How Ibini Ukpabi was used to save slaves from death

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Arochukwu people of the South Eastern Nigeria are one people with an enviable history. In the pre-colonial days, the Aros spread across the length and breadth of the East, establishing trading posts wherever they went. They also took the veneration of the one supreme God to these places, manifest as Chukwu Abiama, Ibini Ukpabi (christened Long Juju by Europeans) whose cave temples are still found in Arochukwu till date. Despite having a fierce army, made up of Ohafia, Abam and Abiriba warriors to protect them, the Aros never conquered nor ruled over any of these territories; their sole interest being in fair trade and the spread of the gospel of Chukwu. Besides palm oil and gin, one of the commodities that the Aros exchanged for money with the British was slaves, and they thrived as middlemen between the hinterlands and Europe, whom they traded with.

But with the abolition of slave trade, the Eze Aro, along with Oba Ovonramwen of Benin, King Jaja of Opobo, Obong of Calabar and a host of other great monarchs of Africa were deposed. Also, Arochukwu was invaded by the British troops, and the kingdom which flourished for many centuries began to decline.

Till date, the stigma of the slave trade rests heavily upon Aros wherever they go in Igboland, with the Igbos, who also participated in the trade calling for reparations and apology from the Aro, who in turn, maintain that it was a legal trade as at the time, and secondly, they should not be brought to bear the blame alone.

In this interview with ONUKWUBE OFOELUE, Mazi Imoh Kanu, who is the present curator of the Ibini Ukpabi Temple, Arochukwu, defends the Aro Kingdom and its role in the slave trade era, and also speaks on why the Aro remains unique among the Igbo people.

Excerpts:

How did you become the curator of the Ibini Ukpabi?

Incidentally, this job was given to me by Mazi Kanu nwa Kanu, Eze Ibom Isii. Ibini Ukpabi, which some people call Long Juju, was brought about in the days when our ancestors, right from this Ndi Okoro. We are the factor owners of the Long Juju. By the way, don’t think there is any long Juju, we are not fetish at all. We are not idol worshippers. It was bequeathed to us by our ancestors, Mazi Okoro Mgbugo of blessed memory. Later on, it was handed over to Mazi Orji Okoro, popularly known as Mazi Orji Udo of blessed memory too. Because I had passion for history and antiquities, anthropology, they told me to please, come and take over as the curator of the Long Juju, and I said, ‘who am I?’ The Aro say that, ‘Ebe umunna gi si iga eje, iga ejeriri ya’, you don’t say ‘no’.

I started taking care of Ibini Ukpabi. I take people to Ibini Ukpabi; show them the wonders of the world there. It is my job to ensure that everything goes well when people visit the Ibini Ukpabi, and to keep the area neat and safe. It used to be the job of an illiterate, but by God’s grace, I can read and write.

We are made to understand that people go to Ibini Ukpabi for consultations and offer sacrifices in the form of animals

That is very wrong history. They may even tell you that we scarified human beings, but there was nothing like that. We do not offer anything to the shrine; it is not even a shrine. What we did in those days was that, wherever there was an issue to be settled anywhere in Igboland, the people came here to see how it would be amicably resolved. It was the seat of adjudication.

Those who called it Long Juju stated that very erroneously. There was no Juju; there was never juju. If you go down there you will not see any Juju. Rather, there were seats where some people sat and did adjudication, and settled the disputes. These are people who had the fear of God; who settled the disputes. For instance, rogues were brought there, and they would ask: ‘are you really a rogue?’ Then they would ask him certain questions in such a way that he would not be able to tell a single lie. We had the intelligentsia who were masters in the art of extracting the truth from such people. So, when this has been done, and the truth is discovered, the person would be punished. And for stealing, he may be given some lashes of the cane.

Can you explain how the institution of Ibini Ukpabi started, and how that name came about?

It was bequeathed to us by our ancestors. Ibine is a first name, and Ukpabi is an Aro name. Ibine was the name of the man who instituted it, while his father’s name was Ukpabi. It is also wrong (as some people have insinuated) to say that it was gotten from the Efiks or the Ibibios. He was one of the ancestors of Aro; Ibom, in fact, Ndi Okoro, this compound, to be precise. That is why you cannot go there without letting us know. We are the de facto owners of Ibini Ukpabi. It’s not a foreign name, and Ukpabi is a common Aro name.

