goldie 1890, and McFarlan 1946). The following section demonstrates how early missionaries contested the space of Ekpe/Mgbe in order to undermine its mystical and political position in Old Calabar. Christianity and Ekpe: Ea rly C onfrontation The arrival of the Scottish Presbyterian Mission in 1846, led by Waddell, decidedly changed the religious landscape of Calabar. Prior to this, Calabar had already witnessed great economic change. Outlawed in 1807, the traffic of human beings slowly faded and gave way to the growth of an oil and produce trade that had been initiated some 60 years prior to the abolishment of slave trading (for more see Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: 81 101). In fact, during the waning days of the sl ave trade, Efik merchants were already securing alternative plans for financial sustainability. Two influential Efik traders and Ekpe chiefs, King Eyo Honesty II of Creek Town and King Eyamba V of Duke Town, wrote letters to British authorities requesting for a means to grow cotton, coffee, and sugarcane, and to cultivate Western education and to foster an awareness of Christianity. In the words of King Eyamba V,
69 9 God like white man, and then we go on for same fashi 158). Four years after writing those requests, Old Calabar witnessed the coming of missionaries, who brought with them not only a new religious ideology but also seeds for great societal change. Most chiefs were reluctant to allow Europ eans to settle in Calabar. It was King Eyo who promoted the import ance of building schools and the accepting of Western education despite those who opposed (Aye 2009: 66). Some argue that King Eyo was a political strategist and opportunist who supported th e mission in order to extend his control over the rest of the Efik towns in Calabar (Ume 1980: 157 and Offiong 1989: 59). Supported by the agenda of King Eyo, mission stations were established in both Creek Town and Duke Town. The inaugural sermons, preac hed by Waddell in English and translated 71). In 1850, four years after the arrival of the missionaries, a church was bu ilt in Creek Town, which became the headquarters and wa s publicly consecrated in 1855. The mission was gaining significant ground at Old Calabar. In 1851, 200 converts were recorded, while in 1875, that number grew to over 1,670 (Ume 1980: 165). Despite this success, however, from the beginning, Christianity c hallenged and contested both Ekpe practice and ideology as well as the leadership of the elite merchant class. Those powerful and wealthy men all belonged to Ekpe, which, of course, was the mechanism that reinforced and maintained their prominent positions at Old Calabar. Missionaries infringed on the space of Ekpe in a number of ways. Not only were the day to day operations of the institution contested but the physical space of the society was also 9
70 challenged. Sunday sermons quickly posed a problem for Ek pe programing. At that time, the Efik embraced an eight day calendar. The last day of the Efik week was strictly set aside for Ekpe performance and rites. On many occasions, Christian sermons coincided with the day of Ekpe. In fact, the first Christian ser mon in Calabar was scheduled on an Ekpe day, but Waddell (Waddell 1863: 275). However, since Ekpe still commanded tremendous authority, in the year 1847, Sunday missionary preaching was forced to yield to Ekpe ceremony. (Ibid., 355). By 1848, the mission was successful in claiming Sunday as an official day reserved for Christian preaching. Waddell, again, relied on King Eyo, who officially condemned the presence of any Ekpe quickly lost ground to the many spatial battles waged by the mission. Preaching painted Efik pract ices such as polygamy, the sacrifice of slaves at the death of a prominent man, t win sacrifice, witchcraft trials worship of sacred images, use of herbalist medicines, and Ekpe forms of prayer through goat and chicken blood as superstitious and heathen. 10 In a brasher attempt to challenge Ekpe space in 1849, a missionary by the name of Samuel Edgerley stormed into an Ekpe lo sacred drum. viol ators of Ekpe law. History sources and Missionary accounts are packed with cases as to when the mission challenged the authority of Ekpe by harboring slaves, thieves, non members during 10 abolished in 1853 (Goldie 1890: 170).
71 performance, twin mothers, women 11 and those accused of witchcraft (Ay e 1967: 132, McFarlan 1946: 38, Abasiattai 1990: 218, and Waddell 1863: 374 375, 399, 403, 505 506, 511, and 580). Prior to the mission, Ekpe had no boundaries when summoning, seeking out, and punishing offenders. Because Ekpe members could not claim those they deemed guilty from the sanctuary of mission stations, the space the society once governed freely was no longer entirely under their authority. Despite the later success of the missionaries, i nitially, Ekpe proved too diffi cult to undermine however Missionaries quickly changed their approach. According to E. U. Aye, an Efik historian: The early missionaries did not like Ekpe authority over the people, because Ekpe laws were in many respects contrary to Christian teachings. At first they thought of breaking down the authority of Ekpe and perhaps to entrench Christianity in its place, but when they found the invulnerability of Ekpe power and its sanctity in Efik culture they decided, with the support of the supercargos, to se ek for its support in their religious and social reforms. It was in 1850 that this support finally came, and Ekpe edicts were promulgated against these social institutions (Aye 2000: 164 165). Under the authority of Ekpe, the edict outlawed the killing of twins, human sacrifice, and witchcraft trials among other things (Offiong 1989: 60). With help from King Eyo, the mission had successfully manipulated Ekpe to their favor. The Edict of 1850 would soon completely nullify the power of Ekpe. From 1850 to 18 55, the Ekpe society and King Eyo were puppets that safeguarded missionary agenda. 12 However, tension was building between Ekpe and the Mission. In 1854, 11 From the start, the mission was interested in improving the rights and status of women in Calabar. For a thorough discussion see Hackett 1989: 65 67. 12 Shortly after the edict of 1850 was made official, the miss ion was eager to extend its authority beyond Calabar. The community was rumored to be in violation of the human sacrifice ban during the funeral f
72 Edgerley again took aggressive action by entering, violating, and taking sculptures for him self from an Ndem shrine community attempted to mobilize against the mission, but Waddell called on King Eyo to suppress the uprising (Ume 1980: 162). For the egregious actions committed by the missionary, Waddel l was tension reached a climax when the British Navy bombarded and completely destroyed Old Town, which had violated the human sacrifice clause, even though t he edict of 1850 did not officially apply to Old Town. 13 In response to the bombing and continued violation of Ekpe space, the society contested the mission by disrupting meetings and the Sabbath (Aye 1967: 132). Ekpe quickly became a local means of protes t. In 1856, in an attempt to rid Calabar of the missionaries altogether, Duke he mission house was therefore completely severed from the community and the missionaries were ordered to leave at once (Waddell 1863: 580). However, the proclamation of Ekpe law was rend ered futile when British council intervened and sided with the mission. In the words of d in reply, and took off the ba n before and eventually forced the village to submit to their authority by means of a blockade, which severed the community from i ts trading networks and emptied their local market (see Waddell 1863: 444 449). 13 The edict did not apply to Old Town since their leader and signatory, Willie Tom, was absent during the legislation hearings of 1850 (Offiong 1989: 61).
73 and supreme authority, but also its submiss ion to an outside power, foreshadowing the establishment of the colonial government. 14 The first confrontations between Ekpe and the Evangelical mission at Old Calabar are crucial for understanding more recent religious discourse in contemporary Calabar. W ith the rise of religious pluralism in Calab ar, recent religious orientations, particularly those related to Christianity, make use of tactics similar to those that precolonial missionaries em ployed in order to render long standing practice in a demonic li ght. Along with demonizing language used by Christians to contest local culture, I will demonstrate that religious disputes have begun to infiltrate Ekpe/Mgbe lodges. Members now openly engage in dialogue about aspects of Ekpe/Mgbe that are not acceptable in light of Christianity. Because of such disputes, Ekpe/Mgbe markers of space have become internally contested. More R ece nt Confrontation and the Rhetoric of D emonization Beginning in the 1880s, religious pluralism started to take root in C alabar. 15 During the colonial, Independence, and Biafran civil war (1967 1970) periods, Calabar witnessed the steady growth of a number of religious developments whether indigenous or exogenous (i.e. mainline church missions, Pentecostal, Evangelical, the S p i rit Movement, and local appropriations). However, in the 1970s, following the war and during the oil boom, Christian forms of religion in Calabar experienced an unparalleled revival and period of growth. 16 In the 1980s and even today, 14 The ban o f 1878 administered by British Consul David Hopkins was the decisive blow to the authority of Ekpe. It consisted of fifteen articles enforcing the agenda of the missionaries and European residents. Article five was the most damaging to Ekpe since it outlaw rituals or sacrifices make to supposed Gods, nor Devil making (connected with burial) or making offerings to the 15 For more see A basiattai 1990: chapter 13 and Hackett 1989: 75 82 and chapter 3. 16 According to Rosalind Hackett, twenty two new religious organizations were created or were brought to Calabar during the 1970s. Of those twenty two, twelve were indigenous. Additionally, since the 1970s, the mainline or orthodox churches (Presbyterian and Roman Catholic) have declined and given way to Pentecostal churches (Hackett 1989: 119 and 136).
74 Pentecostalism flour ishes because nence of Christianity in Calabar is well recogniz ed (ibid., 1). This has led to p ublic outcries against the place of longer standing forms of culture, especially in light of the recent Pentecostal fervor. Birgit Meyer demonstrates that in Ghana, twentiet h century missionaries demonized and persecuted local religion so much that subsequent generations still conceptualize non Christian religiosity through the image of the devil or Satan (Meyer 1999). The Ghanaian case resonates with those of preceding gener ations in Calabar, who were born into families that adamantly clung to the idea of condemning local culture, for example Ekpe and Mgbe, to that of a satanic cult. These comparisons and other general disputes about the place of local culture, or long stand ing practices, are found in local media outlets and addressed during church services or congregational activities. Both forms of discourse challenge the vitality and authority of the Ekpe/Mgbe society not unlike the precolonial preaching and agenda of the early missionaries. I argue that such contes tation is a contemporary challenge to the space of Ekpe/Mgbe. Local Newspaper D isputes Nigerian Chronicle is riddled with such clashes from the 1970s to the present. 17 Simply glancin g at some of the poignant headlines through the decades 17 r started to appear in local newspapers during the 1970s when, at the national level, Nigeria promoted cultural revival, especially for FESTAC further sheds light into the Calabar debate about the topic of cultural revival and general attitude towards it. Contributors were cultural board officers or Christian clerics. Most support the notion of cultural revival as an outward expression and mean s of maintaining identity. However, secret societies were heavily condemned. For example, in the paper by Rev. (Dr.) Brian Usanga, membership in secret masquerade societies was deemed unacceptable for church members since most ceremonies are contrary to Ch ristian doctrines and morals, while More recently, these old disputes are being rehashed as Calabarians continue to use the media to debate whe ther local culture is usable for their international tourism industry (for a discussion on tourism and Calabar see chapter 6 of this dissertation).
75 cial 2010). These headlines present only a fraction of the larger debate about the p lace of local culture in a modern city as read in the newspaper. A more thorough list and discussion of article content is beyond the scope of this chapter. Deeper analysis of the Nigerian Chronicle reveals that in the 1 970s and 1980s, the discourse was more or less, equally weighted. Those against cultural revival and the pr eservation of local tradition were clearly influenced by ideology during the 1970s and 1980s. However, during the late 1980s and into the 1990s and th e first decade of the 21 st century, the discourse turned one sided, heavily favoring the more fundamental Christian/Pentecostal/Evangelical perspective. Also during this time, the rhetoric of originally characterized violent student fraternities that flourished on Nigerian college campuses during the 1980s. According to the Nigerian Chronicle their activities such as blood oath, mur der, and cor ruption were attributed to Satan (Okoroafor 1990 and Stephens 1994). However, forms
76 particular mode of greeting, sign language, and distinctive verbal langua ge (James 2009: 16). Most long standing forms of culture in Calabar, namely E kpe/Mgbe, employ these elements to determine membership. d emocracy while he applauds the g groups. Nwabueze is not vague about who is l are written ou t in the article as if to insi t e debate (Nwabueze 2009). In an interview with Nwabueze, ere described as the same with minor difference. Ac cording to Nwabueze, Ekpe/Mgbe is certainly a secret society that should be entirely illegal He further stated that if a member holds a political office, according to Nigerian law, Ekpe membership must be renounced. 18 Such interpretations are widespread I administered a survey during fieldwork in Calabar in 2010, asking random people their opinion as to whether local culture is a cult or not ; only about 20% indicated that Ekpe/Mgbe was indeed a cult. In light of the evidence, it seems that the educated el ite and governmental officials, armed with Christian ideology, are responsible for the recent folding up local culture and placing it into the envelop e 19 This demonization of local culture is further fueled during Christian worship. Preaching against Ekpe/Mgbe Most members of Ekpe/Mgbe and even non members explained to me that church officials: priests, pastors, deacons, and spiritual leaders, openly rebuke local culture during homily, sermons, and individual consultation. In my view, the vei l of secrecy that defines the 18 Interview with Ugoji Nwabueze, April 2, 2010. 19 Hackett reports that newspaper circulation is low in Ca labar and daily papers are mostly delivered to and consumed by those associated with government offices, commercial businesses, and educational institutions (Hackett 1989: 293).
77 institution along with its rights of access only to men, has been a point of contention within the becomes an easy target for churchgoer s. A great deal of this Christian rhetoric revolves around the issue of gender. Sunday Adaka, curator of the National Commissions for Museums and Monuments in Calabar, argues that the purpose of secret societies, like Ekpe, is to oppress women and keep lo cal power in the hands of men. 20 Indeed, in Calabar, even though women are initiated into Ekpe/Mgbe, female membership does not grant them access to any knowledge or leadership within the society. Women have thus sought out other forms of membership in orde r gain voice. 21 Church membership is one such arena where women can aspire to positions of leadership. As pastors and deacons, women empower themselves by openly demonizing and speaking negatively against societies like Ekpe/Mgbe. 22 In this way, under the ve il of Christianity and the media, non members, women, and even children publicly contest a long standing Ekpe/Mgbe taboo: under no circumstance can non members discuss Ekpe/Mgbe. 23 20 Personal communication with Sunday Adaka, February 17, 2010. 21 In an art icle on Calabar, featured in Nigeria Magazine over their men an influence said to social, cultural or religious in their overt purpose, now wield co 89). 22 Interview with chief Imona, October 8, 2009 and informal discussion with Note Patrick In ok Oquagbor V and Mbong Atu Assagi from 2008 2010. 23 Until about the 1950s or 1960s, Ekpe/Mgbe norms were closely followed according to elders of the society. Non members were never aloud to utter a whisper about the society or even be in the same vicinit y during performance. These rules and regulations resonate to the influence Komo commands in Mande communities in Mali (See McNaughton 1979: 22).
78 Reactions and I mplications As a result of the rhetor lished in local newspapers and the demonization that occurs during Christian worship aimed at local cultural institutions like Ekpe/Mgbe, members have become frustrated. When members are asked about such agenda, usually ion 24 Others, enraged by the condemning nature of the 25 One response to such contestation was the founding of Calaba r Mgbe in the late 1990s an institution that provides cross ethnic unity and a common voice for Ekpe/Mgbe affairs. Another plan is to organize public conferences/forums to educate non members about the erroneous allegations that the society is a satanic c ul t. Other members discuss the need for the society to become more inclusive and permit initiated women to enter the lodge. Yet another member, Bassey E. Bassey who was initiated later in life, wrote a book about Ekpe. To my knowledge, his book, Ekpe Efik : A Theosophical Perspective is the first and only attempt by an indigenous member to write about the society. Bassey not only discusses some inner teachings of the society, but he also addresses how its religious and philosophical applications apply to o ther religions like Christianity (Bassey 1998). However important these rebuttals are, Ekpe/Mgbe is losing the written and verbal debates. 26 I argue that such battles waged by the pen or by the mouth of non members are calculated attempts to marginalize Ek pe/Mgbe. Such contestations are construed as spatial challenges to the 24 Interviews with chief Lawarence Nyong Akiba, and chief Dennis Edet, February 22, 2010 and interview with ch ief Imona October 8, 2009. 25 Interview with chief Francis Edet, February 22, 2010. 26
79 introduction of the various modernities such as Christianity and printed newspapers. These affronts have further fractured the unity of given lodges. Since members are for the most part staunch Christians, some have started to question certain elements and practices of the society. Thu s, contemporary Christian world view has inspired and fueled a debate among members. In the center of the debate is the pouring of libation and the stone of Ekpe/Mgbe. Internal D ebates in Qua Mgbe L odges T oday Several debates are currently being waged wit hin Mgbe lodges in Calabar These include the pouring of libati ons, the stone, and the public claiming of space through performances, I will address two of these in this chapter. To Pour or Not t o P our Perhaps the most contentious is sue under debate is the act of pouring libations. Libation pouring during performanc e is one of many strategies members make use of to voice themselves publicly. In such performances, discussed in the next chapter the act of pouring to the ancestors, calling on them to protect and to guide the living mem bers during performance, is multif old: an offering, a point of remembrance, an hono ring gesture, a form of request for protection, and a device to position members in debates about modernity, local politics, and religiosity. The pouring of libation officially commences ritual activity and may occur during performance at random times when knowledgeable members deem it worthy, especially as a public street procession passes the house of a deceased titleholder. The procession stops to pour and chant in honor of the deceased (Fig. 2 11). The act is an ultimate form of respect for deceased members, but also a poignant reminder to those who contest the practice. As a devout Christian, Ndidem (Dr.) Thomas I.I. Oqua III, grand patriarch of the Qua nation has condemned the pouring of libation and a dvises only verbal chan ting in honor of the ancestors
80 past his own clan, the tile of Ndidemship makes him the official spokesperson and advisor to the entire Qua nati on. Keep in mind, each clan is autonomous with its own clan head conceptualized as the monarch, who rules his territory with absolute authority, which is granted through the by the Paramount ruler is a delicate case. The controversy about pouring libation has only been In Qua communities, libat ion pouring has thus become quite controversial. When clan heads and titleholders choose to pour or not to pour, they in fact enter into a political an d spiritual discourse. Argumentation commonly follow s either decision. When members do or do not pour, especially in public, they knowingly enter a heated local discourse through the medium of it also makes a larger comment about indigenous beli ef and the ways a foreign world view brought with missionization has encroached, closely followed by the fall out of colonialization. During Ekpe/Mgbe performance members make use of a seemingly innocuous act of pou ring drinks on the earth or on a stone as a potent statement, ushering the actors into an argument in the pub lic arena and participation in local conv ersations about change and contemporary religious discourse. Controversy arose in the wider Qua community when Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquabor V was crowned clan head of Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) in 2008. The newly coronated monarch chose to pour libation to Nimm, th e Qua tutelary earth goddess deity, much to the chagrin of the wider community. In fact, during an interview with an elder Mgbe member and honorary chief from a neighboring clan, the integrity and knowledge of the clan head has been in question since he po ured libation to Nimm. The elder further stated that he would never support or participate in
81 27 Clearly, the elder Mgbe member supports the banning of More recently, in Nkonib, the pouring of libation had global implication. The Calabar Free Trade Zone, also known as the export processing zone or foreign trade zone, commenced the building o f its own jetty. In order for the construction to begin, Ntoe Oquabor V had to grant consent officially since the project was located on his land. Permission was offered through the pouring of libation to cleanse the waterfront where the jetty was to be bu ilt. The event was featured on the front page of the Nigerian Chronicle The article stated that Ntoe Oquabor V, his Qua (Ekpenyong 2010: 1). Ntoe Oquabor V used the foru m to state recognize the host community by engaging their unemployed sons and daughters in any of their pouring, modernity A dispute about libation pouring erupted in the Big Qua clan, during a planning committee meeting for the organization of the 7 th anniversary coronation ceremony of Ndidem Oqua III Prior to the dispute, members of the committee and the gathered community were discussing the ethnic tensions between themselves (the Qua) and their Efik neighbors. As always, land ownership took center stage. Several complaints about how the Efik pour l ibation on Qua land were voiced. The Qua maintain that they are the landholders of Calabar while much to their frustration, the Efik also claim ownership. The argument was made that the Qua should demonstrate their landownership by officially pouring libat ion and calling upon the ancestors for 27 Interview with Entufam Orok Etim Okon, May 24, 2010.
82 guidance in the matter. Recall that many clans still pour libation even though the Ndidem discourages the practice. The use of the word officially was political in nature. The committee curbed the debate until it resu rfaced when the meeting was about to adjourn. A Christia n prayer is always offered at the conclusion of the assembly. The penalty for being late to a committee meeting is leading the closing prayer. When the most tardy attendee was called upon to pray, he others clapped, most let out a chuckle. 28 Instead of leading a Christian prayer, the elder offered a timely and revealing critique. Certainly political intention fueled the discourse that day in nation. Instead, the meeting became a fo rum for addressing politics, religion, and libation pouring. Such debate and disagreement extends as well to the stone of Mgbe. Disputing the Stone of Mgbe During my investigation of the stone of Mgbe, I became aware that not all Qua lodges feature the supposedly most critical element of the society. An interview with the paramount ruler of the Quas, Ndidem Oqua III, gave me insight into not an external debate between Mgbe members and Christian influenced thinkers, but an internal issue enveloped in hea ted local discourse. After asking why his lodge at Big Qua did not have an Isu Dibo planted near the lodge entrance, Ndidem informed me that he had removed it. Ndidem explained that those types of 29 and require painstaking annual ritual s in the form of libation pouring and 28 My notes from the Central Planning Committee (CPC) meeting for the planning of the 7 th anniversary coronation of Ndidem (Dr.) Thomas I.I. Oqua III, March 10, 2010. 29 y encountered any type of art form or object in Africa they did not care to understand. It is no surprise, but unfortunate, that the term is used in Calabar to demean objects like the stone of Mgbe. The accounts written by Calabar missionaries and colonia l officers are littered with the term. No doubt, it was everyday language while preaching the lessons of Christianity.
83 slaughtering of animals. If not properly administered, the spirits of Mgbe can become destructive. Ndidem cited an example: if a certain quality of blood, meat, yam, and such is not properly sacrificed, the spirit will not only kill the priest, but also harm other members, and because of what it demands monarch Ndidem concluded that research he conducted informed his decision, and that the Bible was his main source. 30 Of the five Qua lodges in which I documented Mgbe ritual an d performance, Big Qua and Ikpai Owom featured no Isu Dibo, while Ikot Ansa (Nkonib), Akim, and the two Kasuk lodges prominently dis played the stone. Obviously interpretation of Isu Dibo. Each Qua clan is autonomous and the real authority of the Ndidem heads decide either to follow the religious direction of the paramount ruler, or to continue the longer standing practice of featuring the stone and administering its rituals. The common argument for the latter is a matter of embracing ancestral veneration. Some believe that a lodge without a stone is simply not a real house of Mgbe and is stripped of its ancestral and mystic al powers. In either case, the clan and its monarch unavoidably take a side and enter into the heated debate by choosing to keep the stone in place or to remove it. Indeed, the dispute is quite visually palpable. Lodges do not attempt to hide their positi on in the matter. Instead, the stones of those who maintain them are clearly visible from afar. The (For the history of the term, see McClusky 2002). 30 Interview with Ndidem (Dr.) Thomas Ika Ika Oqua III, Grand Patriarch of the Qua Nation, November 17, 2009.
84 enmeshed in and change with contemporary life. In other words the debate surrounding the stone reflects long standing belief and issues of locality, while at the same time reflecting contemporary religious and current socio political awareness. In fact, a close reading of the stone demonstrates how a given long sta nding ritualistic aspect of Mgbe is critically used to engage in discourse about modernity and its malcontents (Comaroff and Comaroff 1993). However, there is another layer to such disputes once the examination turns attention to the politics of a particul ar lodge. The Stone or Isu Dibo at Nkonib (Ikot An sa) is anchored into the ground in front of the lodge by a metal chain attached to the foundation of the structure (refer to Fig. 2 10). Such a precaution is not normally taken. However, because the Ekpe/Mg be and Christianity debate has spilled over into individual lodges, members openly argue and take sides about what aspects of ritual practice are acceptable. Although the clan head and his elder titleholders make the decision to displ ay the stone, all memb ers of a particular lodge are not always on the same pa ge. Those who strongly disagree once went as far as trying to remove it! Such an act is deemed absolutely intolerable by the society. The offending members were never caught since the blasphemous act w as committed at night. Members of the Nkonib lodge have their suspicions as to who was responsible since it is known which side of the argument each side embraces. But without evidence, a member cannot be summonsed before the titleholders for disciplinary action. Therefore, another strategy was employed; the stone was anchored into the ground, making all future attempts impossible. Such debates and normally unthinkable actions demonstrate the depth of the larger religious debate raging in Calabar today. Th e fact that members challenge their leaders in an
85 effort to rid their own lodges of their stones of Mgbe the source of all ancestral power and mystical barrier of the society speaks volumes about the complexities within a particular lodge as well as the ki nds of discourse and intervention Ekpe/Mgbe ritual and perfo rmance affects. Yet there is another layer to the stone and lodge of Nkonib. The Burning of a L odge After having left Calabar in Ju ly 2009, I returned to the city for a yearlong stay some two months later. During the time I was away, the local external and internal debates about the stone of Mgbe at the Nkonib clan (Ikot Ansa), had reached a dangerous climax. Someone or a group of persons had set fire to the Nkonib lodge. The house of Mgbe was in disrepair and completely out of commission. The fire also heavily damaged the stone of Mgbe. The story told to me by members of the lodge was that the culprits had thrown lit materials into the lodge from an open window at around two or three in t he mor ning. Once the fire started members living nearby had members of the lodge were shocked, but the community was just as astonished. The space of Mgbe had been violated, and the uneasiness of the community was palpable. In former days, an action against Mgbe/Ekpe, especially one of this magnitude, would have certainly resulted in the offenders being put to death. The catalyst for the burning of the shrine was t he contradictory attitudes of Mgbe and Christianity on what the stone symbolizes and means. Most members adamantly stated that the act was promulgated by Christians trying to rid their community of Mgbe. However, a few titleholders suggested that a neighbo ring clan with which Nkonib was engaged in a land dispute could have been responsible for the arson. Nobody was willing even to state the possibly that the y the incident and labeled it an egregious att ack against Mgbe/Ekpe. In such case s judging from the aftermath, the
86 ston e seems to have been a principal target, along with the rest of the lodge. The damage to the stone fo rced the lodge head to remove and hide it. Regardless of who set fi re to the stone and lodge, the space of Mgbe was challenged in an unthinkable manner. The leadership of the lodge responded swiftly with a calculated attempt to reclaim the contested space posed by Christians, its own members, and those involved in the lan d dispute. The clan head and Mgbe lodge head, Se Dibo, Ntoe Oquabor V, stated that the burn ing of the shrine, although an attack on Mgbe, was an opportunity for the members and clan to renovate and enlarge the lodge. Due to the growing nature of the Ekpe /Mgbe society in Calabar, most lodges are too small these days. Nkonib, like many other clans, required a larger lodge for the ellow titleholders, an ambitious building project. The blue print for the design was about much more The new shrine (Fig. 2 12), a modern marvel in comparison to the older version, is not only about three times the size of the previous structure, but it includes a bathroom, toilet, shower, plumbing, electrical outlets, lights, generator, a number of ceiling fans, locking windows, and a locking metal compound gate. Once construction was complete, members orchestrated a public rededication ceremony participation which further marked the importan ce of the rite. The rebuilding of the lodge, coupled with a large public ceremony, which included the presence of a number of important Qua leaders, not only sanctified the new structure, but was also a poignant rebuttal to those responsible for the burnin g of the lodge.
87 The day before the dedication libation was poured in a public manner to the ancestors while members stood in front of their newly renovated lodge. The offering, along with the performance, was not only intended for the ancestors of course, but it was a strategic tactic to make a public statement in an ongoing battle for space in Calabar. Taking it t o the S treets The burning of the Nkonib Mgbe lodge is an extreme example of how serious the spatial battle between the long standing cultural practices of the region and the more recent Christian ideology that has challenged it in Calabar. Chr istian demonization of Mgbe and the rhetoric in public protest against the more spiritual as pects of Ekpe/Mgbe. Not only are non members encouraged to think this way, but even members are challenged to reconsider these aspects of the society. This chapter problematizes the tendency Westerners have claimed that so called society meeting lodges are solely facilitators of the divine or that they are even spiritually relevant to everyone participating in the ritual space (Hackett 1996: 166). Markers of Ekpe/Mgbe space, for example, once served as barriers that protected the s piritual and physical integrity of the society. Recently, some markers have been removed, contested, and debated. While some lodges respond to the debate by keeping such markers in place, others have removed them. Disputes among members about the stones of Ekpe/Mgbe and pouring of libation demonstrate the changing nature of the society. Society members today are the minority, and they are not as politically strong as they were in precolonial days. Thus, the Ekpe/Mgbe society is losing ground to the Christia n inspired written and verbal slander. Ekpe/Mgbe members, for the most part, are speechless in the public arena because they are simply outnumber ed. I argue in the next chapter that members take to the streets to reclaim space and to voice their frustrati ons through the medium of elaborate public performance.
88 Ekpe/Mgbe ritual and performance has thus become more public than it was in the past. Even though some members discourage practices such as the pouring of libation, no member, to my knowledge, defines Ekpe/ group. On the contrary, all members value the vitality of the society and its cultural aspects. Masquerade performance, initiation, and title taking are aspects of the society that members strongly encourage. Ritual space has thus extended beyond the lodge itself into the streets. It is a calculated push back against the rhetoric that attempts to demonize Mgbe. Recent public performance is a medium through which members are able to voice their positions within the heated co ntemporary discourse.
89 Figures Figure 2 1. Akim Mgbe Lodge, Akim Town, Calabar, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
90 Figure 2 2. Ekpe lodge, Bechei village, Umon, Jan. 30, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
91 Figure 2 3. Ejagham Mgbe Lod ge, Akamkpa LGA, Jan. 9, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
92 Figure 2 4. Interior of compound wall of Efe Ekpe Asibong Ekondo, Calabar, Dec. 5, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
93 Figure 2 5. Stone of Mgbe from Bendeghe Etung Ejagham lodge, Ikom, Middle Cross River, Oct. 17, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
94 Figure 2 6. Stone of Ekpe from Efe Ekpe Iboku, Creek Town, Dec. 30, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
95 Figure 2 7. Stone of Ekpe from Efe Ekpe Asibong Ekondo, Calabar Dec. 5, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
96 Figure 2 8. Newly conferred chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa standing next to stone pillar supporting the Efe Ekpe Iboku, Creek Town, Dec. 30, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
97 Figure 2 9. St one of Mgbe from the Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) lodge, Calabar, June 27, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
98 Figure 2 10. Stone of Mgbe from the Kasuk lodge, Calabar, Jul. 18, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
99 Figure 2 11 Mgbe street perfor mance stops to pour libation, during chieftaincy conferment ceremony, Nkonib, Calabar, May 31, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
100 Figure 2 12. Expanded and renovated Nkonib Mgbe lodge, Calabar, June 3, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
101 CHAPTER 3 CLAIMING SPACE THROU GH PUBLIC SPECTACLE: THE CONTEMPORARY INSTALLATION OF AN E KPE/MGBE CHIEF The previous chapter demonstrates how Christian ideology openly contests the ancestral practices, mystical aspects, and sacred space of Ekpe/Mg be. As a result, even the members themselves have increasingly started to question libation pouring and the place of the stones of Ekpe/Mgbe in contemporary Calabar. Recent external discourse and internal debates among members about the pla ce of long stand ing practices and rites pattern of urbanization during the 1970s and 1980s. During those decades, Pentecostal and Evangelical influence flourished in the midst of urban growth and development. However, Ekpe/Mgbe has not faded in these c hanging contexts, but th rives today. In spite of member s questioning the ancestral and mystical aspects of the organization, they are all united in the effort to preserve the heritage of the society through performative display. Members have thu s taken the argument to the streets in an effort to push back against the forces that challenge their society. This chapter demonstrates that Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy conferment rites in Calabar have developed into elaborate public spectacles rather than th e closed and secret events of the past. urbanization. I present a detailed case to the ways in which the Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy installation has changed into an extravagant p ublic cultural display to argue that the recently expanded spectacle has become a calculated outlet for the society not only to assert their wealth and power but also to reclaim space through performance. As Calabar was changing in the 1970s and 1980s, the acquisition of chieftaincy titles became a major means for individuals to demonstrate local prestige and power. In an interview with Muri J. B. Anating Edem VI, an Efut clan head, about the importance of chieftaincy in
102 1970s and 1980s, if you did not take a title, no one took you 1 Indeed, the acquisition of a chieftaincy title is absolutely necessary for an individual to increase status and power at the local level. There are three categories of chieftaincy rank in Calabar: honorary, community, and those belonging to Ekpe/Mgbe. The first two titles are forms of recognition for communal service. The Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy title is not only the highest form of chieftaincy rank available in Calabar, but it is als o the most prestigious type and hardest to obtain. However, as Christianity grew in influence during the 1970s and 1980s, the business of assigning Ekpe/Mgbe titles started to succumb to greed. Members informed me that prior to the 1960s, the number of E kpe/Mgbe chiefs of a individual lodge could be counted on one hand. In fact, in the past, Ekpe/Mgbe titles were strictly hereditary, especially those of superior status. Titles were passed from father to son upon ocured enough money and resource s to take his 56). During the 1970s and 1980s, many sons of titled chiefs were becoming born again Christians and openly refused their hereditary right. 2 Ekpe/Mgbe titles were thus sold o utside the immediate family and even in some cases outside of the family altogether. For these reasons, Simon Ottenberg and Linda Knudsen, based on work conducted in Calabar during the mid 1970s, concluded that the Ekpe/Mgbe usiness of selling and buying titles still continues today. Nowadays, it is common for a given lodge to have over twenty titleholders. 1 Interview with Muri J. B. Anating Edem VI, February 27, 2010. 2 have refused to join owing to their personal Christian the Pentecostal and Evangelical boom of the 1970s and 1980s.
