The Ibibio people are a coastal people in southern Nigeria. They are mostly found in Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and in the Eastern Part of Abia State. The Ibibio are the 4th largest ethnic group in Nigeria. The Ibibio language is probably one of the mother languages of the ancient proto-Bantu nation.
They are related to the Annang, Eket, Oron, Igbo, Efik and a cluster of some notable ethnic factions. During the colonial era in Nigeria, the Ibibio Union envisaged the need to unite as one nation thus the request for recognition by the British as a sovereign nation (Noah, 1988). The Annang, Efik, Eket, Oron and Ibeno and many others do share personal names, culture, cuisine and traditions with the Ibibio, and speak closely related (dialects) of Ibibio which are more or less mutually intelligible.
As observed by G.I. Jones and Darryl Ford the word Ibibio is both an ethnic and a linguistic term. All the Ibibio people speak and understand the Ibibio language. The dialectal differences among the various Ibibio groups can be attributed largely to the long period of territorial isolation over a long period of time. Linguistic homogeneity decreases with the rise in population and with the expansion of the occupied area. With reduced interaction, the speakers of Ibibio tend to form variants of their language.
As the saying goes that, a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.
It was imperative that I draft an open memoir on the origin of the Ibibio nation since only a handful of text was available. Secondly, I longed to create an enabling environment that promotes enlightenment, debates and discussions on our heritage.
It follows that early records of Ibibio history were documented by the British colonial administrators and anthropologists. In their thesis, they vividly described various plausibility that best describes the origin of the Ibibio as we shall consider below.
The Ibibio origin is highly speculative and varied. They are speculated to be amongst the earliest inhabitants of Nigeria. It is estimated that they arrived at their present home around 7000 B.C. In spite of the historical account, it is not clear when the Ibibio arrived to their current location. According to some scholars, they might have hailed from the central Benue valley; east of the River Niger, as they share cultural affinity with the ancient Jukun people.
Another seeming factor is the wide-spread use of the manila, a popular currency used by the Jukun during their subsequent southern drive towards the littoral, South-south of Akwa Ibom State.
Other available traditional sources suggest that the earliest stock of the Ibibio is the Afaha clan who ancestral home is claimed to be Usak Edet (Isangele, Isanguele) in South western Cameroon. According to (Ford and Jones), the Ibibio settlement of Isangele remnants (The Bakoko people) now forms a small tribe in the Ndian department who share strong cultural affinity with the Ibibio. (Noah, 1980a).
In pursuance of the hypothesis, field workers who frequented this part of the country speculatively attested to a similar school of thought that the core Ibibio people hail from Afaha lineage; whose original home is Usak Edet or “Edet Afaha” (Afaha’s Creek) as fondly ascribed by the Ibibio.
Before long, upon emigrating Cameroon, the Ibibio arrived at their present location following two major directions. One major group reached Nigeria by an overland route and settled at Ibom in Arochukwu. Here, they erected a shrine dedicated to the worship of the famous Ibritam or Ibin okpabi (long juju) god. Some sources, however, point that they actually arrive in observance of their host worshiping the said god. This form of adoration however did stir resentment amongst the Ibibio which resulted in conflict and their eventual expulsion from Aro Dynasty.
Some sources point out that religious and social rifts between the host and their arrivals widened; as the latter celebrated (Ndok) festivity hence the provocation and subsequent expulsion from Ibom. The aftermath was the Ibibio emigrating to Abak, Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Itu and part of Cross River. While the second group of Ibibios set ashore via sea; which constitutes Uruan, Oron, Eket, and Ibeno people.
The split of the sub-group (now called the Efik) from their kinfolk the (Uruan), seem to have commence around the sixteenth century. After an exit from Ikoneto, the greater part advanced to Mbiabo and Adiabo and while others to Creek Town. Talbot, who for many years conducted anthropological research among the Ibibio, suggested that the Efik started to claim a separate identity by about 1600 AD.