Is it also true that there are caves there?

Yes, natural caves, not man-made. The caves are large enough to take at least 20 people at a time, and no matter how tall you are, your head can never touch its roof. It’s a large area. That is where people sat to pass judgment. They sat on mats or chairs.

Is it also true that a woman could conceive and bear children after going to Ibini Ukpabi? Did any miracle like this actually happen?

The presence of God is always strongly manifest in that place. If you take that water that flows there, and use it for prayers to get anything you want in life, it will work for you. No incantations, no sacrifices. If you drink that water, something will definitely happen. It works till date.

So the place is not the place of juju, but the divine presence of Chukwu Himself.

What is the place of the Aro people among Igbos, traditionally?

We are the head among the Igbos, whether people believe it or not. An Igbo cannot break kola nut in the presence of the Aro without the authority of the Aro. In our journey back home, we passed through the Congo, then Cameroon area, through Ikom to the middle of the Cross River area, through Edda, Afikpo, Ohafia, before we got to the place where we are residing today. Some people thought Aro means the spear that was used in conquering the Ibibios when we came. As we came in, we discovered that Chukwu was already here waiting for us, the very Chukwu Ibini Ukpabi. That is why you have our name as Arochukwu – Aro, which belongs to Chukwu, God. We are very industrious, and the Aro man is always very neat, very industrious. The Aro man, by nature, does not steal; you could hardly see one in the prisons in those days. We had other people who worked for the Aros.

It was said that the Chukwu Ibini Ukpabi was used for slave trade at a point. Can you explain this?

It was not used for slave trade. It was rather used in saving many lives. You that brought the man for the Aros to sell, where did you get him from? You told us that this fellow committed abomination and had been killed, and we say, okay, and take the man to the presence of Chukwu: ‘did you really commit what you have been accused of?’ and you say, yes. Those regarded as abomination included those who were born twins, the women; those who grew upper teeth first instead of the lower teeth, some who had affairs with their brother’s wives, their daughters or even their father’s wives, and a lot of other evils, including war criminals. It was not just Aros that saw this as abomination, but the whole Igbo nation. When they are brought to us, they give us ultimatum to destroy them so that their lands may be cleansed of the evil they committed. We will then ask them to tell the truth, and because of the glorious presence of Ibini Ukpabi, they will be afraid to lie. But we do not threaten anyone.

We do not spill blood. We don’t kill. It was through intelligence that the truth was extracted from the accused persons. When they are found guilty, the accusers will mandate the Aros to dispose of them, and the Aros, to make it look like that person had been killed, would get an animal, kill it and collect the blood, mix it with uvie, the camwood, then pour it inside the water. When they see the blood, they would conclude that the person had been claimed by Ibini Ukpabi, and leave. But it is at the same instance that the person is transported through the cave to Itu, then Calabar on a journey to the Americas or Europe, the unfortunate journey of no return. Till today, the Aro do not spill blood. So Chukwu Ibini Ukpabi was not used for evil, but to save lives which would have been wasted because of human failings in some areas, and nature in some others.

You that says the Aro man deceived people by selling slaves, where did you get the slave you brought to the Aro man? The Aro man never engaged in warfare at all, so there was no question of the Aros engaging in wars in order to capture people for slavery as some mischievous people have insinuated. The sword of Damocles’ was around the neck of those whose intent was to kill these people whom we, through Chukwu Ibini Ukpabi, saved by selling them off. The Aro man is very innocent.

People go about saying that black Americans are descendants of Africans sold into slavery by the Aros. Yes, I agree. But who brought them to the Aro man? It was because of what we did then that those of them who passed through our hands survived, they would have been extinct today. We sold them to the Portuguese and Spaniards, yes, but in order to save them.

What was the secret behind the growth of the Aro Kingdom in pre-colonial times, despite the fact that Arochukwu town is a small place compared to some of the Diaspora communities?

As I said before, the Aros were very industrious, and we are still industrious till today. We have no autonomous community as a result. In the whole Aro, there is only one community, we don’t have autonomous communities, which dissects villages and towns. We are so united, and that is the secret. That very Chukwu Ibini Ukpabi brought us together and has kept us united. We eat and drink together without fear. That is why Schnapps was declared illicit gin, because they didn’t want the Aro traders to compete with their (Europeans) marketers, his or her majesty. They wanted to sell their own foreign ones but would not want us to sell ours by declaring it illicit. What makes it illicit? That is why they came up with the word, ‘aromatic’, which means ‘Aro man is thick’, Aro man is wonderful. When you bring this drink, we use just one shot to share it among ourselves. We also have only one Eze Aro, no other king.

