The Efik are located in the Eastern Niger Delta within the Cross River area. According to tradition, they were believed to have migrated southwards from a location north of the River Cross in the valley of the Benue. The Efik were said to have first settled at Ibom, a town in Arochukwu in present-day Imo State.
they moved out again and settled at Uruan from where they dispersed into the mouth of the River Cross estuary. It is in this location that the Efik became distinctive as people having their own socio-political systems.
The socio-political organisation of the Efik
Early in the history of the Efik, it appears that they developed non-centralised socio-political structures.
They lived in segmented semi-autonomous communities in which people were bound together by a network of associations such as age-grade and other institutions. The Efik had Ekpe (Egba) and Obong for their male population, while the female association was called Ibang Isong. In between these two societies was the council of Priests or Heads (Yabot) who exercised moral authority over the entire population regardless of age or sex.
Among the Efik, Ekpe was the most important society in the land. It was accorded great social prestige, and it was a vital instrument of social control and political governance. Members of the society enjoyed privileges and rights which cut across communities and thus became a unifying force for Efik citizens as their territory and population expanded. The role of the Ekpe was enhanced by the development of Nsibidi mode of writing, a sign language common to all members of the society but which failed to develop to any great extent due to the high level of secrecy attached to its usage.
A major section of the Efik settled in Creek Town after departing Ibibio. Creek Town was faced with difficulties which included lack of resources to sustain the population and attacks from surrounding communities like the Mbiakon pirates, Ibibio and Ekoi groups. This was compounded by the siege of the rival Old Town or Obutong that did everything to prevent Creek Town access to the Europeans on the coast. This led to the development of Duke Town, which was also called Atakpa. It was geographically well located to play the role of a leading Efik community among all the groups that inhabited the River Cross estuary.
The Efik of Calabar were able to develop better than their neighbours due to a number of factors. These included their access to the trade with the Europeans. Another factor was the headship of the very important Ekpe society by the leader of Duke Town. This status of headship of the Ekpe Society subsequently transferred effective political powers to its leader in Creek Town and Eyo Nsi who later became King Eyo Honesty. Because of this development, the political head of Duke Town also exercised effective control among the Efik in Creek Town. It was therefore possible for Salt Town, an Ibibio settlement, to be brought under the paramount influence of the new capital.
By the end of the 18th century, the Efik had forged a unity under the influence of the Efik in Calabar. The Efik thus became the most important single ethnic group in the lower River Cross. Their seven main settlements were:
- Iboku in Duke Town, Eyamba, Cowham Town, Henshaw Town and CreekTown
- Adiabo and Ibonda
- Mbiabo, Ikot Offiong
- Usuk Akpa
- Aba Eyan also in Duke Town.
The Economy of the Efik
The Efik cultivated food crops like bananas and plantains as well as tuber crop. They were predominantly fishermen and engaged in the making of sea salt. With the advent of the Europeans on the coast, they also became traders. Indeed, it was in a bid to benefit from this trade that many of their settlements along the coast were founded.
Their major item of trade was slaves. They obtained slaves from communities north of the River Cross estuary or from slave raids carried out on neighbouring communities. These slaves were exchanged for European goods such as linen, guns and gun powder, spirits, umbrellas, mirrors, etc. The Ekpe society played an important role in this trade and all men of substance were members of the society.
The impact of the contact of Europeans with the Efik
- It led to the development of several settlements along the coast by the Efik in an attempt to take full advantage of the trade.
- Through these internal adjustments to the circumstance of trade; such circumstances as trust and credit demands of the Efik traders with the European and the need to have a single authority to collect custom fees, the Kingly authority was established in Calabar through the Ekpe society.
- It created wealth for the monarch and, by extension, the Calabar state was sustained by the trade in slaves. Some of the captives were retained by the wealthy and aristocratic houses to assist with domestic chores and on plantations which significantly increased the population of these states.