The name “Efik” is said to be derived from a verb meaning ‘to press’ or ‘oppress’, since they were alleged to be aggressive; a name claimed to be given to them by the people of Uruan.
Found in the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria, in “the South Eastern corner of the Cross River State,” the Efik are an ethnic group that speak the Efik language; which is a Benue–Congo language of the Cross River family.
Based on oral tradition, the history of the migratory process of the Efik is said to be from Arochukwu, to found numerous settlements in the Calabar and Creek Town area. The bulk of them left to Uruan in present-day Akwa Ibom State, some to Eniong and surrounding areas. They stayed in Uruan for about a decade and then moved to Ikpa Ene and Ndodihi briefly before crossing over to their final destination in Creek Town (Esit Edik / Obio Oko). Summarily then, the migratory and settlement process of the Efik is in three successive stages; firstly, an Igbo phase, then the Ibibio phase and thirdly, the drift to the coast.
Demography and Economy
The Efik people are the occupants of the basins of the Lower Cross River and down to the Bakassi Peninsula, the Calabar River and down to its tributaries – the Kwa River, Akpayafe (Akpa Ikang) and the Eniong Creek.” They occupied Calabar “towards the end of the seventeenth century or at the beginning of the 18th century.” The Efik are related to the Annang, Ibibio, Oron, Biase, Akamkpa, Uruan, and Eket people.
Because of their proximity to water bodies, the economy of the Efik people is characterized by fishing. However, the large water bodied nature of the area quickly caused a metamorphoses of the area into a major trading centre and remained so well into the early 1900s. Incoming European goods were traded for slaves, palm oil and other palm products. The Efik kings collected a trading tax called comey from docking ships until the British replaced it with ‘comey subsidies’.
Influence of Christianity and Westernization
The influx and constant interaction between the Efiks and Europeans positively impacted them. For example, the influence of Christian missionaries have eternally been significant there, with a notable issue being, Mary Slessors’ work amongst them. In the 19th century, the Scottish Presbyterian missionary made the most significant contribution in the preservation of twins in that area. Mary Slessors’ influence led to the abolition of the superstitious tribal practice of killing twin babies.
Trade wise, the Efik people became the middle men between the white traders on the coast and the inland tribes of the Cross River and Calabar district. In the early 19th century also, European ideologies and culture began to permeate the Efiks. This led to their early exposure to western education as well as allow room for Christianity to be adopted as a religion of practice. The Efik and indeed the people of the Old Calabar kingdom were the first to embrace western education in present-day Nigeria, with the establishment of Hope Waddel Training Institute, Calabar in 1895 and the Methodist Boys’ High School, Oron in 1905.
Social Structure of the Efik People
A powerful bond of union among the Efik, and one that gives them considerable influence over other tribes, is the secret society known as the Ekpe, the inventor of the Nsibidi, an ancient African Writing.
The Efik social structure is strong and organizes under three major rubrics: Esien — the Clan rubric, Ufok — the House rubric and the Iman — the Family rubric.
The Efik king or the paramount ruler of the Efik people is known as the Obong of Calabar.
Featured image source: The Trent