What is Otusi? Is it related to the Ofo?

They are synonymous. That is the source of the spiritual power of the Aro man. Once you are a member of that Otusi Aro, you cannot shed blood. From the first week of September, to the third week of September each year, the Otusi, or Ofo is brought down. Once it is brought down, any evil man around must stay away; no one can also perpetrate any evil against others, or that person will be knocked down by the Otusi. It protects the Aros. The Ofo is a thing you hold in your hands – there is a tree called Ofo, and there is one in front of the Eze Aro Palace. Once you hold it, you are confident that no evil will befall you. Nobody can attempt to do any evil to you. And you too cannot do evil to anybody. Once you have that Ofo, witches and wizard cannot attack you.

Does it mean that Arochukwu has just one Otusi or does every family have one?

It is like one kola nut. When you break it, some have three lobes, four lobes or five. The Aro man knows the meaning of each. If there are two, it’s gworo; if six, trouble. When they are five, you that is sharing will be authorized to break it. The Eze Aro cannot sit and break the kola for you, he is the King. That is how we are different from other Igbo communities, who will say ‘oji eze di eze naka’ (the king’s kola is in his hands). So the sharer takes that extra one lobe as his gain. The other four will be shared to everyone.

Why is there usually an Aro settlement in almost every Igbo community and even outside Igboland?

No Aros, no Igbos! The Aros were traders. Slave trade was secondary; that was not the original trade of the Aro people. We taught other Igbo people the art of trading.

That brings the question: are Aros also Igbos or are they a different stock?

We are all Igbo but there are Igbos and there are Igbos. The Aros are the Okwara (first son), and the Nri people are the Ulu (second son). We are the head Oke Igbo, which is why we are called Aro Oke Igbo. It’s what we pronounce an abomination that the rest of Igbo accepts as such. In the past, the Eze Nri was under obligation to present his first yams to Eze Aro who did the ceremonial cutting of yams before they would eat the new yam. When kola nut is presented anywhere, the Aro must pick first as the eldest before people of other communities pick theirs. What they purport today as the history is very wrong, biased. Nri tarried on the way when we were coming back to Igboland. That is why you have the dwarfs in Nri area. It’s only in Nri that you have dwarfs. When they were coming, they stopped at the Congo and took two dwarfs, male and female, because they neutralize charms, and brought them home. The reason you see them at Ogidi is because, when an Nri daughter was about to get married to an Ogidi man, a pygmy was given to them as a gift. This was for them to be able to neutralize any charm. The Nri were in Congo getting pygmies and other things – they are fetish – while the Aros left them there and came to take this portion of the land. We arrived first. Ndi Aro are industrious people – we traded in textiles, akwa mmiri, akwaete, and we also are very hard working farmers. The farming villages of Aro travelled to Abakaliki, Nkerefi, Uburu, Nara, Onicha-Uburu, Okposi, and other Ohaozara communities. Ugbo, Ugwuavo, Amangwu are the farmers. The Aro who found these communities comfortable would return and take their brothers to also benefit. They brought civilization to these communities; they brought new goods and exchanged with these people in trade. The whole 19 villages of Aro have Diaspora settlements. Obinkita have theirs in some Akwa Ibom areas and Ngwa. Some Atani people are settled among the Ikwerre in Rivers and Anambra, especially where Stephen Osadebe comes from. Some Ibom and Ujari people migrated to Orumba North and Ajalli. Professor Humphrey Nwosu’s town in Anambra. Orumbah North is also home to Ndikelionwu, an Aro settlement. The Amuvi people are settled in Umulolo and Lokpa in Imo State. The Ibom, which is my own village, are settled in Itighidi, Ugep and other areas of Cross River State. Agbagwu are in Afikpo, Edda, while Ugwuakuma are in Calabar area. Amasu people are at Uzuakoli and Awgu. Amankwu people are settled at Aro Ndi Izuogu. Amoba are also in Ohaozara and Abakaliki. The Aros are so vastly scattered that they are even much more than those of us at home. If they decide to return, there will be no place for them to stay.