103 During the 1970s and 1980s, Ekpe/Mgbe titles turned i nto purchasable commodities. The change brought about a new economy in which prices increased and explains why Ekpe/Mgbe titles are an expensive endeavor today. Since the business of Ekpe/Mgbe titles became more about status than the pursuit of esoteric k nowledge conferment celebrations have become more public. In fact, members informed me that before the 1980s, Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy conferment was a private affair and not a public display like today. The installation took place at the lodge and members r emained for seven days in order to carry out important rites and teach the honoree Most elders estimate that the nature of installation, which had been a private matt er, morphed into what can be seen as a public spectacle during the 1980s. The public event was initially a pure and simple display of status. While the demonstration of status is still a major aim, I argue that Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy spectacle has become an urban means for members not only to demonstrate status, but also to preserve the cultural heritage, authority, and autonomy of the society by the forceful reclaiming of space. The case of Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy spectacle t urban performance is a highly visible orchestration of Framing Ekpe/Mgbe C hieftaincy as S pectacle At the time of the slave and oil trades, from the sixteenth into the twentieth century, Ekpe wa s an exclusive institution and although its initiations were private, the society demonstrated its wealth and power through public performance. As early as 1846, Hope Waddell documented the importance of public Ekpe ritual (1863[1 970]: 265 display of Egbo [Ekpe] grandeur, and all the townspeople were allowed to come forth and displays of today, hi ghlights the use of a plethora of performers, masqueraders, and visual
104 stimuli : foreign silk cloth, ribbon of all sorts, and exotic feathers. However, most public M acdonald catalogue, 3 in my opinion, captures an Ekpe funerary rite for a lodge head at Old Calabar c. 1895 (Fig. 3 1). The photograph captures the public grand e ur of the eve nt, the large crowds it attracted and the extravagant dress of the performers. How ever, Other Ekpe rituals, masquerades, and initiations were either staged at night, and if held during the day, only members could participate. In the past, the only public part of an initiation was a short stroll status to the rest of the community. The point is that in the past, Ekpe ritual was restricted to members and if a public performance was staged, it was not only a demonstration of status and wealth, but also an organized production of space. Today, el aborate public funeral rites are still performed. However, since the 1980s, the advancement of a member to the rank of chief of Ekpe/Mgbe (in Efik: Obong Ekpe and in Ekin, the Qua language: Ntoe Mgbe) has taken on a n even more pubic character. The conferme nt of an Ekpe/Mgbe chief is now pronounced by a day packed full of ritual, ceremony, and public street procession, which I condense into the term spectacle. My use of the term spectacle stems from scholars investigating the pluralistic nature of art and cu lture among the Yoruba of southwest Nigeria. To demonstrate the overlapping and inclusive nature of Yoruba performance, Margaret Drewal employs the terms spectacle, ritual, festival, play, and improvisation interchangeably (Drewal 1992: 12 13). Babatunde L awal makes use of the term spectacle to reveal how the social, religious, and aesthetic intermingle during Gelede festival (Lawal 1996). And more recently, Probst interprets the highly visual, communal, and commercial Osun Osobgo festival as a spectacle of heritage (Probst 2011: 102). Following 3 The photograph is from th e Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution
105 these scholars, I interpret the Ekpe/Mgbe spectacle in Calabar not unlike a painting containing three separate, but interrelated planes. In the foreground of Ekpe/Mgbe spectacle are elements of festival, play, and im provisation. The religious, political, social, and economic elements are embedded the middle ground. And finally, the backbone of the spectacle is the common interest among all members in preserving Ekpe/Mgbe cultural heritage. In the following analy sis, I divided t he Ek pe/Mgbe chieftaincy spectacle into five phases: preparation, oath and initial assembly, installation, declaration, and reception. Within these phases, the structural elements that crystallize the agency of the spectacle are hierarchy, variation, and repetition as addressed by Herbert Cole in his examination of Ghanaian festival as art (Cole 1975). Indeed, not unlike Asante royal festival, Ekpe/Mgbe spectacle reinforces status through difference and redundancy. For example, an aspect of success of the Ekpe/Mgbe spectacle is performance also follows this rule of thumb. Me mbers consciously try to outdo past spectacles since status and agency are ultimately judged by performative progression. This comes in the form of individual agency, superior masquerading, performative organization, dress, and participation. Redundancy is another important element for the demonstration of success and thus power. However, the notion of redundancy is not meant to be understood as static and unchanging. Redundant aspects of spectacle also follow the principle of variety. Abundance of food and drink are the most reoccurring aspects of Ekpe/Mgbe spectacle. Yet the amounts provided, cost, and how many courses vary tremendously from spectacle to spectacle.
106 The consumption of fo od and drink are essential throughout all phases excluding the important ritualized act that Ekpe/Mgbe provides its members. The seeming ly superficial activity of eating and drinking copiously have led some to conclude that today Ekpe/Mgbe is merely a recreational and status seeking/ honorable society (Leib and Romano 1984: 57 and Hart 1964: 54). However, the propensity to prepare lavish fe asts and provide seemingly endless drink actually bolsters the economic, religious, and political functions of the society. Thus during Ekpe/Mgbe activities, the abundance of food and drink reinforces the elite status of its members, which establishes thei r local political standing through extravagant economic display. Because all Ekpe/Mgbe activities have mystical connections, such magnificent presentations of wealth erarchy and variation serve as the foundation for understanding which recent Idagha Ekpe/Mgbe spectacle is simultaneously well structured yet highly adaptable for maximum affect. The C ontemporary Ekpe/Mgbe C hieftaincy S pectacle The following account is based on documentation and participation in eleven Ekpe/Mgbe conferment spectacles, one of which was my own installation to the office of Ntoe Mgbe. The narrative focuses on one particular spectacle, the Idagha Mgbe of Boniface Okon Effiom on December 12, 2009, of the Qua Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) lodge. However, in order to discuss the nuances of meaning and diversity from spectacle to spectacle, I supplement the account with images and details documented from other Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy events. I privilege t he installation of Effiom only because I c ompletely documented and video taped the event from start to finish.
107 Preparation The Ekpe/Mgbe conferment spectacle manifests itself to the general public in a one day event. However, the tedious process of becomi ng a chief of Ekpe/Mgbe involves permission, negotiation, and planning. Procuring the financial funds and resources is a long and costly endeavor. Some spectacles may cost up to $4,000! The expense only covers the actual one day event; more is expended pri or to the spectacle. Acquiring the necessary funds can easily span more than half of a lifetime in Calabar today. Once the candidate is financially ready, he must present his portfolio to the head of the lodge, known as the Iyamba in Efik or Se Dibo in Eki n, the Qua language. The Iyamba/Se Dibo deliberates with his fellow chiefs for weeks or even months on the matter. The candidate supplies drink for their meetings. By the time the decision made, much money has already been spent. If permission from the Iyamba/Se Dibo and chiefs is granted, further requirements and demands are given to the candidate, usually in a typed document (see appendix C). For the Qua, long before the Idagha Mgbe spect acle takes place, an official gathering is required in order for the candidate to announce to the rest of the lodge his intention. At that assembly the date is set for the chieftaincy installation. pronouncement gathering was held on November 6, 2009. Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V, clan head and Se Dibo of Nkonib (Ntoe hereafter), officially started the meeting by pouring libation (both gin and palm wine) in order to honor, venerate, and call the ancestors. The offering was performed immediately in front of the lodge for the entire community to witness. Although this is a n official gathering, it is informal, therefore the ukara symbol, is not hung in front of the lodge as it is in more formal contexts. After the pouring of libation, members entered the lodge. Following proper protocol, Effiom announced his intention by supplying drink in the form of beer, mineral (Fanta, Coke, and Sprit e ), malt, and spirits to the
108 chiefs and fellow members for their enjoyment. The mood was not completely frivolous but easy and lighthearted as members drank enjoyed, and discussed among themselves. Drumming, singing, and dancing were lively. This gathering was the first since the rebuilding of the Nkonib lodge after it was set afire (see chap ter 1), so members were eager to christen the expanded space with performance. As always, the important Dibo performance featuring nsibidi challenge took center stage (discussed in chapter 5). The informal gathering ended when the Se Dibo and Atoe (plural of Ntoe) Mgbe announced their satisfaction with the drinks provided by announcing the officially set, the candidate had about two months to complete all logistics fo r organizing a successful event. Much more work goes into planning an Ekpe/Mgbe chieftaincy spectacle than securing the monetary funds, drink, and foodstuff. All aspects are absolutely critical for ensuring not only the success of the event, but also the s tatus and the legitimacy of his soon to be title are demonstrated by the close attention to planning during the preparation phase. Much more is at stake than merely performative accomplishment. T his is why members stress that the preparation phase is the most important in the entire process. Everything is planned and accounted for during the preparation phase. Banquet tents and canopies are rented and erected at the house of the celebrant for the reception phase of the spectacle. Tables and plastic chairs are also rented for guests to eat and drink comfortably during the reception. All foodstuffs are bought and stockpiled for the event. Professional photographers and videographers are commissioned to document the entire event. Official letters of invitation are sent to fellow Qua Mgbe lodges, the paramount ruler, Calabar Mgbe if the candidate is a
109 member, and to other titleholders and lodges whose presence is important to the candidate (Fig. 3 2). Each letter is typed and hand delivered. Knowledge of the procedure and what accompanies the letter is absolutely critical. If the letter is not pinned at the top with an oboti leaf a universal sign of Ekpe/Mgbe, and accompanied by two bottles of hot drink (in this case gin), the receiver will not only disregard the invitation, but gossip will also quickly spread to fellow members and lodges that the candidate and his lodge does not know Ekpe/Mgbe a serious accusation. An anecdote illustrates this point. I arrived early to the weekly Calabar Mgbe meeting one Wednesday in 2009. As I approach ed a narrow hallway where the meetings were us ually held, I could hear a loud discussion in Efik already brewing I quickly recognized the voices of the boisterous chiefs. I chuckled to myself reflecting on how any gathering of titleholders usually sparks argumentation or Ekpe/Mgbe gossip. As I entered the room, I saw the chiefs I had heard as well as other familiar faces. I greeted them and in return they greeted me as I sat. The heavy banter continued in Efik. And as always, chiefs led the discussion while lesser members mostly listened. The president, Chief Imona, knowing very well that I studied Ejagham and did n ot understand Efik, filled me in on the discussion using English (I was always so grateful to him for that). Chief Imona informed me that they were discussing how an Idagha candidate and his respective lodge sent Calabar Mgbe a letter of invitation without two hot drinks. The president and fellow officers were outraged. I could see the gravity of the situation in their faces as they stared at me intensely, waiting for me to respond. I did not normally join in during gossip or argumentation, but as a chief, I was expected to chime in when called upon, and this was certainly one of those times as they continued to stare at me wai ting for
110 to critique the lodge further for not understanding Ekpe/Mgbe protocol. The conversation ended when all agreed that Calabar Mgbe would not attend unless properly invited. Apparently, some days later, the lodge got wind of their wron gdoing and sent drinks. The point is that in a single gathering of members, the authority of an entire lodge was called into question and heavily criticized for not following or knowing protocol, which boils down to Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge. Even more importan t, since Calabar Mgbe is comprised of members from Efik, Efut, and Qua lodges of Calabar and from neighboring Local Government Areas (and all were present that night), in a single night and in the following days, the inep titude of the lodge was the subject of gossip throughout Calabar and beyond. The power and credibility of that lodge took a huge hit that night. In addition to reception rentals, foodstuff, and letters of invitation, candidates expend great effort and resource s to ensure a successful perf ormance through negotiating the best artistic elements for their event. Everything from the organization of performance, the number of participants, the number of masquerades, the masquerade performers, masquerade costumes, drummers, and the dress of the c andidate make an impact on the success and power of the event. All of those aspects are thoroughly preplanned during the preparation phase. For example, an important prearranged visual aspect of the spectacle is the ceremonial ensemble of the celebrant (Fi g. 3 3). While the ensemble will be described below during the declaration phase discussion here I focus on the procuring of the ensemble. Candidates carefully rent or commission the dress to aid in their elevation of status as the ensemble references abu ndance of wealth, power, and title taking. In this way, the Idgaha ensemble resonates with what Patricia Darish has termed
111 second hand from chiefs, while others rent second hand from local artists; still others commission new ensembles according to their concepts of taste and fashion. However, commissioning a new e nsemble is costly and thus more infrequent since renting is less expensive In 2009, new chieftaincy ensembles could cost up to $500. The ensemble is only worn by the celebrant, which visually differentiates him from the rest of the members and community. Further, it is only worn on the day of the event. After, if rented, it will be returned or, if commis sioned, it will become a family heirloom passed on to a son or even possibly rented out to others in the future. The candidate is also responsible for hiring members to masquerade, drum, and sing if their lodge members are not to fulfill those roles. Or if the candidate wants the best mask costumes, masqueraders, and drumming and singing troupes, and if he is willing to pay for them, he will seek out the most skillful. Arrangements and price are negotiated. Masquerade costumes will be rented if the candidat e de are too old and worn. Every single visual aspect of the multi this reason, affluent candidates hire the most beautiful and recently made costumes from well re cognized mask makers. I recall another weekly Calabar Mgbe meeting in 2009 to which I arrived early. The discussion conducted before that meeting sheds light on the business of renting mask costumes a nd performers. When I arrived at the compound that even ing a Qua Mgbe candidate from the Kasuk lodge, whose title was going to be conferred in the coming weeks, was meeting with Chief Imona, the president of Calabar Mgbe, to ask his opinion of the most renowned Ekpe/Mgbe mask masker in Calabar. The candidate wanted the most beautiful masks for his performance. Chief Imona referred the candidate to Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, a well known Efik
112 artist, who was called and promptly arrived to discuss the business of rental. After about a half hour of beeding (price nego tiation), it turned out that the prices were too high for the chief to be. Bassey would only rent his mask co stumes if his students were hired to masquerade in them too. The candidate wanted only to rent the costumes and to provide his own performers. I le arned later from Bassey that he prefers to rent out his cost umes only when his students wear them. His reasoning is twofold: he wants his students to benefit financially and his reputation is also on the line. If inferior masqueraders were to wear his cos work. But instead of his renowned st udents performing his masks, performers with less skill would be perceived to belong good name and stature as a m aster artist. Another recent part of the preparation phase is the arrangement and selection of things for the gift bags distributed to chiefs in attendance on the day of the conferment. Goodie bags usually contain a carton of Cabin Biscuits a can of cor ned beef, a greeting stick carved from teak wood, and sometimes a more personal memento marking the special day. For example, Effiom also stuffed his bags with a personalized notepad. The cover of the pad featured his name, date of the conferment of his ti tle, and a picture of Effiom fully decked out in his chieftaincy ensemble (Fig. 3 4). These notepads were also handed out to lesser members and to those invited to his reception. Such souvenirs are calculated attempts to advertise and disseminate newly acq uired status throughout Calabar. In fact, many chiefs purchase space in local newspapers to publ icize their title advancement. The media pronouncements is often a picture of the new chief in his special ensemble standing next to Ekpe/Mg be masquerades with the caption, conferment of Ekpe title The earliest examples I documented were from the 1970s. While chiefs still make use of this outlet, it is not used today to the same degree it was during the 1970s and 1980s.
113 The final preparat ions is lodge upkee p in which the candidate, through the authority of the lodge head, makes proper arrangements. A member is paid to cut the grass, to prune the Iroko tree in front of the lodge and to trim overgrown vegetation in the precinct, and to clean and sweep the lodg e interior. Dishes, flatware, and glasses are washed and neatly stacked on the tables. And, if the lodge has electrical capabilities (i.e. lights and fans), gasoline is obtained for the generator. If the lodge does not have a generator, one is rented or bo rrowed from a chief or from a fellow member. The preparation phase, marked by careful planning, financial transactions, and negotiations, sets stage for the success or failure of all the following components of the spectacle. Oath and I nitial A ssembly E unlocked, opened, re swept, and dishware was once again cleaned. Final lodge preparations were tended to, and lastly, the space of the society was demarcated. Two Nkonib logde ukara banners (both consisting of four individual pieces sewn together) were hung before the interior entrance into the inner shrine and exterior entrance. Although, the ukara banner deters non initiates from approaching the lodge by establishing Ekpe/Mgb e space, it does not act alone, but in tandem with an even more important symbol. An accumulation of oboti leaves and yellow palm frond are bunched together and tied above the entryway to declare the presence of the mystical Mgbe (Fig. 3 5). Members and no n members alike interpret this symbol as the actual sacred warning either to approach with respect or to keep at a safe distance. There is much variation in how space is demarcated from lodge to lodge. At the Qua Kasuk lodge, ukara is less emphasized as a marker of space. Instead a yellow palm frond fence like structure was erected on the edge of the property of the lodge. A number of oboti leaf
114 bunches, all with small pieces of red cloth attached, were hung on the palm frond fence like barrier. An ukara w rapper was hung vertically on the inside of the entryway into the lodge. In Calabar South, at the Efut Atu lodge, I documented no ukara demarcating the entryway during the conferment of an Ekpe title. Rather a bunch of oboti leaves hung from the top of the doorway and yellow palm frond was hung vertically behind the accumulation. In Creek town, at the Efe (shed) Efik Iboku, again I documented no ukara blocking the entryway, but a bunch of oboti leaves were hung from the ceiling above the stairs leading to t he entryway. At the top of the doorway into the lodge, a yellow palm frond was hung vertically. In all cases, however, an ukara was always hung inside the lodge blocking the entryway into the inner chamber. In Ikom, during a funeral ceremony of a member, a long ukara banner was hung outside the entrance with no trace of an oboti bunch of leaves. While a closer reading of the ukara is the subject of the next chapter, these examples demonstrate how space is demarcated differently from lodge to lodge and, of c ourse, region to region. All the above preparations were attended to hours before the initiation of Effiom began. The spectacle started around 8 a.m. when the Ntoe (the lodge head), chiefs (titleholders), lesser members, and the celebrant gathered for the oath. (Usually this phase started at 6 a.m.). All members were lined up in front of the lodge on public display. During the oath, Effiom mounted a stone located in front of the lodge. 4 Therefore, Effi om stood upon the place where the symbolic stone was said to be located. Ntoe stood before him. The titleholders formed an irregular semicircle behind. Lesser members stood to the right. And as always, all hats were removed as a sign of respect as libation was about to be 4 The stone referred to here is a separate stone and discussed in the previous chapter.
115 poured. Ntoe held a bottle of imported gin and a tumbler. Gin was poured into the glass and handed to Ntoe. When Ntoe was given the libation, he took a step back. Ntoe followed Mgbe protocol to call members to attention. In a hard vo ice, he shouted, starting to gather, he then addressed the Atoe Mgbe (titleholders) and the candidate for the about five minutes. It was a personal and jovial addres chief of Mgbe. The mood became more serious as Ntoe then addressed the oath: that whatever Effiom is to see inside the inner chamber, it is never to be discussed to those not worthy. It goes without saying that the decea sed members of Mgbe, the ancestors, carry out punishment if a member libation was poured over his feet (Fig. 3 6). The act as well as two subsequent pours, this time on the ground, calls the presence of the ancestors to the ritual and to witness the oath. Since gin is initiated an incantation to seal the offerings. Both drink s were sampled by Ntoe to ensure that a good and clean drink was offered to the ancestors. Before handing his father a gulp of gin, Ekpe/Mgbe protocol, sampled the gin before to avoid being accused of a m echanism of check and balance the soon to be chief, and it was a public stance in favor of pouring libation in the external and internal debates surrounding the pouring of libation in in Cal abar as discussed in the previous chapter. Immediately following the oath, the goat supplied by the candidate was slaughtered and brought to where the elder women of the community prepared and cooked Mgbe food. This should not be understood as merely a domestic related role, but it can be seen as an important
116 and powerful responsibil ity. Today, members discuss that food and drink provided by fellow members in Ekpe/Mgbe ritual was a reality, and it is still an anxiety today This is why members share all food, are served from the same pot, drink from the same glass (not the case so much today), and closely watch the member distributing the food such a task is always given to a trustworthy and respected member. The most trusted the elder are charged with the responsibility of cooking for Mgbe. Additionally, the women who cook are usually elderly, always supervised by the Queen mothers of the community. 5 In this way, women are granted tremendous power over Ekpe/Mgbe in the ir efforts to prepare food for ritual and ceremony. When the oath was complete, members entered the lodge and took seats according to their levels a nd ranks. The seating reflects the hierarchical nature of the organization. At the head table, against the f ar back wall of the lodge, the lodge head sat in the middle with the eldest Ntoe literally elevated as the table and chairs rest on a raised slab of concrete and figuratively elevated, since their seats place them closest to the entrance into the inner chamber of the lodge (Fig. 3 7). To the left of the head table, the rest of the c hiefs of Mgbe sat at tables along the side of the lodge. The lesser members and drum mers sat at humble wooden benches to the right of the head table, also against the wall (Fig. 3 8). Directly across from the head table sat chiefs in waiting. The middle of the lodge was purposely left vacant. This space is the all important arena for demo nstration and for nsibidi challenge (see chapter 5). 5 These women are also usually members of the Ohom society, the female counterpart to the Ekpe/Mgbe society in Calabar.
117 Most lodge interiors in Calabar are rectangular Most lodges enforce a similar seating arrangement with subtle difference. 6 At Nkonib, the Ntoe prefers that chiefs sit in order according to the seniorit y of their Idagha installation date. Other lodges value the rank of titles, and that determines the arrangement. Still other lodges are not as specific, and seats for chiefs are taken on a first come, first served basis. In all cases, the Iyamba/Se Dibo an d highest ranking titleholders sit at the head table. When foreign Iyambas/Se Dibos visit a lodge, they are given the privilege to sit at the high table even though it is not their own shrine. 7 In this case, the seating arrangement may shift constantly as members come and go. Clearly, space and seating arrangement are especially important for the establishment of prestige and hierarchy. loosen their instruments. C rates of Star, Gulder, Ginuess stout, Malta, Coke, Schweppes, Fanta and the like were carried into the lodge. Bottles were individually taken out and placed on the head table. Younger members also carried in boxes of Cabin Biscuit and corned beef. Ntoe gav e directives to members of where and how to place things on his table. A brother of Ntoe, an Ntoe Mgbe himself, started to distribute glasses and drinks of choice to fellow chiefs. The mood was light; younger members teased each other, sang, and moved thei r bodies to the rhythms of the drums while seated awaiting their beverages. Some younger members sat silently: learning and soaking in what they could. Chiefs talked among themselves, discussed unrelated business on 6 For example, at the Qua Kasuk lodge, the tables and chairs reserved for chiefs are placed along the sides of the structure and the lesser members sit in the middle against the wall where the entranced is located. At the Efut Asibong Ekondo lodge, only chiefs are permitted to sit in the main room where the head table is located. lesser members and drummers sit in a separate adjacent room. A low wall and a couple of steps separate the spaces. In most cases in Calabar, the head table is located on the back wall of the lodge and raised by a slab of concrete, lesser members sit only at benches, and the space in the middle of the lodge is strictly left fo r display. 7 I recall an initiation at Asibong Ekondo, Calabar, May 26, 2010, when a foreign Iyamba from Okoyong humbly entered the lodge and took a seat not at the head table. As the ritual progressed, some chiefs informed the Iyamba of Ekondo of the situation. He immediately stopped the ceremony to honor the visiting Iyamba with a seat at the head wledge of the lodge since he quickly took the seat offered to him.
118 their mobile phones, cracked jokes with one other, also started to s ing and to feel the drum rhythm s as they slowly moved to the beat while seated. Still other chiefs sat quietly intently watching the action unfold. As all engaged in their various duties or activities, eyes rapidly scanned the e ntire interior of the lodge, shifting from member to member, in the hopes of catching a dialogue of performed nsibidi of Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge. While the setup continued, the drummers took it upon themselves to elevate the energy of the ritual. The beating c hanged to the Dibo rhythm, the most intense and lively of all Ekpe/Mgbe beats. The increased tempo jolted N toe as he sprang from his seat and moved towards the middle of the dance arena and claimed performative space. While younger members continued to jo stle about carrying out tasks and chiefs were still getting settled, Ntoe started to dance and display the Dibo masquerade sequence (discussed in chapter 5). This was intended to be an informal educational display for younger members to observe and to lea rn. 8 An excited atmosphere immediately manifested. After Ntoe finished his didactic performance, newcomers were then initiated into the entry ranks of the society. Chalk was drawn on the novic peacock feather was placed in a white band tied ar ound the head of each, and an incantation is shouted to seal their initiation. The assembly continued with another round of drinks and a course of food. The lunch that day followed Ekpe/Mgbe protocol: fried plantain served with palm oil and salt, bush meat (antelope), and roasted fish. And as always, chiefs were served large portions first. Small portions of what remained was distributed to lesser members. After l unch was finished m embers 8 Later, a Ntoe Mgbe informed me that Ntoe has a specific way he prefers his lodge to display the Dibo nisbidi sequence so he used the opportunity to demonstrate it to the lodge. Ntoe pref ers a clear delineation and organization of the various series of the signs of the Dibo nsibidi Interview with Chief Joe Edet, April 21, 2010.
119 left the lodge to rest. All returned a couple of hours later for the conferment of the title, street performance, and reception. While Nkonib and other Qua lodges administer the oath and initial assembly in the morning hours, others conduct the rite the night before the installation date. The Qua Kasuk and Efik Iboku (Creek Town) lodges are examples. Both of these lodges prefer to hold the oath and assembly late at night until early morning (running from about 11pm 3am). Regardless of time frame, both day and night gatherings consist of an oath, drumming, singing, dan cing, eating, and drinking (Fig. 3 9). Installation returned to the lodge after the short break. The initiation phase started when Effiom marched to the lodge. During this segment, the candidate is escorted by elder members and is usually wrapped entirely in cloth to conceal his ceremonial dress (Fig. 5 10). Since the candidate is not yet a chief, his bowler hat and ceremonial staff are carried for him. Once Effiom was escorted inside the lodge, he took a seat and remained there silently until called upon. At this stage, the candidate must not engage in conversation. He only sits silently, contemplating his impending conferment. Meanwhile, late arri vals were trickling into the lodge. The drummers and singers were warming the atmosphere with merriment. Drinks are often was running late, drinks were not ser ved until after. forth Effiom and led him beyond the lodge interior ukara barrier that blocked the entrance into inner sanctum. Behind the curtain, nsibidi is draw n with chalk on the face of the candid ate (nowadays optional) Admittance into the inner room also signifies that the candidate is
120 becoming physically and conceptual l y closer to the mystical Mgbe. The candidate is informed that the level of titleholder per mits him to seek out all secrets and esoteric knowledge of the title conferment. W hen Ntoe formally addressed Effiom in front of his peers w ith the entire lo dge as witness, the lodge head officially installed Effiom to the office of Mgbe titleholder. This was done. The lodge head then literally dressed Effiom for his new status by complet ing the chieftaincy ensemble: crowning Effiom with a bowler hat and equip ping him with a long ceremonial staff while verbally pronouncing his title of Ntoe Mafina, Effiom was now a titled chief (Fig. 3 11). The lodge head finished the rite by chanting Mgbe and then gestured to chief Effiom to address the assembly with his own M gbe chant. This was an important moment since only chiefs are permitted to chant Mgbe. In other words, this was the first time chief Effiom pronounced himself as a chief through the incantation. In most cases, anxiety overcomes the newly crowned chief. Eld er titleholders eagerly listen and are quick to tease lightheartedly if the honoree blunders. Chief Effiom started his chant well by running down the list of titles, but erred by not calling his own title! Elder chiefs amusingly reprimanded chief Effiom as they shouted After correcting himself, the entire lodge erupted with laugher and celebrated with applause. ly frivolous, however. Such hazing has serious meaning. Elder chiefs look forward to the first chant in order to demonstrate knowledge and power over the honoree. In fact, during most conferment of Ekpe/Mgbe titles that I witnessed, elder chiefs found faul t even if they detected the most minor slip up. The reproach is well timed: at the very moment the honoree professes his new status, the poignant reminder
121 simultaneously humbles him. It is an ultimate reference to his standing in relation to the seniority and tenure of the elder chiefs. After the conferment, chief Effiom, fellow chiefs, and lesser members filed outside for pictures. While the hired photographer was busy at work, the hired videographer also filmed the members posing (Fig. 3 12). Posed photo graphy and videography ha ve recently become a staple of chieftaincy installation. Both serve as proof for the honoree and mark the participation of fellow members. Video recordings as well as photographs are also statements of status and power. Photographs are developed or digitally printed for the honoree and prominently hung in his parlor for visitors to admire. At the conclusion of the lengthy photography session, members worked their way back into the lodge. Once members resettled into the lodge, the m ystical Mgbe made its presence known. Announcing the presence of the mystical Mgbe engendered a ritual atmosphere to manifest once again ( after the picture taking session created a lighter hearted mood ) The voicing of the most secret and sacred aspect of the society is intended for both members and for the wider community. With all members seated and with chief Effiom taking his rightful place among the other chiefs, a gong was repeatedly sounded to call forth the Mboko, the mystical roar that arises from the Nib Osam or inner shrine located in depths of the lodge. Mboko is sounded during chieftaincy installations to provide the final stamp of approval. A title cannot be awarded unless Mboko confirms. After Mboko thunders at will, she then calls upon each chief, who carefully listen to her words and respond. 9 Chiefs typically respond by indicating they are content and satisfied with the ritual environment and end the dialogue with Mboko with an 9 Members characterize Mboko or the mystical Ekpe/Mgbe as feminine in nature. For the Qua, Mboko is sometime s referred to as the mother of Mgbe. Mboko is also an Ekpe/Mgbe title, which is also conceptualized as feminine. Both Ekpe and Mgbe members informed me that the abundance of food and drink is meant to satisfy the Mboko/mystical voice. Additionally, ritual facilitates an implied sexual dialogue between the Mboko, the chiefs, and the overwhelming supply of foodstuff.
