The Ekpe masquerade is one of the iconic visible spectacles in Efik Society, a characteristic feature of Efik culture together with the ubiquitous Ekombi dancers. The Ekpe masquerade is celebrated by many as representing the indigenous spiritual soul and socio-cultural philosophy of the Efik people.
If you want to understand the importance of Ekpe masquerade, then it is important you have background information about this unique people.
Ekpe people are an ancient society in the present-day Cross River Basin; they were reputable to be addressed as born leaders of thought, administration, and establishment of societal morals. The Ekpe Society or Mgbe society as it is also fondly called is very popular and widespread in Cross River Basin. They cover a wide range of ethnic groups such as:
- The Efut
- The Efik
- The Qua-Ejegham, and
- The Okonko ( the Igbo-speaking areas)
The actual origin of Ekpe people is shrouded in mystery with varying accounts, often deepening its myth and secrecy. Another account from the Qua claimed that Ekpe (Mgbe) migrated from Cameroon. Another account claimed that Efik people introduced the Ekpe between 1720 and 1729 during the initial migration of Calabar.
Some Efik oral historians claimed that Efik acquired Ekpe many years ago from the Efut people, who were living at Isangele in the present-day Cross River State. There were multiple accounts regarding the origin of Ekpe people.
The Ekpe Secret Cult
The Ekpe secret cult is composed of different lodges; each lodge is led by the highest title-holder ‘Eyamba’. Nsibidi is one of the symbols of the Ekpe society. Nsibidi literally means ‘the preserve of the society’ is of secret nature, which is known only to the initiated members of the Ekpe society. The language of Nsibidi is learned through initiation. The two key requirements for new initiates include:
- Respect, and
- Modesty for the institution.
The two instructions that new initiates must keep are:
- Keep your eyes open, and
- Your mouth shut
This is, in other words, inspiring the new initiates to explore the deep tenets of the instructions. The Ekpe society is composed of several titular levels; the highest levels are occupied by the elders of the society.
Some of the titles include Obong Mkpe, Obong Ebonko. Secondary titles includes Obong Oku akama, Obong Okpoho, and tertiary titles Obong Isu, Obong Murua Obong and lots more.
The head of Efik Ekpe shrine is Obong Eyamba, while the Ekpe masquerade remains the most sacred symbols of Ekpe. The prime function of Ekpe masquerade is serving as the representative of the spirits of gods, and generically ceremonial.
The Ekpe masquerade creates and preserves every local lodge, and always manned by a member with an unidentified identity to non-initiates. In classic Ekpe ritual, non-initiates and women are forbidden to encounter Ekpe masquerade.
The Ekpe masquerade is designed with an all-fitting net material sourced from a tree bark, with a wig-like hat and a raffia attachment at the head, though nylon is often in use presently. It holds the sacred ‘Oboti’ leaves which depict spiritual power to cleanse sickness and infirmities. It is also used to pay respect to the chiefs of the Ekpe society.
The wave of civilization and modernity has had a deep influence on the Ekpe society. Today, it is no longer the same Ekpe society of decades ago. The practice and display of Ekpe masquerade have been modified. Right now, Ekpe masquerade can be seen by non-initiates and women, and it can now participate in public ceremonial events like ‘Nyoro’
‘Nyoro’ literally signifies a ceremony at the funeral rites of a departed lodge head of the Ekpe or Eyamba. Not quite long ago, the Obong of Calabar hosted Nyoro to celebrate his coronation. In 2005, Cross River State Government through the Botanical Society hosted Nyoro too. Obong Nyoro is an annual event that witnesses a fierce display of power and competition among the Ekpe society.
Have you experienced Ekpe masquerade before?
If yes, could you share your experience?
PLEASE SHARE THIS SO OTHERS CAN KNOW THIS CULTURE!