Are there prominent Aro people from these places?

Yes, so many, but I will avoid mentioning names. Most Igbo governors past and present are of Aro origin, but they would never want to make it known that they are Aros. They avoid that, but we know all of them. Any child who goes into the bush to fetch firewood, and does better than others, they will say he got his wood from the evil forest. The industriousness of Aro people has become a cause of envy among other Igbos, just as Nigerians are envious of the industrious nature of the Igbos. The word Mazi is an Aro word. While many Igbos use it, they don’t know the meaning. Mbonu Ojike of blessed memory, who was Minister of Finance, was the first to use it in place of mister. You can’t bear it if your father is still alive, in that case you are still Nwa Mazi.

(First published in Saturday Newswatch, Vol. 1, No. 24. June 29, 2013)

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  1. Amah Jones 31 December, 2020 at 10:54 Reply

    The Ibibio Origins of Ekpe, Nsibidi, Idiong, The Okonko Cult and the Ikom Monoliths

    Origins of Okonko

    OBINKITA

    Photo by Eli Bentor.

    EKPE OKONKO MASQUERADE AT A BURIAL CEREMONY, NTURI, AKWA IBOM STATE, NIGERIA.

    NOTE: The coffin is draped in UKARA CLOTH. Ukara is Ibibio word for GOVERNANCE. The governance of the Ekpe Society, that is. UKARA could also mean WRAP AROUND, as in a piece of LOINCLOTH or any other type of cloth. In IBIBIO, the ANACONDA is called UKARAKPA. UKARA-KPA.

    (1) UKARA means WRAP AROUND. (2) KPA means DIE. So, the UKAKAKPA is the ANACONDA—a snake that kills by tightly wrapping itself around its victim, squeezing it until it dies by asphyxiation.

    EKPE originated in Ibom, not in the Ekoi territory. The Ekoi were themselves citizens of Ibom, the Ibibio kingdom ruled by Obong Okon Ita. The Ekpe and Idiong societies flourished in Old Ibom where the Ibit Itam Oracle (the Ibibio Supreme Court) held away. Many Ekoi and Igbo migrants were servants at the Ibit Itam Shrine and adherents of Idiong and Ekpe under their Ibibio masters. Later, the Ekoi and Igbo servants colluded with the Igbo-Aro-Ekoi forces that defeated the Ibibios during their invasion and subsequent capture of Ibom (Arochukwu). After the loss of Ibom, the Aro-Igbo and their Ekoi allies took over the Ibit Itam Shrine.

    The Ekpe society–called Mgbe by the Ekoi—and its Nsibidi communication system were part and parcel of the Ibit Itam oracular practices of the Ibibio. Nsibidi is an Ibibio word meaning what shall be revealed or what shall come? It’s the communication system devised by the diviners as “taught” to them by Eka Abasi (the mother of God a.k.a. Mammy Watta or Mermaid). Eka Abasi is commonly known as Abasi ISU AMA, the Earth goddess; the mother-wife of Obuma; Uto, the goddess of agriculture; the ruler of rivers, seas, oceans all other water bodies, and the deity to whom the python and the leopard, ordered by her son-husband Obuma, are assigned as guardians. The python is the guardian of her aquatic realm and that explains why mermaids (Isu Ama a.k.a. Eka Abasi a.k.a. Ndem Mmong) are always shown holding pythons as their totems.
    The leopard, a substitute for the lion, is Isu Ama’s (Eka Abasi) guardian of the land.

    The Ekoi people also claim that mermaids taught them Nsibidi, except that the word, Nsibidi, is Ibibio.
    Aba Nsi Nsi means the one who exists eternally. Although the word Aba could also mean a hollow or father in Ibibio, it means THE ONE in this case. Nsi-nsi means forever. Aba Nsi Nsi is the sun god Obuma (male) or Isu Ama, the moon goddess (female). The abbreviation of ABA NSI-NSI is ABASI.
    The Ekoi call him OBASI. EKPE is MGBE in Ekoi.

    AKWA ISE (AKWANSHI)

    Akwa Ise means Great Spectacle in Ibibio. Akwa = Great. Ndise = Spectacle.
    EKOM means GREETINGS or WELCOME.

