Ikono As The Cradle Of Ibibio Land
The Ibibio live in South Eastern part of Nigeria. They are the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria and the oldest ethnic group in the country. The present-day Akwa Ibom area occupied by the Ibibio was described by colonial authorities as the six Ibibio districts of Calabar Province consisting of Abak, Eket, Ikot Ekpene, Itu, Opobo (now Ikot Abasi) and Uyo. The ancestors of the Ibibio people are believed to have occupied the Central Benue valley along with other population upon their arrival from “further North”. While in the region, they evolved the proto-Bantu language and other religious and social institutions, including the conception of God. From the Central Benuevalley, the dispersed to Usak Edet region on the Nigerian side of the Cameroon Mountain from where they accessed present-day Ibibio area via the sea. From this point, a section of them migrated and settled at Ibom in present-day Abia State, established a functional socio-political organisation including the much revered Ibritam Inokon (the Long Juju of Arochukwu). After many generations, scarcity of land triggered conflict between the Ibibio and the Aro Igbo. The Aro Igbo sought an alliance with a group of mercenaries known as Akpa.
The Migration of the Ibibio
The origin of the Ibibio people has been a matter of intense speculation. Written records are generally silent on this matter except vague testimonies of Ibibio antiquity in their present location .Thus, Talbot cited in Noah states that the region occupied by the Ibibio “with its forest abounding in wild fruits, its waters teeming with fish, and salt to be obtained from the mangroves and sea water, may have been inhabited from very early times. Accordingly, he observed that the Ibibio are the most ancient descendants of the Semi-Bantu people inNigeria.9 Noah observes that recent scholarship has increasingly tended to reinforce the belief that Southern Nigeria has been peopled for a very long time. According to him, persuasive speculations have been made both by Armstrong and Posnasky that based on antiquity and continuity of the major linguistic groups of Southern Nigeria, population movements and migrations into the area might have involved small groups of people trickling through the forest belt over a longer period of time ever before the expansion of the bantu-speaking peoples. In this regard, Noah cites Talbot as arguing that by 7000 B.C., firm formations of some of the ethnic groupings in the area had begun. In another work, Talbot recordsthat “in origin (the Ibibio language) is probably the most ancient of all the semi-Bantu languages – indeed, according to certain traditions it is older than the Ijaw”.10 Indeed, very little archaeological work has been carried out in the Ibibio area and archaeological finds have been mostly accidental and unprocessed with the result that they have not yielded dates known to scholars.
Ikono As The Cradle Of Ibibio Land
In a study of the cluster of languages of the Upper Cross River region, Sterk asserts that, based on the degree of cognancy between the languages, migration into the area might have happened about 2,500 years ago. Noah therefore reasons that judged by this postulation, and if indeed, the Ibibio were one of the earliest settlers in Southern Nigeria and given the speculated dates of 4000 B.C. for the Ijaw and 2,500 years for the Upper Cross River peoples, a tentative date of 8000 B.C. for Ibibio settlement in Nigeria seems prudent. Thorsten Shaw’s excavation have revealed evidence of Stone Age habitation in the forest regions of Southern Nigeria with radio carbon dates ranging between 9000 B.C. and 1,000 B.C.11 Even though traditions of origin do not provide firm dates of their migrations to the present locale, there is a consensus that the Ibibio came from the East of their present location – the area around Nigeria/Cameroon border. Available evidences, oral, written, structural and conjectural on the subject of Ibibio origin and migrations tend to support the thesis that the Ibibio people evolved somewhere in the area around Usak Edet about 8000 B.C. Talbot notes strong similarities between the Ibibio and the Bakoko people of SouthernCameroon.12 Noah draws attention to the fact that migrations at this early period did not necessarily involve tens of thousands or even thousands of people, rather, “the pioneers may have been few in number, “who achieved their success through rapid reproduction. This suggests that Ibibio people had been gradually migrating in trickle from the Cameroon highland over the centuries and through variety of routes, settled in various parts of Ibibio land including Ibom, Eket, Oron and the estuary of the Cross River now known as Calabar as well as other places. This appears a natural postulate because to suggest otherwise would carry the unnatural implication that there was dateline on which on which migration was supposed to commence. 