122 incantation of the Mgbe titles. At Nkonib, the Mboko calls the chiefs in order of seniority, thus expounding on the set seating arrangement of chiefs according to date of title conferment. concluded with another bountiful presentation of fo od and drink. Chief Effiom provided yam, bush cow, coconut, goat, rice, and sugarcane. Lesser members carried pots of food into the lodge one after the other. Huge portions were served to the chiefs before lesser members received more humble rations. Due t o the abundant amount of food provided at these installations, a more recent trend is that chiefs stockpile extra servings in large thermos containers. The containers are brought home for family consumption. The Nkonib lodge is well known for its over supp ly of food (Fig. 5 on time, and the whole spectacle was delayed. After the food was finally exhausted, the lodge prepared for the next phase. The installation phase at oth er Efik, Efut, and Qua lodges, and even previous installations I participated in and documented at Nkonib, proceeded completely differently from chief 2010) were dra stically different from each other. The flow, organization, and the amounts and types of food are never the same from spectacle to spectacle. In some Efik and Efut cases, the candidate is escorted to the lodge with a procession of masquerades, members, and drummers in lieu of the actual installation. I have even witnessed the calling of the mystical Mgbe during the night oath and initial assembly held the day befor e the spectacle. At Nkonib, it was rare that the after the installation of chief Effiom. The lodge head was busy modifying the ritual structure due to factors of time that day. Ultimately, the Iyamba or
123 Se Dibo (lodge h ead), the supposedly most knowledgeable agent of Ekpe/Mgbe, controls the course of the spectacle. He constantly adjusts and alters the ritual format according to a multitude of factors to ensure smooth operation. Ekpe/Mgbe ritual provides another example t o Margaret difference and improvisation (Drewal 1992). Regardless of variety, in all Efik, Efut, and Qua cases, however, the installation phase comes to an end when f ood and drink is exhausted. Declaration The fourth phase publicly announces and celebrates the newly acquired status of the honoree to rank of Ekpe/Mgbe chief. The declaration takes on the form of an elaborate public street procession. T his event multi media display of elaborate dress, music, and energizing dance. In order for the procession to establish power by successfully claiming space, the elements of wealth, status, and beauty must be effectively coupled with performative organization between members and masqueraders. In other words, an overall performative cohesion must materialize am ong all the separate media for the procession to claim space effectively. the rest of the community. However, before the street procession started, an official photo graph was taken of chief Effiom in his chieftaincy ensemble posing with four Mgbe masqueraders (Fig. 5 14). The documentation of the new chie f with the masqueraders records the accomplishment, and it has become compulsory. 10 During the Qua Mgbe conferment s treet procession, only the 10 The staged photograph of the celebrant and masqueraders rented for the declaration phase demonstrate his chiefly status within the society. The photograph also validates, on an abstract level, that the society masquerades are now
124 masquera important photograph was taken with the masquerades, he and his procession headed for the main road. Chief Effiom occupied the central position in the front of the procession. Fellow chiefs were situated to his right and left. Lesser members filed behind. The drummers were lo cated in the back of the procession. All sang and danced to the rhythm of the drums. Meanwhile, the Abon Ogbe danced and dashed in all directions, forming a kind of barrier between the members and the audience. the limelight. His regalia included a red umbrella, highlighting his English bowler and a beaded collar fitted over a black velvet vest featuring embroidered stylized beaded European crowns. Underneath the vest Effiom wore a white cotton T shirt. A baldri c like form made of plastic beads was fixed across his chest. In his left hand he carried a long metal ceremonial staff. He worn an ukara wrapper neatly tied around his waist. Yarn wristlets, armlets, and anklets completed his ensemble (refer to Fig. 3 3). Ceremonial dress varies tremendously today. For example, some elements may be omitted, while colors and types of fabrics are matters of personal preference. In lieu of an ukara wrapper, other celebrants may fashion damask wrappers (Fig. 5 15). Another po pular element that is not necessarily required is a loosely cascading scarf called Okpomkpom. It can be made of ukara or factory woven fabrics. 11 In the procession, situated to the right and left of chief Effiom, already titled chiefs were likewise ostenta tiously dressed (Fig. 3 16). Instead of wearing the ritual paraphernalia designated 11 The ensemble described here is typical of Ekpe/Mgbe and honorary chieftaincy ceremonial installation regalia and the gr
125 for the newly initiated title holders, their dress reflected the latest chieftaincy fashions: local and imported caps and commercially produced adjustable walking sticks, w hich symbolize their titles, damask and wax wrappers, and white or colorful linen, cotton factory woven long shirts, some featuring eyelet embroidery, locally known as lace, which became popular in Calabar during the early 1990s, replacing white rayon, lin en, cotton, and multicolored velvet shirts, fashionable in Calabar two decades ago. 12 Since they are expected to separate themselves from lesser members through the medium of dress, chiefs must dress beautifully and must constantly invent and change their s tyles. 13 Therefore, chiefs caref ully consider their ensembles to be complete compositions. The Okpomkpom, believed to be an appropriation of the European tie, 14 is carefully selected to unite the white or colorful shirt to the wrapper; the scarf can be of si lk, rayon, damask, wax print, and other fabrics. Beaded hats and shoes, made by local artists, complete the ensemble. Elaborate beadwork embroidery on imported velvet fabric visually connects the headwear to the footwear. In fact, chiefs often commission m atching motifs for their hats and shoes not only for visual harmony and neatness, but also for a specific occasion. Today, the latest fashions are purchased from one of three chieftaincy attire stores found in Calabar (Fig. 5 17). 15 The ceremonial regalia a nd chieftaincy dress worn by Mgbe/Ekpe 12 For a history on lace in Nigeria see Barabara Plankensteiner and Nath Mayo Adediran (eds.), African Lace: a History of Trade, Creativity and Fashion in Nigeria 2011. 13 Dress and textiles have lon g been associated with wealth and status in Nigeria. For example, A. E. Afigbo has addressed the relationship between commerce and textile art in southern Nigeria (Afigbo 1998: 15 16). 14 Interview with chief Ita Bassey, April 6, 2010. 15 According to loca l history, the first store was established around 1960 by late chief Kama Iro. Since the 70s, Igbo, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom fashions have funneled into these stores. The stores operate not unlike the earlier Efik trading networks as the shop owners network w ith their Lagos locations and Igbo middlemen, who travel outside Nigeria to obtain special commissions and new styles. Today, any textile or fashion may be ordered and imported within days.
126 titleholders recall the styles worn during the slave and oil trades mixed with English influences the society once gene rated during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The slave trade and the emergence of the palm oil trade flooded Calabar with material wealth. The imports during the eighteenth century were European and Indian textiles, bars and rods of iron and coppe r, small arms, muskets, gunpowder, knives, castor hats, beads, pewter ware (dishes, plates), basins, household goods, liquor, bells, salt, butter, sugar, hand mirrors, and hardware (for a complete list see Alpern 1995). Efik merchants also started to solic it for personal items such as dressing gowns, sliver canes, writing paper, and a range of other trade goods. Additionally, merchants were requesting that their names be engraved on everything (Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: 56). During the eighteenth century, textiles became important as a chart of goods received by Antera Duke from a sale of 50 slaves to Caption John Potter on July 31, 1769 January 10, 1770, illustrates (see Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: 63). The list reveals over 2,000 yards of cloth exchanged in one transaction: two thirds Manchester and one third Indian cottons. The list tton fabric of various qualities, print with floral and many other designs, and many more fabrics consisting of linens, silks, and velvets. All were vital commodities during the slave trade. In fact, imported textiles made up over 40 percent of any parcel of goods received for slaves during in the second half of the eighteenth century (ibi d., 55).
127 Efik traders not only exchanged these exotic textiles within their inland trading network, from extravagant consumption and display, there were few ou tlets for the employment of this 124). Efik family heads documented in the correspondence and trading lists during the slave trade were powerful, affluent, and important members o f the Ekpe society. The incoming wealth and prestigious materials were channeled into the artistic aspects of the society, making their outing displays quite extravagant and markers of status and prestige. Efik and European records confirm in 1828, A few years later, in 1846, Hope Waddell described the regal arrival of King Eyo Hone of a few yards of broad fancy silk round his loins, descending to the ankles. Strings of beads on neck and arms formed his ornaments. Two boys attended him, one car rying his gold snuff box, in a handsome native bag hung round his neck, the other a pair of pistols and a sword slung over replaced with the elegant styles of the V ictorian fashions by the end of the nineteenth century. The earlier syncretic local styles shaped during the slave trade were again changing. This time English attire became status symbols, worn during official and ceremonial occasions (n.a. 1986a: 86).
128 In fact, elements of elite dress were sold and purchased in local stores as early as 1890. Photographs from the Eliot Elisofon Archives, dating from 1890 1900 illustrate the kinds of products sold at stores in Old Calabar (Fig. 3 18 and 3 19). Close exami nation of the photographs reveals imported European walking sticks, textiles, hats, and other imported elements fancied by Ekpe titleholders. Imported elements of dress have long been sold at local stores and appropriated by the society in order to visuali ze the status and prestige of the society. but also effectively claimed space through the media of masquerade and performance. The recent public procession for mat has morphed into a mechanism where Ekpe/Mgbe members not only assert their power and political agency, but also demonstrate the cultural aspects of the society to the wider community. The procession lasted for roughly two hours. During this time, traff ic was completely stopped as members and masquerades cleared a path on the road for the marching procession (Fig. 3 20). In addition to controlling traffic and at various instances, Abon Ogbe unpredictably rushed from the procession to chase away and beat non initiates (Fig. 3 21). As the masquerades forcibly demonstrated power, members chanted, sang, and danced to their initiated community gave way to the Mgbe spectacle. If respect is not given or if a car horn sounds for example, an Abon Ogbe humiliates the offender either by beating him or by jumping and trampling upon his car hood (Fig. 3 22). In the performances I witnessed, the community rarely voiced annoyance or di sapproval, even though the processions usually took place during rush hour traffic. It is astounding to see the community completely yield to these performances in light of the growing tension between Ekpe/Mgbe and various Christian groups in Calabar. In conjunction
129 with the street performance and adding to the controversial activities of Ekpe/Mgbe, titled elders at various times lead the procession down side roads to pour libations and conduct sacrifice (Fig. 3 23). These ritual activities honor deceased members, and because of their ritual connection, as demonstrated in the previous chapter, it has recently been contested not only by Christian non members, but also by Christian members. These tensions have led members to argue and quarrel with each other about which practices and elements should be censored. However, such argumentation between members is not taken to the streets. If the lodge head or senior chiefs decide to pour in public, those members against the act do not publicly challenge the authori ty of their elders. Some lodges perform regularly, pour lib ations, and emphasize the long standing religious aspects of Ekpe/Mgbe, while others use lodge events only to stress socio economic prestige and to strengthen localized political authority. The Qu a Nkonib lodge often uses these forums to assert their position by pouring it was getting dark no libation was poured during the street procession. Instead, the entire procession stopped i n front of their public display of wealth, power, and space, they made way to the reception party held at the multi media interface synergized into a chaotic, yet unified, whole. The eye candy of the dress was balanced only by the eloquence of the songs sung and the steady, deep drum rhythms, which in turn energi zed masqueraders to a frenzied but controlled state. All was held together by the loosely scripted performance structure.
130 Efik and Efut Ekpe declaration format is similar to the Qua structure. One difference is that the Efik and the Efut usually make use of only two of the raffia fiber body net masquerades. Although they are quite similar to the Qua versions, the Efik and Efut refer to them as Atat Ekpe and Idem Ikwo Ekpe. A major difference during Efik and Efut chieftaincy declarations is the appearance o f the Ebonko masquerade (Fig. 3 24). The Qua normally restrict this mask genre to rites for the lodge head. According to members, Ebonko symbolizes the feminine and regal qualities of Mgbe/Ekpe through the use of cloth, in contrast to the raffia used for a ggressive masks. Artists have the most freedom in creating this costume; the only rule is that Ebonko must visually overwhelm its audience, making this mask the most diverse in its manifestation. Shiny and reflective materials have long been incorporated i Ebonko dances in a calm and majestic manner near the celebrant and fellow chiefs. and feminine in nature in contrast to violent and hostile movements of the more masculine raffia fiber masks. Comparison between the passive choreography of Ebonko and the aggressiveness of the general raffia masks can be compared to the delineation of ge nder inferred by Yoruba male and female Gelede masquerade dance (Drewal female attributes through the medium of dance. In the case of Ebonko, the act suggests th e feminine nature of the society, the mystical Ekpe/Mgbe, and the overall dependence of Ekpe/Mgbe men on women. Non members tend to like the Ebonko display for its beauty and nonthreatening qualities. Ebonko thus helps to foster audience interest and parti cipation. In fact, I argue that the is meant to tie together the multi media nature of Ekpe/Mgbe spectacle.
131 In addition to the cohesive role of the larger performance structure, the elements of chieftaincy dress, and the masquerade costume and choreography further integrated the different media together at a symbolic level. The dress and performance of both the celebrant (Fig. 3 3 and 3 15), raffia mask types (Fig. 3 14 and 3 20), and the Ebonko costume (Fig. 3 24) re veal related iconographical references to the lion, notions of status, authority, leadership, respect, and the learned esoteric knowledge known as nsibidi For example, according to members, the dress of the celebrant, the costume of Ebonko, and that of th e raffia variety, as well as their dance movements, all reference the lion. Tufts of yarn, cloth, and raffia above the elbow, on the wrist, and at the ankle symbolize the physical qualities of the lion. The pronounced raffia mane around the chest of the ma squeraders is a more direct symbolic suggestion. The aggressive and the lion and the uncertain and dangerous realms of the bush. Through cloth, the Ebonko sug gests the regal side of the lion and nurturing role of the mystical Ekpe/Mgbe. The Ebonko is thus a encapsulate the wealth, grandeur, and significance of chief ly rank. In public, an elder might establish his authority over the raffia mask variety by stopping the masker in mid stride to demonstrate his mastery over the performer through the use of gestured nsibidi Such acts establish elder members as dominant an d controlling, while the masker becomes subservient. And finally, nsibidi motifs are depicted in both the the raffia masquerade costume. Collectively, the performance and visual references communicate and reinforce a nuanced read ing of gender, status, and power. The success of the procession at the performative and symbolic level facilitates th e all important interactions that take place between Mgbe and the rest of the community. Returning to
132 everyday flows of Nkonib were suddenly brought to a sudden halt as Mgbe aggressively took to the streets. Masquerades and members beat those who opposed. The moving procession was successfully demarcated as spatially off limits to non members. The communit main roads and side streets quickly became the temporary territory of Mgbe alone. Most acquiesced to the authority of the society and simply enjoyed the glamor of the event. However, in order for the performance to succeed, the society mus t put its reputation on the line since every spectacle is subject to the possibility of failure. Not unlike Ekpe/Mgbe performance, religious rites conducted by priest chiefs in Ugep (middle Cross River) are also more public today as they too take to the st reets (Salami 2008a and 2008b) ). Ode lay masquerade troupes in Freetown, Sierra Leone, provide another case. In analysisng Ode lay masquerade, John Nunly argues, performers exposing themselves to danger. Nunley sta claim space effectively and to provide a forum to push back against those who condemn Ekpe/Mgbe culture, the society must expose itself to the dangers of the public. In this way, streets can take on an unpredictable and volatile characteristic. All artistic and performative elements must be in place and properly cooperating for the procession to negotiate the ch allenges of the streets (Fig. 3 visual and performative effectively merged into a unified whole. e chieftaincy declarations, however. Recall the anecdote about the Qua Kasuk candidate who unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate for the highest quality Ekpe/Mgbe masquerade costumes. His unwillingness to pay for the best performers foreshadowed the failur e of his declaration. Not
133 only were his masquerade costumes outdated and unflattering (Fig. 3 26), the performative cohesion was nonexistent. Members openly laughed at his masqueraders and voiced their frustrations with the lack of organization. Because of lack of organization, the procession did not intended direction. Frustration built to the point of argumentation among members. The organization was so bad in the beg inning that members were unaware of which side of the street was to be cleared as a path. The general audience also became more and more motorcyclists grew tired of waitin g for the procession to direct traffic properly and decided to take matters into their own hands. A few tried to negotiate the traffic jam by speeding by the procession and cutting it off. Members quickly realized what was happening and aggressively stoppe members and motorcyclists almost resulted in a brawl. The angry moods of both members and non members presented a very dangerous situation. Chiefs became aware of the problem and cooler heads eventually prevailed. However, in order for the chiefs to calm the angry motorcyclists, they had to plea with the non members for patience. But the damage had already been done. The procession was unable to successfully claim space. The d isplay was so pitiful that members were ashamed of the performance and started to talk among themselves about the failure. As a result, not only was the status of the candidate and the authority of the lodge in question, but the general public also witness engender social agency. Because the procession was a burden to the community, the procession achieved the exact opposite of its intended goal. In one poorly orchestrated procession, not only
134 was kasuk Mgbe unable to claim space, but the space of the procession was undermined by non members. The enactment damaged the reputation of the candidate and his lodge. The leadership that day failed to coordinate the variety of media into a unified whole. Only at the e nd of the declaration did the procession start to affect agency, but by that time, it was too late. The procession mustered what dignity it could and marched onwards towards the reception. Reception The beginning of the evening celebration marks the en d of the declaration phase. distinguish the setting (Fig. 3 27). These rented tents spatially differentiate between those who can comfortably celebrate and those who must wa tch from a distance. The initiated, their families, and invited guests all sit under canopies while younger people gather simply to watch members and their families as they eat, drink, and dance. The Ekpe/Mgbe tent is centrally located so that all can easi ly gaze upon the men as they enjoy. In some cases, the chiefs and the Ekpe/Mgbe tent. During some receptions I participated in and documented, depending on the int erest and energy of knowledgeable Ekpe/Mgbe chiefs and members, formal nsibidi challenges frequently occurred (see chapter 5), giving non members a rare glimpse into the restricted aspects of the society. In this way, the gathered community is entertained while final food preparations are completed. This last phase includes yet again another large feast, reinforcing once again the abundance of food and drink. Such abundance symbolically reinforces and summarizes economic hierarchy over the rest of the community. The celebrant is once again demonstrating his wealth and power by serving his guests and the community. Typically, at the reception pounded yam and goat stew are served.
135 Members are given most of the food and drink, but family members and invited guests also consume copious amounts. Members and non members alike relax, eat, drink, and informally discuss with each other for the rest of the evening. The reception is intended for non members to witness a comp letely different side of the society. For the rest of the evening, the restrictive boundaries that usually define the society are lifted. Non members thus temporarily relish in the benefit of the society showing a public face. Concluding R emarks In t he literature, information on Ekpe/Mgbe initiation ritual is sparse, making diachronic or urban/rural comparison difficult. Despite the general lack of documentation, two accounts detail how initiations into higher ranks of the society are private affairs. On the Cameroonian side of the Cross River region, in the rural village of Babong, Leib and Romano documented a rare initiation into a prestigious rank of Mgbe in the mid 1970s (Leib and Romano 1984: 51 52). According to the account, the initiation lasted for an entire week and was restricted to the lodge. On the final day of the ritual, the deceased member for whom the candidate succeeded was honored in the form of a number of funerary ritual proceedings in which a short public procession was conducted in in Hans Koloss documents that in Kembong, initiation into the higher ranks of Mgbe is also mostly a private affair. Initiation lasts for five days and takes place in the sacred grove (Koloss 2008: 66 masquerade performance only occurs during funerary rites (for a complete descri ptive account see Koloss 2008: 78 104). This brief urban/rural comparison demonstrates that with the information available, in the last 40 years, urban Ekpe/Mgbe has changed into something quite different from its rural versions.
136 Despite these major diff chief means for reasserting authority in those communities where the society is present in the Cross River region. However, tensions between Ekpe/Mgbe and Christianity and the cosmopolitan env ironment of the city have altered this structure in Calabar. What has resu lted in Calabar is more public attempts to interact with the wider community in order to claim space forcefully. Photographs taken by Eliot Elisofon in 1959 in Big Qua Town, Calabar, before masquerade performance was a more restricted event at that time (Fig. 3 28). 16 This chapter has shown that the members of Ekpe/Mgbe and the urban environment tra nsformed the chieftaincy conferment into an elaborate public spectacle. According to Mgbe 17 What started out as a purely status seeking display in the 1980s, has become vitality. In her investigation of strike parades in Philadelphia, Susan Davis comes to the of acting on the world and ways of trying to convince 16 In 1959, Eliot Elisofon, Life photographer, traveled to and phot upcoming issue of Life International celebrating Nigerian Independence on October 1, 1960 (for story see n.a. 1960). His itinerar y stated that in Calabar he was to photograph Efik dances. Instead, Qua Mgbe masquerades and other cultural dances in Big Qua Town were photographed. No information as to why the change in itinerary took place is mentioned. Further, there is no mention detailing if the Qua Mgbe masquerades and members photographed were staged or a ctual performances. I suspect from closer examination of the photographs that they were staged. In either case, the fact that very few non members are seen around or even watching the masqueraders is significant. Members have informed me that prior to the 1960s, non members were not allowed to walk freely about or gaze at Mgbe masquerades during certain contexts. The photograph provides proof that Mgbe performances before the 1970s and were not intended to interact with the public. The itinerary is part of the Eliot Elisofon Manuscript Collection, EEPA 1973 001, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. 17 Interview with chief Esinjo Francis E. Iso, March 30, 2010.
137 114). Indeed, for Ekpe/Mgbe members, the street has in a similar way become an arena for performative disc ourse about change and the preservation of culture. The ability to claim space successfully during performance, in my opinion, is one of the critical reasons to why Ekpe/Mgbe still thrives in Calabar. As Ekpe society lodges are becoming overgrown by resid ence and commercial development, the shrines are no longer situated at prominent locations they once held. Ekpe/Mgbe restrictive space is being violated. Therefore, the societies have literally taken to the streets in ways they have never done before. In C rapidly changing milieu, older masquerade societies have become less idle and more public in order to challenge the growing accusations put forth by Pentecostal groups. In 1970s and 1980s, the toughest political and fi nancial decades in Calabar, m asquerade associations started to prominently reinforce their place in society through the medium of elaborate street performance to reinforce their agency. In the urban environment of Calablar, space has become a critical component for the success of masq uerade performance. The cosmopolitan environment of Calabar continues to fuel and to inspire new ways for Ekpe/Mgbe members to claim space successfully and to demonstrate power. The business like mentality of hiring photographers, videographers, and rentin g canopies, and chairs, and, for that matter, even the reception phase itself, are all recent innovations that have given the performance a cosmopolitan touch. Yet performance structure, initiation, and ritual are not the only facets of Ekpe/Mgbe that have been cultivated by cosmopolitanism. Nsibidi the imaged and performed once taught as part and parcel of the old now outdated system of initiation, is also bein g taken to the streets by members. However, before discussing the public face of performed nsibidi the
138 imaged version and recently developed informal economy surrounding its teaching and transmission merits discussion.
139 Figures Figure 3 1. aph album (c. 1895). EEPA 1996 019 0070, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
140 Figure 3 2. Letter of invitation to chieftaincy con ferment ceremony at the Efut Efe Ekpe at Atu, Calabar South, Calabar. Published with permission.
1 41 Figure 3 3. Celebrant Ntoe Mgbe (chief) Boniface Okon Effiom in regalia, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fen ton
142 Figure 3 4. Cover of personalized gift note pad distributed on behalf of Chief Effiom during his chieftaincy ceremony, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. Figure 3 5. Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) Mgbe lodge entrance blocked by hanging ukara banner, Ca labar, May 23, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
143 Figure 3 6. Celebrant Effiom taking oath to ancestors, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 3 7. Mgbe chiefs prominently seated at tables, Nkonib lodge, Calabar June 6, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
144 Figure 3 8. Lesser members seated at humble bench, Nkonib Mgbe lodge, June 6, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 3 9. Members divide a prepared fish and bush meant as part of celebrant E morning feast, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
145 Figure 3 10. Celebrant Esinjo Lawarence Nyong Akiba escorted to lodge by Mgbe chiefs, Nkonib, Calabar, June 6, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 3 11. Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V, head of the Mgbe Nkonib lodge, bestows Effiom with the chieftaincy title isung Mafina, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
146 Figure 3 12. Chief Effiom and fellow Mgbe chiefs and members pos e for professional photographs, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 3 13. Typical amount of food and drink at Nkonib Mgbe lodge during conferment rituals, Calabar, June 20, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
147 Figu re 3 14. Chief Effiom posing with Abon Ogbe masquerades for professional photograph, Nkonib, Calabar, Dec. 12, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 3 15. Mgbe chieftaincy regalia of chief Francais Edet, Nkonib, Calabar, June 26, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
148 Figure 3 16. Chiefs dressed in latest fashions, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
149 Figure 3 17. AG Best Traditional attire chieftaincy store at Watts market, Calabar South, Calabar, Sept. 25, 200 9. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
150 Figure 3 18. Old Calabar, Nigerain Photographic Album (c. 1890 1900), EEPA 2000 0 03 0127, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. Figure 3 19. Cliff House Shop, Old Calabar Nigerain Photographic Album (c. 1895 1900) EEPA 2000 0 0 3 0128, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
151 Figure 3 20. Abon Ogbe clearing way for Mgbe procession duri ng declaration phase, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 3 21. Abon Ogbe chasing non initiated during declaration phase, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
152 Figure 3 22. Abon Ogbe trampling on car hood during declaration phase, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
153 Figure 3 23. Chiefs stop street procession to pour libation to ancestors during Esinjo Lawrence Nyong Akika declaration, Nkonib, Calabar, J une 6, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
154 Figure 3 24. Efik Ebonko masquerade by master artist Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, Calabar, Oct. 14, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
155 Figure 3 25. Successful declaration performance of Esinjo Lawren ce Nyong Akika declaration, Nkonib, Calabar, June 6, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
156 Figure 3 26. Unflattering and worn Abon Ogbe during Mgbe chieftaincy conferment street procession, Kasuk, Calabar, July 18, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fen ton
157 Figure 3 27. Canopies set up for celebrants reception, Nkonib, Calabar, June 20, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 3 28. Ejagham Ekpe [Mgbe] society leopard dancers Big Qua Town, Calabar, Photography by Eliot Elisofon 1959. EEPA 1996 019 0070, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
158 CHAPTER 4 HE MULTIPLICITY OF M EANING IN UKARA NSIBIDI On a mild December Saturday in Calabar, despite the early morning hour the Osam Mgbe (Mgbe lodge) at Nkonib (Ikot Ansa) roars with drum rhythms and excited noises. Non members passing by and those who come to watch see only an ukara cloth banner blocking the entrance to the lodge, a curtain utilized t o conceal the activities unfolding within. Inside the lodge, the head custodian of the shrine sits as a queue of seekers stand before him awaiting initiation. Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V, also clan head of the community, draws nsibidi with chalk on the bo dy of each initiate (Fig. 4 1) and places a peacock feather in the white cloth young men have just been initiated into Nkanda. As full members of the society they now ma y begin their long journey into the knowledge of Ekpe/Mgbe. The encoded knowledge of the Ekpe/Mgbe in the ukara cloth, the primary symbol of the society, is the focus of this examination. This chapter explores the content and instruction associated with n sibidi encoded on ukara cloth, its multiplicity of meaning and the influence the urban experience of Calabar has had on its transmiss ion. This chapter supports nsibidi or nsibidi knowledge varies according to age, gender, locality, membership, a nd initiation level facto rs, this essay seeks to add historical and recent contexts and individual ritual experience also shapes how knowledge is ultimately understood and transmitted. In approaching the multiplicity of meaning in ukara nsibidi is crucial for deciphering how users of Akan proverbs mold them to serve their needs (1985). In this way, I follo
159 : 120). Ekpe/Mgbe Nsibidi knowledge is taught and studied through ritual, performance of the script, and private ukara instructional sessions. By discussing ukara nsibidi teachings, I shift 1984: 17) in order to unravel the ways in which meaning is made in esoteric knowle dge systems. I further posit that contemporary urbanization has fueled the multiplicity of meanings. By addressing the verbal interpretations of ukara I am in no way reveali ng secrets of the society or breaching my own initiation oaths. Informed by my fieldwork experiences (attending and participating in ritual, performances, and instructional sessions) and my Ekpe/Mgbe teachers, most verbal interpretations are not the carefu lly guarded aspects of nsibidi ; rather the step by step formulas of performed nsibidi are the true secret. Only through performed nsibidi may a member rightfully demonstrate his knowledge and agency. For example, when someone not recognized by local membe rs passes through the ukara barrier that blocks the entrance to the lodge, the person will be asked through gesture if he is indeed a member of the society. The member will respond by gesturing the proper series of signs that indicate his rank in the socie ty. If a member were to verbally indicate his membership in lieu of the performed version, he would be violently removed from the lodge and severely fined. In other words, most verbal interpretations of Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi encoded in ukara are just the tip o f the iceberg. In ritual and ceremonial contexts, verbal explanations are only useful as a corrective measure. This does not mean that oral interpretation of ukara motifs is insignificant. On the contrary, the verbal explanations bridge the gap between und erstanding performed nsibidi in relation to spiritual and ritualistic applications of this knowledge during ritual. However, when
160 readings of individual ukara esoteric principles, the m embers and chiefs who entrusted me with this knowledge do not permit me discuss them, and will I refrain from doing so. Before discussing instruction and meaning of ukara an awareness of both the restrictive and public versions of nsibidi are required. Nsibidi (or N sibiri) and U kara Nsibidi is an imaged and performed semiotic language system distinctive to the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and Western Cameroon. As a multimedia art form it may be produced on the ground, the body, walls, mono liths, cloth, masks, or costume, or it may be performed through gesture. The origins of nsibidi are unclear and may never be known. 1 Most attribute origin of the language to the Ejagham (Talbot 1912: 305, Thompson 1983: 227, Campbell 1983: 34, Carlson 2007 : 146, and others). My recent fieldwork investigation in Calabar supports this assertion, since the Efik did not commonly use the public variety of nsibidi as their Ejagahm neighbors did. However, usage alone cannot determine origin; more likely, I specula te that an earlier form of the present manifestation of nsibidi probably arrived in the Cross River region as a result of the Bantu migrations and continued to develop through time and space. The historical depth of nsibidi is suggested by archeological ev idence from the Calabar region, its prehistory possible dating back as early as the fifth century CE (see Slogar 2005 and 2007). Early ceramic art forms unearthed in the region feature geometric and highly ornate decorative motifs stylistically similar to the nsibidi collected by colonial officials during the early twentieth century and to motifs still in use today. There are two genres of nsibidi : those 1 Talbot documented that nsibidi is derived from the Ejagham word nchibbi According to his informant, the word nsibidi
161 signs used in the public domain and those restricted to institutions and masquerade societies. The moti fs of the public variety communicate ideas pertaining to social relations and material culture, although today they are not used to the same degree as in the past. Public nsibidi was mainly used as decoration on housing compounds, on calabashes and as perm anent (tattoo) and temporary bodily inscription. 2 Despite a decline in the use of nsibidi in everyday life, artists such as Obiora Udechukwu, Uche Edochie, A. Omotayo (Tayo) Adenaike, and Victor Ekpuk are presenting nsibidi within the publi c domain once ag ain even though the Western art world is not readily assessable to most Cross Riverians, the work is still publicly exhibited (see Carlson 2007: 149 153 and Kreamer and Purpura 2007: 230 236). 3 These recent uses of the language and knowledge system challen nsibidi nsibidi since such constructions undermine the inherent ability of nsibidi to change and adapt to new contexts (Campbell 1983). The Axari Hotel Stairway from 2008 (Fig. 4 2) in the foyer of the A xari Hotel in Calabar problematizes such categorical constructions since it combines new ideas fused with longer standing ideologies. The artist, Okpoke Ekong Okon, created a densely intellectual conceptualization of nsibidi by interweaving abstractions of signs into a continuous stairway banister made of galvanized steel rods framing metal sheets further embellished with openwork. Triangles, circles, checkered patterns, squares, lizards, arches, spiral openwork and many more abstractions of nsibidi are rec ognizable in his sculpture. 2 The first published documentation on nsibidi is attributed to colonial writers: see Macgregor 1909, Dayrell 1909 and 1911, and Talbot 1912. Macgregor and Dayrell discuss nsibidi as merely pictographic and d ecorative. Important reading of his statement and examples provided by him, his idea of multiple meaning in a given sign is between public and restricted contexts. Talbot on the other hand, inquired about Mgbe nisbidi but was denied access (1912: 39). Amanda Carlson provides a review of this literature (2003: 30 34). 3 The Inscribing Meaning project (exhibition and catalogue) provides an exc standing practices are juxtaposed with artists involved in international art markets and arenas (see Kreamer e t all 2007).