    The Ibibios created the great spectacles—the MONOLITHS (Akwa Ndise) of EKOM. It’s like advertising a great TOURIST ATTRACTION.
    After the fall of Ibom, the Ibibios lost Ekom and many other territories to the Ekois as well as the Igbos. The Ekois occupied Ekom and renamed it, IKOM.
    Akwa Ndise (Great Spectacles) became AKWA- NSHI (Akwanshi). The Ekois claim that spirits carved the monoliths and that the monoliths were there long before their arrival to the area.

    The Ibibios were the original inhabitants of the territory now known as Ikom. Many of the villages in which the monoliths are located, still bear IBIBIO NAMES. Also, if the Ekoi were the inventors of Nsibidi, why wasn’t it named in Ekoi language? They call it NCHIBIDI, a corruption of NSIBIDI. The Idiong diviners and Ekpe priests of ancient Ibibio used to dance in circles (NYIBI) to induce a trance-like effect as they communicated with the “spirits”.
    The Ibit Itam Shrine was dedicated to the Ibibio Sun worship ordered upon the dictates of Obuma, the bladed thunderer god (Ra, Re) often depicted as a double-headed axe. Ra or Re a.k.a. HORUS.

    Obot Okon Ita—corrupted to OBINKITA by the Igbos—was the capital of the Ibibio kingdom of Obong Okon Ita a.k.a. Ibom/Mbot Abasi, before its conquest by the joint forces of Igbo, Ekoi and Akpa invaders between 1630–1720. This town is significant in Aro History because Obinkita became the center where defeated Ibibio warriors and many of priests of their Long Juju Shrine were judged and eventually executed.
    That is why all Aro villages assemble, annually, at Obinkita during the Ikeji festival. Obinkita is now one of the 19 villages of Arochukwu.

    Note: Obot means CREATOR in IBIBIO.

    Origin of Okonko

    The name, Okonko, is derived from Okon, as in Obong Okon Ita, the ruler of the Ibibio KINGDOM of IBOM—now known as AROCHUKWU. The exact period and date when the Okonko Society came to Igboland is not known. Most heads of families and elders in Igboland today cannot give the historical origin of Okonko. They are contented with saying that the society was in existence even before their forefathers. They do not know or cannot provide the answer because the Igbo are not the originators of the Okonko a.k.a. Ekpe Cult.

    The society came into being in an attempt to put a stop to community conflicts, inter-tribal wars (Ibibio versus the migrating Igbo and their allies) and eventually create a peaceful coexistence among people and neighbors. According to James (1976), the people realised that warfare was incompatible with trade. The Aros used the Okonko society in order to win the co-operation of different communities.

    From another angle, prominent elders from Ohafia, Bende (originally Mbon Ette a.k.a. Mbente) and Ikwuano areas of Abia State strongly opined that Okonko was derived from Ekpe society of the Ibibio. Okonko originated in Ibom (not in the Ekoi areas), and by early part of the eighteenth century, it had spread to the Cross River territory. It is likely that Ekpe diffused into Arochukwu, a neighbouring group where it was known as Okonko during the same period. From Arochukwu, Okonko spread to other parts of Igboland.

    • Amah 31 December, 2020 at 11:00 Reply

      In the light of the above, Ekpe society migrated into Igboland as Okonko, spreading to almost all communities of Igboland that have “ndee wo” and ”mma mma” (Ngwa/Annang dialects) as their forms of greetings. It is to be noted here that early members of Okonko were associated with the Long-juju (originally IBIT ITAM IBIBIO or the IBIBIO SUPREME COURT) of IBOM now Arochukwu. According to Offenberg (1975), “members visited Arochukwu so that the oracle would solve such problems as “poor crops”, continued illness, epidemics and lack of children.”

      A middle opinion on the origin and history of Okonko society claims that the local agents of the Long-juju of Arochukwu were pioneers of Okonko society. They were called “Enyi Ndi Aro”, friends of the Aros. It is claimed in some Igbo quarters, that the Aros (Ibibio descendants) gave them a secret symbol of Okonko called “Ngbara” which empowered them to form the society in their localities (Abadist,1954).

      NOTE: The Igbo word, NGBARA (Power or authority) is similar to the Yoruba word, AGBARA, which also means POWER or AUTHORITY. The Igbo and the Yoruba were one and the same in ancient antiquity. They split and eventually developed separate and very distinct identities over time.

