Of Philosophy and Culture in the Light of Ephraim Stephen Akan Essien and Ephraim Okon’s Treatise on “Ekpo Masquerade in Annang Culture”.
By NkutJesus Ekpoudom
“As a philosophy teacher for more than twenty five years, I have come to believe that if philosophy is to be made relevant and meaningful, one way is to couch the language of philosophy in local idioms mixed with local examples that touch the lived experience of the people…One need not travel to Europe or America to discover philosophy; rather, that PHILOSOPHY IS INDIGENOUS TO EVERY CULTURE AND IS READILY AVAILABLE AT OUR DOOR STEPS IF ONLY WE WOULD PAY ATTENTION”.
-Very Rev. Msgr. Prof. S. Iniobong Udoidem (Indigenizing Philosophy, 2012: 1).
“Culture refers to a way of life of a particular group or race. One of the characteristics of culture is that it creates a world taken for granted. It forms the unconscious assumptions of thought and action. Another characteristic is that it is pervasive, touching every aspect of a people’s life. It provides an unquestioned context within which individual action and response take place; it pervades social activities and institutions. The other characteristic is that there is a strain toward consistency in culture, that is, consistency of perception and style as well as of values. Therefore, culture requires the meaning of tradition in so far as it is consistent, conservative and is handed from one generation to another”.
-E. E. Amaku (Philosophy and African Cultures, in ACADEMIA, 2003: 72-73).
The word “Philosophy”, is of the two Greek words: “philo”, which means, “love”, and “sophia”, which means “wisdom”. “Philo” and “sophia” therefore means “love or pursuit of wisdom”. A “philosopher”, in strictu sensu, is a lover of wisdom and/or knowledge. That philosophy (Philo Sophia), has the duty to make one think critically, constructively, coherently, and rationally, is a fact (Ekpoudom, Ethics: its nature, scope and theories in an underdeveloped Nigeria, in SUMMA PHILOSOPHICA, 25-38). Added to this, Philosophy and Culture, which are both creations of man, have a lot in common. But then, cognizant that culture is the totality of a people’s way of life, it is therefore necessary to state that philosophy is part of culture as it is part of the totality of human inventions. Therefore, philosophy, according to Amaku, “is radically dependent on culture. It cannot exist without it, since it draws its breath, inspiration and nourishment from culture” (73). As philosophy explains, interprets, predicts and speculates reality, it does these within a historicity (Essien, Annañg Philosophy…, VII). It needs be stated simply that the expression of the life of a given people in an external forms is what is known as culture.
Today, the 7th of October, 2016, as Nto Annañg Community, Abuja, Nigeria, celebrate Cultural Festival in Abuja, works on Annañg Culture have increased by one following, yet, another publication and presentation of the book “Ekpo Masquerade in Annang Culture”, by two illustrious sons of Annañg land, Ephraim Stephen Akan Essien, PhD and Abom Ephraim Okon, who were born, brought up, nourished and nurtured with the milk from Annañg traditional cultural and philosophical milieu. Granted that Culture as we are made to understand, is the totality of a people’s way of life, culture also needs philosophy in order for it to be truly an intellectual expression of the African spirit. This is what the duo have done. Hence, necessitated this piece. Annañg which occupies the North-West territory of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, is both an ethnic group and a language. It is one of the three ethnic groups that make up Akwa Ibom State; others being, Ibibio, the largest, in terms of size and population, and Oro, the third after Annañg, which is second.
Essien, who had earlier in 2011, published a work titled “Annañg Philosophy, History and Culture: An Inquiry into Afrology and Afrophilia”, where he discussed extensively on Annañg people, Geography, Colonial history/population, Annañg Cosmogony and myths of origin, History of the Eight LGAs that make up Annañg land, Annañg Economy, Politics and Culture, Annañg Metaphysics as the Itak (Base) of Annang philosophy, Annañg philosophical anthropology and philosophy of mind, Annañg Religion and Theology, Annañg Epistemology and Logical Reasoning, Annañg Jurisprudence, Philosophy of Law and Legal System, among others, has today, once again, but this time, with his good friend and brother, Abom Ephraim Okon, presented another work on Annañg. It is on Ekpo Masquerade in Annañg Culture. For those who do not know what (Ekpo) Masquerade designates, the question, “What is masquerade”? Can be answered thus: “Ekpo” is the Annang (Ibibio and Efik) word for “Masquerade”. According to the “Ephraims”, ‘Ekpo’ means ‘spirit’. It also means ‘ghost’. Ekpo masquerades symbolize the dead members of the community. The Ekpo Masquerade institution keeps the memory of the dead and their participation in the affairs of the community alive”(85).
The authors maintain further that before public outing and parade, the masquerades in traditional Annañg society, were always preceded by the herald or attendant (akwa ekpo), who would run out and run back rhythmically, shaking his rattle (ekpood) and chanting songs along his way. Greetings, full rendition and meaning of the songs rendered by Ekpo during their outings, are also discussed in the work by the duo. For instance: inyion ekpo ku top irang ku urua oo! Kwok kwok-kwok, kwok! (Cf. Essien & Okon).
The book also points out that the Ekpo Masquerades represent all kinds of persons in the society. They state that in Traditional Annang society of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, these are symbolized on the masks they (Masquerade) wear and how they play out their roles when they are on parade. They enumerate them thus:
EKA EKPO (Mother Masquerade) symbolized absolute power with its seven faces.
AKPAN EKPO (First Son of the Masquerade) symbolized youth and beauty
ABAIKPA EKPO (Girl Masquerade) symbolized youth and virginity
AFAI EKPO (Wild Masquerade) was a symbol of insanity and madness
IMUM EKPO (The Dumb Masquerade) was a symbol of the voiceless in the society
ETE EKPO and ATITIA EKPO (The Father Masquerade and teacher Masquerade who instructed other members of the community)
AJARA IKPA (The Leather Wearer) was a symbol of the gorgeous in the community.
INYION EKPO (The crippled Masquerade) was a symbol of suffering in the society, and it was always limping when on parade (ibid).
Functionally, ekpo represents ancestral spirits and acts as an intermediary between our world and that of the ancestors. Ekpo also has a social function: DISCIPLINE. It constituted as it were, according to Umoh, ‘a police Force in Annang Traditional Society (A PHILOSOPHER LOOKS AT ANNANG PERSONALITY, 84-85). From the forgoing, it is easily discernible that Masquerades constitute a spiritual tie binding the dead to their living. Ekpo Masquerade which can be serene and beautiful or fierce and frightening, is not bad in itself as may be misconstrued.
While congratulating the authors for displaying great mastery in all the issues raised, I strongly recommend this book to all lovers of (Annañg) Culture.
For more details on Annañg Culture, purchase Essien’s “Annañg Philosophy, History and Culture: An Inquiry into Afrology and Afrophilia” and/or E. Essien and E. Okon’s “Ekpo Masquerade in Annang Culture”, and read. Your culture is your identity.