13 Notable Ibibio historians such as Monday Abasiattai, Edet Akpan Udo and Monday Noah unanimously corroborate existing written evidence by colonial and missionary sources that prior to the Ibibio migration to Usak Edet region of present-day Cameroon, they had lived in the Central Benue region – the “cradle land of Bantu expansion”. Edet Akpan Udo writes that:
The Ibibio-speaking people belong to the semi-Bantu stock whose cradle land has been located in the Central Benue valley…to this group belong Boki, Gayi, Yakoro.Akunakuna,Abine, Yakur,Asinga, Ekuri, Ukelle, Opoto, Mteze, Olulomo…from their cradle land to the Cameroon area southwestwards through the equatorial rainforest to the Savannah grassland…using as they did the Cross River and its tributaries, they reached Ibom, now in Arochukwu, and later Itu in modern Ibibio land…
The alliance resulted in the defeat and expulsion of the Ibibio from Ibom. The arrival of the new wave of migrants triggered massive dispersal within Ibibio land. It should be noted that as is common in race formation, every group in Ibibio has mixed up with some other groups. Indeed, strictly speaking, there is no homogenous population anywhere in the world. The Ibibio themselves were a part of some other group or groups before they broke off to establish, over many centuries, a distinctive identity of their own today.
Factors That Led To Ikono as the Cradle of Ibibio Land
Ikono according to history as the cradle of Ibibio and below are the factors that make Ikono the cradle of Ibibio land:
- The hostility between the Cameroon tribe” now long resident in Calabar Division and part of the Ibibio people that receded in Cameroon which lead to the Ibibio people to trace their origin
- The war between Osim and Okuma, the intervention of the Akpa on the side of the Igbo tipped the scale against the Ibibio which make the Ibibio to move out of their previous area
The Ibibio are a people of hoar antiquity who have inhabited the present local in South-Eastern Nigeria for thousands of generations. Their forebears migrated from the Central Benue valley after their arrival in present-day Nigeria from “farther North” before they dispersed to the Nigerian side of the Cameroon border where they settled at a place known as Usak Edet (Edik Afaha). After living in Usak Edet region for a long time,some of them dispersed into present-day Ibibio land using the Cross River estuary. Others moved to Ibom in Arochukwu region of present-day Abia State and established themselves there. One of the legacies the Ibibio left behind at Ibom was the famous Aro Oracle known as Ibritam Inokon (the Long Juju of Arochukwu). In about 1550, resource conflict between the Ibibio and the Aro-Igbo resulted in the Igbo-Ibibio War. To achieve victory, theAro aligned with the Akpa group, a warlike group that first had access to firearms in the Cross River region following the arrival of the Portuguese. With this advantage, the Ibibio were defeated in the war. This resulted in massive dispersal of new wave of migrants into present-day Ibibio land. It should be noted that the new set of migrants met those who had already settled around Ikot Oku Ikono in present-day Uyo Local Government Area. This is the area “surrounded by a ring of villages, each of them the parent of a group of Ibibio villages”. This area is referred to as the “ancestral home of the Ibibio”.
Uwem JonahAkpan. Akwa Ibom and Her Neighbours. A Study of Regional Diplomacy since the Pre-colonial Period. Uyo: Heritage Preservation Foundation, 2018, p. 5
Monday Benson Abasiattai. Akwa Ibom and Cross River States: An Introduction to the Land, thePeople and their Culture. Calabar: Wusen Press, 1987, p. 52
Edet Akpan Udo. Who are the Ibibio? Onitsha: Africana-FEP Publishers, 1983, p. 2
Cited Offiong T. Abia. “The Oil Palm Industry and the Economic Transformation of the Lower Cross River Region, 1807-1960”. Unpublished PhD Dissertation. Department of History, University of Calabar, 1991, p. 8