The Efik are an ethnic group settling along the Cross River estuary and the banks of the Calabar River in Nigeria and in the western Cameroon vicinity. The history of their origin and settlements dates back to the fourteenth century A.D., following their migration from Uruan in the thirteenth century, and to the years that marked their first settlement at Ikpaene prior to them arriving at Creek Town and the rest of their present riverine locations. In the antiquity sense of the name, Efik (which derives from the Hebrew word Aphik or Hepik) is synonymous with Old Calabar—both names have been used interchangeably in nearly all historical accounts of the Efik for over six centuries (from the fifteenth to the twenty-first).

The Efik aboriginals are recorded to have migrated from Palestine, following the Roman conquest in 63 B.C. and the resulting revolts against the conquest in the first and the second centuries A.D., drifted through Egypt and the Nile into ancient Nubia and passed through Sudan into Nigeria in the tenth century A.D. to establish the City-States (clans) of Old Calabar in the southeastern part of the country. The twelve original clans sojourned at Ibom in Aro-Chukwu and later left this area finding residency in such places as Enwang, Eniong, Ito, Ukwa and Eki, where, to this day, they are neighbors to Umon, Agwagune, and Aro-Chukwu; however, those who kept themselves together in the area covering Uruan, Ikpaene, Creek Town, and Calabar later constituted themselves into “Esien Efik Itiaba” (the seven Efik Clans), excluding Enwang, Eniong, Ito, Ukwa and Eki.

Therefore, the answer to the question of the Palestine origin of the Efik rests compellingly on the Akak Theory—as it does on Hope Waddell’s—advancing proof of origin based on the Efik retention of aspects of the Oriental culture partly due to the ever abiding Jewish names among the Efik (such as Ephraim and Adam), and partly the argument that the Nsibidi pictographic script of the Ekpe fraternity of the Efik is reminiscent of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The former position has credence given the long history of shared tradition of naming between the Efik and early Oriental people; one in which, in the 1980s, His Royal Highness the Obong of Calabar and Paramount Ruler of the Efik, like some of his predecessors, was seen to have taken on a Jewish name (Bassey Eyo Ephraim Adam III [see Gen 41:52]) in addition to the Hebrew-derived name of the late prominent Efik economist, historian and social scientist Chief (Dr.) Eyo Okon Akak Ido (see 1 Chronicles 6:21) and given the following Efik names that derive from the Orient:

  • Asari (Ef.) Azhari (Ort.);
  • Akak (Ef.) Akkad (Ort.);
  • Abasi (Ef.) Abisah (Ort.);
  • Andem (Ef.) Anem (Ort.);
  • Duke (Ef.) Duke (Ort.);
  • Edem (Ef.) Edom (Ort.);
  • Etinyin (Ef.) Atheni (Ort.);
  • Efik (Ef.) Aphik (Ort.);
  • Itam (Ef.) Etam (Ort.); and
  • Ekanem (Ef.) Elkanem (Ort.).

Also, the word Eburutu (as in Efik Eburutu) is believed to have adapted from the word Hebrew.

The Efik group originally comprised of twelve City-States. An explanation for the adage: “ami eyen ndem efik esien duopeba” (‘I, the descendant of the Efik tutelary Ndem [god] of the twelve clans’). Later, these twelve States or clans adapted to “Esien Efik Itiaba” (the seven Efik States) having separated from Enwang, Eniong, Ito, Ukwa and Eki; however, these were in 2011 reconstituted into the original twelve City-States by the incumbent Obong (His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V). The Efik of Old Calabar were literate and enterprising, partly because of the privilege to have had early contact with the European traders and partly due to their unprecedented interest in formal education and commerce.

In 1472, the first batch of Portuguese traders arrived in the City-States via the Cross and the Calabar Rivers. By the sixteenth century commercial activity between supercargoes and the Efik had increased, and the latter soon became wealthy merchants who did what no one had done: influenced the establishment of more diverse autonomous Efik territories. With increased economic strength of the original States which resulted from exchange of fish, cassava, bananas, palm oil, and palm kernels for European manufactured goods, the States soon developed into a network of autonomous towns. Old Calabar eventually became and remained an economic power until its economic decline in the nineteenth century.

Adaptation to Orthodox European Religion
The Efik of Old Calabar had passionate sensibility to both orthodox Efik and Christian religions. By 1842, the Presbyterian mission had arrived in the City-States at the invitation of Kings Eyo Honesty II and Eyamba V, followed by the Catholic mission that Prince Esien Etim Ofiong invited in 1903 and the subsequent arrival and establishment of other religious denominations. Thus, the Presbyterian Church established in Creek Town in 1850 remains the oldest house of worship in the history of Nigeria’s Christendom. In fact, the coronation of the Efik King Archibong III (Edem Asibong Ekpo Efiom Okoho Efiom Ekpo ….) on September 6, 1878, marked the very first Royal Church Coronation in Nigeria’s and West Africa’s religious histories. With the exception of the Oron who had always been considered Efik natives by virtue of them sharing Palestinian ancestry with the Efik, in 1878 the Efik co-opted their neighbors and associates (the Qua, the Efut, the Okoyong, and the Coqua) into becoming natives of a broader Efik national group.

