Tag Archives: Christmas in Eket

Keeping a Promise

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Karuna read my article on enjoying Christmas – The Eket Way and became intrigued by masquerades and like she put it, “Their costumes are exquisite…. but they sound really scary.” I tried to disabuse her thoughts from the scary aspect and made up my mind to check out her ‘fears’ and let her into our exciting world of masquerades this side of the globe. This is for you Karuna 🙂

To “masquerade” by dictionary definition is ‘to disguise oneself and assume the character of’ amongst other meanings. Therefore it is simply an act of pretence or cover-up.

In Nigeria, masquerades apart from the disguise aspects have several functions they play in the community they operate. Like Unyime-Ivy King noted in her book “Burning Hurt”, ¹ in Akwa Ibom State, masquerades serve the purpose of being the societal watchdogs and news reporters. They keep themselves informed about happenings in the community (either good or bad) and report same during their displays to the community so that the errant fellow is brought to judgement. These masquerade societies had their criteria for intending members and were different for the male and female gender.

Burning Hurt

For the men, it was the Ekpo Society. “Ekpo Society is founded on the belief in life after death; and it is regarded as the soul or ghost of ancestors that return to the land of the living in masquerade form to participate with their kinsmen in communal festivals such as farming and rites of passage. From the pre-civilization era, the Akwa Ibom people used traditional cultural institutions such as Ekpo and Ekpe to maintain order in the society. These institutions stood out as government of the time. As a secret society, membership is strictly by initiation; hence, every aspect of Ekpo is designed to strike awe, fear and caution among women and non-initiates. In the pre- colonial era, Ekpo served as the government of the entire Akwa Ibom people performing such functions as judicial, administrative and religious duties.” ² And their means of communication was through Folk songs. Ebre Society was mainly for the womenfolk. Read “Burning Hurt” (pages 155-164) for more information.

According to Daniel A. Offiong ³ in his article, “the esoteric basis of their activities sets them apart from others…and the associations are secret or ‘exclusive in the same way as any club is exclusive to non-members or the uneligible’ (Akpan, 1974). In order to maintain their awesomeness and also entice others to join them ‘their tools, emblems, signs, tokens, and methods are secret to unauthorized persons.’”

In my village – Eket and the State at large, we have different masquerades with different names. Hope I get the spellings, not as if you can pronounce them correctly though 🙂 like ‘Tinkoriko’,                                                                     ‘Ekpo Nyoho’, Ekpo

 

Obio Okpo ‘Obio Okpo’ (this one has really long legs.Well, the person hosting this masquerade would stand on a very high bamboo sticks secured to both legs and walk tall above every other person) and ‘Ekpri Akata’ (This is a cultural society that serves as a powerful medium of disseminating of information in the communities. It has the power to reveal and transmit to the populace secret deeds of men, women and youth in the society, thereby curbing crime and promoting integrity. They act as community news vendors, exposing fornicators, murderers and other undesirable behaviours in the society). Some of the masquerades dressed in plenty colours and others like the Tinkoriko looked like a pretty lady with makeup, that is – their masks was made up to look like a beautiful lady (of course it was a man underneath the disguise).                                                                                                       Tinkoriko

By and large, they show up during festivals and also at Christmas seasons like I mentioned earlier and it is always fun trying to run and hide from a masquerade, especially the less fierce ones. And as long as you were not the object of their mockery in folk songs, it’s all good!

1 Burning Hurt by Unyime-Ivy King
2 http://www.aksgonline.com/about_people_culture.aspx
3 “The Functions of The Ekpo Society of The Ibibio of Nigeria” by Professor Daniel A. Offiong http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9029914

© 2014 Frances Kelvin Otung. All rights reserved.

Happy Christmas – the Eket way!

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Writing 101, Day Ten: Happy Christmas!
Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Feel free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.
Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

I’m excited just remembering what Christmas meant to us. You are right to request that I talk about my childhood experience as Christmas is no longer what it used to be. No one goes to the village so much like then.

In the 70s, 80s and mid-90s whenever it was December, I always looked forward to the holiday as that meant new clothes and shoes, fancy hats and hair do, plenty of gifts, visits to cousins (you hadn’t seen in a long while), masquerade displays and of course Food! Food!! Food!!! Correct Rice and Stew plus Ekpang Nkukwo and Afang soup with foo foo. Yummy! 🙂

Rice & Stew

Rice & Stew

Ekpang Nkukwo

Ekpang Nkukwo

Afang Soup

Afang Soup

We didn’t care much about weight gain when it came to the food or decorum when it got to the point of being chased by a Masquerade. You had better run or else you would either be beaten with their whip or harassed/detained, while they sang some silly songs and expect you to bail yourself out by dropping some coins in their bowl.

It all starts with plenty packing and re-packing to be sure you had your favourite clothes in the box and then a really long journey from Port-Harcourt to Eket. Back then daddy would drive very slowly (with plenty respect for other road users) and being a Safety-conscious person we always arrived the village in the night…no matter when we left the city. But always in time to meet the evening Carol service in church and old friends too.

Christmas Day itself began a bit too early as we had to cook different dishes (the ones mentioned above and more) and prepare for the influx of persons that would come to visit their family members that had come in from the City. Of course when on such visits, they didn’t expect to go back hungry or empty-handed. Food and money had to exchange hands. Christmas back then was a time to spend and spend and return broke. Now people are wiser…giving only to the point where they can afford.

After the first batch of early morning visitors, we would go for Church Service and return to hot steaming plates of Rice and Stew…with intimidating chicken on it. You had other options to add to your consumption or choose from, but we only ate a dish because we had other plans and that included visiting. Hmmm…there were soft drinks to go round too for the children; while the grown-ups drank alcohol and some palmy or Palm Wine (some local drink from the Palm tree usually whitish).During this period, there wasn’t a home you visited that didn’t have food to offer you and the beauty of Christmas was in your ability to eat almost everywhere you went and still have space in your stomach for the next Auntie’s house!

The Masquerades usually don’t show up on December 25th but on the 26th so we are already aware and prepared to either avoid their paths, stay indoors and watch from our veranda or brave up and face any ‘consequence’ we met on our way out. An easy route of escape was going out with a male cousin who resides in the village. They normally would know who was behind the mask and stand in to prevent you from being ‘flogged’ or harassed.

Masquerade

Masquerade

A group of Masquerades

A group of Masquerades

Beyond the food and Masquerade was the feeling of togetherness and warmth this season brought and that was a high point too…and a childhood I sometimes miss!