162 nsibidi fu rther questions past attempts at categorization. The stairway was commissioned by the owner of Axari Hotel, who is an Ekpe titleholder. The artist received specific instructions to use nsibid i but not to abuse it. Okpoke explained how he approached his selection with great trepidation, careful not to offend Ekpe/Mgbe custodians. Although Okpoke was initiated into Mgbe as a boy, he was never interested in learning the Ekpe/Mgbe meanings. Not un like artists previously mentioned, the abstracted motifs Okpoke use s are a combination of 4 The lizard motif, for example, is included as a decorative element; however, had he known that it was a reference to, among other things, the Efik and Efut Ekpe Nyamkpe and Qua Mgbe Dibo, the fiercest and most mystical masquerade of the society, Okpoke might have opted for another motif. Nsibidi has always changed through time and space. Context becomes imp ortant for deciphering nsibidi In certain contexts it must be defined by its ephemeral nature. Early in the twentieth century, P. A. Talbot, a British colonial official, observed an example of the ephemeral nature of nsibidi transmitted on split palm stem s as a communicative device (1912: 309). The recent use b y contemporary artists, private quality, and the followin g discussion on the multiplicity of meanings of ukara nsibidi demonstrate how critical c ontext is for understanding nsibidi and thus further problematizing nsibidi was also used for more permanent purposes. Nisbidi was employed by leaders and the courts as a form of record keeping. 5 However, O. U. Kalu asks 4 Interview with Okpoke Ekong Okon, May 20, 2010. 5 J.K. Macgregor and Talbot recorded a number of trials and stories (see 1909: 218 219 and 1912: 306, 453 461).
163 standing procedures (1980: 86). Today in Calabar, nsibidi mostly operates in the context of 6 Ekpe/Mgbe is known to utilize the most extensive performed repertoire and corpus of nsibidi The imaged version of nsibidi is frequently illustrated during Ekpe/Mgbe gatherings in a variety of ways: lodge decoration (Fig. 4 3), woven into the raffia masquerade costumes (Fig. 4 4), objects and elements manipulated, held, and worn. T he ukara cloth is the most well known article of clothing illustrating nsibidi (Fig 4 5). Ukara the primary symbol of Ekpe/Mgbe membership is made t oday from factory woven cotton. The brilliant white nsibidi motifs emerge from the process of stitch resist after motifs are threaded with raffia, which is cut out after the cloth has been thoroughly dyed in indigo pits or cauldrons. 7 Interestingly, ukara is made outside the Cross River region among neighboring peoples. Eli Bentor traces ukara production to the eighteenth century when Aro middlemen used their trade networks to introduce Ekpe nsibidi to Ezillo dyers located in northeastern Igboland, where th e textile is ultimately designed, sewn, and dyed (2008b). The right to wear ukara is exclusive to Ekpe/Mgbe membership. The textile is visualized 6), draped on the outside and inside of lodges, (Fig. 4 7 and 4 8), and used for decoration of certain Mkpoto, a canopy for the dead (Fig. 4 9). In the instance of adorning the body, ukara becomes a protective and even challenging charm like garment in the minds of both mem bers and non members. Bystanders often regard members outfitted in ukara with extreme apprehension despite a faade 6 I have documented nsibidi e, Akata, Obon, and Nnabo. Most of these masking societies make use of performed nsibidi to demonstrate knowledge and rank. Although not documented, elders informed me that Ndem (the old Efik tutelary water deity) priests still make use of nsibidi I have nsibidi 7 Recently, a wax print version of ukara has become a popular variation as it costs about one third of the stich resist variety.
164 of indifference on their part as they quietly and calmly avoid close encounter by walking in an opposite direction or reroute their path. In a similar capacity, ukara draped across the entrance into the lodge and another insi de, which blocks the inner sanctum of the structure (Qua: Nib Osam esoteric aspect s. However, the banners do not act alone but work in tandem with carefully tied bunches of oboti leaves and yellowish palm frond sculptures loosely suspended over the ukara directly above the doors both on the exterior and interior. In both cases, ukara ei ther concealing the lower body or lodge gateways in the context of Ekpe/Mgbe performance and ritual operate not unlike the Yourba sculptural construct infused with power known as l The Yoruba example acts as a powerful visual w arning curbing the tempta tion to challenge and transgressive behavior (Doris 2005). In this way, the spaces ukara conceal or protect coupled with the mysterious and restricted nature of Ekpe/Mgbe ritual and initiation affects a powerful influence over members and non members alike Secrecy a s R estriction Ekpe/Mgbe was once the government throughout the region and still remains a powerful player in local politics. The society maintains authority through its autonomy, which according to Georg Simmel, is the essence of a secret so ciety (1950: 361). The sovereignty of Ekpe/Mgbe is a product of both its history and restricted rights of access into its esoteric knowledge. Simmel those e xcluded from it, even though the content may be inconsequential (1906: 464 465). My examination follows Howard Morphy in that it subscribes to the notion that the control of knowledge through restriction and initiation establis hes power, while it rejects t he veil of secrecy as the major factor in the creation of power (1991: 77 and 96). Today, in teaching ukara knowledge, locally understood as an initiation in itself, power is thus mediated through the
165 process of transmission of knowledge since a form of mo netary benefit exchange is involved and power is problematic since, it is what you can p rove, not what you claim to know that matters. The nsibidi knowledge encoded in ukara also subscribes to this clich since verbal meaning and interpretation mean nothing if one cann ot demonstrate knowledge through the performed nsibidi version. The exchang e of knowledge, from teacher to student, is thus the discourse of power. Ekpe/Mgbe members refer to this process as an initiation. Beyond the knowledge encoded in ukara the cloth alone can mediat e power as it serves as a twofold symbol of initiation and r estriction. Access to ukara knowledge and teachings are best understood through three types of restrictive boundaries: spatial, social, and spiritual (cf. Roberts 1993: 141 143). Ukara that adorns the body and lodge can be understood as spatially restr icting knowledge for both members and non members alike. The ukara shrine, for example, cannot be crossed by members not initiated into the proper stage; the less privileged are left to imagine what lies beyond the cloth barrier. The second boundary not only socially transforms an Ekpe/Mgbe member into an entirely different social class, but also the process of initiation makes him into an insider. Initiation may also restrict the member to further spatial limitations or it may free them, depending on the rank and level granted. Initiations are important gateways for the continued acquisition of knowledge, which unlock the possibility for seeking the final and most restricted level of knowledge: the spiritu al and ancestral teachings. This last phase of knowledge can take a lifetime to acquire. Access to this field of knowledge is first granted by passing through advanced and restrictive informal types of initiation. The knowledge is then elucidated during in structional teachings.
166 ore Y ou L ook, the L ess Y ou S Respect and modesty are the foundation of Ekpe/Mgbe teachings. Once initiated, members are instructed to enter the house of Ekpe/Mgbe with their eyes open and mou ths shut and although they might not realize it, this begins the learning process. Typically, newly initiated members join the society without any prior understanding or frame of reference. Much of what unfolds inside the lodge before, during, and even aft er ritual activities relates to the large body of knowledge Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi encompasses everything from cleaning, hanging the ukara banner, food and table preparations, distribution of drink, eating and drinking, and even the initiations themselves. Inde ed, everything tangible and intangible within a given Ekpe/Mgbe context meetings, performance, and ritual can be seen as teaching aids that can elucidate 8 However, often only the mo st modest and respectful young members gain the knowl edge of nsibidi since their interest in learning and their proper conduct during gatherings inspire senior members to take them under their wings. An Ekpe song alludes to this point: Mynah had said that it is not good to be boastful 9 In Calabar today, young members gain insight into teachings and deeper knowledge through the master/apprentice system. Although it is not always the case today most elderly members state that a tor is usually his father. 10 Since the 8 B. E. Bassey discusses the fact Ekpe masquerades themselves tell stories and are thus didactic (1998: 157). 9 To prepare for the burial, a friend bought an inferior type of casket. T he mynah mocked him for this, and started to boast that when his father dies, he will buy the most excellent type, but years later, when it came time, the mynah was unable to buy because he did not have enough money. In an effort to make a quality casket, the mynah gathered the best materials and tested the quality of the wood before construction, but when he returned from his task, his father was already buried. The story demonstrates the dangers of being boastful! 10 A prospective member, whose father is not involved in Ekpe/Mgbe and does not have the money to support initiation cost may earn the respect of a current title holder, who woul d likely initiate and train him in exchange for
167 acquisition of Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge is an expensive endeavor, most neophytes do not have the funds necessary to support the demands of teachers. Typic ally, a master of Ekpe/Mgbe require s initiation in itself. If proper payment has not been given after a lesson, the instructor may utter into instruction. Chalk and payment are the basic requirements for initiation into a ny level of Ekpe/Mgbe. The phrase further explains that initiation is meaningless without proper instruction. The chalk is used to draw nisibidi on the initiate during ini tiation. Those marks are not explained nor is the initiation ritual itself explained. It becomes the responsibility of the initiate himself to understand what is not explained during formal ritual. Ekpe/Mgbe is a system that favors the elder and titleholde rs who are seen as the keepers of knowledge and the youth must acquiescence to their authority in order to acquire their wisdom. The Ekpe member and recent titleholder of the society, Chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa informed me that during nsibidi instruction his father, the late chief Bassey Ekpenyong Nsa, 11 In context the expression what he has ob served and participated in during rituals, ceremonies, and performances. Members who do not understand the depth of nsibidi will see only the faade of Ekpe/Mgbe unfold before informal labor. For example, if a boy or teenager is interested in bein g initiated into Ekpe/Mgbe, he will seek out the last up to a year before the chief agrees to initiate him. However, this can place the youth i n a dangerous position since fatherly protection during rituals and ceremonies shields the ignorant younger member from possible spiritual harm and financial disaster. Any actions or mistakes members make inside the lodge or during performance are taken se riously and usually end with a heavy fine or in some rare cases, a flogging with the cane of Ekpe/Mgbe. These hard lessons begin the long learning process, which favors knowledgeable members, who, in most cases, financially benefit from the mistakes of the inexperienced. Such errors are ordinarily avoided when fathers, grandfathers, or even uncles guide neophytes. 11 Interview with chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, March 16, 2010.
168 their eyes, while those who are truly interested will closely examine happening The member will later ask their teacher for elucidation of what they observed during ritual and performance Moreover, the phrase is closely related to the initiation process and the instruction that results from proper mentorship. In other words, if you nsibidi (by wiping their eyes with their hands) during my own instruction to accentuate the forewarning. F or the Efik, Efut, and Qua lodges i n C into Nkanda 12 permitting the newly initiated to enter into higher levels. The basic level of initiation is a requirement for further advancement. Numerous levels of informal initiation after Nkanda unfold du Depending on the interests of the initiate and because of the influence of the urban experience of Calabar, advancement or initiation into further ranks can be achieved rather qui ckly today. In spite of rapid adv ance in status, it was explained to me by members that the acquisition of knowledge spans the life of a seeker. There are differences in the processes whereby members are initiated and how they attain the deeper teachings i n the Mgbe/Ekpe systems of the Qua, Efik, and Efut. The first stage of initiation into Qua Mgbe begins at Abon Ogbe (small masquerades), although full membership is only reached after initiation into Nkanda. Two more levels of initiation follow Nkanda. Asi an is optional, while induction into the last, Nyema Mgbe, bestows 12 In Calabar, wives and daughters of chiefs may be initiated into the society. The y are initiated into the Nkanda level. However, they are not permitted to enter the lodge or seek out any Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge. One of the major n do not possess the nsibidi knowledge of Ekpe/Mgbe. In fact, elders and chiefs informed me that Ndem (the Efik nsibidi One of my Mgbe teachers explained how he was taught Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi by an Efik Ndem priestess. The issue of gender and nsibidi is an interesting topic beyond the scope of this essay. For a discussion on nsibidi and gender among the Bakor Ejagham from the middle Cross River see Carlson 2003.
169 a title upon the initiate. With the title, one is recognized as a chief of the society. During the course of initiation into the various levels, the initiated seek out the meanings and inte rpretatio ns of his initiations from his teachers. Also, interest in masquerading opens the door for further learning of nisbidi The Quas have a separate branch of Mgbe referred to as Ikpa Dibo. It is responsible for training younger members in the art of masquerading and in the use and meaning of nsibidi Only the masters and most respected titleholders are officers of this branch. 13 Today, however, senior members informed me that Ikpa Dibo is fading because of the influence of the privatization of teachin Ikpa Dibo, younger members are simply finding teachers on their own through the tutelage of their own fathers if they will teach them or from other chiefs or members. It should be not ed that even when Ikpa Dibo was the primary method of training, private tutoring was probably already practiced, although no t to the extent as today Ikpa Dibo offered a respected and trustworthy source to the deeper teachings of Mgbe. Established teachers claim that creditable teachers are highly pursued nowadays since deception is common. While the Qua, at one time, had Ikpa Dibo to facilitate instruction, the Efik and Efut, on the other hand, never had special branches of Ekpe responsible for teachin g their members. They have instead always made use of the master/apprentice system. For these groups, full membership starts with initiation into Nkanda, followed by a much later entrance into the Efamba. After that there will be further initiations into t he various masquerades and the sacred Ikot Ekpe ritual (dragging Ekpe from the bush to the shrine). It is this sequence that grants access 13 If request to become a member of this branch is given, the requirements of initiation into Ikpa Dibo are substantial: a large fish, cartons of drink (including spirits), two bottles of palm oil, two bunches of plantain, and
170 into the deeper teachings of Ekpe. During the course of the initiations, the neophyte seeks out the knowledge of his teacher in order to comprehend the various levels of initiation and to understand the nsibidi that applies to each. Nsibidi is the system that serves as the foundation for all Ekpe knowledge, and most of these understandings are seen in the Efamba. The Efa mba is also referred to as ufok Ekpe (house of Ekpe). Metaphorically it designates t he inner chamber within a Ekpe lodge. Many masters refer to this exclusive room as oyok ufok mme obong (complete hou se for chief: paramount rulers, and clan and village heads), ada Idagha ufok Ekpe (someone who holds titles in house of Ekpe), and akparawa odude ufok Ekpe (young man who entered house of Ekpe). These rooms are furnished with important objects that visuali ze the history and teachings of Ekpe during the funerary celebration of deeply initiated members of Ekpe. The first Efamba is the most important and complete since it is only created for a paramount ruler or a clan and village head when his life is being honored. 14 Typically, this room is produced one y the chief in waiting is ready to take the funds in order to recognize the decea sed with proper honors. This room presents the ukara in three dimensional form as all the imaged signs represented on the ukara textile come to life in a carefully organized array of objects and dram atic presentations of the deep aspects of Ekpe. Chiefs of Ekpe who have not entered before may do so only with the permission of the Iyamba or lodge head, who walks the initiates through the room, providing little to no explanation about the plethora of objects and assemblages. Upon entrance, members are overwhe lmed with the number of objects and installations they encounter. In my Efamba experience, I was in the 14 I entered t his type of Efamba in Calabar South in November 2009.
171 company of eight other initiates. The Iyamba explained only the names of the objects and assemblages, but encouraged the newly initiated to seek out his wisdom to fully comprehend the display. The other two versions of the Efamba include fewer objects and assemblages, these allude to the more foundational esoteric aspects of Ekpe. In the Qua, Efik, and Efut versions of Ekpe/Mgbe, access to a deeper, more esoteric understanding can only be attained through the various types of initiations and the wisdom of a teacher. Any initiate may see, but to truly look and to know the initiate must seek the knowledge of Ekpe/Mgbe through a reciprocal interaction with 15 Interpretations of U kara : T he F lexible N ature of S poken N sibidi The verbal explanations of specific ukara motifs can vary tremendously. During fieldwork investigation and my apprenticeships, which follow the process of how an indigenous member would be taught nsibidi I came to understand that motifs have a multiplicity of verbal interpretation, while others differ only slig htly, and surprisingly a very limited few have consistent expl anation. While I present a number of examples, more were documented than what appears in this text. My lessons involved ten interp retations from members of high rank within the Ekpe/Mgbe society Five of those interpretations w ere informed by my specific Ekpe/Mgbe teachers, who are all widely regarded as masters of Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge and nsibidi in Calabar. Additionally, beyond the ten interpretations, I gathered many partial explanations of spe cific motifs by a wide range of members of diverse ages, ranks, and ethnic identities. Since Calabar was historically occupied by the Qua Ejagham, the Efik, and the Efut peoples, interpretations were informed by members of all three groups. Additionally, I obtained Etung 15 Interview with Obong Iyamba, (Chief) Prince Efiok Ekpenyong Nsa, February 23, 2010.
172 Ejagham interpretations near Ikom, in the middle of the Cross River region. The following analysis emphasizes my field investigations in Calabar, along with comparison to ukara interpretations from other scholars and writers working in othe r areas at different times in the Cross River region. 16 During formal instruction, nsibidi was taught to me using an ukara purchased with the help of one of my teachers in 2009 (Fig. 4 10) from a local dealer in Calabar. However, when all motifs on my cl oth were taught members usually brought out their own ukara as further learning aids since most wrapper cloth to cloth. Lessons would begin once the top corners of the ukara were securel y knotted to any stationary feature, leaving the textile to loosely hang. Usually, the cloth was tied to the interior window burglary bars, a typical feature in most Cal abar homes. My instructors normally contemplated the cloth for some time, and if he was a chief of Ekpe/Mgbe, he would manipulate his staff of office, which functioned as a symbol of his stat us and authority but served as a pointer as well as a mechanism for emphasizing gestured explanation. The motif predominantly featured on most ukara is characterized by a series of repeating rectangles inside one another with a hor izontal line placed in the middle of the motif (Fig. 4 11). More recent ukara typically depict two rectangles, sometimes with two horizontal lines inside the second rectangl e, while older versions often have up to five rectangles with one central horizontal line. Discussion with members reveals that this combination of motifs has a variety of meanings. The rectangle may represent the Ekpe/Mgbe lodge with its the important pil lar in the 16 The specific identities of my teachers will be withheld not because they wish anonymity as some want to be reco gnized, but for the integrity of the apprenticeship system. Interested readers could bypass payment and undermine the monetary benefit of teaching. If asked about the source of their knowledge, the member must name their teacher, therefore, if I reveal the masters who taught me, I would be inadvertently giving readers free lessons at the expense of my teachers.
173 center, the inner chamber of the lodge, a box protecting the secrets of the society that signifies mystic power, or the top of the Ekpe/Mgbe table. The horizontal line might represent the cane or whip, a grave or coffin, a barrier guarding the e ntrance into the Mboko grade, the house of the tortoise, or the carpet of the society. Each of these interpretations relates to the tangible and intangible aspects of the society. The table and cane reading, for instance, suggests a multitude of ideas pert aining to ritual and initiation, esoteric and spiritual aspects, and the philosophical foundations for the graded structure of the society. Some instructors referred to the motif names/descriptions were used especi ally if the teacher was explaining it as a mystical barrier. of Ekpe/Mgbe. 17 explanatory start ing points that facilitate more penetrating elucidation of visible and invisible acts as a springboard during instruction. In the example of Ekpe/Mgbe master s using motifs to teach ideas they infer, beyond their pictographic nature, the interpretive lens is contextual rooted in ritual procedure and activity, performed nsibidi and spiritual/ancestral relevance. In the process, the narrative is highly personali ience and knowledge base. What is important for the learner is the main objective and theme of the lesson. Specific motifs should be understood as talking points for teaching the material and immaterial aspects of t he society. 17 English, the idiom refers to the over all idea or theme of a story rather than the actual details of an account. In the at the same time, still concealed from those unable to understand the intended meaning (1984: 54).
174 allows the teacher to explain the hierarchy of and advancement in the society. During any function inside the lodge, the Iyamba (Efik and Efut) or Se Dibo (Qua) both known as the head of the lo dge and other titleholders sit behind a table, which usually is placed on a raised slab of concrete near the back wall of the lodge opposite the entrance. Only titleholders have the right to sit in such prime locations in the shrine. The luxury of having a table at which to eat and drink is a privilege from which lesser members are restricted. The lower status of l esser members is demonstrated by their being seated off to the left on a humble wooden bench. The entire seating arrangement suggests the levels of initiation and hierarchical nature of the society. motif explains the importance of the items placed on the table during ritual and ceremony. The central horizontal line symbolizes the all important cane held by the most serious and sacred masquerades during performance which must be placed on the table in order for any gathering to be official. Additionally, the complete table setting must include the gong, spirits, drinks, and food placed on a large plan tain leaf (Fig. 4 12). Each has individual meanings pertaining to spiritual and ancestral application as well as being part of the formal procedures for official activity. For example, the gong is used to call Mboko or the voice of Ekpe/Mgbe, a mystical ro ar that emanates from the inner chamber of the shrine. The gong can thus be used to teach that the Mboko is the most mystical and spiritual aspect of the society. In lieu of the table and cane interpretation, the central line may be understood as the centr al pillar in the shrine, in which case the teacher will discuss the other ancestral aspects of the society. The concentric rectangle motif has been documented by Simon Batte stini to symbolize temple,
175 refers to stages of knowledge, levels of initiation, and the different areas of the lodge. Another concentric rectangular motif appears on the uk ara ; instead of one or two central lines, this representation features a solid and dotted line in the center of the rectangle (Fig. 4 13). Members may read this motif as the box containing the objects of the Nkanda masquerade display held by accompanying p erformers, the basket of Nkanda, a mystical box concealing secrets, a coffin, land, or a machete used to kill a snake. The outer rectangle of the motif can be the dots represent the weapons carried by Nkanda performers that capture stubborn non members who have not heeded the announcement that Nkanda, a dangerous and vicious masquerade, is about to appear. The motif can refer to the entire Nkanda branch history, masquerade, and performance. The triangular checkerboard motif, consisting of interlocking white and blue repeating triangles (Fig. 4 14) is explained as connected to the Qua Mgbe Mabu branch, the ukara cloth itself, the palm fond used to indicate bound aries that non members are not to pass, the canoe of Nkanda, or the winds of Nkanda. The latter is the most c ommon interpretation in Calabar, and the most philosophical. Titleholders and members alike explain this reading as the foundational concept of the branch itself and the starting point of the Nkanda masquerade as it begins to manifest itself and travel between the realms of the land, the air, and the water, which explains that Nkanda is understood as a three phase phenomenon. The idea is that Nkanda allows Ekpe/Mgbe to be everywhere at once and explains how it has scaled the ocean and established the society in other areas of the world, and will continue to do so. 18 The motif is described as an 18 On e such example often referred to today is Cuban Abaku. For a history of the establishment of Ekpe/Mgbe in Cuba see Miller 2009.
176 abstract representation of the fluctuating energies produc ed from the peacock feathers that adorn the Nkanda masquerade as they shake during performance, which explains how it transcends different realms in space and time. In this way, there is an important aesthetic attachment to the mask as the peacock feather is locally known to bring pleasure to the eye. One Ekpe member told 19 Perhaps the statement alludes to the introduction of the peacock feather as a result of sea or river commerce. The fol lowing Efik Ekpe song reinforces this point: Ediye Nkanda e ediye Nkanda ofiom odok obot akama en (x2) Beautiful peacock feather Crocodile comes out from the water and turns to look (x2) The Nkanda branch in Calabar was founded by Eyo Asibong, who later became King Archibong II of the Efik in 1859 (Oku 1989: 65 66). 20 It is possible, th at the The interpretation may have possibly disseminated throughout Calabar d ue to the Efik influence over the lower region of the Cross River complex during the eighteenth a nd nineteenth centuries while middlemen during the slave and oil trade Non Scholars investigating other communities in the Cross River region and Igbo areas have written that and a general reference to power (Carlson 2003: 77 and 2007: 146, Cole and Aniakor 1984: 61, Leib and Romano 1984: 54, Thompson 1974: 180 181 and 1983: 245, 247, and Batte stini 2000: 150); however, in Calabar and Ikom, it was never explained to me in this way. It is interesting to 19 Interview with anonymous member, date withheld. 20 After a battle with O kpodom Etak Ukim in 1821, Eyo Asibong, who was noted swordsman and warrior, attained the paraphernalia of the Nkanda branch as a trophy of war. Perhaps, this explains the Efik connotation of the overall idea of the warrior nature of the Nkanda branch and i ts more aggressive masquerade display (see Oku 1989: 65 77).
177 note that once scholars recorded the motif as a reference to leopard characteristics and power, it was rerecorded throughout t he years. Or, is it possible that this is an interpretation given to non initiated researchers? 21 The brass branch, known as Okpoho, was incorporated into Efik Ekpe in the 18 th century and is depicted on the ukara in a variety of ways: one or a series of elongated arch like forms (Fig. 4 15), two semicircles with their openings facing outward separated by a central line, interlocking semicircles, and a single semicircle or arch form. These motifs may also be interpreted as the brass or copper rods (Efik: okpoho okuk ) used as currency before and during the trans Atlantic slave trade. 22 Yet another depiction on the ukara is in the form of a small circle or armlet, which represents the coveted okpoho used during the Okpoho performance display. Battestini notes that representations of copper and iron bars denote wealth, fines, initiation cost, and notions of secure and honest commerce (2000: 149). My recent findings reveal a similar idea relating to power and money. The motif is regularly interpreted in relation to the Okpoho branch or the now outdated currency that was once used at a time when Efik Ekpe dominated Calabar financially and politically during the slave trading years However, unlike the consistent refer ence to power documented in Calabar, in Ikom, a n elder interpreted the elongated arch as the portal of the Mgbe lodge Perhaps the interpretation relating to power and old currency I documented in Calabar is temporally consistent to the time Battestini collected information (1979 1983) since it recalls the time when Ekpe/Mgbe reigned supreme ly 21 I would like to thank Amanda Carlson for this comment. Personal communication, July 11, 2011. 22 There is some dispute of the history of copper rods in the Cross River. Jones maintains th at copper rods and manilas were imported from Western Europe, while noting that an iron currency preceded them (1958: 48). In contrast, Latham argues that a brass and copper currency system was firmly in place before the arrival of Europeans (1971).
178 The Ekpe/Mgbe Okpoho motif is also the most common sign represented by those not members of the society. Recall the two genres of nsibidi defined earlier, those used in public domain and those for restrictiv e organizations. Even tho ught the same motifs are used in both realms, Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi interpretations are completely different and also carry multiple meanings for members as well. This does not mean that all signs were once used in both domains, but th e motifs that were shared carry different connotations en tirely. For instance, the most frequently discussed general type of nsibidi in the literature is two interconnecting semicircles. The above paragraph shows that this relates to a specific branch, cur rency, power, and an entryway in Ekpe/Mgbe contexts, but among the public, it represents love, unity, the union between man and women, marriage, and if the two semicircles are not intersecting, the meaning becomes disunity, hatred, divorce, and betrayal ( D ayrell 1911, Campbell 1983, Thompson 1983: 244, and Carlson 2003) Still, there are even more meanings attached to the non interconnecting semicircles motif in the context of Ekpe/Mgbe. An Mgbe elder and chief noted that the motif speaks to how a member se cretly turns his back on his wife to go to an Mgbe ritual. The elder used the motif to teach me how a member must not tell his wife that he is going to play Mgbe, especially at night, as it can draw suspicion and unwarranted inquiries. Ukara motifs and th eir assorted interpretations reveal that Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi is not merely a pictographic, ideographic, symbolic or iconic system as the literature suggests, but is didactic at its very core and motifs do not represent words or ideas but embody lessons about the material and immaterial aspects of the institution. The polyvalent nature of nsibidi has been suggested in the literature, importantly noting difference of interpretation from the public and restrictive genres and the crucial factors of age and level of initiation. In reading the motifs of Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi represented on the ukara verbal explanations are not static, but also
179 polyvalent. As such, animal motifs on the ukara do not represent the animal alone but much deeper concepts associated with the m and their attachment to the society. For example, the representation of what appears to be a lizard can also be identified as a chameleon or as a monitor lizard (Fig. 4 16). When explained as a lizard, the motif becomes a reference to the de choreography, an animal from the bush, from which Ekpe/Mgbe derives some of its power, and the animal that accepts the offerings of food sacrifice during rituals. Interpreted as the chameleo n, the motif describes the nature of gestured nsibidi just as the chameleon can change color, a sign may be performed in many ways. This interpretation also denotes that tricks and indirection are used to confuse and to protect the knowledge of performed nisbidi 23 The interpretation concerning the monitor lizard was given by a Qua Chief who is also a master of Mgbe. He explained that this type of lizard connects to the Nkanda branch and masquerade display. This species of lizard is black and earth toned wi th dotted patterns on its back, which also reveals, in his understanding, the origin of nsibidi and the innate connection between Mgbe and nature. The narrative resonates, in some ways, with an oral account collected by Macgregor in the early 20 th century that tells the tale of how humans learned nsibidi from baboons (1909: 211). Another animal mo tif, the tortoise, always depicted eye view, directs emphasis to the carapace (Fig. 4 17). The motif is interpreted variously as Nkanda occupying th e bush, a sign for the deceased, which relates to the Oku akama branch, the Qua Boriki branch, or an old warning sign hung in front of the Mgbe lodge that featured a tortoise shell tied to a cock. 23 Car lson documented tricks and indirection as an important aspect of performed nsibidi in the middle Cross River (2003: 84 87). The topic will be discussed in the following chapter.
