The Efik are a peace-loving group of people predominantly settled in Cross River State of Nigeria. They are a popular ethnic group partly because of the prominence of the Calabar people in the history of Nigeria.
One of the things they are widely known for is their statement dish, ‘Edikaikong’, a vegetable soup made from the combination of water leaf and pumpkin leaves.
While Calabar is the ‘headquarters’ of the Efik, they also live along the lower basins of the Kwa River, Eniong Creek, the lower Cross River, Akpa Ikang, the Calabar River, and the Bakassi Peninsula.
There are various accounts of the origin of the Efik. One resounding account states that the Efik are of Hebrew descent, originating from the Orient in Palestine.
The Efik had migrated to Egypt form Palestine and later left Egypt during the oppression of the Israelites. Their exodus from Egypt brought them to Ethiopia, where they adopted Christianity. However, years after the resurrection of Jesus, the Arabs introduced Islam and in a contest to conquer Ethiopia, the Efik left the Ethiopia.
They journeyed and settled at Uruan in present-day Cameroon. Some of them (Nigerian Efiks) later came into Nigeria through the plains of Adamawa. A number of them settled at Aro, an Igbo village, while a larger number settled at Gibbom, a place now called ‘Ibom’.
Their names also add to this claim; ‘Efik’ originated from the Hebrew language, ‘Aphik’, which means, ‘oppressor’; one of the late prominent Efik Economist, Chief (Dr) Eyo Okon Akak Ido, had been given a Hebrew-derived name. ‘Ido’ can be found in 1 Chronicles 6:21 as ‘Iddo’.
Similarly, ‘Eburutu’ in ‘Efik Eburutu’ is believed to have been coined from the word, ‘Hebrew’.
The Efik speak the Efik-Ibibio language. This language is known as one of the earliest Nigerian languages. Although the orthography of the Efik language was devised in AD 182 by King Eyo Nsa Honesty II of Creek Town, the language itself dates as far back as AD 170. Their writing system started as a form of secret writing called ‘Nsibidi’.
In 1862, the Old Testament and the book of Psalms were translated into the Efik Language by Rev. Hugh Goldie. Therefore, it was the first Nigerian language which the Bible was translated into. Rev. Hugh also published the first Efik dictionary and other grammar books.
Calabar, being the home of the Efik, has a significant part in the history of Nigeria. Besides Lagos, Calabar also had a seaport that harboured slave traders. There are also many ‘firsts’ abounding in the state. These include:
The first monorail and modern roads in Nigeria;
The first general hospital (St. Margaret Hospital);
The first photographic studio in West Africa, established in 1876;
The first Presbyterian Church opened in 1846;
The first headquarter of the Eastern Naval Command.
The Efiks were also known for the killing of twins until Scottish Missionary, Mary Slessor stopped the act.
The Efik have famous cultural beliefs and practices. A peculiar one is:
The Fattening Room
The fattening room is where a prospective bride is kept. In this room, she is isolated form people (male or female, except her minders), and there, she is taught all it takes to be a good woman, wife and mother. She is taught how to take care of her husband and children. She is also taught proper grooming and home maintenance.
In this room, she is not allowed to do any work at all. She is served six large portions of food daily with three pints of water, and is massaged three times daily. In addition, she is made to get superfluous sleep. Furthermore, she is taught various skills, how to cook their native delicacies such as Afang, Ekpan Nkukwo, Edikaikong, etc. and also, how to do the Ekom dance.
The essence of this ‘ritual’ is to get her to become obese for the pleasure of her husband as well as to prepare her for the demands of womanhood that lie ahead. At the end of a successful completion of ‘fattening’ – which could take between three to twelve months – a celebration is held.
However, for the influx of medical knowledge and the adverse effects of obesity, this tradition seems to be going into extinction.