The final settlement of the Efik, according to some sources seems to have occurred in 1670. At about this time some of the Efik chiefs from Creek Town who were cut off from their kin at Obutong by European traders, moved to a new site now called Duke Town. This is about four kilometers south of 0butong, at a strategic location just across the anchorage of the European trading ships.
OPPOSITION TO THE THEORY
Jeffreys (1927) in his publication contradicted the hypothesis that the Ibibio had migrated from far-off-lands in Africa to their present homelands. Adding that there are no legends nor tradition to support this theory. He postulated that they must have settled the Forest belt for centuries to have forgotten their history. The migratory assumption has become a subject of debate amongst Ibibio intellects, however speculative and varied it may recur.
As earlier mentioned, Traditional sources suggest that the earliest family of the Ibibio which constitutes the Afaha clan ancestral home is Usak Edet (Isangele) in South-western Cameroon. The theory is in addition, supported by substantial similarities between the Ibibio and the former ( bakoko people of southern Cameroon) as stated by Noah, (1980.
It was further suggested that the Ibibio people migrated from the eastern axis of their current homeland in two major directions. One group may have arrived at the Ibibio Mainland by an overland route and settled at Ibom in Arochukwu formerly an Ibibio territory (Noah 1980b).
This was supported by Jeffreys (1927) who states that Ibibio lived in Arochukwu probably between A.D. 1300 and 1400 and for a long time maintained a famous shrine called Long Juju of Arochukwu (Ibritam).
But this latter suggestion is discounted by Aye as he postulated that the Ibibio have no such tradition nor practice of such a cult. Meanwhile, most scholars continue to sustain the theory of Ibom in Arochukwu as the cradle of Ibibio expansion.
It is thought that the people of present-day Abak, Uyo and Ikot Ekpene who are described as Eastern Ibibio or Ibibio proper might have migrated from that part of the country, although as we shall see later, the structural layout of their clans today barely supports this viewpoint.
The migration pattern of the Ibibio from the south-western highlands of Cameroon to the Lower Cross River Basin is assumed by most scholars to have occurred in two phases.
The first passages are natural ravine namely the Benue and Mamfe Troughs while the second is via Niger-Benue credited for being a domain of great historical and cultural melting pot of the proto-bantu people.
The geological history of the south-eastern lowlands however shows that only the Oban Massifs and Adamawa Highlands stood above the sea. during those periods. This suggests that the Lower Cross River basin might have remained under the sea for ‘a long time’ (Dessau and Whiteman, (1972).
Coupled with a dense forest which at its primeval era would have been a very difficult terrain to surmount. In other respects, as the Ibibio migrated from Ibom and adjusted to their riverine environment, the Cross River and its numerous tributaries would have certainly posed a formidable barrier some suggest.
Another school of thought assert that the Ikono Centre of Dispersion Hypothesis is key to understanding the origin of the Ibibio nation. It speculates that the cradle of the Ibibio people lies somewhere between the Abak and Uyo axis of Akwa Ibom State.
How about the “Ibom center” hypothesis? A theory that suggests a migratory pattern (resembling a fan or beam from a torchlight) as opposed to a fan-like shape layout of clans as some Ibibio scholars might have assumed? Peradventure, the “Ikono center theory”, which suggests that the Ibibios might occupied this stretch of land for centuries thus, no basis to support the Ibom and Isanguele hypothesis. It suggests a settlement resembling a diffusion of pattern in ripples, which mimics a stone dropped into a pond or the spokes of a wheel.
The Ikono center theory findings demonstrate that at least sixteen major clans are speculating to have evolved from a common epicenter namely Ikono. It further embodies a perfect shape which significantly incorporates sub-clan from the western, eastern, northern and southern stock.
In conclusion, it is apparent to reckon that the narrative in this sense is inconclusive. Thus, I would admonish that the appropriate office in Akwa Ibom State take charge to sponsor, promote and support initiatives geared towards acquisition of knowledge in this domain. It could be achieved by setting up a committee in charge of drafting, conducting and publication of works devoted on our heritage. It is recommended that this publication be distributed to all educational institutions in the state both in hard and soft copy.