180 In the Ikom area, the motif was explained as the shell of a turtle used to call the mystical Mgbe, in more general contexts as a town, or as a general reference to the many qualities of the tortoise. The last interpretation allows a teacher of nsibidi to discuss many ideas of Ekpe/Mgbe with his pupil. The tortois e lives in the bush along with other animals represented on the ukara These motifs are metaphors for the powers and abilities that the ancestors appropriated and embedded within the philosophy of Ekpe/Mgbe. The tortoise is an animal characterized by longe vity, wisdom, unhurried movement, prudence, and cleverness. Such ideas translate as qualities and behavioral properties that a member should strive to live by. For example, the idea of longevity denotes the vitality of the ancestors and the authority of Ek pe/Mgbe in general, while slowness of movement and wisdom are qualities of the elders. Younger members are admonished to respect and to learn from the elders in order to cultivate their own knowledge. Level headedness, mental agility, and creativity furthe r qualities attributed to the tortoise extend to many areas of the society, including proper conduct, the acquisition of knowledge, the arts, and the ability to perform nsibidi The design with two diagonal lines dividing a quatrefoil into four sections with small dashes inside each (Fig. 4 18) was articulated as the regalia worn by chieftaincy candidates during their formal initiations and public performances, the regalia of the Ebonko masquerade, the bow and arrow carried by the tailed Isim performer (Fig. 4 19) the mystical and spiritual explanation speaks to pantomimed nsibidi challenges between members in both formal and informal set tings. When members challenge each other in this way, it is not unlike someone results. The motif thus speaks to the seriousness of nsibidi challenges and impl ies that
181 leaders of the community. A similar sign is addressed in the seminal work, Flash of the Spirit 1983, in which Robert Farris Thompson traces a Cuban Abaku sign featuring a quartered circle with four small circles in each quadrant to Nigerian motifs. The sign in Cuba, documented as early as 1839 and according to Thompson, has multiple meanings relating both to the Abaku Mokongo title and mystic vision, alo ng with other interpretations. The Cuban motif can be represented in a variety of forms. Instead of a circle, the motif can be rendered as a diamond shape, a horn form, or open and curving. Regardless of form, however, the four dots or circles separated by a bisecting cross must be in place to symbolize two sets of eyes. Thompson further states that the Nigerian motifs from Calabar and Oban relate to the Nkanda branch and also connects to the notion of the mystic vision. Particularly, the Nigerian motifs il circle surmounted by a feather like element from Calabar and from the Oban area, a circle divided into four quadrants by a cross (1983: 248 254). In my apprenticeships and investigations, the Calabar motif described by Thompson was explained as a combination of the Nkanda branch and the Mboko branch since once one is initiated into the former, access to the latter may be grasped with time. The feather form is a stylized peacock feather, the main symbol of t he Nkanda branch. The quartered circle belongs to the Mboko branch and is an extremely esoteric and spiritual concept that relates to the ancestors. A completely different interpretation of the same motif was also offered: instead of a feather, a plume cou ld be depicted, in this case, it relates to the Efik Nyamkpe or the Qua Dibo branch, which is spiritually connected to the Mboko branch. Although the notion of mystic vision was never mentioned, nsibidi and Ekpe/Mgbe insights can be shown to the living by the ancestors
182 through the medium of dreams. 24 cases to my findings support the notion that the doctrines of indigenous knowledge systems carry multiple meanings and change through time and space, especiall y as nsibidi crossed the Atlantic and become anaforuana 25 Another importance difference is that the Cuban version has abandoned the use of ukara cloth and has placed emphasis on the act of drawing the symbols rather than performing them. 26 The assortment o f motifs on the ukara cloth is not usually read as a narrative; rather each obtaine d, only one member explained individual motifs in relation to those that i t borders as a n interconnected network of teachings. Another member commented on how the ukara was mostly related to a specific title/masquerade, but he did not explain the motifs in relation to each other. ns ibidi largel y depends on who instructed him, his understanding of th e ancestral, how diligently he pursued learning the language, and the context for which the motif was explained and experienced during ritual. In addition to context, the multiplicity of v erbal meanings is also influenced by the urban experience of Calabar, which led to a collapse of the older method of instruction during ritual to a more private mode of transmission enveloped in financial transaction. 24 Thompson equates the dream encounter as a form of mystic vision (1983: 244 ). My teachers explained this phenomenon as not an image or a concept in the mind or imagination, but as Ekpe/Mgbe ancestors directly communicating, safeguarding, cautioning, guiding, and facilitating a dialogue with living members. 25 See Cabrera for an extensive discussion of anaforuana (1975). 26 Personal communication with Ivor Miller, February 16, 2010. Additionally, Miller provided an international Ekpe forum for Nigerian Ekpe members to meet Cuban Abak u members during the Muse Quai Branly perfor mance in Paris in 2007. I nterviews with two Ekpe participants: Eyamba Ekpenyong E. Ekpo and Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, June 2, 2010.
183 The C reation of an I nformal E conomy The exchange of Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge for monetary value is a well understood norm. An Ekpe/Mgbe maxim in Pidgin states: Ekpe no get mother. No get brother. No get sister. Ekpe no sabi anybody. Ekpe go chop your body. 27 This all encompassing adage is often stated to clear any confusion if someone member or not feels cheated or shortchanged by the institution. Typically, it is understood as a rule of can never be challenged. Wise members use it at the end of business transactions involving the institution to end all negotiation, leaving the societ y financially ahead. Up and coming members learn this lesson early as the result of a fine for misconduct or to teach them tha t Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge is not free. The maxim helps explain why master teachers limit lessons to only three motifs as they maximize Indeed, in Calabar, Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi knowledge is a commodity. Hugh Urban suggests, b as I demonstrate above better explains 27 Banyang in Cameroon (1969: 228).
184 how boundaries the system of formal and informal initiation safeguard t he flow of knowledge and keep it a well guarded commodity in the hands of those who know. In Calabar, those members interested in tapping into this field of knowledge find themselves at the mercy of a recently expanded informal economy. The origin cannot be stated with any certainty, but by the time my fieldwork started in 2008, it was a well established system. Although it may have existed in a simpler form early on, I argue that the informal economy surrounding the transmission of Ekpe/Mgbe teachings see king out apprenticeships when fatherly instruction is not available, ultimately replacing the old system of obtaining knowledge during initiation or in the Qua case, their Ikpa Dibo branch, now almost defunct became the norm and steadily grew in tandem wi rooted in the late 1970s and ultimately taking shape in the late 19 80s, which also coincides with the expansion of the chieftaincy installment spectacle discussed in the previous chapter. The assertion is supp orted by recent interviews with elder members and chiefs, who often complain that lodges and their elder members had greater control over the dissemination of nsibidi knowledge in the past, especially before the 1980s. Others recall that in the past both v erbal understanding s and the performed versions were commonplace knowledge for all members since they were collectively transmitted during initiation. In the old system of initiation climbing the hierarchy of ranks, all levels initiated through included co llective nsibidi instruction inside the lodge. Today, initiation includes payment and admittance only into a previously restricted boundary. It is important to remember that in Calabar, initiation has been reduced to two levels. However, rights to acquire the more esoteric aspects are granted by informal initiations such as entrance into the Efik Efamba and a masquerade branch. The literature on the subject of nsibidi and initiation, grounded in primary fieldwork outside of
185 Calabar, documents that the old s tyle of initiation and instruction still seems to be in tact (Ruel 1969: 221, Leib and Romano 1984: 50 51, Carlson 2003: 77 and 132), 28 while in some areas instruction of nsibidi is a private matter, sought out by the interested (Abalogu 1978: 92 and Koloss 2008: 68). The individual method of teaching, in contrast to the older collective practice, sustains the informal economy while further fueling the multiplicity of meanings in teaching individual ukara motifs. Most master teachers in Calabar argue that on ly a small number of members really know nsibidi nowadays. Such assertions tend to elevate the value of their own knowledge and, simultaneously, bolster its commodification further. The acquisition of knowledge, therefore, has become an expensive endeavor, restricting financially challenged members from obtaining it. In fact, most teachers reject any verbal explanation that is not their own, even if the interpretation is ciety in which agency is determined by knowing, the terse statement is employed to establish power with The M eaning of M ultiplicity: T owards a P hilosophy of A ction T his analysis raises the question whether the multiplicity of ukara readings has always been the norm, or a recent trend resulting from the creation of an informal economy, urbanization, or time. If knowledge was once collectively disseminated through the i nitiation process, I suspect that the privatization model likely inspired further multiplicity. However, without previous in depth documentation on the subject, the answer is not so easily discerned. More than likely, members have always sought out privat e instruction to grasp the deeper 28 In f act, an Ejagham Mgbe elder and Entufam (chief) Agbor Ojong Okongor informed me that in the more rural Ikom, Mgbe/Ekpe knowledge ( nsibidi ukara and the more esoteric spiritual aspects of the society) is taught collectively, in an open forum. The intereste d member will summon the chiefs and elders, buy food and drink, and
186 meaning encoded in ukara In addition to this, all Ekpe/Mgbe/Ngbe and similar institutions throughout the Cross River complex s hould never be presented as universal They vary from lodge to lodge, from people to people, an d from region to region. This is especially the case of ukara knowledge. The case in Calabar is more complex since it is common practice for an Efik member to mi ght shed light on the multiple ukara interpretations in Calabar today. When asked if the Qua, Efik, and Efut have different interpretations, some adamantly said no. Others answered yes. I suspect that each lodge, and even families within a given lodge, hav e always had varied readings of ukara motifs. C hief Bassey Ndem nsibidi had older principles that were lost understanding. Ukara is one truth, but ma 29 Elsewhere in African art studies, the notion of multiplicity of meaning is addressed by Herbert Cole and Doran Ross through the Akan verbal visual nexus. The ability for images to stimulate varied interpretation and interpretation to in turn provoke varied visual representation, underscores the intellectual capacity and interconnectedness of words and images in the production of meaning (1977: 12). The example of reading Luba memory devices demonstrates how memory is dependent on l ocal agenda and context and negotiated and recreated through the 44). The variety of meanings produced by a single Mande Bird masquerade provides yet another case. Patrick McNaug hton shows how individual artistic agency coupled with an array of multi media elements in Mande bird masquerade events stimulate shared interpretations and provoke a 29 Interview with chief Bassey Ndem, May 30, 2010.
187 multiplicity of meanings from person to person based on individual interest, history, exp erience, and levels of knowledge at their disposal (2008). All these ideas can be used to inform how ukara motifs and their teachers produce varied meaning: 1) the depth of both the visual representations and verbal interpretations feed each other and refl ect the intellectual complexity of Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi ritual, and philosophy, 2) the politics of the informal economy system is negotiated through an agenda of claiming authentic knowledge for greater profit, and 3) ritual and spiritual experiences are per sonal and manifest differently according to individual context. Unpacking the content of ukara Calabar demonstrates the impact the urban experience can have on an indigenous knowledge system. Verbal uka ra nsibidi he journeys into the philosophy of the society. However, it means nothing if one cannot must shift from investigation of imaged motifs on the ukara to direct attention to the performed version of nsibidi in order to grasp not only the vitality of the knowledge system, but also how the urban experience has shaped its performative context.
188 F igures Figure 4 1. Ntoe Patrick Inok Oquagbor V initiates a new Mgbe member during ritual. Dec. 12, 2009, Nkonib lodge (Ikot Ansa), Calabar. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
189 Figure 4 2. The Axari Hotel Stairway in the foyer of the Axari Hotel in Calabar, created by Okpoke Ekong Okon in 2008. Photograped in 2010 by Jordan A. Fenton
190 Figure 4 3. L odge decoration of a tree and lion or leopard. Ikom, Middle Cross River region. Photographed Oct. 17, 2009 by Jordan A. Fenton
191 Figure 4 4. Nsibidi motifs woven into raffia mane of an Mgbe Abon Ogbe performing during a chieftaincy installation at Nkonib, Calabar, June 29, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
192 Figure 4 5. Ukara nsibidi cloth, c.1950. Photographed in 2011 by Jordan A. Fe nton Figure 4 6. Ekpe titleholders wearing ukara t May 29, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
193 Figure 4 7. Ukara banner blocking entrance into Nkonib Mgbe lodge during ritual, Calabar, May 23, 2 008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 4 8. Ukara banner blocking the entrance into the inner chamber at the Efe Ekpe Atu, Calabar South, Calabar, Feb. 13, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
194 Figure 4 9. Mkpoto (canopy for the dead) honori ng deceased Ekpe titleholder decorated with ukara Calabar, Feb. 8, 2010. Photograph by Jordan Fenton Figu re 4 10. Ukara nsibidi used during my instructional sessions. Purchased from Watts market in Calabar South, Calabar in 2009. Photographed in 2 010 by Jordan A. Fenton
195 Figure 4 11. Detail of repeating rectangle motif from ukara Photograph from Jordan A. Fenton Figure 4 12. Table of Ekpe during ritual. Creek Town, Dec. 31, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
196 Figure 4 13. D etail of rectangle with dots and line motif from ukara Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 4 14. Detail of repeating triangle motif from ukara Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
197 Figure 4 15. Detail of Okpoho motif from ukara Photograph by Jorda n A. Fenton Figure 4 16. Detail of lizard motif from ukara Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
198 Figure 4 17. Detail of tortoise from ukara Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 4 18. Detail of two diagonal lines dividing a quatrefoil into four sections motif from ukara Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
199 Figure 4 19. Two Isim performers (long tail) during Mgbe performance at Nkonib, Calabar, Nov. 7, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
200 CHAPTER 5 PERFORMED NSIBIDI RENAS FOR CHALLENGING KNOWLEDG E The previous chapter presented the phenomenon of nsibidi in two genres: restrictive and public. The restrictive genre in the context of Ekpe/Mgbe was further broken down into two versions: imaged and perf ormed. For members, the latter is more important since nsibidi knowledge is not demonstrated by word of mout h but only when it is performed. The former is mostly used during instruction to elucidate the society, its ritual, and philosophy, while also servi ng as the foundation for learning the performed version. Most members do not even define nsibidi in relation to the imaged version, but privilege the performed manifestation in their definitions. In their view, the imaged version is secondary if not tertia ry to the performed. This chapter provides an in depth investigation into the phenomenon of performed nsibidi and discusses the arenas in which th e gestured art is manifested. I will be demonstrate that performed nsibidi and its challenge arenas are indexe s of power that continue to c hange through time and space. I show that the context for performing nsibidi has become more public than in the past. Considering that performed nsibidi is being taken to the streets, I argue that the gestured art and the arena s in which it is performed are examples of what Clifford Geertz has nsibidi challenge is both a the quest of power and financial gain In fact, the performed version of nsibidi motivates and serves as the foundation for the develop ing informal economy that surrounds the acquisition of Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge discussed in the previous chapter. I further argue that financial sustainability is the critical impetus for performed continued vitality and public presence in contempora ry Calabar. My discussion opens nsibidi which is employed as a trope throughout the entire chapter in order to unpack the complex nature of the gestured art and its changing arenas.
201 A C ontextual A ccount of N sib idi P erformed The following d escription is a public nsibidi display at the reception after the conferment of the highest honorary title ( Anta Denuo Ankiong ) at Okoyong, Odukpani Local Government Area (outside Calabar) Cross River State, Nigeria in 2010. The mood was joyous as family, friends, the community, and supporting cultural groups gathered to celebrate a special day: the conferment upon a few distinguished persons of Anta Denuo Ankiong the most long standing and highest honorary chieftaincy titl e of Okoyong, Odukpani LG A a territory about one hour northwest of Calabar. After the official conferment of the title s the audience dispersed from the main grounds Invited guests and supporting cultural troupes worked their way to the house of the reci pient for food, refreshments, entertainment and further celebration Guests and supporting performance troupes were provided with reserved seating area s. Each area featured a tent canopy. The Mgbe assigned area was strategically placed on a small hill, di rectly across from the house o f the honoree, situated to the left of the compound entrance. Mgbe was given thus a central location. All other troupes and supporters were dispersed within the gated compound. As supporters of the honoree were settling into t heir respective assigned seats, drinks and food were distributed. A hired band entertained the crowd. Once food and refreshments were consumed, members signaled that the band must yield to the drums of Mgbe. One elder gestured for the Dibo rhythm to comm ence (discussed below) For members, this rhythm has great affect. 1 members into a heightened performance mode. Younger members 2 were especial ly excited as they realized not only was a nsibidi display about to begin, but that a true master was about to perform and teach: Entufam 1 Members, when describing their state of mind during p between song, drum, dance, and performance. 2 These members should not be understood as yo ung in age, but rather underdeveloped in Mgbe/Ekpe Knowledge.
202 Hayford S. Edet. Until recently, Ikpa Dibo nisbidi displays were usually only performed inside the halls of the Osam Mgbe the society lodge Tonight, members and non members alike were in for a rare treat: a public and masterful display of nisbidi However, at this point, only members were fully aware of what was about to unfold. Before Entufam Edet was ready to perform, as he later informed me, the spirit of Mgbe had to ov erwhelm him. He stood up to encour age the Dibo drum beat to intensify. Viciously motioning to the drummers to accelerate, he was beginning to feel the spirit, a sensation not easily defined or understood by those not deeply invested in the knowledge of Ekpe/Mgbe. When his spirit was charge d, shoes were removed for better traction; his glasses watch, and numerous cell phones we re safely placed on the table since nsibidi displays are known to send accessories flying. The excitement steadily increased Younger members were eager to witness h is display O lder members helped him ginger verbal shouts and quick nsibidi gesture s I will never forget the thrilled look of anticipation a younger member expressed: his mouth ajar, eyes widened with excitement, but at the same time focused for ca reful study as he was about to see a masterful display of knowledge that would later send him on a quest for comprehension. As a titled member yet foreign field researcher, I was not only struck by who was going to perform, but also by the palpable energy transmitted from member to member, singer to singer, and drummer to drummer. I quickly decided to abandon my video and photographic cameras in order to soak up the event with my own senses. Only at the end did I realize a picture or two should be taken. The performance sta rted with Entufam Edet following proper protocol by performing a crucial nsibidi sequence : securing a boundary by establishing two imaginary corners,
203 demarcating the boundaries of a lodge, concealing the inner caucus of the Osam Mgbe by performing the hanging of ukara cloth, and finally, by approaching the high table to ask for the Ekpe/Mgbe cane or ikpa (Fig. 5 1) 3 On approach, Entufam Edet carefully avoided touching the ikpa The cane was length y and extended beyond the table Therefo re, Entufam Edet majestically sp un around the cane to avoid touching it. During the maneuver, he performed the nsibidi of respect towards the titleholder seated centrally at th e middle of the table, usually the Iyamba or lodge head. He performed the sign of respect with a handkerchief fold ed over his hands, asking for the permission to begin his display Once granted, the seated titleholde r responded with nsibidi and picked up the ikpa on the table in front of him and threw it on the ground for the p erform er to officially begin his display. After the ikpa hit the ground, the mood instantly changed for Dibo was coming. The act further gingered the performer, the observing members, and the musicians, and triggered the attention of the general audience (non members). The rhythms of the drums intensified even more T he voices of the singers echoed throughout the entire compound. T he members seated closest to the display arena were mentally refreshing their own knowledge of nsibidi as they were about to challe nge Entufam Edet. Non members were now drawing closer as they realized a chance to observe and participate in a rare public display of nsibidi All members and non members alike, were now engaged. M bea ting in perfect harmony A dialogue between members and non members, usually established during public masquerade was beginning to take shape. A n artistic and performative synergy was materializing. 3 The Ekpe/Mgbe ikpa is a cane or whip made from a bone spiked sting ray tail.
204 As the performance atmosphere escalated, Entufam Edet c autiously approached the ikpa still on the ground, to cleanse the sacred instrument tenderly with his handkerchief. 4 He carefully synchronized h is sweeping motions: left to right, allowing the handkerchief to purify the space in which the object lay ever so delicately without actually coming in contact with the whip. The hilt of the cane was treated first. Then, the shaft an d the tip were each cared for with the same gentleness, but not with the same meticulous care the handle had received S udden ly Ent ufam Edet jumped away from the ikpa and ran ahead to block an individual walking into his performative space. The man was not wearing a wrapper tied around his waist but was outfitted in an up and down garment, 5 si gnaling to the performer that a non mem ber the man, leaving about an inch of space between their noses. As the man tried to walk around, Entufam Edet mirrored his actions in an effort to protect and bloc k the intruder from the sacred space. The fierce stare by Entufam Edet let everyone know the implications of the unknown it was soon apparent that the man was not an intrud er, but a member, who realized the severity of the situation he faced He quickly showed the proper nsibidi that proved membership. Entufam now allowed him to pass and join his fellow members H e returned his attention back to the ikpa 6 Turning his focu s again to the now cleansed object, Entufam Edets was soon to transform into Dibo ; the nsibidi challenges would follow after. Entufam Edet was in full spirit as he 4 Nsibidi displays often take on theatrical expression as most masters define their abilities by artfully animatin g even the simplest aspects. The manner in which Entufam Edet meticulously and gracefully tiptoed around the ikpa during the cleaning process, for example, sets him apart from novice performers. 5 An up and down is a commonly worn ensemble in Nigeria. It usually tailored from Dutch wax and other cloths and consists to matching paints and a long shirt. 6 Because some Mgbe members were from Calabar and this event was in Okoyong, about an hour distance, many members were from different areas, so everyone did not know each other. Thus, all Mgbe/Ekpe protocols were closely observed.
205 flawlessly pantomimed the signs that represent the transformation. The clarity of putting on the masquerade body suit was performed in a serious, but playful manner. He added a shake and twist of his shoulders and adjusted his head to convey the discomfort when first donning the raffia body suit costume Once the imaginary suit was properly outf itted, the prowess of Dibo was demonstrated. The Dibo display is like the movements of a lio n right before pouncing on its prey Entufam Edet slowly stepped towards two titleholders seated in front of the drummers. H e reached in their direction in one flui d, seamless motion H e raised his arms and stretched his hands outward, spreading his fingers like claws projecting from the paws His eyes were intensely fix ed on the drummers, which suggested that his transformation was almost complete. Once everyone was captured by the intensity of his stare, Entufam Edet carefully and effortlessly spun around on his tiptoes until he stood before the cane yet again. This time he pick ed it up ever so fastidiously slowly wrapping his fingers one by one around the handle. Entufam Edet handled t he ikpa li ke a lit stick of dynamite, cautiously raising power of the ikpa took control. He explicitly suggested the elasticity of the ikpa by masterfully shaking the handle so that the end of the cane forcefully snapped up and down. The gesture was clearly aimed in the direction of the audience suggesting the ultimate punishment for not yielding to Dibo. Finally, the transformation was complete when the principle nsibidi repres enting Dibo was performed in front of the high table. T he centrally seated titleholder acted the part of the Iyamba. P lease d with the sequence Entufam Edet present ed, the response was so subtle so cryptic, that only those vested with the knowledge of nsib idi saw it. At last, Dibo was free.
206 Entufam Edet now Dibo was free to demonstrate his skill. Activated with a sudden jolt, Entufam Edet jumped backwards only to land on the balls of his feet E ffortlessly twist ing, his toes commanded all the weight of his frame as he completed some three rotations. As he sent his body into a whirl, the all important ikpa was fiercely held in his right hand, held above his should er, allowing the end of the whip to waver from its taunt tension. The threating gesture was agai n a clear sign to non members. All of a sudden, he snapped out of the twis t and lunged forward as if to strike with the ikpa He stopped for a brief half second then moved to his left, to the right, and finally back to the center of his grassy arena. Mea nwhile, the drums thundered the beats of Dibo and the chorus of Dibo reverberated throughout the compound. His motions were in harmony with the drums: so fast, so vicious and despite the menacing nature of the choreography everyone was enamored with the beautiful abrupt directional changes, and perfect posture were beautifully woven together with great affect Members and non members were saturated by his rem arkable performative acumen. Entufam Edet eloquently approached the center table yet again. However this time, it signaled that the nsibidi challenges were about to begin. ce ntrally seated at the main table. The titleholder accepted the offer of respect without challenge. Moving to the right, Entufam Edet offered every chief the kerchief with his left hand. Most accepted the gesture by responding with the proper sign and witho ut challenge. Since m ost chiefs were from the same lodge, they were fully aware of each other s knowledge. After Entufam Edet completed honoring the chiefs at the high table, he proceeded to recognize the other titleholders present in order of seniority. A gain he manipulated his handkerchief to re spect them with the
207 gesture of recognition The dance arena was completely surrounded by seated titleholders, forming a somewhat irregular rectangle with few open pockets. T hose porous areas were becoming filled by non members excitingly drawing closer. Entufam Edet continued without challenge until he offered the kerchief to the third titleholder he approached after the table sequence. The chief denied the cloth sign of respect and responded with a slow upward tu rn of his head to his left. Entufam Edet carefully read the nsibidi and used his white cloth to cleanse the air in the direction the chief motioned towards only for the chief to turn his head and gaze to the his upper right. Again, Entufam Edet thoroughly cleansed the space implied by the seated chief. The nsibidi arrangement continued as Entufam Edet cleansed in the direction of the sky, the ground, and then ran the kerchief over the shoulders and body of the challenging chief He stepped back and oriented himself directly in front of the seated chief and with the second offer of the sign of respect, the seated chief accepted with the proper ly performed gestured reply Entufam Edet smiled and with a quick twist of his body moved to the next chief to be give n the sign of honor. He then approached a chief sitting with an overemphasized upright posture. His shoulders were rolled back allowing his chest proudly to stick out. Before Entufam Edet could extend the rose from his side. He drew his hand towards his body and stopped it at his chest. At that moment his hand became stiff his fingers tightly upright. The chief then content ed ly gazed at his flat hand as if he were admiring himself. Entufam Edet stood wat ching intently, careful not to miss any detail. Immediately following the seated chiefs nsibidi Entufam Edet responded theatrically in using his fingers as a comb and ran it slowly over the top of his head. Next, he mimicked female breasts by using his h ands while still holding the ikpa and kerchief invisibly draw ing cone like shapes protruding from his
208 chest. After that display, he collected himself, stood firmly in front of the chief and gave the sign of respect. The seated chief responded with an excit ed sign of acceptance. Clearly, the challenging chief was excited by the knowledge displayed by the performer. Entufam Edet continued to showcase his masterful footwork as he moved from chief to chief. Most of them simply received their sign s of recogniti on and replied without confrontation. By this time, the excitement his display gar nered from the audience was increasingly palpable. He then approach ed the recipient of the honorary chieftaincy title, also an Ekpe titleholder everyone was celebrating that day. As Entufam Edet approach ed the chief was slouched in his seat, head drooped as if ill, his leg bent in an awkward position. Without hesitation, Entufam Edet responded by purifying the sick chief with his handkerchief. He started with his shoulders, dramatically wiping away the illness by brushing it off into the air. Unexpectedly, Entufam Edet abruptly spun and quickly darted off in the direction of the non members. Apparently, the excitement of the performance drew some observers too close. Entufam Edet looked possessed as he aggressively advanced toward them, the ikpa held ready to stri ke. The intensity of his charge sent the group of culprits running as if for their lives. As he drew close, he snapped the whip towards them. T he thunderous crack st artled the audience and sent them fleeing beyond the compound walls. The warning was well taken. The offenders slowly returned, this time standing at a noticeably far, yet observable, distance. Their faces gleamed with delight since they had became a part of the performance by triggering the charge and escaping without serious consequence. Entufam Edet returned to the chief drooping in his seat He continued to attend to him with his handkerchief. He bent over to address the awkwardly positioned leg. Entuf am Edet carefully straightened it back to a normal position and continued by gesturing a number of
209 nsibidi Entufam eloquently rose up and stepped back and offered the sign of respect. The seated chief did not take it, but performed another sign. Entufam E de t shook his h ead and offered the sign of respect once again. There was a disagreement. Other members sent the honoree nsibidi warnings. Entufam Edet leaned towards the man, quickly cycled through the entire arrangement as if to educate, then offered the si gn of honor once more urging him to accept. The seated chief did not. Entufam Edet looked around and shrugged his shoulders. Another chief seated across the way ran his hands over his eyes a sign indicating Ekpe/Mgbe ig norance Applied in this context, it is a serious sign with severe implication that all members and even non members understand. Entufam Edet left the honoree and continued to give t he sign of respect to the rest of the seated chiefs. The chief ang rily rose from his seat and stormed off The performance continued without delay, and t he opportunity to challenge was coming to an end. Entufam approached a known master. They both smiled as if to recognize vast knowledge. He offered the ker chief while bending down very closely to the seated chief. They exchanged a series of signs obscured by their bodies. Then, the ikpa was exchanged for a walking stick, the that symbolizes his ti t le or office within the society Entufam Edet d rew back an d offered the handkerchief to the seated chief who dramatically accepted with a sharp nod. A few more chiefs were recognized and quickly accepted without challenge. Entufam Edet continued to display his endurance by shuffling his feet, leaping and as his feet hit the ground majestically spinning Meanwhile, the staff of office was now being manipulated as the ikpa He showcased it at the ready by firmly ho ld ing it over his head. He then approached the drummers and offered each the sign of res pec t. The lesse r members were
210 universally recognized as he dangled the kerchief in their general direction, moving it side to side. Entufam Edet entered the middle of the arena once more. This time, he held up his staff. Two other chiefs jump ed from their seats, majestically spun towards him and crossed staffs with him. The three marched around the dance arena in this manner, a demonstration that the elders were guiding, controlling, protecting, and preventing Dibo from harming the community (Fig 5 2) Aft er their parade around the arena was complete, the three stopped at the main table to lay their crossed staffs before the centrally seated chief (Fig. 5 3) An outburst of excitement raged from the members. The drums and singing again intensified. The exhi laration influenced Entufam Edet to continue. He signaled for another staff, and once received he crossed the two of them behind his neck and continued to flaunt his agile and nimble footwork. Dashing in one direction, then another, twirling his entire bo dy some five times he came to a dead stop. Brin g ing the staffs theatrically from behind his head and planted them into the ground before him. Members expressed their anticipation. Entuf am Edet then slowly as if he were an old man using the staffs as suppo rt worked his way again to the central table (Fig. 5 4) He had just seamlessly woven together two different nsibidi sequences reflecting two different titles and masquerades! Just before he reached the main table he performed a leaping spin only to land facing the centrally seated chief. The staffs were gently placed on the table. The display was complete. All Ekpe/ Mgbe members rose and formed a p rocession and left the compound. I n the front chiefs held their staffs at their waist s so that the bottoms fa ced the sky ; behind lesser members sang; and located in the back, the drummers continued to beat away. Towards U nderstanding P erformed N sibidi The narrative above describes a rare and multifaceted example of performed nsibidi Entufam Edet with many layers. First, it is an account describing
211 performed nsibidi by a known master with attention theatrics and artistry. Next, it is a public Ikpa Dibo display. Such displays, in past decades, were typically only performed in ritual co ntexts within a lodge. Further, it was not youths looking for money at the end of the year a context discussed later in this chapter, but a sanctioned Mgbe troupe composed mostly of elders and chiefs from Qua Mgbe lod ges who traveled outside of Calabar in support of an honoree new status And most important of all, it was a demonstration of individual power, knowledge, status, and agency packed with ancestral spirituality and transformation. The descriptive account contextualizes the following discussion and will be highlighted throughout the chapter to further elucidate the general nature of performed nsibidi and the many layers of meaning embedded in challenge arenas P erformed N sibidi in the L iterature To this point s cholarship on nsibidi has privileged the imaged version of nsibidi To my knowledge, while many sources recognize the performed version of nsibidi only four address it in detail. Malcolm Ruel conducted a study on the political aspects of Ngbe among the Banyang of Cameroon in which he discusses nsibidi series of signs having reference to the constitution of the association, including the stages of initiation, what has been learnt there, knowledge o f the emblems of the association, knowledge of ekat 232) He further provides a brief description of the format of a challenge: Egbe is performed by two p eople as a kind of prolonged mim e, usually whe n dancing. It takes the form of question and answer, each of the two testing the membership of the association. The first sign of the series is thus made by passing the righ
212 gestures concerning what exactly the person has seen until one of them is shown to be superior an d h as vanquished the other (ibid: 232). nsibidi connects to the central symbol o knowledge which surrounds and defin Robert Farris Thompson designates performed nsibidi some examples from Cameroonian Ejagham members (1974: 180 181 and 1983: 228). He determine knowledge and level of initiation (1974: 180 181). While the verbal interpretations of ukara nsibidi are diverse, performed nsibidi is also diverse, but more or less universal since it is meant to be comprehended by members from completely diff erent localities. This does not mean that performe d versions do not vary. Part of acquiring the knowledge and learning is being able to understand the various manifestations of one sign (discussed below). Some of the signs Thompson presents se em out of con text and challenge to demonstrate how nsibidi is mimed between two member s in the context of challenge (1974: 181). In Calabar, these signs would not be used in this way since they do not ask or answer a question pertaining to Ekpe/Mgbe ritual, spiritual, and/or philosophical knowledge. Further, the hooking of two fingers can m ean something entirely different from love that does relate to questioning a members level and the crossing of staffs also takes on another meaning in the times, none of which meant speech. Love and speech can be gestured (by pointing to someone then oneself and hooking the index fingers against the chest; the latter by pressing the fingertips
213 together and touching them against the lips and extending the arm towards th e individual signaled while opening the fingers), but are not necessarily Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi in Calabar. They are general signs used in more general contexts. Most initiated and those not would comprehend the love and speech gesture I describe. A common ges ture in Calabar used by all not defined as nsibidi There are a number of signs used in Calabar of this variety. They can be used in the context of Ekpe/Mgbe between two m en communicating, but not in the context of a challenge. In a later publication, Thompson mentions that nsibidi challenges are invigorated with nsibidi contribution is foun nsibidi signs performed by a masquerader or members either as command, presentation of knowledge, or to accent critical moments during ritual (1974: 182 185). U. N. Abalogu presents a brief description of some performed Okonko (Ekpe in Igbo) nsibidi signs from Arochukwu. Additionally, he noted the following about nsibidi : that access to nsibidi adepts are highly respected, nsi bidi knowledge is costly, and learned over a long period of time from various sources (1978: nsibidi is not confined to signs alone, it could be spoken such as a man describing himself as palm branches which face different directions or everywhere ( Nkwu chere ihu aghara adgara Aka ) is throwing a challenge which a middle Cross River, members adamantly denied the existence of a spoken version of this type. Amanda Carlson provides an investigation of performed nsibidi through the lens of gender. The comparison of performed nsibidi between male Mgbe members and the female
214 Ekpa 7 soc itual informs her argument that nsibidi is a mechanism to establish gendered restrictions of power and agency. Mgbe and Ekpa negotiate power and social praxis through their different uses, applications, and rules of restriction of nsibidi wledge (2003). The recognition of the aesthetics of indirection, play, and trickery as an integral aspect of performed nsibidi is another important contribution (ibid., 84 85). The N ature of P erformed N sibidi : P ower through P lay and A rtistry However impo rtant these contributions are for understanding performed nsibidi they achieve little in explaining its complex nature and artistic di mension. Conveying a complete understanding is of course impossible given its secrecy. While I am permitted to explain th e verbal meanings of nsibidi imaged on ukara as I did in the previous chapter, I am forbidden to articulate how to gesture a given sign or sequence of signs. With these constraints in mind, however, members have authorized me to explain the general nature of the performed version. Initiates appropriate ritual experience in order to compose, ask, and reply in the gestured medium. However, performing, comprehending, and then answering requires cognition. Performing nsibidi is not a purely e mbodied process, but is dependent on conscious thought. 8 In the previous chapter, I made clear that all Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi are mostly taken from ritual contexts. Everything inside of the lodge, literally and figuratively, is fair game for manipulation 7 Ekpa is an Ejagham all female healing and divination society that performs at night. The society is known as Ohom mistreatment of women. Among the Qua, the Ohom night dance has not been performed for the last ten years. 8 nsibidi can not be exclusively labeled as an embodied knowledge since a separation of the mind from the body is required in order to comprehend and grasp it. During certain performance contexts, however, performed nsibidi has the potential to exhibit embodied principles, especially if ancestral or spiritual intervention occurs. This requires a more indepth discussion beyond the scope of this dissertation.