      The founder of Okonko in each Igbo community was recognized as the President or “Eze Ngbara”. Eze means King or Lord in the Igbo language.
      The president presided over the weekly meetings of the society and regulated its affairs with the multi-titled holders constituting the second rank in Okonko society (Abadist 1954).

      In all analysis, the consensus opinion about the origin of Okonko in Igboland is that the society sprouted from among the free-born as a platform of social, economic, political and religious metamorphoses. The society existed and still is a formal society in Igboland permeated by a sense of mystery. Just like the descriptions Laye (1981) gave to a coherent society with a consistent manner of life, Okonko society is a society whose origins “are incapable of explanation”.

      Religious and Social Functions

      All households and lineage in Igboland have their own heads. Most, if not all of such heads, are elderly men and staunch members of Okonko society. This informed the reason why Onyejekwe (2003) described Okonko society as indispensable in the daily governance of communities in Igboland. He strongly submitted that, Okonko was a powerful institution, which dominated the government of the community. During the precolonial and colonial eras, Okonko promulgated laws, enforced laws and order and performed the function of social control, it employed different techniques to enforce its rules and regulations.

      Okonko served and still functions as the principal means of communicating with supernatural beings and the ancestors with the purpose of maintaining religious and social stability in Igboland. Offiong (1989) puts this point thus: “The Okonko is an attempt to reduce the all pervading spiritual world to an organization in which a few selected men can contact the spiritual world and interpret it to the people.”

      Therefore, among the religious and social functions of Okonko is the settlement of important disputes in various Igbo communities. When there is a religious or social matter at stake, threatening community stability, Okonko members would assemble at the village square or at the “Obi” to listen to the matter. Decision or judgment is decided according to custom and tradition.
      Against this background, Ilogu (1980) wrote that, “the sort of things that are publicly judged include “aru” which are against the earth goddess believed to bring disintegration to the “Umunna”, village or town such as murder of a fellow town’s man, incest, stealing of yam especially by… titled person. Okonko society, no doubt, had the most powerful administrative network in Igboland.

      Before any major feast or initiation ceremony in Igboland, the “eze Okonko” makes sacrifices to the mother spirit inviting her to grace the occasion with her presence. Her presence is believed to be inevitable if the ceremony or initiation is to be successful. The Okonko society also performs immersion ritual on behalf of the community. The community passes through such a cleansing process in order for all the evil things and sins of the community to be forgiven. This religious duty is often carried out, by the Okonko society, at the beginning of the planting season.
      The religious and social functions carried out by the Okonko society give the people a sense of reassurance that all is well again in the community.

      It is also the Okonko society that determines the date and manner in which the new yam festival will be celebrated within the year. The new yam festival is an agricultural and social ceremony designed to rejoice together for the good harvest. It is also put in place by the Okonko society to appeal to the spirit in charge of yam, to be equally propitious the next season. Until this ritual is carried out by Okonko society, new yams, at least theoretically, are not eaten. The ceremony is quite elaborate involving sacrifices to the “ahia njoku”, the yam spirit. In all these, the Okonko Society
      features prominently (Offiong 1989). Okonko society also excommunicated people in very severe cases.

      The person is outlawed, banished and sent on involuntary exile (Achebe 1981). Despite Western education and the influence of Christian Religion in Igboland, the functions and activities of Okonko society are still celebrated with zeal. Though these are now done with modifications, the secret symbol and mysteries of Okonko society remain a matter of pastoral concern for the Christian Churches. Today, even though membership in Okonko is not mandatory,
      young men still look up to membership. A lot of parents feel uneasy until their male children indicate interest and are initiated into Okonko
      society.

      CONCLUSION

      Of all the societies in Igboland, Okonko has the central place of importance in the lives and affairs of every free-born male adult in the land. Okonko covers the traditional, religious and social
      lives of the Igbos prior to the advent of Western culture and christianity.

      The society is primarily a social, political, religious and judicial organization,
      established for the purpose of maintaining justice, peace and order in Igboland. This means that Okonko Society had the effect of preventing
      crime in the community. It was a vital society that reassured the rest of the populace concerning the enforcement of customary laws, especially in land matters and marriage cases.

