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Ethnic Groups in Nigeria: The Ekoi People

A people that are known for their mastery of the art of sculpture and their peculiar Ekpe headdresses. The Ekoi people, also known as Ejagham, are an ethnic group in the extreme southeast of Nigeria and extending eastward into Northern Cameroon. The Ekoi are related to the Efik, Annang and Ibibio people of southeastern Nigeria and have lived closely with them and also claim to have migrated from the Cameroons to their area. The inhabitants of Kwa, located near Calabar, claim to be the first Ekoi people to have migrated from the Cameroons. The Ekoi people speak Ekoi also known as Ejagham. Ekoid language (Niger-Congo family) of Nigeria and Cameroon; Ekoi is dialectically diverse. Western varieties include Etung and Bendeghe, and eastern varieties include Keaka and Obang.

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Ecology and Economy

Ekoi villages are built near rivers or streams. Around the village are crops and beyond that lay forests. There are 150 villages and small towns, which are connected by roads or footpaths. Coconut trees will indicate the vicinity of a village, and huge silk cotton or Mboma tree will stand in the entrance. Villages are described as small. Sizes of house vary depending on the wealth of male head.

Ekoi people engage in farming and fishing activities as their major occupation. Ekoi men were traditionally hunters, while women have engaged in agriculture, raising yams, plantains, and corn (maize). Women also fish, and both men and women participate in weaving.

They tend to especially store grains during the dry season. These are usually stored in a small house alongside the fields. There is also cocoa and coffee plantations, and although they generally sell that, they will store it in pottery as well before selling it.

Socio-political Structure

The Ekoi had clubs for boys, girls, and mixed races. There are age restrictions and these clubs are very exclusive. They hold meetings, set goals they want to reach, and some even have great secrets. In order to enter a club, a person has to apply and be accepted, and then he/she will pay an entrance fee. Also, in the Ekoi community, the aged are regarded as wise. Therefore, the older generation is to be always respected. Younger siblings always have to listen to the older siblings even if they are only a year apart.

The Ekoi has seven clans and they are patrilineal, and this has implications for kinship links as well as ceremonial styles. A family is created from the father’s line. Anyone related to the father, grandfather, or great grandfather is a part of the family. According to Ute, a wife is not part of a husband’s family, but rather her fathers’.

Ekoi clans represent kinship and initiation patterns that are reflected in the kind of sculptures worn during ceremonial occasions as expressions of the ancestral clan. Indeed, just as in all African societies, the Ekoi clans are ancestral. However, the specialized emblem of clan membership through the use of particular sculptures underscores the Ekoi’s religious kinship as one of blood relation.

The Ekoi towns or villages are governed by a council of elders, which comprises of the oldest living member of each family. They also have a village chief called Ntuifam Etek. The council of elders is responsible for the enactment of laws and decision-making. Also, some of the clubs have members that help the elders govern effectively. They are usually sent by the elders to enforce laws. For example, they may be asked to punish criminals. So, they wear masks and run around the village until their work has been completed.


In Ejagham society, polygynous marriages are a custom. A man that wishes to marry an Ekoi woman has to serve her people for a period of 2-3 years, which is a form of dowry payment. For example, he can help clear bushes for a few seasons. He is also expected to give gifts depending on his ability.

The bride’s acceptance of the bridegroom’s wedding gift “must be followed by public proclamation of the marriage before the chiefs and people, after the bell has been rung around the town for the purpose.”

Religious Beliefs

Religion is the heart and soul of the Ejagham people. The entire social, political, cultural economic and psychological life of the people is hard to analyse without religion at the centre.

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Of actual Deities, there are only two, Obasi Osaw (sky God), and Obasi Nsi (earth God), but of the less powerful gods of trees, lakes, rocks and rivers, there are countless hordes. For the Ejagham people, the whole bush is peopled with these supernatural beings. The belief is that they are created both by Obasi Osaw (sky God) and Obasi Nsi (Earth God). Obasi Osaw is father and Obasi Nsi is the mother. The two are expressed in bird and tree worship as every small town has its sacred tree(s) with weaver birds inhabiting the tree(s). Talbot made an attempt at explaining this when he talked about the people’s myth on the “wedding” of earth and sky. Sky-father and earth-mother – for of all created things the bird is most to air and sky, while the tree, with its roots in the dark ground, reaching even, as in many Northern sagas, to neither world is the best oldest personification of mother earth.

The Ekoi tradition has an interesting land tenure system which forbids land from being sold because it belongs to the first settlers, even if it has been abandoned for 100 years. However, rights to settle in that land can be bought.




Featured Image Source: kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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