215 in the performed nsibi di field. Additionally, a number of nsibidi signs that are not found in the lodge, but in the bush or waterly realms are also fair game. Performed Ekpe/Mgbe nsibidi is thus an allegory of the philosophy of the society and its performance contexts. An Efik Ekpe chief Bassey Ndem, Nsibidi is an allegorical narrative for adepts. Nsibidi properly applied is a meta 9 Serious cognitive study of Ekpe/Mgbe philosophy and ritual is required even to begin to understand performe d nsibidi An Iyamba from Okoyong discusses that performed nsibidi cannot nsibidi is the o ask a member if he knows Ekpe/Mgbe by sharply drawing his index finger at a diagonal angle across his eyes. 10 Only when extensive knowledge is contextually based in ritual and philosophy through the mechanism of instruction and contemplation is the member able to approach the pluralistic nature of performed nsibidi Most masters agree that clarity is the foundational rule when performing nsibidi Emphasis on clarity does not suggest that performed nsibidi is static or unchanging. Quite the contrary, per formed nsibidi is dynamic, fluid, and changes according to individual style and performance dexterity. For example, there are a number of ways to ask through gesture what stage a member has attained or what knowledge base he currently holds. Of the numerou s ways to inquire through performed nsibidi one technique can be gestured with a single sign Another method can include an entire sequence of signs. Still a 9 Interview with chief Bassey Ndem, May 30, 2010. 10 Interview with Iyamba Ekpenyong Ekpenyong Ekpo, June 2, 2010.
216 can take the form of ask and wait for response, repeating it multiple times until the initial inquiry is complete. In all these different modalities of performed nsibidi the golden rule is clarity. I will use a non nsibid i example to illustrate this point and shed light on the complex nature of the art form. A door, for example, can be understood as both a barrier prohibiting admittance and/or a gateway into another space. In this mock example of nsibidi I am asking thro ugh gesture if you have entered the room beyond the door. The only problem is that I can gesture the idea of a door in any number of possible configurations I manifest in my mind and then demonstrate through performance. The only rule is that my gestured a rticulation must be clear. Think about the limitless possibilities. One option may be to draw an outline of a rectangle with both index fingers and then imaginarily grab the location of where a door handle is located and turn it. Another might be simply to use the back of your hand to create an up and down motion indicating a barrier. Yet another can be simpler: a pointing gesture towards a door. Infinite examples are possible. In fact, I can even ask the question without even referencing a door in my gesti culation. Instead, by running my index finger over my eyes and then gesturing an object or idea located beyond the door, the same question is asked: have you entered that space? The recipient of the question must be able to understand what is being asked, and then reply correctly. Performed nsibidi is truly infinite. A given Ekpe/Mgbe principle has a plethora of gestured variations that members must recognize. Due to its boundless possibilities, masters are few and far between. What defines a master is a member who has been initiated into the depths of the society, participated in ritual at all levels, had a generous teacher or two, is a diligent student, and truly knows the application of all Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge. Masters inspire change
217 and innovation as they invent different configurations to a given gestured idea or principle. This is where the idea of indirection comes into play. However, such trickery is not typically employed when asking an alleged member if he is indeed a member, but during challeng e bouts, Most scholarship has emphasized performed nsibidi as a means for determining stage of membership. However, in the context of sanctioned challenge arenas, described at the opening of this chapter, ability, and he in turn, knew of theirs. Entufam Edet did not necessarily use the f orum to demonstrate his knowledge, or to prove his agency, but to advertise his breath of nsibidi knowledge to those interested in investing in it. 11 demonstrated by how he seamlessly collapsed nsibidi into a performative display, but at the same time, coherently separated gestured nsibidi from dancing, achieving the most important rule of clarity. Indirection and trickery become important tools in this process. Most have stated that the practice of indirection in performe d nsibidi is only to conceal (Carlson 2003: 84). While this is dexterity. In the words of an Etung Nsibidi is the tricks of the knowledge of 12 performing a mirror completely out of context, which Entufam Edet recognized and properly answered. The challenging member, who endeavored to confuse the performer while also d emonstrating his vast grasp of nsibidi applied indirection. 11 I recall countless times during fieldwork investigation that after a ma sterful performance of nsibidi the performer was approached by a number of members who were interested in purchasing his knowledge. 12 Interview with Entufam Assam Eba Ekukatai, April 28, 2010.
218 In challenge arenas, masters are given the opportunity to market and test their nsibidi acuity against other members and experts. Therefore cunningness is used in order to confuse. Recall that everything in Ekpe/Mgbe can be appropriated for the performed nsibidi field. This includes the tang ibles and intangibles in a performance and ritual context. Anything from eating and drinking during initiation to masquerade display and the act of initiatio n itself is at the disposal of a member, who turns those sometimes mundane or critical occurrences, which all have deep rooted ideas that explain the philosophy of the society, into performed nsibidi Take the seemingly inconsequential activity of eating d uring ritual. Of course I cannot explain the actual nsibidi formula that allegorizes ritual eating. Instead, I will use another non nsibidi for didactic purpose. Think about the many contexts in which people commonly eat around the world. Generally in mor e formal situations some eat seated at a table with a set of flatware, a dish or two, a glass, and a napkin. In the context of performed nsibidi one or all can be manipulated in a challenge arena to suggest the act of eating during ritual. I will make use of the napkin to make my point. A serviette is first set on the table beside the plate, then placed on the lap, used to clean conclusion of the meal. That be comes the template for the entire nsibidi formula, but instead of performing it in order, during challenge, a member can start in the middle or end of the sequence. The responder must then complete the sequence or at least, demonstrate comprehension of the basic premise. It gets more complicated, however. If the challenger is a skilled nsibidi performer, in lieu of applying an obvious gesture of a napkin, indirection is used not only to complicate, but also demonstrate artistry. A handkerchief or leaf may be substituted for a gestured serviette. For example, a handkerchief being dangled by
219 holding its corners and then carefully placing it on a table or on the ground can symbolize a napkin. In either case, the performer must recognize what the asker is sugge sting and then correctly reply to the question. The napkin example is not unlike the mirror nsibidi that was a sked of Entufam Edet. The mirror is an element worn by a particular Ekpe/Mgbe masquerade. Entufam Edet successfully recognized its meaning and the n responded with another nsibidi that allegorized the masquerade in question. Entufam Edet confirmed his agency as a master of nsibidi that day With his reputation on the line, he successfully completed all challenges hurled at him. The display was an in dex of his power with financial implicati on. The Mgbe discussion is not unique For example, Patrick McNaughton examines a n esoteric body of Mande knowledge from Mali and demonstrates that its 01 ) 13 Indeed, performing nsibidi in public arenas is about power and money. However, along the breadth of knowledge Entufam Edet demonstrated that day, the theatrics and performance artistry were also important ingredients of the entire recipe. In challeng e arenas, spins, rotations, elegant footwork or performance dexterity, flawlessly interwoven with nsibidi are key elements for the demonstration of nsibidi acumen, and thus power. Recall that performed nsibidi is essentially an allegory of Ekpe/Mgbe ritua l and philosophy. Therefore, in order to affect performance agency through the claiming of space during a sanctioned challenge arena, the Nyamkpe/Dibo principle must be convincingly allegorized so that a transformation takes place. Entufam Edet impeccably facilitated such a transformation through his performance ability. The transformation thus enabled the demonstration of his agency through nsibidi proficiency. Attention will turn to 13 Mande daliluw or recipes of action, also share a number of other similarities to Ekpe/Mgbe performed nsibidi While the former usually takes the form of a tangible concoction and the latter is gestured, both are used in combat or challenge to demonstrate agency, can be configured according to personal style, an d depend on deep levels of knowledge (see McNaughton 1982 and 1988).
220 formal challenge arenas, Nyamkpe/Dibo, ancestral intervention, and how yo uths transgress such arenas for financial benefit. Challenge A renas In certain Ekpe/Mgbe ritual contexts, the installation of a titleholder, the death of a chief or ruler, and official gatherings, sanctioned nsibidi challenges are formally administere d and informally offered. These displays transpire after the ritual has officially commenced by the pouring of libation or speaking verbal offerings to honor and call forth the ancestors. In every context, however, the Nyamkpe (Efik and Efut) or Dibo (Qua) 14 drum rhythm signals that nsibidi nsibidi performance, the Dibo rhythm was central to his display. Sanctioned challenges may only take place while this particular rhythm is played. This requires some explanation. Nyamkpe and Dibo Nyamkpe or Dibo (Fig. 5 5 ) is the most important, sacred, and fierce masquerade of Ekpe/Mgbe. In Calabar, it is a masquerade usually only performed within the confines of the lodge during chieftaincy installation and at the death of a titled member 15 There are few exceptions. Nyamkpe/Dibo can be publicly observed for a short duration at the final phase of the critical ritual performance that rejuvenates the mystical energies of the lodge during a rite that marks the transitio n of leadership from a deceased shrine head to his replacement. Another 14 There are various spellings of Nyamkpe/Dibo in the region as reflected in the literature: Ndibu (Talbot 1912), ema Nyankpe (Ruel 1969), Emanyankpe (Thompson 1974), Inyankpe (Abalogu 1978), Nyangbe or Nyangmangbe (Carlson 2003) and, Ema (Koloss 2008). 15 I have experienced and documented five Nyamkpe performances.
221 public forum where Nyamkpe/Dibo performs is at events officially sanctioned by the lodge (Fig. 5 6) 16 r of the institution. I therefore argue that t he mask has been over romanticized in literature as a leopard like spirit, which is said to be appeased and worshiped for power (see Talbot 1912: 38, Jones 1956: 136, Latham 1973: 37, Thompson 1974: 182, L eib and Romano 1984: 48, Ottenberg and Knudsen 1985: 37 38, Nicklin 1991: 5 and 6, and Behrendt, Latham, and Northrup 2010: 31). This is how the erroneous starting with Talbot (1912: 38) and being applied uncritically ever since. In reviewing the literature, most have translated of the soci ety. The appropriation of the lion was probably influenced by British contact. However, elders state that lions once inhabited the bush, while leopards were much more prevalent. Further, in Ikom, an Etung elder informed me in the Ejagham language that ejaw 17 Mgbe/Ekpe is not a leopard society and should not be referred to as such; but it is an institution involved in ancestral veneration that developed its technologies from the realms of the bush and water to v isualize its influence. 18 The 16 For example, on April 17, 2010, at the 7 th coronation anniversary of His Royal Majesty Ndidem (Dr.) Thomas Ika Ika Oq ua III, grand patriarch of the Qua nation, a public Dibo display was presented and performed in his honor. However, the lodge presenting Dibo was not from Calabar, but from Okoyong. 17 Interview with Entufam Agbor Ojong Okongor, April 28, 2010. 18 Malcol m Ruel notes that the attribution of Ngbe as a leopard like animal is emblematic and attributive (1969: the society is its organized body of members. Their use of the ambiguous leopard is an enactment of deception to bolster the power of the society (Ibid., 247). He also discusses the problems of past writers suggesting the leopard like creature as a religious symbol. Among the Banyang the r Joachim Koloss discusses how outsiders are intentionally misled concerning Mgbe and the notion of the leopard. He documents that there is absolute ly no ritual connection to a leopard spirit. Instead, all offerings and prayers are directed towards God and the ancestors (2008: 77 78). I also
222 power of the society resides with the ancestors, who are called upon, consulted, and honored through the pouring of libation or verbal pronouncement Elucidation of the Nyamkpe/Dibo mask and its nsibidi display demonstrates how power is manifested through the relationship between ancestors, living titleholders, and lesser members. T he Nyamkpe /Dibo masquerade is an aggressive, menacing terror which members are very cautious when performed. It is often likened to a warrior like character. Tremendous calamity is released on the community if the institution does not properly control the mask. For these reasons, the mood is very serious during performance. If not guarded or restricted, Nyamkpe/Dibo will blaze through the community with limitless energy and strength, beating everyone in sight. It is said a non member will die when beaten with the ikpa welded by Nyamkpe/Dibo if not immediately initiated into the society. The appearance of Nyamkpe/Dibo is almost identical to the gener al or more frequently performed types of Ekpe/Mgbe masks. Recall from chapter three that among the Efik and Efut they are known as Idem Ikwo and Atad Ekpe and the Qua call them Abon Ogbe. They feature a tight fitting body net costume with raffia mane, and wri st and ankle tufts. One or two e agle feathers are inserted in the forehead of the netted costume. A metal bell is tied round the waist and hangs on the buttocks of the performer. The front of the girdle or mbobo is composed of tightly tied bands of poly ester fabric whose ends are elaborately knotted in the back forming a complex cascading tail that conceals the bell. Attached to the back of the neck is a flat tiered disc, triangular, curvilinear, or butterfly like form made of cardboard and covered with fabric. The Efik and Efut refer to it as itam ikot and the Qua isu ekor Today, the form varies tremendously and visually relates to a type of hat. In the past, it o pened and closed, not unlike The leopard or lion idea encompasses merely less than five percent of what Ekpe/Mgbe is holistically.
223 the way a butterfly manipulates its wings. 19 According to membe rs, t he itam ikot or isu ekor is decorative and meant to beautify. A number of ostrich feathers are inserted into the itam ikot or isu ekor The masquerader always holds a wooden dance staff in his right hand and a bunch of oboti leaves in his left. The tu ft of raffia sprouting from the top of the masquerader s head is known as the e tundu Usually, general Ekpe/Mgbe don a red e tundu This element differentiates all Ekpe/Mgbe masquerades and organizes them into specific spiritual categories. The performers hands and feet are the only exposed body parts. When ritual permits, the general types of Ekpe/Mgbe become Nyamkpe/Dibo through a three part transformation. Fi r st, the ancestors are consulted through the pouring of libation. At this time, the activation o f Nyamkpe/Dibo commences when the a basonko a red feathered plume is spat upon with libation and tied to the The masker then arms itself with the ikpa in its right hand while o boti leaves remain in the left. The two a basonko and ikpa are some of the most sacred symbols in Ekpe/Mgbe. The abasonko is said to serve as an antenna to the ancestors, who, once libation is poured, take control of the masquerader to demonstrate their influence over the institution. 20 As a result, the titleh olders demonstrate authority over Nyamkpe/Dibo through their ability to control and direct its power. Before Nyamkpe/Dibo is free to unleash its incredible choreography, an important sequence of nsibidi must be properly applied. If the performer does not properly demonstrate the step by step progression of nsibidi he will not only be fined, but humiliated and never permitted to dance Nyamkpe/Dibo aga in. Once the series of signs are properly performed, not unlike g sequence, the masque rader present s himself to the Iyamba for approval. 19 Similarly, in Arochukwu in southeastern Nigeria, Eli Bentor notes that the element attached to the back of their rences butterfly wings (Bentor 1994: 334). 20 A number of scholars have addressed the transformational quality of African masquerade (see Ottenberg 1982, Cole 1985, Kasfir 1988, Piction 1990, and Nunley and McCarty 1999).
224 He stand s directly in front of the table where the Iyamba is seated. The posture of the performer must be perfect: his left leg forward, knee slightly bent, while the right leg positioned under the perform er also slightly bent at the knee, bearing most of his weight. He slowly draws his arms upward bringing his hands together. The oboti leaves in his left are placed slightly forward while the ikpa hilt in his right hand rests on the palm of the left; the sh aft of the whip extends backwards over the right shoulder of the masker. The masquerader slowly brings his arms upward while lunging forward by placing all weight on the balls of his feet three times while simultaneously sounding his bell. If the Iyamba is satisfied with the entire sequence and honor of respect, he will accept with the proper nsibidi response. At the moment of approval, Nyamkpe/Dibo whips the abasinko upwards sending it forcefully backwards. Nyamkpe/Dibo is now free to display. The Nyamkpe /Dibo dance is brief but intense. While the choreography is different from that in the nsibidi sequence, both contain references to the movements of the crocodile, the lizard, and the lion. The skill of the masker is demonstrated by his ability to weave to gether these different attributes seamlessly into a coherent whole. The manipulation of the abasinko holding the ikpa in attack position, light and agile footwork, quick controlled charges, effortless body rotations all executed at lighting speed symboliz e the three animals and the all encompassing power of Nyamkpe/Dibo. The climax of the choreography is reached when the performer enters a frenzied state almost losing his balance and falling from overexertion, only to catch himself with a theatrical step a t the last moment. The moment Nyamkpe/Dibo recovers from his climax, the opportunity to display members of Nyamkpe/Dibo, and drummers proceeds next. The nsibidi of ho nor and respect a
225 single two hand gesture with oboti leaves and ikpa hilt while ringing the bell is offered to each Ekpe/Mgbe chief. If many are present, the performer will stand in the center and collectively respect all titleholders following a more univ ersal arrangement. Lesser members and drummers receive only a one handed gesture. During this phase of the performance, the masquerader is free to question audience members (chief and lesser members) if they understand the meaning of what they just witness ed (the nsibidi of Nyamkpe/Dibo) and that all present are indeed initiates of this level. If unable to answer properly, the member is forcefully beaten with the ikpa and a serious dishonor that will be the subject of gossip to the Nyamkpe/Dibo display, the masker uses the ikpa to induct the first timer ruthlessly with an infectious thrash. After the greetings (and if any be atings were administered), Nyamkpe/Dibo is recharged with energy and, just as it is about to unleash its potential yet again, a senior titleholder or a couple hook or block the masquerader with their staffs of office and drag or direct the menace into the inner sanctum of the lodge. The display is over. Calmness sets in once again. Strict taboos are observed during the Nyamkpe/Dibo display. The most important rules are that no one can breach the dance arena, challenge, or even stand when Nyamkpe/Dibo is per forming. The performative space is the sole property of the masquerader. The performer is thus granted tremendous temporary power and influence: he can initiate nsibidi challenges with whom he wishes, can beat members for their failure to display proper kn owledge, and can freely demonstrate his agency without interruption. The structure of the Nyamkpe/Dibo display transforms the performer into something not unlike what Victor Turner has described as a
22 6 ritual (Turner 1969: 95). 21 This is an important aspect of Ekpe/Mgbe ritual structure that addresses status reversal and informs the nature of nsibidi demonstration. To whom is the privileged opportunity given? Inter estingly, the honor is bestowed to younger members ahead of their peers in ability and knowledge. It is important to mention that once a member becomes a titleholder or chief of the society, no longer are they supposed to masquerade, for that aspect of the ir journey has come t o an end. The privilege to dance Nyamkpe/Dibo is an honor many initiates endeavor to experience An Efik Ekpe song describes this idea: Nyamkpe ison Efik elsieh inun efene ewowobi etabi ese (x2) The Nyamkpe of the Efik is like a cooki ng salt, you should have a taste and see (x2) However, not all dancers have the same performance skills and ability to climax, of course. Only those dextero us enough are permitted to perform Nyamkpe/Dibo. Excellent performers are recognized by elder mast ers and taught more for their efforts. Fascinatingly, even though most of the Ekpe/Mgbe ritual structure favors elders since the society is a gerontocracy, the Nyamkpe/Dibo display is a temporary reversal of the very nature of the society s hierarchical id eology. Elders must yield to the agency of the younger member during the display. The younger member masking is between the rules and temporary free from 21 Turner first expanded upon rites de passage by discussing the sociocultural properties of the term in his seminal work, The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual (see 1967: 93 p ersona state or being that characterizes initiates as they undergo status elevation in the context of ritual or life cycle rites of passage. He later revisited and expanded on the notion of liminality beyond Ndembu ritual to include examples The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti Structure. Further, in the second examination, he explored two types of liminality: in rituals of status elevation and in seasonal rituals, which ar e described as rituals of status reversal (1969: 167).
227 them as well. 22 Turner refers to ritual anti structure as communitas. It is engendered by liminal phase (ibid., 94 97). Indeed, the liminal state produced by the Nyamkpe/Dibo display facilitates a structural reversal to reinforce two broad objectives: 1) through the me dium of performance, all members, especially younger, hav e an opportunity to demonstrate agency, and 2) any members, again especial ly those young nsibidi knowledge regardless of age and rank. Both emphasize how Ekpe/M gbe power, knowledge, and performed nsibidi are interwoven. The idea of equality among all members during nsibidi challenge arenas is critical. An Ekpe song addresses this point: Eyen ye eka edodo ndo ke obio mme okpo ebot mbet ibupke (x2) In the kingdom o f the goats, a child and their mother can make love and it is not against the law (x2) The song implies that no matter how many years a given member has in Ekpe, a younger member is free to challenge the nsibidi skill and knowledge of older members. The re versal produced by Nyamkpe/Dibo display stimulates members to show and chall knowledge The rules administered (by the chiefs [titleholders], elders, and younger members) are enforced by an ancestral presence. The ancestral spirit(s) tha t attach(es) and influence(s) the Nyamkpe/Dibo performer is (are) wicked, troublesome, and extremely aggressive. The mask thus represents the darker and powerful side of the institution to members and non members alike. 23 F or members, Nyamkpe/Dibo is a repo sitory for both governing and transgressive potential. In this way, 22 This reversal and resulting generational tension is not unlike what happens during Bamana puppetry displays documented by Mary Jo Arnoldi (see Arnoldi 1988 and 1995). 23 Others also describe the d angerous nature of this masquerade in other areas of the Cross River complex (see Ruel 1969: 233 234, Thompson 1974: 182, and Koloss 2008: 66).
228 Nyamkpe/Dibo has a paradoxical nature: it must be controlled by elder members to avoid communal calamity, which bolsters the power of the members directing the mask, but at the same time, Nyamkpe/Dibo undermines the structure of the society by temporarily placing authori ty into the hands of the young member s Thus, Nyamkpe/Dibo is a reciprocal embodiment of knowledge as power. The argument can be made that the display through the mediation of the ancestors evens the nsibidi playing field not just for elders, but also for young members. Understanding the ideology of Nyamkpe/Dibo reinforces the fact that having vast amounts of Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge and nsibidi does not depend on age, title, or r ank. The Nyamkpe/Dibo display is one of the final didactic requirements for attaining a 24 However, it is a powerful and rare display not intended for all. Most members I learned from often referenced their experience and involvement with Nyamkpe/Dibo as if to bolster their knowledge. 25 In the past, Nyamkpe/Dibo was reserved for few. Elders inform me that today because of modernization and urbanization of Calabar, more participate t han in the past. It was once closely restricted since most members consider firmly grasping the Nyamkpe/Dibo display, its nsibidi sequence, and its spiritual and mystical connotation as being deeply vested in Ekpe/Mgbe. The knowledge of the Nyamkpe/Dibo di splay rules during performance including status reversal, drum rhythm, nsibidi choreography, meaning, and ancestral influence is the foundation for understanding all aspects of sanctioned nsibidi challenges. 24 Members often compare the acquisition of Ekpe/Mgbe knowledge and initiation to how schools and universities op erate. At each grade and then level, different knowledge is learned, which becomes a prerequisite for progression into higher levels of education. The comparison was also noted by Ruel (1969: 243 244). 25 Ruel spent about 20 months from 1953 1964 among the have never witnessed the appearance of Ema Nyankpe, which among Upper Banyang is an event more talked of
229 Informal and F ormal or S anctioned C hallenge T here are three conceptual fields of challenge: informal, formal, and lastly what will be called transgressive. Informal encounters happen at any time within Ekpe/Mgbe contexts and even in other social environments (Fig. 5 7). This type is usually brief, pl ayful and meant as a non verbal jest between members. For example, if two members meet on the street during a performance or even in public, the members might humor themselves by asking each other questions or confirming their own level of knowledge. Not a ll members define this category as a challenge, while some do. The formal variety of n sibidi challenge follows the Nyamkpe/Dibo display protocol. There is no structured time during ritual when challenges of this type may unfold. They can occur before or a fter food and drink are distributed and consumed. Usually, they start after the first course of food and the first round of drinks are distributed. The order of events, when challenges start, number of food courses, and other such factors vary from lodge t o lodge. Some lodges or Iyambas are stricter as to when nsibidi challenges may occur, while in others, it becomes the prerogative members and drummers to initiate. Today, formal challenge occurs inside the lodge during ritual, society gathering, during N yamkp/Dibo masquerade displays and in public after ritual or an Ekpe/Mgbe masquerade event (Fig. 5 ctly administered. Such contexts may be better understood as sanctioned or official challenges. In fact, regardless of whether official challenges take place inside or outside the lodge, the rules remain the same: the Nyamkpe/Dibo drum rhythm is played, on e performer occupies the performative space, while other members are seated, each of who challenge him upon being offered the nsibidi sign of respect.
230 In each of these arenas, it is common for arguments to erupt. Losing a challenge is shameful. Sometimes m embers try to salvage self respect by arguing that their nsibidi was is almost non existent. If a member does dispute a challenge or acts inappropriately, the Iya mba acts as judge, and fines usually follow. The appeal and benefit to participate in an official challenge arena ensures fair play and a chance to witness unadulterated nsibidi In fact, official nsibidi challenge is the most anticipated aspect of Ekpe/Mg be ritual in Calabar today. It becomes a forum to learn and put acquired instruction to the test. The appropriation of the Nyamkpe/Dibo display during sanctioned challenge governs and protects the integrity of the arena. However, there is another facet dur ing sanctioned challenge that informs how rules are administered. The performer establishes performative space through an invisible transformation into Nyamkpe/Dibo. Non m asked T ransformation d uring F ormal C hallenge During formal or sanctioned challenges inside and outside the lodge, the member interested in displaying his knowledge first asks permission from the Iyamba through gesture. If the Iyamba accepts, the member will usually arm himself with the ikpa and proceed to perform the Nyamkpe/Dibo nsibidi sequence. Recall that Entufam Edet followed this protocol in order to claim performative space. In fact, the sequence is absolutely necessary in order for anyone to claim performative space during ritual. Successful application of the sequence grants the r ight to display and subject oneselve to nsibidi challenge during sanctioned contest (Fig. 5 9). The nsibidi to Nyamkpe/Dibo even though the dancer is erent set of rules to those of the actual masquerade display that are also strictly administered during contest. It is helpful to review the rules during the actual Nyamkpe/Dibo masked performance: the masked
231 performer may challenge anyone, no one can ente r his performative space, and no one can even stand. During the sanctioned challen ge a comparable set of rules is administered: the and instead of challenging thos e seated members, they in turn challenge the performer during members present (Fig 5 10). Remember that Entufam Edet did not challenge anyone, but was tested b y seated members. The similarity between the two sets of rules grants the opportunity to demonstrate dancing skill and nsibidi knowledge. Most important, both modes enable all members regardless of title, age, and rank to challenge the performer freely. As with the actual Nyamkpe/Dibo masked performance, the sanctioned challenge arena also produces a liminal state where the normal gerontocratic rules of the society are suspended. In both cases, especially during sanctioned contest, the nsibidi sequence that linked to the spiritual and ancestral aspects of the society. The ancestral intervention enforces the ancestral intervention, but th e Nyamkpe/Dibo drum rhythm. Most members are clear that good percussion facilitates not only a performance to achieve a heightened state, but also the presence of the Ekpe/Mgbe spirit. Five instruments are u barocama ibit ), a small support drum ( ekpri ekomo ), a rattle ( nsak ), and a metal gong. The best drummers always operate the male and female versions. The male drum leads, starts and stops a particular rhythm, while the other instrum ents follow. The small drum supports the male and female drums. The rattles maintain the rhythm of the song. The gong sets the beat for the drums. Meanwhile, after the male drum starts the beat, it will leave the rhythm to serve as the talking drum. The fe male drum
232 however can also play this role. The male drum talks by mimicking the tonal qualities of the Efik and Ekin languages to direct, command, and embarrass. The male drum communicates with whoever is displaying, whether masked or not, to direct and command their movements. The dancing heavily depends on the perform er hearing and picking the commands of the male drum. 26 ancestors and comes when drumming and singing are sweet, and only when they are 27 The Nyamkpe/Dibo drum rhythm is designed to achieve this end. The beat is hard, fast, and aggressive in nature. In all my Ekpe/Mgbe experiences, when the beatings change to the Nyamkpe/Dibo rhythm, it inspires members to dance and display. It is this drum beating that alon g with other stimulants nsibidi challenge. The stimulating drum beatings that accompany Nyamkpe/Dibo performance has the power to send the performer into a heightened state at the hands of the spirit of E kpe/Mgbe. Another Qua titleholder and former Dibo masquerader explains the transformational power that occurs when changing the rhythm of a low ranking mask to the Dibo rhythm, the importance of drumming, and spirit intervention in masked and non masked tr ansformation. In his words: aggressive, to attack, to look for fault, to defend at home, to discipline people and still you are performing. But the moment you change (and the sp irit changes as soon as the beatings change) the spirit changes. Another spirit goes out, and the 26 The talking drum can also humiliate members, espec ially if a displayer does not know how to hear the directives. Only those able to hear the talking drum will understand the insult. If the male drum calls your name and the member does not respond, the drummer will call you stupid and blind. In the case of mistakes during masquerading or dancing, the male drum will hurl vicious insults about the member and his wife. 27 Interview with Chief Emmanuel Edem, May 28, 2010
233 highest spirit, with the element of seniority, possesses you. It now makes you feel kingly. How? You are now a superior masquerade to what you where a few min utes ago. When the symbols of the weaker spirit was removed, as with the Dibo spirit the beatings and the song and the performance change; and so you now know the rudiments of the rhythm. Not only that, but the accompanying thing as in the respect, honor, and discipline, and performance is nsibidi which is different from the nsibidi of the junior Mgbe masquerades. The possession. You have been increased by spirit. You have been increased by performance. See? [he laughs and then continues] Mgbe is a very wo nderful thing. Very wonderful. The excitedly claps his hands], the spirit descends. You can feel the inspiration. Everybody is eager to dance, is eager to demonstrate, is eager to learn and watch he who is demonstrating (the masquerade or the person representing the masquerade). I said there are two masquerades, but one at a time. One masquerade comes in full, one without the masquerade [costume]. That is a person. 28 ancestral transformation during the Nyamkpe/Dibo masquerade has already been addressed. Here, I am concerned with non possession, trance, or possession trance do not easily apply to this context since the performer is not physically or psychologically changed or altered. The notion of spirit mediumship, according 9) 29 better addresses the phenomenon, but is also still too limiting for this case. Instead, I will use the term spirit interlocutors to imply a dialogue between the performer and spirit(s) since there is no intermediary relationship in the non masked trans formation. Members explain the non masked 28 Interview with Entufam Hayford S. Edet, December 7, 2009. 29 In the seminal work on Afri can cases of spirit mediumship and spirit possession, Beattie and Middleton expand on (1969: xvii).