      Yet discussing the signs and counter signs in Christian life in Africa, a former Duff Lecturer insisted that “however anxious a missionary may be to appreciate and retain indigenous social and moral values, in the case of religion, he has to be ruthless…, he must admit and even emphasize that the religion he teaches is opposed to the existing one and that one has to cede to the other”
      (Westermann 1973).

      These submissions by Westermann (1973), a German missionary scholar, today captures the relationship between Okonko Society and Christianity in Igboland. Some indigenous clergy,
      zealous and committed to pleasing their European masters, see Okonko society as an institution that should be completely eliminated. According to
      them, “giving” the new means taking away the old. It has taken the intervention of another scholar
      of missionary expansionism, Cragg (1968), to raise the question: “if the old is taken away, to whom is the new given?”

      From all these and what is on ground in
      Igboland, one is firmly moved to state that Christianity cannot succeed in enthroning God’s kingdom if it ignores the impact of “Okonkonism” in the lives of Igbo Christians. “Okonkonism” is
      a manifestation of Igbo race’s search for God. This means that Okonko society was a providential preparation for the advent of Christian religion in Africa in general and Igboland in particular. In the theory and practice of Okonko society, as this paper has highlighted, God was ahead of the Christian missionaries, preparing the Igbo race to encounter Christ.

      Thus, Sanneh (1983), in connection to this fact said that the places (in Igboland) reflecting the most marked accession to the Christian religion are also the areas of the highest concentration of the old traditional religion.

      Okonko society in Igboland is thus, a significant factor that the immense Christian presence should not ignore. The Church has a lot to learn from the Okonko society especially in the areas
      of human and divine values embedded in Afrel. Therefore, this paper advocates that African Bishops and Priests drop their negative views of their own culture and religious history. This will be the beginning of the enormous task ahead in
      the area of inter-religious dialogue with Afrel and incarnating the gospel in Okonko society of Igboland.

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      Awolalu JO, Dopamu PA 2005. West African Traditional
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      https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10158758362602436&id=519477435yxiation

  2. Amah Jones 31 December, 2020 at 10:55 Reply

    The Ibibio Origins of Ekpe, Nsibidi, Idiong, The Okonko Cult and the Ikom Monoliths

    Origins of Okonko

    OBINKITA

    Photo by Eli Bentor.

    EKPE OKONKO MASQUERADE AT A BURIAL CEREMONY, NTURI, AKWA IBOM STATE, NIGERIA.

    NOTE: The coffin is draped in UKARA CLOTH. Ukara is Ibibio word for GOVERNANCE. The governance of the Ekpe Society, that is. UKARA could also mean WRAP AROUND, as in a piece of LOINCLOTH or any other type of cloth. In IBIBIO, the ANACONDA is called UKARAKPA. UKARA-KPA.

    (1) UKARA means WRAP AROUND. (2) KPA means DIE. So, the UKAKAKPA is the ANACONDA—a snake that kills by tightly wrapping itself around its victim, squeezing it until it dies by asphyxiation.

    EKPE originated in Ibom, not in the Ekoi territory. The Ekoi were themselves citizens of Ibom, the Ibibio kingdom ruled by Obong Okon Ita. The Ekpe and Idiong societies flourished in Old Ibom where the Ibit Itam Oracle (the Ibibio Supreme Court) held away. Many Ekoi and Igbo migrants were servants at the Ibit Itam Shrine and adherents of Idiong and Ekpe under their Ibibio masters. Later, the Ekoi and Igbo servants colluded with the Igbo-Aro-Ekoi forces that defeated the Ibibios during their invasion and subsequent capture of Ibom (Arochukwu). After the loss of Ibom, the Aro-Igbo and their Ekoi allies took over the Ibit Itam Shrine.

    The Ekpe society–called Mgbe by the Ekoi—and its Nsibidi communication system were part and parcel of the Ibit Itam oracular practices of the Ibibio. Nsibidi is an Ibibio word meaning what shall be revealed or what shall come? It’s the communication system devised by the diviners as “taught” to them by Eka Abasi (the mother of God a.k.a. Mammy Watta or Mermaid). Eka Abasi is commonly known as Abasi ISU AMA, the Earth goddess; the mother-wife of Obuma; Uto, the goddess of agriculture; the ruler of rivers, seas, oceans all other water bodies, and the deity to whom the python and the leopard, ordered by her son-husband Obuma, are assigned as guardians. The python is the guardian of her aquatic realm and that explains why mermaids (Isu Ama a.k.a. Eka Abasi a.k.a. Ndem Mmong) are always shown holding pythons as their totems.
    The leopard, a substitute for the lion, is Isu Ama’s (Eka Abasi) guardian of the land.