Social Structure
The Efik social structure is strong and organizes under three major rubrics:
Esien — Clan
Ufok — House
Iman — Family

To paraphrase Akak,the Efik House System is based on the patriarchal character of the Efik social system. Social units which had formed themselves into becoming members of various habitats had first formed themselves into family groups, bearing in mind the shared paternity with one another prior to arriving at their present habitats. Historians have argued that shared paternity is borne, first of all, by the twelve- and, second, by the seven-clan structure, which emanated from Atai and branched out into Efiom Ekpo. The Efik House System in the Age of Commerce must not be misunderstood for one that emerged as a concrete structure product of slave trading as Jeffreys had thought, but understood to have existed prior to European advent and as that which simply proliferated during the era of palm produce commerce and brought to the Efik immense prosperity simultaneously with increased demographics of their families.

[From Atai to Efiom Ekpo]. The following are some of the shifting trends in the Efik House System:

  • Atai
  • Eyo Ema Atai
  • Oku Atai
  • Adim Atai
  • Ukpong Atai Efiom Ekpo
  • Nsa Efiom
  • Edem Efiom
  • Okoho Efiom

Cultural Distinction
The Efik culture draws from different ethnic groups, i.e., groups from which ancestors of the present-day Efik originated: chiefly from the Orient. Hope Waddell recorded the elaborate funeral rites that marked the death and burial of Efik kings as those he found to be in perfect cultural alignment with corresponding rites in the Orient. In corroborating Waddell, Aye wrote:

…the origin of the Efik people points to the Orient; this is evidenced by the fact that in most of their habits and tradition they are different from their immediate neighbours in many respects, but have strong similarities with early oriental peoples

Aye’s and Waddell’s accounts have credence. On the one hand, the reference I make to the Nsibidi factor in the paragraph three suggests that the Efik ancestors originated from Palestine and thus confirms Hope Waddell’s account of their origin, advanced based on the Efik habits and traditions differing from their neighbors.’ On the other hand, it calls to question the absolute legitimacy of Waddell’s dismissal of the likely shared origin between the Efik and these neighbors (particularly between them and the Qua), merely on the basis of lacking cultural similarities between both groups. This presupposed difference is even more questionable in the wake of our reliance on contemporary anthropological thought for historical inquiry; in which case, the adaptation of cultures to alien environments is proven to be largely influenced by migration, time, and environmental induction. Furthermore, if, as Waddell contends, shared culture is the exclusive basis of determining shared origin, it should follow that the Efik are, by ancestry, the Qua, and vice versa. Despite their linguistic dissimilarity that some suggest is indicative of ancestral disparity, they appear in many ways to be linguistic groups that share ancestry, as can be seen in the very Ekpe fraternity culture that both share.

Therefore, the position I take in this respect; i.e., my account of Nsibidi as a pictographic script adapting from the Egyptian Hieroglyphics suggests that the present-day Qua may well share same Palestine origin with their Efik contemporaries. It was from the Oua that the Efik bought into and learned about the technology of Ekpe fraternity in which the Nsibidi script locates as a vital part of fraternal proceedings, and as a vehicle of artistic expressions. All the same, for the preceding constructivist history of origin of the Efik to be acceptable as worthy of entertainment in the discursive field, further historical inquiry about this origin and a more detailed than previously recorded histories of trajectories of their migration is warranted. Here, historians and cultural anthropologists of the twenty-first century are challenged to engage in an in-depth inquiry into the status quo, if we are to determine whether or not cultural and ethnic relationships exist between the Efik and the Qua—keeping in mind the proposition that ancient ancestors of the latter arrived in their present territory earlier than those of the former arrived in theirs, but this neither nullifies nor dismisses the possibility of descendants from both groups sharing ancestry.

The Efik are a generous people, and their generosity recorded by one of the institutional powers in African literature. Ekpo Nta Amaku’s account of pseudo-ephemeral culture of benevolence among the Efik of Old Calabar puts the symbiosis of the culture in its clearest perspective: the exchange of efere and garri (a composite meal) between Okon and Efiong both neighbors in need of either portion of the meal. The Efik are a forgiving people as well; known to have forgiven even their worst political enemies, as demonstrated by the immediate unification of the disputing parties following end of the war between Ikot Ofiong and Itu, and by the rapid reconciliation with their neighbors when the Nigerian Civil War ended.