234 interlocutorship is closely linked to the inspiration affected from singers and most important, the drummers. 30 The non masked transformation facilitates an ancestral presence that governs the important business of nsibidi challenge during formal and sanctioned challenge. Sanctioned challenge arenas become professional forums for members to flaunt their nsibidi knowledge. ritual, the marketing or advertising knowledge to interested consumers, and the safeguarding of performed nsibidi However, more recently, youth members take nsibidi knowledge to the streets during the holiday period. The last arena, therefore, transgresses the threefold structural integrity of formal challenge governed by the ancestors and elder members. Transgressive The transgressive variety unfolds during the end of the year on Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Years. In Calabar, the holiday season coincides with the Cross River State tourism agenda. However, despite this coincidence, Ekpe/Mgbe end of the year masking should not be linked with tourism. 31 According to members, long before European presence and the introduction of Christianity and its calendar, the Ekpe/Mgbe season was during last days of the waning year. During those days, Ekpe/Mgbe initiations, masquerade competitions (see chapter 6), and other importa nt rites were commonly performed. At some point, and I was unable to 30 Non masked transformation in Ekpe/Mgbe ca nnot be separated from dance, song, and drumming. Among the Yoruba, Margaret Drewal indicates that dance is always associated with possession trance (1986: 64, 66). Lawrence O. Arohunmolase includes not only dance, but also music and drama as integral aspe cts of achieving spirit possession during Yoruba Egba festival (2006). 31 Ekpe/Mgbe maskers do seek out European tourists for money. Indeed, maqueraders will stop tourist and expect money, especially if the tourist wants a picture. For the masquerader to allow tourists to take a picture, a payment is strongly encouraged. In southeast Nigeria, end of the year masking and Christmas have coincided for some time (see Balogun 1969 for an Igbo case). For cases beyond Nigeria investigating tourism and masquerade as a means for financial security, especially in Mali, see Richards 2005 and van Beek 2003 and 2006. Calabar tourism is discussed in Chapter 6.
235 determine exactly when, Christmas and New Year s became a time for youths to masquerade for the chance of making small money. Today, all sorts of masquerades come out during the entire ho liday season, but the business of Ekpe/Mgbe masking on Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Years has turned into quite a profitable endeavor. Performed nsibidi in this context is central to the financial success of a given holiday Ekpe/Mgbe troupe. Young Ekpe/ Mgbe members organize themselves into troupes, usually consisting of neighborhood friends. Numbers vary from group to group. Usually a given troupe has from seven to fifteen members, with one or two masqueraders. Others support by singing and beating a sin Once assembled, troupes visit houses of chiefs to honor them with the masquerader(s) performing the nsibidi sign of respect. In return, chiefs challenge the masker with nsibidi and ding to ability (Fig. 5 11). Another type of nsibidi challenge that occurs in this arena is when different troupes meet in the streets. Crowds of people gather to witness the 12). In both cases, elder members are angered by these troupes for a number of reasons: 1) elders claim only ten percent of the troupes actually know the nsibidi they are performing, 2) the youths are breaking a major taboo by performing nsibidi in public, especially when two different tr oupes meet, 3) troupes are now using cars and vans to cover more territory instead of moving by foot (Fig. 5 13), and 4) the integrity of nsibidi knowledge is undermined. I argue that this arena destabilizes the nsibidi informal economy that masters contro l and stimulate during formal or sanctioned challenge platforms. The transgres sive arena offers youth members opportunities to make fast cash over three days. Therefore, according to members, mo st but certainly not all young members are no longer intereste d in learning nsibidi the proper way. Most prefer the easy and faster route to the longer
236 apprenticeship (discussed in the previous chapter) since the latter requires too much effort, time, and money. In addition to misusing nsibidi these youth troupes al so transgress the authority, power, and control of Ekpe/Mgbe chiefs. In fact, the very assembly of most of these troupes is a direct violation of Ekpe/Mgbe law. Before the 1990s, young Ekpe/Mgbe members had to obtain permission from lodges in order to organize and perform masquerades legally during the holiday season. Even with these measures in place, during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, many violent confrontations between masquerades and the community are documented in the local newspapers. 32 I arg ue th at since confrontation mostly occurred during the 1970s coinciding with the intensification of Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism and the 1980s history Calabarians openly contested the authority young masqueraders dema nde d, thus forcing youths to resort to more violent ways of affecting agency and earning money. Violent confrontation pressured Ekpe/Mgbe chiefs, supported by the government, to outlaw youth Ekpe/Mgbe masquerade during the holiday season. The ban was lifte d in the mid 1990s, and since then, younger members of Ekpe/Mgbe illegitimately organize themselves without obtaining permission into Ekpe/Mgbe troupes in the hope of making money. As a result, during the holiday season, the authority and control Ekpe/Mgbe chiefs are supposed to administer is nonexistent these days. In previous decades, if a troupe illegally formed without lodge consent or if their masquerades did not respond with the correct nsibidi after being tested by the chief, the chief was to confisc season. Members informed me that the last successful attempt to confiscate the mask of a troupe 32 Masq
237 was in the early 1980s. Chiefs stopped seizing masks because it was becoming more and more dangerous for them to exercise t he laws of the society. In fact, some of those violent confrontations recorded in the newspapers were between troupes and Ekpe/Mgbe chiefs t r ying to administer their rightful authority! 33 Ekpe/Mgbe holiday troupes are now growing in numbers. The increase in numbers fosters trepidation on the part of chiefs, who state that they fear these is how do these young members engender such a successful, temporary reversal of power, without a spir itual or ance stral base that is necessary to regulate formal or sanctioned arenas? The behavior of the troupes threatening violence, a disregard for elder authority, and performing nsibidi at will is identical to that of the Nyamkpe/Dibo performance in wh ich younger members temporarily, at the conceptual level, control Ekpe/Mgbe ritual. I therefore argue that during the hol iday Ekpe/Mgbe season, young members successfully produce an anti structure, what Turner refers to as communitas, by appropriating the liminal phase the Nyamkpe/Dibo display generates during formal ritual. In so doing, younger members are able to establish agency over chiefs. The growing participation of younger members also reinforces the arenas efficacy as a successful financial resourc e. Ekpe/Mgbe holiday troupes generate anywhere between about $7 00 to over $1,500 for three day s work. The money is then divided by the entire troupe, sometimes evenly, other times according to participation. In a country where financial opportunities are limited, the monetary yields younger Ekpe/Mgbe members achieve from the holiday masking season has become a profitable means of coping with the pressures of modernity. 33 One such case made the front page of the Nigerian Chronicle
238 Performed N sib idi eep Investigation into performed nsibidi and its long st anding and recently developed challenge arenas demonstrate the changing nature of esoteric knowledge systems. Specifi cally addressing the phenomena of gesture s Sally Ann Ness argues that when it migrates (either literally or figuratively) through time and certainly the case with performed nsibidi Analysis of the formal and transgressive arenas demonstrates that i n Calabar, performed nsibidi is becoming more visible in the public sphere. Prior to the public formal or sanctioned arena format, performed nsibidi was a more private affair, usually only unfolding within lodge contexts. In fact, a number of elder Ekpe/Mg be chiefs informed me that before the 1960s, performed nsibidi and challenge were not as prevalent as it is today. 34 While performed nsibidi has long been associated with knowledge, power, and agency during ritual context, the prominence attributed to perfo rmed nsibidi challenge is recent. At the time of my research, arenas have become not only a means of advertising and promo ting nsibidi knowledge as capital, but also a transgressive mechanism for youths in order to garner power and financial sustainability for themselves. I argue that these public arenas have fueled competition between members and thus greater change in the art form. Today, performed nsibidi cultivates heightened competition, invention, monetary benefit, and generational tension, expanding the definition of the gestural art to something much more than a spiritual pursu it and allegorical ritual and philosophy. reflexive nature of Balinese cockfights. For Geertz, on the surface, cockfights achieve nothing for the men 34 Inte rview with Muri J. B. Anating Edem VI, February 27, 2010.
239 who participate, yet simultaneously, they are serious arenas for the display of status, pride, dignity, honor, and financial power. Geertz argues that the functio n of cockfights is interpretive : (Geertz 1973: 448 ). Like cockfights, performed nsibidi arenas are also essentially a game. At the same time, they are also potent expressions for the playing out of power, status, and money. Yet at the interpretive level, I follow Geertz to argue that performed nsibidi has a self reflexive connotation. It not only symbolically tells the story of Ekpe/Mgbe ritual and philosophy but at the same time is an allego ry of how members financially sustain themselves, a performance they enact about themselves, their Ekpe/Mgbe experience, and contemporary being. In the next chapter, I present yet another Ekpe/Mgbe public performance where the ideas of space, performance, public display, status, and nsibidi knowledge converge on a global arena. It is meant to conclude my argument that not only is Ekpe/Mgbe still relevant because of its ability to claim space successfully during public performance, but that it is also a fin ancial, social, and cultural infrastructural support system for members.
240 Figures Figure 5 1. Member wielding the ikpa during street performance, Nkonib (Ikot Ansa), Calabar, June 29, 2008. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
241 Figure 5 2. Fellow mem bers cross staffs with Entufam Edet during his nsibidi performance, Okoyong, LGA, Mar. 20, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 5 3. Fellow members cross staffs over central table with Entufam Edet during his nsibidi performance, Okoyong, LGA, Mar. 20, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
242 Figure 5 4. Entufam Edet manipulates staffs as walking aids during his nsibidi performance, Okoyong, LGA, Mar. 20, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 5 5. Efik Nyamkpe masquerade during funer ary rites for deceased Efut Paramount ruler, Calabar South, Calabar, Nov. 20, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
243 Figure 5 6. Nyamkpe/Dibo publicly performing at the 7 th coronation anniversary of the Qua paramount ruler, Big Qua Town, Calabar, April 1 7, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
244 Figure 5 7. Chief of Ekpe informally performing nsibidi Okoyong, LGA, Jan. 8, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
245 Figure 5 8. Members staging a public sanctioned arena after chieftaincy conferment st reet procession, Kasuk, Calabar, July 11, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
246 Figure 5 9. Member performing proper nsibidi sequence to claim performative space during formal challenge arena, Calabar South, Calabar, Nov. 18, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
247 Figure 5 10. Seated chief challenges performing chief with nsibidi in a formal arena, Okoyong, LGA, Jan. 8, 2010. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 5 11. Chief challenges Ekpe youth troupe masquerader, Calabar South, Calabar, Dec. 2 5, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
248 Figure 5 12. Two Ekpe youth troupes meet on streets and prepare for nsibidi challenge, Calabar South, Calabar, Dec. 25, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 5 13. Ekpe youth troupe traveling by car, Ca labar, Dec. 25, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
249 CHAPTER 6 FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL : THE EKPE NYORO MAS QUERADE COMPETITION In the previous chapters, Ekpe/Mgbe ritual and nsibidi performance operated on the local level. In other words, they were locally p roduced and funded enactments by each lodge, its chiefs, and members. The state was not involved in any way. However, Cross River State began funding an Ekpe masquerad e competition called Nyoro in 2005. This chapter will examine the implications. In thi s chapter I pose the question, what happens to masquerade agency when the state provides funds for festival or masking venues under the guise of cultural revitalization, nation b uilding, heritage, and tourism? Bess Reed provides a case in southeastern Niger ia in which local masquerade not only was modified, but also was repressed in order to fit the state agenda. At the 1993 Enugu State Mmanwu Festival she reports, the state attempted to modernize and secularize rural Igbo masquerade by prohibiting the use of medicines essentially restricting ancestral potency i n order to make it more palatable for urban and tourist spectatorship (Reed 2005: 57). Under the rhetoric of cultural revitalization and ambitions for developing tourism, local masquerade was stripped of its source of power medicines (ibid.). More recently, Eli Bentor shows that in southeastern Nigeria national, state, and local politics continue to undermine the authority of local masquerade (Bentor 2008). Bentor demonstrates that local New Yam festiv als, now featuring h ired non local masquerade troupes have become arenas for political campaigns. Policemen are hired to prevent local masquerade s from participation since they potentially threaten the authority of the organizing party. In the past, local masquerade s were a central focus the arena and challenge authority when the purpose of the gathering is to demonstrate the
250 by providing a case in Calabar in which local masquerade institutions maintain autonomy in festivals sponsored by the nation state and in spite of tourism driven agenda. In t his chapter, I demonstrate that the recently expanded Nyoro concludes my argument that today Ekpe/Mgbe is an infrastructural political, economic, and cultural support system for its members. I intend to demonstrate how masqueraders both benefit from the to urist focused event and position themselves in such cosmopolitan displays of culture. I argue that both the fame and the cash prizes offer masqueraders an economic opportunity in an otherwise next to non existent Nigerian economy for young people. I furthe r reveal that the state funded, but locally produced, Botanical Garden Nyoro has become a multi lay ered event. O n the surface local Ekpe cultural heritage is seen as a uniting force, modern, and thriving; but behind that faade, the event is a platform for the playing out of local politics and conflicts. My interpretat ion of these events is partly a ma king contemporary productions (2011). Nyoro The term Nyoro requires some discussion. The Qua Nyoro is a public display and one of the many funerary rites carried out for the head of a Mgbe lodge, who also assumes the position of clan head. While the Efik conduct a similar rite for their lodge heads, they refer to it as both Ikot Ekpe (Ekpe in the bush) and Nyoro Ekpe (Fig. 6 1). 1 In both cases, the rituals have serious functions that ensure the continuity of authority during the transition of leadership wh ile a new lodge head is ass uming office. It symbolizes the mystical Mboko, the most secret aspect of the 1 Although similarities and differences are discernible in the details of Qua Nyoro and Ikot Ekpe, they are not of importance to this discussion.
251 society, the esoteric voice that roars during of ficial ritual gathering, is on a spiritual level embodied in the new lodge head (Bassey 1998: 97). The Qua Nyoro and Efik Ikot Ekpe are public displays of wealth, authority, and power. Chapter three has already addressed how Ekpe/Mgbe performance has long been and continues to morph into even grander ostentatious displays of power in urban Calabar. The Nyor o at the center of this examination is not the traditional funerary rite discussed above. It is a state funded display of local culture included as part of the recently expanded tourism season. The expanded Nyoro competition is similarly calculated to demo nstrate wealth, status, power, and claim space. There are only two larger scale celebrations of Nyoro today the state funded Botanical Garden event and the affair held during the week of programs celebrating the coronation anniversary of the Efik Paramoun t ruler, the Obong of Calabar. T a long standing locally produced event, not funded by the state. Since the inception of the larger state funded Botanical Garden event in 2005 larger. Each has influenced the other. The state funded Botanical Garden Nyoro is staged in conjunction with the Cross River State government tourism project. The Botanical Garden Nyoro has thus become a huge event, packed with multiple layers of meaning in conte mporary Calabar. Nyoro competition is a venue in which masqueraders can compete against each other in an officially sanctioned arena, ultimately judged for fame and ce lebrity, and awarded for their abilities. While Ekpe and Mgbe have many masks, only the more general type competes during the Nyoro. Among the Efik these are known as Atat Ekpe and Idem Ikwo (Fig. 6 2), while the Qua refer to them collectively as Abon Ogbo As discussed in chapter three, these masks are the
252 instruments that beat non members for not yielding to the performative space of Ekpe and Mgbe during public performance Recall that t hey consist of a tight fitting body net costume made from an organic fiber yielded from bark stripped from the branches of certain trees (Ekpo 1978: 73). Nylon, a more permanent material, is commonly used today. A raffia mane (fitted over the chest area), and wrist and ankle ruffs are attached to the costume. Nsibidi patter ns are worked into the mane and into the ruffs on the wrists and ankles for beautification. The etundu a short are inserted into a wing like hat attached to the back of the neck. Dressed in this manner, the masker carries in his left hand a bunch of oboti leaves, once used to cleanse the ill. As in the past, the oboti leaves are manipulated through a sequence of nsibidi gesture to respect the chiefs of the so ciety during all performative contexts. In this way, masqueraders acquiesce to the authority of elder members. In the right hand, the masker manipulates a wooden dance staff used for balance. The costume, mostly made of materials from the bush, refers to the lion. Indeed, during the competitive Nyoro, the choreography of the masquerader pantomimes a lion hunting its prey. Since Nyoro awards large cash sums to winning performers, the masqueraders are not merely demonstrating the dangerous and aggressive qua lities of Ekpe to non members, but are The C ompetitive Nyoro in 2009 During 2009 three Nyoro were held: at the 1 st anniversary coronation festival of Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, the Obong of Calabar, paramoun t ruler of the Efik; at The Botanical venue; and at the Obutong community festival. I documented the Nyoro celebrating the Obong of Calabar and the Obutong Nyoro. I obtained a complete, locally produced video recording of
253 the Botanical Garden Nyoro. In the following analysis, I restrict myself to a discussion of the Obong of Calabar Nyoro and the Botanical Garden Nyoro; the Obutong Nyoro was deemed insignificant by veteran Ekpe masqueraders since the prizes were considered too small for their participation. 2 The Obong of Calabar Nyoro The Nyoro for the anniversary coronation of the Efik paramount ruler, the Obong of Calabar, was held on December 19, 2009. It was th e last day of a week that had been packed with events, including cultural displays, and the conferment of honorary chieftaincy titles. All events took place at the Palace of the Obong of Calabar. The grand and well organized Nyoro lasted just over an hour and an half. A hired professional orator provided commentary. He spoke into a microphone; his voice projected from large, rented speakers. As an Ekpe member himself, he entertained the crowd with jokes, commentary, and maintained the flow of the event. The Nyoro started after a crowd gathered, much later than the of ficial scheduled time The event started with a dynamic procession in which the masked competitors, Ekpe chiefs and supporting members began their parade from a nearby Efe Ekpe, the Ekpe lodge, some blocks from the palace. Once they reached the portal to the palace grounds, libation was poured followed by Ekpe incantation, officially honoring the ancestors and calling them forth to join in the celebration. The pouring of libation established that the event could finally begin, but also marked that the performance was an official Ekpe event. Wearing both local and imported hats, long shirts of various styles and fabri cated with many 2 Well established maskers still attended the les s significant event, however, in order to study the newer, and perhaps up and coming competition carefully. Intereiw with Nyoro masqueraders, date withheld.
254 types of imported fabrics, fine wrappers knotted at the waist, and flashy shoes of all kinds. They carried manufactured walking sticks of tremendous variety. And, as always, they made their presence known. They formed another procession wit h younger members behind the typical organizational format in Ekpe processional performances (Fig. 6 3). The chiefs had the attention of the gathered audience. They danced holding their staffs of office near their torsos, allowing the ends to point towards the sky, a reference to the ancestors. Their staffs, in motions synchronized with their individual dance styles, moved majestically up and down as the chiefs progressed toward the place designated for them beneath an awning attached to the palace. Their p rivileged seats looked over the grassy arena in which the Nyoro was to take place. The procession was not a subtle display. It was an elegant, yet boastful presentation of power that established the space as properly of the society. Onlookers, consisting o f non initiates who had gathered to observe the event, indulged themselves in excited shouting and dancing of their own. Non members occupied the left and right sides of the arena. Some stood, while others sat in rented plastic chairs placed beneath canvas tent canopies. Still others, especially children, stood, jumping and constantly shifting their position to get better views. bordered three sides of the rectangular d ance arena. The twelve masked competitors, lined up dance arena not only delineates the performance space, but it also conceptually recalls the performance space i nside the society lodge. Members and non members alike thus respect this performantive demarcation of space. It serves as a replication of the Ekpe lodge thus establishing that performers abide by rules that govern meetings held at the lodge. 3 3 It is common knowledge for members that before any official acitiviety taking place within o r outside the lodge, the structure must be symbolized or evoked.
255 Once space competitors, the competition began. Twelve Efik Ekpe masqueraders competed that day. Each has about two to three minutes to display in this venue. An Ekpe member holding a pair of ekp ut (rattles) called each Ekpe masker in turn (Fig. 6 senior member who guides and stimulates the masker as he navigates the space and displays his way through the dance arena. Each masquerade competitor is ex pected to adhere to the Nyoro performance protocol, which has five phases: 1) greet fellow competitors with the nsibidi sign of the leaf and when complete immediately form back into the line up; 2) the performer then waits for the ekput handler or murua to summon him, at which point he is led to the Nkom Ekom Nkom (the nsibidi sign of honor with two hands, and nowadays the masker adds a bow; 3) after the plantain leaf mask is honored, the perfo rmer again returns to the line up to await being called by the ekput handler, after which, he is free to demonstrate his dexterity at performance for a number of minutes; 4) he then honors and respects the chiefs and Obong of Calabar with the proper nsibid i sequence; and 5) when the masquerader nears his allotted duration of time, he performs the nsibidi sequence to signal to the judges that his performance is complete, thus ending the display. During the display, the masquerader or knowledgeable agent inte ntionally infuses his choreography with improvisation as Margaret Drewal noted performers also do in a Yoruba context (Drewal 1992). All performative styles vary according to individual skills of the performer his ability, strength, and flexibility. How th ey utilize their skills to motivate the audience is also important. Simon Otternberg has observed in his analysis of Afikpo masquerade, the audience and the performer share an intimate interrelationship (Ottenberg 1973). In the
256 context of Nyoro, it is para mount that masqueraders understand how both to stimulate audience response and to harness that energy to inspire greater performative effect within themselves. A O ne performer, the fifth to compete, was absolutely outstanding. Before his timed display, he demonstrated good sportsmanship by greeting each of his fellow competitors with a leaf of recognition. After the gesture he quickly moved back into his place in th e line of maskers. As the ekput handler called him forth to begin, the masker immediately began to demonstrate his ability. Slowly stepping out of the line up, he bent his upper body forward, assuming an attack or hunting position. Advancing, he bent even further, the raffia mane around his chest nearly parallel to the ground. Simultaneously, all six ostrich feathers attached to the back of his head pulsated as he shook his entire body. On seeing this difficult feat, the crowd erupted with excitement. Some stood, others shouted praise Taking large strides into the performance space, he executed a number of full body spins. As his last rotation finished, he crouched and quickly shuffled side to side bursts, similar to the movements of a lion pursuing its pre y. Beginning with measured strides, he allowed his performance to build to a crescendo. He incited the crowd with his movements an excited response and then a corresponding crescendo to thunderous involvement. Those who had had remained seated, now stood u p. All shouted with uncontrolled excitement. Ekpe members who stood behind the line of masked competitors shouted affirmations; throwing their arms in the air, some looked at each other with amazement. The masqueraders, excitedly used his hands as a megaphone to shout directions and praise to his pupil. Even some chiefs shouted with excitement. The sounds of approval reverberated throughout the palace grounds. The energy from the crowd was so palpable that the hair on my arms stood straight up and goose bumps
257 overtook me as I videoed the event. The performer internalized that energy as a stimulus for further display. Continuing to demonstrate his prowess as a performer, he tirelessly executed a set of crowd pleasing feats. His stamina, strength, and flexibility formed the nucleus of both his structured and his improvised choreography. The rotations, large strides, aggressive lunges, and directional changes that followed his initial display and were seamless ly woven into a structured compositional whole. He achieved performative balance through his strength and flexibility. Active movement was bracketed by less vigorous movement, allowing slight intervals to materialize between the moves. This is best illustr ated by his finishing move. As his display came to an end, he performed a full body spin. As he completed the rotation, he rose and stood tall. The move was accented when he grew even taller by placing all his weight on the tips of his toes and held that position of height for half a second (Fig. 6 5). Then lowering himself into a crouching position knees and hands off the ground as if he were a lion about to attack he suddenly sprang upward, bringing his body back into a standing position. He had finished his display. The ekput handler led him to the chiefs. A strict protocol of nsibidi must be gestured to properly end their performance, honor and respect the seated titleholders, and if interested, show their stage of knowledge. As the ekput handler led th e present the performer with his stamp of approval. The rest of the Nyoro followed this structure with performers demonstrating varying degrees of skill and kn owledge. The ekpu t handlers called out the remaining performers until each had their chance to demonstrate their Ekpe masquerade ability. 4 4 It should be emphasized that the ekput handlers also control the flow of the competition. Their role is critical. They will also communicate to the competitor when his allotted time has f inished.
258 Once all competitors performed, the judges tally up their score sheets and three winners are announced, starting fro m third to first place. First place yielded N30,000 ($200), equal to that econd received N20,000 (just over $130) and third N10,000 (just over $60). As winners we re called up, their lodge affiliation was announced, an d the money wa s given to a representative from that lodge or their teacher. At this event, the first place money envelope was given to student of Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, who collect ed the winnings for his masquerader and also received crowd recognition Priz es were not great that day, and most competitors complained about the small yields. But they asserted that they had competed not for the money, but for the fame and as a warm up run for the Botantical Garden venue. The awarding of prizes is a spectacle in itself, filled with crowd acknowledgement. In spite of his crowd pleasing, dynamic performance the fifth performer did not win for political reasons The event was marked by corruption, but this is a subject to which I will return in a moment. The Botanic al Garden Nyoro The Nyoro at the Botanical Garden could be described as the Super Bowl of Ekpe Nyoro. It is the largest performance event of its kind. The Botanical Gardens Nyoro offers masqueraders not only the largest public stage on which to display th eir abilities and knowledge, but it also draws the toughest competition and yields the biggest profitable prizes. For example, in 2006, Mkpang Boco took first place and received a brand new car a Kia Picanto, 5 while second place yielded N500,000, roughly about $3,330! 5 Mkpang Boco is a retired masquerader and since his retirement he teaches the art form. It is interesting to note that the masker who took third place at the Botanical Garden venue in 2009 was trained by Boco as well as by others. Boco was taught by the well known Ekpe master (mask maker and performer), late chief Bassey Ekpenyong Nsa, nicknamed Caphenol. T he son of Caphenol, Chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, was a well known Nyoro competitor who won several events at his local lodge. Chief Bassey has a legacy as a well palace venue and second place at the Botanical Garden event. My fieldwork evidence indicates that most performers
259 The central location and vast grounds of the Botanical Gardens offered the organizers an even grander stage to showcase the vitality of Ekpe culture. In the words of Chief Bassey Ndem, The Nyoro venue at the Botanical Garden was on public grounds unlike the venue at the palace of the Obong already discussed. To claim space not normally property of Ekpe, a two foot fence of yellow palm frond fixed to canes o r branches inserted into the gound lined the entire boundary of the dance arena. The palm frond spatial boundaries thus restricted non members members were seated in rented plastic chairs just beyond the palm frond barrier. Bunches of oboti leaves the sign of the society and which are also held by some Ekpe maskers were attached to the fence. The temporary barrier is not unlike the way in which Ekpe lodges demarcate their property (Fig. 6 6). The rect angular arena thus demarcated and symbolized the lodge. Within the arena, rectangular areas were further demarcated with palm frond fences to symbolize important areas within a lodge. Chiefs were seated at rented plastic tables and chairs situated within t he fenced area on the perimeter of the arena. Behind them, a square palm frond shed was constructed to allow performers to rest out of view of the audience. However, kids climbed a nearby fence and peered into the structure to see the unmasked competitors. They revealed the performer s identity to the crowd. The 2009 Nyoro was a carefully planned, Ekpe indulgent spectacle that lasted hours. In the first half of the event, the audience, numbering in the thousands, witnessed performances by a number of Ekpe masquerades that were different from those competing in the Nyoro. They also who place (first third) in this large format Nyoro are traced back to Caphenol. Yet another student of Caphenol, late Effiok Eyo Nsa is known in local history as a prominent masquerader who won many large and small Nyoro competitions.
260 observed the official pouring of the libation and the arrival of both the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, and the Obong of Calabar. The arrival of the Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, the paramount ruler of the Efik, or fashionable Mercedes Benz and Ford Explorer SUV filled with multiple guards dressed in long white shirts and wearing wrap pers tied around their waists. Each held his paraphernalia of office. All the Ekpe chiefs made their way to the approaching entourage to receive the ruler properly. med performers with long lion or leopard like tails attached to a hoop worn around the waist) performed (Fig. 6 7). The chiefs, in a slow dancing manner, then led the Obong in procession to g as the numerous the swarm of press and free lance photographers and videographers was so overwhelming that the orator stated: no one should miss; but let me ask the photographers to keep to one side please. My king you are welcome. All the photographers that are not from CRBC (Cross River Broadcasting Corporation) want. The CRBC Corporation is here to televise it. Life and people are watching what we are doing. 6 documentation to a broad audience. The presence of state a nd national media corporations effectively taping the event was crucial and is reminiscent of Arjun Appadurai argument in which media is a critical tool in order to manifest a collective imagination of locality in a global world (Appadurai 1996). Indeed, t he Botanical Garden event was to be disseminated to the entire 6 translation from Efik by Edem, January 2, 2010.
