Social Infrastructure: Performing Arts
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Attractive Variety of Natural Landscapes

Across the state, especially as you move from the coastal south to the elevated north, you will find an attractive variety of natural landscapes, offering breath-taking views. They range from the moody mangrove swamp and picturesque vegetation island, to flat land of secondary vegetation and pockets of thick tropical forests, palm groves and vegetable land to rugged valleys on the slopes of gentle rolling hills.

The Ekoon Drama consists of an interminable number of dramatic forms, groups and hierarchies including male and female, young and old segments of the society. It can be classified into three broad categories, namely the juvenile grade for boys and girls ‘Ekoon Ntokeyin’; the intermediate grade for male and female youths ‘Ekoon Mkparawa’ respectively; and the adult or senior grade for male and female elders ‘Ekoon Mkpoon Owo’. Within these categories is the juvenile group ‘Inuen’ (boys only), ‘Asian Uboikpa’ (girls only), Offion and Esasad Owo (both mixed); the intermediate Ekpiri Akata and Utuekpe (males only), Nyok and Ubom Isong (mixed), and Mboppo and Aban (females only); and the adult and more powerful Ekoon Nkemba and Ayara (males only), and Ebre and Ibaan Isong (females only).

Ibeno Beach, Eket

Ekemini Dance Group

For the people, drama, theatre and the performing arts are a dynamic part of its world view and socio- cultural process of identification. Theatrical activities are organized on the basis of age, sex and vocational distinctions. The performances involve participation of every man and woman, young and old and are usually arranged around major cosmic cycles and events in the traditional calendar.

The Drama and theatre of Akwa Ibom people can be classified into four, namely Ekoon, Ndem, Ikang and Ibok. Each of these drama and theatre performances forms an overlap because of its unique capacity to combine with others.

Ekoon Drama

This is the most diverse, complex and colourful in terms of organisation and dramatic composition. It is an embodiment of the folk and mythological world of the lesser; generally farcical, cosmological forces of the society. The Ekoon dramatic forms are designed to inculcate a sense of ethical and moral discipline and beauty of the society, through dynamic media of creative theatrical entertainment.

The performers always appear in colourful and sometimes grotesque shapes in form of puppets, masquerades and other carrier images and symbols, representing the archetypical, ethereal world. These include fairies, the genie, the imps and bits and of what obtains in the mythical realm of the universe. The theatrical representation of these archetypes and unearthly forces represent “the grotesque beauty in the cosmos and the laughable weakness in man.

Ikaan Drama

Ikaan is a dramatic display that alludes to the ancestral spirit world. The Ekpo display is its principal dramatic form. Ekpo is a cultural institution with ultimate political power, especially among traditional Ibibio and Annang communities. In the coastal and riverine areas, the, Ekpe occupies a similar position and discharges similar functions as Ekpo. While the Ekpe is a colourful Ndem performance and dramatic embodiment of earth and water forces and deities. Ekpo on its part is a dramatic and theatrical encapsulation of the legendary and ancestral glories of the society. Ekpo masquerade are believed to be the incarnate bodies and beings of ancestral heroes to whom the different communities pray and make supplications for protection and benevolence.

Ekpo masquerades are generally regarded as ‘ghosts’. Each ‘ghost’ being a replica of a person who died in this world and has surpassed the transit deformities, diseases, beauty and natural qualities it carries to the grave. A typical Ekpo wears a black, ugly looking mask, paints his body pitch black using charcoal or soot to cover his head and torso with raffia manes and ferns. He ties a small bell, a sheathed knife and a band of blackened rags around his waist. On each ankle is tied a bunch of rattlers and the entire masquerade looks top heavy and reminiscent of the shape of a lion.

Ndem Drama

Ibok Drama

The artistic conception of the Ndem is glamorous, mysterious and synaesthetic. This is manifest in the use and display of extravagant costumes, aesthetic and ritual techniques and processes that emphasize the awesome power and mystery of the deities. The use of such symbols serves as a mirror reflection through which the society can gain fleeting glimpses of the inner cosmic, multi-dimensional world of the deities. The costumes are an amalgam of colours with profound esoteric and metaphysical meanings, with white, red, orange, yellow, indigo and gold the most dominant colours.

The performances in this group include Ekpe, Etambembe and Okud Ama among others. Of these, the Etambembe also known as Okokod in some parts of the state is the most unique. It is associated with the mythical fire-spitting snake or dragon described as Okukubaraka, a ‘great world’ snake believed to hold the secrets and transmutation power of life and death which can be excised from it only by divine and supernatural assistance. The Etambembe is cylindrical in shape and spiral in design. The masquerade is constructed of several loops that are held together to form a spiral, over which is draped a long fabric on which the loops are secured, sewn or fastened. The Etambembe performs with violent throes, writhes and twirls and coils in replication of the vibrant body movements of a rattle snake. It also has the capacity to grow as tall as 45 feet or more, and to shorten itself to as small as two feet or less. Either way Etambembe can coil and roll on the ground like a snake. The performances are generally associated with coastal and riverine areas of the state, because Ndem is more associated with water spirits and deities than with earth and ancestral forces.

The Ibok drama is associated with magical and metaphysical order of the traditional cosmos or universe. The dramatization of the Ibok involves the invocation, use and interplay of magical forces for theatrical entertainment. The principal dramatic form is known as Oko or Nkim Itong in various parts of the state. The dramatization consists mainly of magical demonstration or display of magical feats and skills, such as cutting the different parts of the body with razor-sharp machetes; shooting one another with Dane guns; ‘drinking’ wine from the eye and piercing the stomach or navel with a sharp pointed iron-needle to recover the wine into a cup; it also involves spectacular magical somersaults and acrobatic stunts. The magic in these displays is that the machete for example, gets blunted by the body and cannot cut into the skin. So, is the bullet fired from the Dane gun, which cannot penetrate the skin.

Other dramatic performances like Mboppo, Abang and Asian Uboikpa were dramatizations of such virtues and ideals as vestal innocence, pre-marital chastity, love, devotion, loyalty, humility, respect and industry. A summary of the innate values held sacred by Akwa Ibom people.

Uyo Cenotaph, Uyo
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