    The Ekoi people also claim that mermaids taught them Nsibidi, except that the word, Nsibidi, is Ibibio.
    Aba Nsi Nsi means the one who exists eternally. Although the word Aba could also mean a hollow or father in Ibibio, it means THE ONE in this case. Nsi-nsi means forever. Aba Nsi Nsi is the sun god Obuma (male) or Isu Ama, the moon goddess (female). The abbreviation of ABA NSI-NSI is ABASI.
    The Ekoi call him OBASI. EKPE is MGBE in Ekoi.

    AKWA ISE (AKWANSHI)

    Akwa Ise means Great Spectacle in Ibibio. Akwa = Great. Ndise = Spectacle.
    EKOM means GREETINGS or WELCOME.

    The Ibibios created the great spectacles—the MONOLITHS (Akwa Ndise) of EKOM. It’s like advertising a great TOURIST ATTRACTION.
    After the fall of Ibom, the Ibibios lost Ekom and many other territories to the Ekois as well as the Igbos. The Ekois occupied Ekom and renamed it, IKOM.
    Akwa Ndise (Great Spectacles) became AKWA- NSHI (Akwanshi). The Ekois claim that spirits carved the monoliths and that the monoliths were there long before their arrival to the area.

    The Ibibios were the original inhabitants of the territory now known as Ikom. Many of the villages in which the monoliths are located, still bear IBIBIO NAMES. Also, if the Ekoi were the inventors of Nsibidi, why wasn’t it named in Ekoi language? They call it NCHIBIDI, a corruption of NSIBIDI. The Idiong diviners and Ekpe priests of ancient Ibibio used to dance in circles (NYIBI) to induce a trance-like effect as they communicated with the “spirits”.
    The Ibit Itam Shrine was dedicated to the Ibibio Sun worship ordered upon the dictates of Obuma, the bladed thunderer god (Ra, Re) often depicted as a double-headed axe. Ra or Re a.k.a. HORUS.

    Obot Okon Ita—corrupted to OBINKITA by the Igbos—was the capital of the Ibibio kingdom of Obong Okon Ita a.k.a. Ibom/Mbot Abasi, before its conquest by the joint forces of Igbo, Ekoi and Akpa invaders between 1630–1720. This town is significant in Aro History because Obinkita became the center where defeated Ibibio warriors and many of priests of their Long Juju Shrine were judged and eventually executed.
    That is why all Aro villages assemble, annually, at Obinkita during the Ikeji festival. Obinkita is now one of the 19 villages of Arochukwu.

    Note: Obot means CREATOR in IBIBIO.

    Origin of Okonko

    The name, Okonko, is derived from Okon, as in Obong Okon Ita, the ruler of the Ibibio KINGDOM of IBOM—now known as AROCHUKWU. The exact period and date when the Okonko Society came to Igboland is not known. Most heads of families and elders in Igboland today cannot give the historical origin of Okonko. They are contented with saying that the society was in existence even before their forefathers. They do not know or cannot provide the answer because the Igbo are not the originators of the Okonko a.k.a. Ekpe Cult.

    The society came into being in an attempt to put a stop to community conflicts, inter-tribal wars (Ibibio versus the migrating Igbo and their allies) and eventually create a peaceful coexistence among people and neighbors. According to James (1976), the people realised that warfare was incompatible with trade. The Aros used the Okonko society in order to win the co-operation of different communities.

    From another angle, prominent elders from Ohafia, Bende (originally Mbon Ette a.k.a. Mbente) and Ikwuano areas of Abia State strongly opined that Okonko was derived from Ekpe society of the Ibibio. Okonko originated in Ibom (not in the Ekoi areas), and by early part of the eighteenth century, it had spread to the Cross River territory. It is likely that Ekpe diffused into Arochukwu, a neighbouring group where it was known as Okonko during the same period. From Arochukwu, Okonko spread to other parts of Igboland.

    READ MORE: https://www.facebook.com/amah.jones/posts/10158893527162436

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