Ethical Culture
The Efik ethical culture, which is part of its social culture, emphasizes respect of seniority. Juniors are taught to respect their seniors in all aspects of interpersonal activity both in private and public spaces. It is a necessary condition of greeting for a junior male to use both of his hands to shake a senior male, but the latter must initiate the greeting. Unlike their male counterparts women seldom shake hands but would embrace themselves, their husbands, and close male relatives. Stealing is a taboo that attracts severe punishment/alienation to the extent that prospective marriage partners are discouraged from marrying a member of a family with a criminal history.

Political Significance
Calabar once was the seat of Government of the Niger Coast Protectorate, Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Oil River Protectorate, and the first Nigerian Capital City. Akak recorded that it was through their Ekpe Confederation that the Efik initiated what is believed to be the African approach to a democratic system of government which later became the model of democracy organization believed to have diffused into Europe where it was modified and passed onto other parts of the world. If we take language to be a political force and the press the symbol of civilization, it would be necessary to parlay the political importance of the Efik by virtue of the Efik language being the first African language in Print in Africa beginning in 1862.

Formal Education
Old Calabar was one of the major centers for learning within the Southern Nigerian Protectorate under British rule. Its leading academy – Hope Waddell Training Institution (Nigeria’s first secondary school established in 1895 by the United Free Church of Scotland mission in Calabar) – produced many of the country’s foremost indigenous leaders, scholars, professionals, and prominent citizens, such as the late Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe (first indigenous Nigerian Governor General under colonial rule), the late Michael I. Okpara (first Premier of Nigeria), the late Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam (first governor of Eastern Nigeria), the late Commodore Wey (first Admiral of the Nigerian Navy), and the late Chike Obi (the renowned Nigerian mathematician). Established in 1938 the West African People’s Institute in Calabar is Nigeria’s first private secondary school.

Additional Efik Premiers
It is partly as a result of the peoples’ early contact with the Europeans that the Efik became premiers in many aspects of colonial and postcolonial Nigeria’s political, judiciary, medical, and educational spectra: King Archibong III (first Nigerian Justice of Peace [JP] 1878); Louis Orok Edet (first indigenous Nigerian Inspector General of Police}; the late Chief [Mrs.] Margaret Ekpo (one of Nigeria’s foremost women-rights activists and major participant spokesperson in the Aba Market Women Riot, 1929, believed to have been remotely inspired by the Calabar Market Women Revolt of 1925. Her demonstrated representation of women and advocacy of their rights are marked by an event in which Mrs. Ekpo snatched the monopoly of salt sale, in Aba commercial circles, from irrational merchants to the Aba Market Women Association in the dawn of post-World War II era. Mrs. Ekpo had since served in similar capacities in Eastern Nigeria’s pre – and post-independence political arenas). Equally worth remembering in recorded history are the late Dr. Lawrence Ekeng Richard Henshaw (first director of medical services in West Africa); the late Lawyer Ekpo Anwan (first certified indigenous Nigerian lawyer under British rule); and the late Professor Ekpo Eyo (the first director general of Nigerian National Museum in Lagos) who upon his retirement from active service worked in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, and in 1984 was named Smithsonian Regency Fellow.

Other premiers include the late Chief [Dr.] Bassey James Ikpeme (first indigenous Surgeon General of Nigeria); the late Chief [Mr.] Ekanem Bassey Ikpeme (first female pharmacist in West Africa); and Professor Lawrence Eyo Ita (first indigenous Nigerian professor and first premier of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria); Chief Ita Ekanem (former Registrar-At-Large of the University of Ibadan); the late T. W. Ikpeme (founder and proprietor of St. Georges School in Aba); the late Hogan “Kid” Bassey (first Nigerian to win the world feather-weight boxing title); the late Etubom Oyo Orok Oyo-Ita( the first Nigerian to represent Africa in FIFA); and former Governor Donald Duke (the first Cross River State Governor and visionary who turned local Efik Christmas festivity into international carnival). Duke is also internationally acclaimed for establishing the Tinapa Holiday Resort.

Furthermore, the first photographic studio in West Africa was established in Calabar in 1876. Willy Eyo Honesty I was the first in West Africa to compile a dictionary of an African language in 1812, although the compilation was not completed. The first medical college in Nigeria began in Calabar, so was the first Nigeria’s School of Pharmacy in Calabar which relocated to Lagos in 1924; the first church wedding in Nigeria occurred in Creek Town Presbyterian Church on April 15, 1850. Also, the late Chief [Dr.] James Ene Richard Henshaw was Nigeria’s foremost literary artist, and the late Hon Richard Henshaw the first indigenous member of legislature in Lord Lugard’s administration. Others are the late Chief [Mrs.] Ekei Esien Oku (the first female librarian in West Africa) and the late Chief Afiong E. Idem Ekeng ( the first female Ophthalmic Optician in Nigeria).

A Brief History of the Efik
By Onoyom Ukpong, Ph.D.

Source: Efik Blog

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