261 nation and even the larger world. This type of motivation and imagination also relates to the aspirations of the tourist promoted Yakurr Leboku festival from the middle Cross River region as do cumented by Gitti Salami (forthcoming). After the arrival of the Obong of Calabar, the selected panel of judges all Ekpe titleholders were announced and introduced. Still more Ekpe masquerades, all different from those performing in the competition, en tered the arena and performed. During most of these displays, the chiefs and members accompanied the masker as he approached the paramount to demonstrate to the audience not only the beauty of Ekpe culture, but also the prominence of the chiefs and, of course the Obong of Calabar for whom these performances are usually performed during funerary contexts. The judges announced the criteria for which the competit ors would be evaluated: the beauty of the costume, the respect of the masquerader (i.e. the proper performed nsibidi of respect towards the chiefs), the individual performance of the competitor, and the respect of the allotted time for each masquerader. Th e pronouncement was made so that the filter of partiality or corruption was removed from the minds of the audience, even though most members and non members alike would debate the results for some time after the event. With this announcement, the Nyoro com petition finally began. Seventeen competitors performed that day at the Botanical Garden. Each was given about three to five minutes to demonstrate his knowledge and his performance abilities. At the conclusion of the displays, the third, second, and firs t place winners were announced (in that order) and handed a stack of cold hard cash. First place awarded N100,000 (just over $660),
262 second N75,000 ($500), and third N50,000 (just over $330). With the bestowing of the cash, the Botanical Garden Nyoro was ov er. Training for the Nyoro: A S hift from F ormality to the P erformative The monetary benefits of larger Nyoro stimulate a serious hunger for the acquisition of Ekpe knowledge by the competing masqueraders. Therefore, Nyoro competitors train very hard in p reparation for these events. Teachers are sought out for their wisdom in the various fields of knowledge that the Nyoro encompasses. A performer endeavors to master three major fields of knowledge as he trains for the competition: the protocol of Nyoro dis play, performed nsibidi and dance steps or choreography. These three fields are considered separate but interrelated. For example, the protocol of Nyoro display contains knowledge of performed nsibidi choreography, and the proper order in which the respe ct and honor is demonstrated. These phases are not applied as a strict step by step formula, but are construed to be loose and malleable in structure. For example, in the 2009 Botanical Garden Nyoro, most performers changed the order of the phases and non e gave the respect of honor to the plantain leaf masquerader, while it was compulsory in past Nyoro. Also, the proper nsibidi sequence was not universally performed at the end of a display when honoring the chiefs and when a paramount ruler is present, as in the case the Obong of Calabar. Some performed this phase at the opening of their display, others in the middle, and yet others, at the end. Some who discuss the Nyoro protocol expect certain phases performed at certain times. However, most performers in 2009, although they completed the required phase, did so in their own order. A common downtime between various phases was completed to demonstrate their skill and knowledge in order to maximize allotted time. Other fields of knowledge pertain to costume regulations administered and evaluated during the Nyoro. Judges evaluate the beauty of the mane and its size. During Nyoro, the smaller
263 sized mane is preferred since the larger, more cumbersome design, is an innovation of the younger generations. In this way, generational tension is discerned since the competitor is disqualified if the costume mane is not of the smaller variety, preferred by and common to the elders and chiefs when their fathers were the elders of the society. The color of the e tundu is yet another aspect of the costume that is evaluated. Red is the only acceptable color. If white or black is used, the masquerader is su pposed to be immediately disqualified from the competition since the red etundu has great meaning in Ekpe, for it symbolizes the abasonko (see chapter five). Members informed me that the disqualification will not be announced, the performer is still given his allotted time to perform, the judges will disregard the display, however. 7 Competitors are not usually mask makers. Therefore, costumes are rented from well known masters to ensure beauty. The knowledge of mane size and etundu color shou ld be understood by the competitor to avoid disqualification. If his teacher is also a mask maker, the body net costume and raffia mane will be made according to custom, but also to fit the student according to the proportions of his body. A well proportio ned and fitting costume is seen as beautiful by elders. 8 The fields of knowledge are vast, complex, interwoven, and changing. To acquire the necessary knowledge, some masqueraders have only one master teacher, while others have several. One performer, the masquerader who was awarded third place at the Botanical Garden venue, informed me that he had several mentors. Each is a master in a specific field of knowledge. Thus, Nyoro knowledge is obtained through private instruction not unlike how ukara 7 Interview with Nyoro masqueraders, dates withheld. 8 Interview with Nyoro masqueraders, dates withheld.
264 nsibi di knowledge is transmitted as discussed in chapter four. However, due to the growing protocol and rules. As a result, some of the knowledge fields protocol format a nd costume regulations have become more public. In the past, few knew the knowledge. Those few constantly won because of it. Also in the past, judges never announced criteria, and when a performer was disqualified, he was never informed. Since 2000, most b ut not all performers understand what was once privy information as commonplace knowledge. Because of this, the Nyoro of today favors performance ability over protocol. 9 P ast Nyoro competitions have demonstrated performance dexterity, but it was not as cr itical as today. Of the seventeen performers competing during the Botanical Garden event, most demonstrated knowledge acuity, but a few did not. For these reasons, performers explain that competition is tougher and ultimately decided by the manner in which and skills footsteps, spins, posture, pace, balance, strength, flexibility, speed, and technical aspects such as the height and level at which the dance staff is held during maneuvers and the ability to shake the ostrich feathers attac hed to the back of the head to mention just a few are flawless, fluid, and harmoniously woven into a unified whole. It is important not to forget that the stimulation of the audience and performing nsibidi are still other ingredients incorporated into a c horeography that makes for a winning display. Bringing all these elements together is only achieved through diligent training. Performers thus endeavor to train and refine their skills in new ways. Master instructors are sought after and are not only paid winnings. Footsteps, spins and the like are practiced over and over again until perfection is 9 Interview with Nyoro masqueraders, dates withheld.
265 with the help of a mentor or two. Other new methods of training include the careful study of video recordings of previous Nyoro. The performer will sit with his teacher and painstakingly watch their previous attempts while mistakes, flaws, and mishaps are point ed out and the way to correct them are addressed. After observing their own footage and those of lesser performers, the winners of previous Nyoro are studied. The footwork and steps of past winners are learned through mimicry, ultimately appropriated and w proven winners continue to study, using the old fashioned method along with video footage in order to perfect their moves and know the up coming competitors. Nowadays, video footage is the primary training me chanism for teachers and performers. Video recordings are also an impetus for the creation of new dance steps, motions, and styles. Innovation is often referred to by Nyoro masqueraders and senior members as the key to winning. It could be as simple as th e way in which a performer turns, moves his head, brings up his leg, or, during a full body rotation, the manner in which the leg is lifted and manipulated. These small innovations can completely invigorate and freshen choreography meaning perhaps the diff erence between going home empty handed or cash in hand. In the words of a prominent Ekpe dance teacher, whose student took first place at the palace and second place at the 10 In this shift from protocol to performative, during Nyoro display, knowledge becomes highly aestheticized. The ability to demonstrate Ekpe knowledge alone is not enough these days, it must be artistically integrated into the performative whole. For ex ample, the opening performance of nsibidi knowledge is artfully orchestrated to be first beautiful, and second 10 Interview with Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, M arch 16, 2010.
266 informative. Analytically, this is not meant as a clear cut polarization, but should be understood as each informing the other. Knowledge and the ability to beautifully demonstrate it overlap. Knowledge and aesthetics again overlap in the Nyoro dance choreography. Since all performers liken the dance steps to those of a lion hunting in the bush, the connection to the bush is played out in the Nyor o dance. Recall the palm frond fence, the raffia mane on the costume, and how the judges scrutinize the size of the mane. The mane metaphorically connects the masquerade to a lion. The masker thus symbolizes an aggressive, fierce, and tangible aspect of th e bush that is feared and used as an instrument of power. Similar to a lion stalking its prey in the bush, the masquerader stalks the audience in a more playful manner, yet with serious connotations, since libation was poured. Some aspects of the dance are slow, others calculated, still others lightening fast as if to mimic a lion hunting, lunging for and ultimately defeating its body rotations. The dance is a demonstra tion of power, a metaphor addressed to non members As with most performances, l ayers of knowledge are communicated through the Nyoro dance choreography both to members and to non members alike. H owever, it is the beauty of that knowledge that matters and that is Thus, knowledge acumen is demonstrated through artistry. The interweaving of knowledge and aesthetics has long been the case in Ekpe. However, with the inception of the recent expanded Nyoro event, large prizes have fueled greater competition, which in turn has exposed the guarded knowledge that once separated competitors, therefore placing emphasis on performance ability. Masqueraders are aware that performance dexterity and innovation lead to victory in the Nyoro
267 of today since most competitors are equally info rmed (for the most part) about protocol format and costume regulation. Performers attribute the shift from knowledge to performance ability to the recently expanded Nyoro event. From L ocal to G lobal: T he P roduction of the Botanical Garden Nyoro Th e history of Ekpe Nyoro competition is difficult to re construct. To my knowledge, the competitive Nyoro is unfortunately absent in the literature. 11 Nigeria Magazine from 1956, an illustration of a line up of a number of Ekpe mas queraders is the earliest image of a competitive Nyoro ever depicted to my knowledge ( n.a. 1956: 86). Comparison between the masks in the 1956 photograph to the examples I documented reveals Nyoro costumes (the general Ekpe/Mgbe varity) have changed only m innially. The colors are not as brilliant, the raffia manes are smaller and less pronounced, and nsibidi mostifs are not woven into the costume like they are today. 12 In other words, it was and still is an Efik expression of Ekpe. Previous ly competitive Nyoro were held at each Efik Efe Ekpe (Ekpe shed or lodge) near the end of the year. Since each Efik lodge was autonomous, each would host its own event. It was a competition in which o nly members of the lodge could participate. Any number of masqueraders could enter the competition, with the approval of the lodge, of course. The competition not only offered younger members an arena in which to demonstrate their performance dexterity and Ekpe knowledge freely, but it also provided a chance to win prestigious prizes given for a first place finish. In this way, trophies awarded for achieving first place fueled competitive incentive among members. The prizes of 11 Ivor Miller briefly discusses a 2004 Nyoro in which the Cuban counterpart to the Cross River Ekpe and Mgbe associations were brought together for a festival in Calabar ( Miller 2009: 179). 12 Interveiw with Iyamba (prinice) Efiok Ekpenyong Nsa, February 23, 2010.
268 early Nyoro were ukara cloth ( the exclusive textile worn by only members), Ekpe staffs, and good quality bells used for Ekpe masquerade costume. Most members I interviewed discuss the Nyoro at Efe Ekpe Eyamba and Efe Ekpe Eyo Ema as prominent events that attracted crowds of people, mo st of whom were non members. The competitive Nyoro of old were of interest for the rest of the community since they provided an opportunity to view Ekpe masqueraders without being harassed and chased, as is the case during more formal ritual and ceremonial contexts. As the more public events taking place in extravagant venues brought about general interest, the events grew and were over crow d ed Organizers of the recently expanded Nyoro indicate that the idea of a larger, urban, and more blic venues started to take root in order to reflect the changing and growing city of Calabar. The manufacture of the expanded Botanical Garden Nyoro of 2009 was set in motion by the interest by the Cro ss River State government in the promotion of interna tional tourism. In the post Nigerian oil economy, Calabar has cultivated tourism as a plan for future sustainability. Since 2005, the Calabar Carnival, publicized by the state government adian styled carnival, has been carefully modeled into attempt at international tourism (Fig. 6 8). Amanda Carlson argues that the repackaging of a migration of African culture from the Diaspora to Africa for the sole purpose of generating state and local capital (Carlson 2010: 45). Calabar Carnival as a state funded, agenda driven production of diaspora culture echoe s an earlier Nigerian attempt to make use of festival for wider recognition. In a penetrating study on the Nigerian oil boom as an
269 Andrew Apter convincingly argues that oil revenue fueled the rebirth preeminent Pan from Africa and beyond (Apter 2005: 14 15 and 50 51). The FESTAC and Calab ar Carnival cases illustrate the ways in which festival is a successfu l medium for the manufacturing of culture as a consumable commodity. John and Jean Comaroff have identified the trend of ethnicities and nation states to corporatize identity and culture as a means capital (Comaroff and Comaroff 2009). Ethnicity, Inc., Na tionality, Inc., Locality, Inc., and others are quickly emerging (Ibid., 138), and perhaps to characterize the Calabar Carnival, State. Inc. is quite appropriate. Indeed, the state government away destination for the world over. 13 However it is Trinidadian culture is heavily produced and consumed as the major focus during the tourist festival period in Calabar. Local masquerades and those of other Nigerian cultures are reduced to a parade like appearance during the 9). The only impressive event based on local culture that is officially aligned with the state run carnival appears during the Botanical Garden Nyo ro, even though i t is not annually staged. Within a tourist context the Botanical Garden Nyoro is critical as a state funded, but locally mediated and controlled display in the hands of Ekpe custodians. The titleholders who organized the Nyoro were not onl y interested in showcasing the beauty and vitality of local culture, but were also determined to use the event to position Ekpe in the converging local/global space that the entire tourist season in Calabar is meant to produce. 13 The slogan is featured on Cross River license plates.
270 The official CRBC video of t he Botanical Garden Nyoro, 2009, features an interview in English with an Ekpe titleholder who addresses the goals of the Nyoro. In his words: Ekpe continues to be the most important institution in the culture that binds the people of Efik, Efut, and Qua c Christian. I am as good a Christian as any other person can be. And I am telling you that there is absolutely nothing anti Christian in the Ekpe society.... The Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V is a C u on good authority that there are foreigners who are here. There are people from other parts of the world who are amazed at what they have seen here today the glamour, the colors, the splendor, the participation, the passion, the kingness of the competiti on. And the prominent citizens that have come out here bear a testimony to the fact that this is an institution that we must cherish, protect, improve, and uphold. Clearly, the elders of Ekpe had both local and global agenda in mind during the planning and orchestration of the Botanical Garden Nyoro. Preaching unity among the Efik, Efut, and Qua peoples was central, as was the concerted effort to de mystify the society, and to challenge the Christian populace who demonize Ekpe and other local masquerade ass ociations (see chapter two). The effort to emphasize the role of the Ekpe festival in the larger narrative of the Calabar Carnival and demonstrate the interest foreign observers expressed was also of importance. However, these agenda as a public message of cohesion, a push back against Christian rhetoric, a performance of locality produced and consumed by local and global audiences held in conjunction with the Calabar Carnival should be read as the outward expressions of the Nyoro. Politics and M asquerader B enefits A deeper layer of meaning is that this state funded Ekpe display is riddled with individual interests, identity conflicts, land ownership disputes, and judging partiality. An effort to construct the recent history of the expanded Nyoro reveals individual ambition and interethnic politics as well. To modernize and urbanize the competitive Nyoro, the event was moved to the Cultural Center and then the Botanical Garden grounds. The venues
271 were chosen for their central and prime locations. Most date this change to 2000. While the Calabar Carnival did not take shape until 2005, members were already expanding the Nyoro. However, I was unable to obtain precise date s since most oral evidence is riddled with contradiction. Some interlocutors state that t he first large scale competitive Nyoro occurred in 1994 in conjunc tion with the International Ekpe Festival, organized by the late Iyamba and Etubom Bassey Ekpo Bassey Ivor Miller (2005 and 2009) and Amanda Carlson ( Carlson 2010) documented subsequent In ternational Ekpe Festivals in 2004 and 2006 in which comp etitive Nyoro were scheduled both as part of larger festivals to cast a wider net of Ekpe and Mgbe awareness and cultural unity Others position the expanded or modern Nyoro elsewhere. Chief Bassey N dem, one of three organizers of the Botanical Garden event in 2009, informed me that a smaller version of the present Nyoro started in 2000 at the Cultural Center. 14 Both members and the government sponsored the event of 2000. It was later moved to the Bota nical Garden in 2005. Large prizes did not start until the following year in 2006. Commenting on the 2009 Botanical Garden Nyoro, organizer Chief Ndem told now a gathering of prominent Ekpe initiates have the opportunity to make statement of cu lture and solidarity and demonstrate the would like to expand to include Igbo and Cuban lodges. 15 The notion of unity was already promoted in the earlier Inte rnational Ekpe festivals of 2004 and 2006 organized by late Etubom B. E. Bassey and Calabar Mgbe. 16 I interpret the alternate histories as a way of politicizing or an 14 Interview with chief Bassey Ndem, May 30, 2010. 15 Ibidi 16 Recall that Calabar Mgbe is institution comprised of various Ekpe and Mgbe members from Calabar and other area s of the Cross River region. The institution was founded in the late 1990s as an attempt to provide cross ethnic unity and a common voice for Ekpe/Mgbe affairs in contemporary Nigeria.
272 effort to position oneself in a larger narrative of power. Individual power is attained in the claiming of ownership over the expanded Nyoro since the event is locally perceived as successful. In this way, individuals position themselves in a recent and developing history yet to be written. The ability of Ekpe culture to promote the unity of Efik, Efut and Qua peoples was stressed at the Botanical Garden Nyoro. The unity was emphasized in three ways: during the pouring of libation, all three peoples were verbally recognized; all three groups were listed on the title screen as the organizers on the CRBC official video; and the judges represented all three identities. However, most locals understood this as merely a faade, and in reality, the event further severed the already deteriorating relationship between the Efik and Qua in which land owne rship and the title of the paramount ruler of Calabar are still heavily disputed. First, the focus was on the Obong of Calabar, the Efik paramount ruler. The absence of the Qua Paramount ruler was well noted. Next, the event was held on Qua land much to Qu a chagrin. 17 In addition, an Efik chief poured libation on Qua territory. Libation pouring is strongly discouraged by the Qua paramount ruler, who prefers only verbally to offer respect and honor to the ancestors because of his devout Christian ideology (se e chapter two). Even further, the sole Qua judge was from Kasuk, a clan that at that time was not in good standing within the large Qua nation due to a land dispute case with another Qua clan. Moreover, not one of seventeen masquerade competitors and only a handful of the many titleholders present were Qua. The entire event was orated in the Efik language despite a couple instances that called for English. Even though the lingua Franca of Calabar is Efik, English, or a Nigerian Pidgin English, the Qua 17 The Qua are quite angry that this government sponsored Nyoro takes place on their land. During interviews conducted at different times, Ivor Miller and I were told this by our Qua interlocutors. Personal communication with Ivor Miller, July 25 2011.
273 are w ell known for their attempts at continuing and preserving their language known as Ekin. 18 The pretension of unity was flimsy at best. The Botanical Garden Nyoro was consumed as an Efik display of Ekpe culture. In addition to oral history, identity, land, and title conflicts, yet more politics were politics and partiality, which also extended to the event held at the palace of the Obong of C alabar. For months a fter a Nyoro competition, masquerade competitors, members, and non members alike discuss, debate, and gossip about the winners selected by the judges. Keep in mind that not only does the audience know very well who wears a particular mask, but the judges, chiefs, and younger members are also well informed. 19 Indeed, hours before the competition begins, the competing masqueraders gather either in an Efe Ekpe (like at the Obong palace venue) or inside the palm frond house construction (at the Botanical Garden event) to be queued up and assigned a number in which they will appear during the competition. This is done with the facial disguise of the mask removed, revealing the identity of the competitor to those present. Once numbers are assigned, the members pres ent as well as the chiefs coordinating the allocation of numbers quickly relay what should be confidential information to the rest of the members and judges of the event once they arrive. Chiefs sit next to the judges and lobby for ing the course of the event. Recall that each competitor is affiliated with a particular lodge, and that this lodge is announced if the masquerader wins. There is tremendous he winnings. 18 E. U. Aye, a local Efik Historian iks are now a mingling race, constantly intermarrying and sharing together the cultures and the languages they had brought with them. But the Qua are somewhat conservative and still hold tenaciously to their own language which is only used among themselves for Aye 1967: 40). 19 Interviews with Nyoro masqueraders, dates withheld.
274 For example, at the palace venue, the outstanding performance described earlier was selected by the judges to place second. However, both that performer and the one awarded first place were table that three separate lodges should be recognized. In the end, the lodge of the chief who brought all the confusion was awarded third place. At the Botanical Garden Nyoro, the first place finisher, an exceptionally tall masquerader, was not only know n to be friends with the head judge, but they were also long time fellow members of an affiliate institution. A further example of partiality was observed again at the Botanical Garden Nyoro. The third place competitor was not disqualified for not having a red etundu disqualified for not following costume regulation. The individual ambition of members, lodges, and judging partiality plagues the expanded Nyoro every ye ar, so much so that masqueraders always threaten nonparticipation, even though the large prizes dictate otherwise. Ekpe masqueraders still enter the Nyoro despite biased judging for the chance at temporary financial sustainability. With a lack of jobs for youth in Nigeria, Nyoro masquerading has become a viable, but also competitive endeavor. Indeed, the large payoff and fame resulting from winning the Nyoro stimulated further competition and the once guarded knowledge that separate d competitors in the past was leaked. This has led to performance ability and innovation that determine winners in the Nyoro of today. Masqueraders thus train extremely hard, create their own innovate dance steps, and mimic those of proven winners for a ch ance at achieving financial security and celebrity on a cosmopolitan stage. Masqueraders explained to me that competing for large cash prizes and fame on a glo bal stage is an opportunity not only to achieve recognition, but also to improve their economi c
275 condition. 20 These concerns resonate with what James Ferguson has suggested about modernity standard of living, as a status not a telos 21 From the perspective of the masquerade competitor, the chance of celebrity and financial security outweighs subjecting oneself to the frustrations of unfair judges. Placing first, second, or even third immediately places them into a different status and f inancial category. The status that comes along with wining Nyoro manifests through unspoken signs of respect. Non members are aware of who is underneath the masquerade costume. However, they cannot pronounce that knowledge while a member is in ear shot f or fear of being fined or an even worse consequence. Therefore, head nods from strangers or a market seller giving a past winner the lowest price without the hassle of negotiation become unspoken signs of affirmation. In market and other contexts, as winne rs pass by various stalls for example, gossip and stories break out among sellers and customers. In short, if non members have an interest in Nyoro, recent competition results, debates of partiality, and reflections on favorite performers become mainstream gossip. Similarly, for members, strong and admirable deceased members are remembered for their success in Nyoro competition through oral stories recounted during both formal and informal gatherings. The legacy of respected past members is recalled through the manner in which they always won, uniquely displayed their knowledge, and performed during Nyoro. In addition to forging a legacy, winning Nyoro also broadens financial networks. 20 Interview with Nyoro masqueraders, dates withheld. 21 acedmeic assumptions and alternative modern ity in order to begin to approach modernity from an African perspective (for more see Ferguson 2006: chapter 7). This idea of modernity gives Africans voice and allows them to define it on their own terms, in lieu of the academic construction of alternativ e or multiple modernities, a rather Eurocentric idea that non Western countries are involved in different sorts of modernities than the West.
276 Finishing in the top three of the Nyoro immediately places the masquerad er in demand. Chiefs and members who organized locally funded Ekpe performance often seek out and hire the best masqueraders in order to separate their event from others held in the recent past. In the past, wearing the mask was not only a privilege, but i t was seen as a chance to learn during Ekpe ritual and ceremony. Nowadays, since the 1980s, most Ekpe masqueraders are paid for their time in the mask during initiations, funerals, and other performance contexts. Another source of revenue is noted in young er up and coming Ekpe masqueraders paying for lessons and advice from proven winners. In other words, nowadays, winning the Nyoro opens the door to the Ekpe informal economy in that winners are paid for coaching and teaching and hired to masquerade during initiation and funeral contexts. Beyond access to the Ekpe informal economy, the prize money helps the masquerader establish other financial pursuits elsewhere. Recall the winner of the brand new car in 2006. The car enabled him to start a taxi service i n Calabar. However, he could not maintain the cost of keeping it running. The high price of gasoline forced him to sell the car and retire his taxi service. 22 On the faade, winning a brand new car in the 2006 Nyoro identified him with modernity. However, t hat position was paradoxically temporary. This case resonates with what an example where modernity is absent or just out of reach for many contemporary Africans (Rovine n.d.). The winner of the 2009 Botanical Garden Nyoro invested his winnings in the form of a to em bark on selling chilled drink out of his one bedroom apartment. Some months later, it seemed the idea was starting to pay 22 Interview with retired Nyoro masquerader, Mkpang Boco, January 5, 2010.
277 and around his block, it remains questionable how long his new business can be sustained. Nevertheless, besides these efforts of embarking on other economic pursui ts, the most consistent pay off for winning Nyoro is becoming a locally hired masquerader and teacher of Ekpe Nyoro knowledge. Nyoro venues, due to lack of state and local f unding, the future of these expanded Nyoro is in question. While lack of funding was probably the main reason for cancelation, local Ekpe politics were also most likely at play. An interview I conducted with one of the most senior Efik Ekpe titleholders an d lodge heads after the 2009 Nyoro was quite revealing. He was most displeased with not being invited to the event and informed me that a subsequent Botanical Garden Nyoro will never be held again. 23 The Botanical Garden Nyoro is a multi faceted state fund ed, but locally produced spectacle of cultural heritage where state and local politics converge. Organized as both a local and global display of cultural heritage, the Botanical Garden venue is packed with many layers of interpretation. On the global stage both local and global audiences consume the ev ent as an expression of local culture during the state mediated Diaspora inspired tourist carnival project. However, to the member, the venue takes on a completely different set of ideas that relate to local politics, the ideas of power, financial sustainability, and as a demonstration of Ekpe/Mgbe cultural heritage. autonomy and authority through the display of wealth and status, the occupation of non Ekpe space, permitting CRBC to record and then televise the event, and by using a public arena to 23 Interview with Iyamba (prince) Efiok Ekpenyong Nsa, March 21, 2010.
278 produced that undermines the unifying messag e that the event was meant to produce. Beyond the mere faade of preaching unity between the Efik, Efut, and Qua, the event is riddled with ethnic, lodge, and individual politicking. Caught in the middle of state tourism agenda, local identity politics, la nd disputes, the masquerade competitors position themselves within this multi faceted arena by demonstrating an innovative version of the symbolic choreography of lion hunting in the bush as they compete for large cash prizes. The Botanical Garden Nyoro is thus a calculated attempt on a global stage for Ekpe/Mgbe to claim public space th rough the medium of ostentacious spectacle, while also serving its members as a political, economic, and cultural infrastructural support system.
279 Figures Figure 6 1 The Efik Ikot Ekpe is performed as part of the funeral rites for the Iyamba or Efik Ekpe lodge head. The rite involves the transporting of the mystical essence of Ekpe, captured from the bush the night before, back to the lodge, which escaped at the pron ouncement of the death of the Iyamba. The mystical Mboko is secured in a wooden cage completely covered by an indigo stich resist textile referred to as ukara the primary symbol of the society. The Mboko or mystical voice roars during the entire public rit ual. Calabar South, Calabar, Nov. 20, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton
280 Figure 6 2. Atat Ekpe (left) and Idem Ikwo. Costumes created in Dec. 2009 by Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa and workshop. Calabar, Dec. 25, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figur e 6 3. 2009. Photography by Jordan A. Fenton
281 Figure 6 4. Idem Ikwo with standard size raffia chest mane ( nyanya ) being called by an e kput handler also referred to as murua Calabar, Oct. 14, 2009. Photograph by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 6 5. Fifth masquerade competitor executing his finishing move during the Obong of
282 Figure 6 6. Qua Kas uk Osam Mgbe demarcated with palm frond fence. Calabar, July 18, 2009. Photography by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 6 7. Efik Isim (long tail performer). Calabar, Oct. 14, 2009. Photography by Jordan A. Fenton
283 Figure 6 8. Ekpe masquerade (from Akpabuyo LGA) during cultural parade. Calabar, Dec. 26, 2009. Photography by Jordan A. Fenton Figure 6 9. Jordan A. Fenton
284 CHAPTER 7 CONCLUSION: EKPE/MGB E AS INFRASTRUCTURE This dissertation has shown that members of Ekpe/Mgbe altered their society to reflect the cosmopolitan character of its growing and developing city in which they operate The nd 1980s and conte mporary vitality in Calabar owes much to its earlier history during the pre colonial era. In those days, the society was not only the government, but it al so managed and negotiated the transatlantic slave and oils trades during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For members engaged in international commerce and even local and foreign politics, Ekpe/Mgbe was their support system. The wealth the society garnered through trade was channeled into the artistic and performative aspects of the society. Performances thus beca me ostentatious demonstrations of power. The power, wealth, and prestige pre colonial Ekpe/Mgbe once wielded informs some of the ambitions and motivations contemporary members wish to express through contemporary performance. However, folding the recent cosmopolitan character of Ekpe/Mgbe ritual, performance, and the transmission and demonstration of nsibidi into an envelope of a lone undermines the very issues these changes are meant to engage with. The public nature of Ekpe/Mgbe ritual, performance, arenas of nsibidi challenge, and masquerade compet ition, discussed in the previous chapters, are calculated attempts by members to push back against Christian demonizing rhetoric, dialogue about local politics, position oneself whether financially or politically, and demonstrate local autonomy, wealth, prestige, knowledge, and thus contemporary being. Indeed, today members are taking ritual, performance, and nsibidi
285 of performance in its many contexts. Ritual, performance, nsibidi challenge arenas, and masquerade competition have therefore embraced the urban experience of Calabar to become more public and cosmopoli tan in nature, allowing members to mold the society to fit within their changing political, economic, and cultural needs. I have argued that in Calabar the Ekpe/Mgbe society is thus an infrastructural support system for its members. It offers them political, economic, spiritual, cultural, and recreational outlets within their urban lifestyle. However, it is for the individual member to decide which aspects or bene fits they might explore. A chieftaincy conferment spect acle, discussed in Chapter 3 attracts a number of motivations for participation. Some of which are an arena to reconnect with the ancestors, enjoyment of food and drink with fellow friends, an opportunity to perform and advertise nsibidi knowledge, to forcefully take to the streets and establish power of the community, and to belong. Pushing aside individual interest, the recent changes to ritual structure, chieftaincy installation, nsibidi instruction, nsibidi challenge arenas, and masquerade competition offers every member the opp ortunity to politically, financially, spiritually, and/or culturally sustain themselves within the urban experience of Calabar. literature on so ulture thriving in the urban experience of Africa. Calabar Ekpe/Mgbe thus demonstrates that in African urban centers long standing societies and their forms of expression thrive In arguing Ekpe/Mgbe as political, economic, and cultural infrastructure, thi s dissertation adds a nuanced case to the literature that further problematizes the ost of what Ekpe/Mgbe members address through
286 performance today is wrapped up in efforts for the desire of financial sustainability a nd contemporary struggles for power that have both local and global implication.
287 APPENDIX A LIST OF EFIK EKPE TI TLES/BRANCHES 1 Original titles: Obong Mkpe Obong Mboko isung Mboko Obong Mboko Mboko isung Mboko Mboko Obong Mbakara isung Mbakara Obong Ebonko isung Ebonko Secondary titles: Obong Nyamkpe isung Nyamkpe Obong Oku akama isung Oku akama Obong Okpoho isung Okpoho Obong Nkanda isung Nkanda Tertiary titles: Obong Murua Obong Murua Okpoho Obong Isu Obong Eyamba is head of Efik Ekpe shrine 1 This is a typical cast of titles in Efik and Efut lodges today Obong denotes head o f the branch or title; isung fulfills the role of assistant
288 APPENDIX B LIST OF QUA MGBE LEV ELS AND TITLES/BRANC HES Senior Titles 1 Se Dibo (Ntoe, father of all) isung Dibo Isua Dibo isung Isua dibo Ntoe Asian isung Asain Ntoe Nkanda isung Nkanda Ntoe Okpogho isung Okpogho Ntoe Okuakama isung Okuakama Ntoe Etore isung Etore Ntoe Mabu isung Mabu Junior Titles Ntoe Ebongo isung Ebongo Ntoe Otugantan isung Otugantan Ntoe Machu Kumani isung Machi Kumani Ntoe Nkenemor isung Nkenemor Ntoe Aku isung Aku Ntoe Ma fina isung Mafina Ntoe Matimbo isung Matimbo Ntoe Mbakara isung Mbakara Ntoe Mboko (mother of all) isung Mboko 1 This is a typical composition of titles/branches in Qua Mgbe lodges at the time of my research. The Ntoe title is the head of the domain for which their title operates and the isung, similar to the Efik meaning, acts as an assistance to the Ntoe.
289 Levels of Membership 1. Abon Ogbe 2. Dibo Nkanda 3. Asain Dibo 4. Nyema Mgbe Non titled Branches Ikpa Dibo Boriki
290 APPENDIX C LIST OF REQ UIREMENTS FOR ATTAIN ING THE RANK OF CHIE F OF EKPE/MGBE 1 1. g oat ( ebot ) 2. yam ( bia ) 3. fowl ( afia uman unen ) 4. hen ( ekiko unen ) 5. cartons of beer and soft drinks 6. hot drink/spirits ( okpasong mmin mbakara ) 7. palm wine ( mmin Efik ) 8. local gin ( ufufup ) 9. red chalk ( uto ) 10. white c halk ( ndom ) 11. negotiable fee paid to lodge chiefs 12. fish ( lyak eneng ) 13. bush meat ( nsat unam okoyo ) 14. pepper ( ntokan ) 15. salt ( idang ) 16. oil ( aran ) 17. native egg ( ata nsen unen ) 18. cabin biscuit 19. corned beef ( biter ebonko ) 20. ground nut ( mbansang ) 1 List is translated from Efik into English by chief Mesembe E. Edet. Quantities of provisions are determined by
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312 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Jordan A. Fenton was born in 1981 in Cambridge, Ohio. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in May 2004 and a Master of Arts in August 2007 from Kent State University. In August 2007, he began his doctoral program at the Uni versity of Florida as an Alumni Graduate Program Award recipient. During his time at the University of Florida, he was awarded a Fulbright Hays DDRA fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education and a Smithsonian predoctoral fellowship at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
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