Efik Mythology
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Efik Mythology
Usan Ndem (Ndem Plate) depicting an Efik deity

Efik mythology consists of a collection of myths narrated, sung or written down by the Efik people and passed down from generation to generation. Sources of Efik mythology include bardic poetry, art, songs, oral tradition and proverbs.[1] Stories concerning Efik myths include creation myths, supernatural beings, mythical creatures, and warriors. Efik myths were initially told by Efik people and narrated under the moonlight.[1] Myths, legends and historical stories are known in Efik as Mb?k while moonlight plays in Efik are known as Mbre ?ffi?ñ.[2]


Historical literature

Since the inception of the triangular trade, the Efik people have been in the limelight of historical scholarship. Several works have centred on different aspects of Efik culture and tradition. Although little focus has been made on the subject of Efik mythology, several works have been written on aspects relating to Efik mythology. The earliest Efik dictionary by Rev Hugh Goldie reveals a number of mythical animals and places. Goldie's Principle of Efik Grammar is also the goto for the Efik creation story.[3] Works such as Rosalind Hackett's religion in Calabar discuss some Efik deities. Percy Talbot's "Life in Southern Nigeria" is also useful in the study of Efik and Ibibio mythology.


Art is an underemphasized contributor to Efik mythology. Efik beliefs in Ndem and Ekpe were transmitted via engravings on Brass plates (Akpangkpang). Prior to the depiction of myths, events and stories on Brass plates, Efik women mainly engaged in decorating houses with geometric designs of various kinds.[4] Women were regarded as the artisans in Old Calabar society. Mr Ironbar also known as Edem Ndarake is regarded as the father of Brass Art in Efik history. The wives of Ironbar were active members of the Calabash engraving industry at Old Calabar.[4] The women would create beautifully finished products which would then be taken as souvenirs from Old Calabar by English traders.[4] However, these products particularly the calabashes were fragile and several goods did not arrive England safely.[4] Mr Ironbar chose to solve the matter by choosing to transfer the designs to Brass which was more durable.[4] After several negotiations with English traders, iron bars were imported from Europe to aid in the manufacture of brass products such as trays, dishes and basins.[4] Several brass dishes were designed with images of Efik deities. These dishes aid in the description of deities and also depict animals that are symbolic to the deities.


Religious songs used in reverence to Ndem and Ekpe contribute to the understanding of Efik mythology. These songs show praise and reverence for the various Ndem. An example of a song is mentioned below:

Ndem Efik, se nnyin im?wuh? ida, Abasi Abasi
Anansa Ikañ, se nnyin im?wuh? ida, Abasi Abasi
Afia añwan, se nnyin imowuho, ida Abasi Abasi
Ata ?kp? Uruan, se nnyin im?wuh? ida Abasi Abasi
Uk?ñ Esuk, se nnyin im?wuh? ida, Abasi Abasi
Anantigha Eñwañ, se nnyin im?wuh? ida, Abasi Abasi
Añwakañ, se nnyin im?wuh? ida, Abasi Abasi
?kp?r?! ?kp?r?! Ebe itip itip, ñwan itip itip.
Itip itip iba idiaha ñkp? eny?ñ utañ[5]

The song above mentions the names of several important Efik deities and declares respect and honour for them. Among the list of deities mentioned in the song are Anansa, Afia Añwan, Atakp?r Uruan, Uk?ñ Esuk, Anantigha and Añwakañ.

Efik Literature

Efik literature is a major source of mythology. A variety of myths can be found within Efik literature ranging from creation myths to tales of mythical places and monsters. Early Efik writers often inserted many mythical tales within their writings. Aspects of Efik literature that contain myths include Uto (bardic poetry), Mbuk (stories), Ase (commemorative poetry) and Nke (folktales, riddles and proverbs).


Writers such as E.N. Amaku, Esien-Ekpe Edet Okon, E.E. Nkaña and several others capture several myths in their literary works. These texts function as great reading material for children and adults alike.

Bardic poetry

Bardic poetry Uto is an important aspect of Efik culture and literature. Prior to the inception of the Efik Alphabets, Efik literature was mainly oral. Bardic or Epic poetry was recited in the Efik language by knowledgeable bards who were experts in recounting events that occurred in Efik history. These recollected events often contain myths and legends. According to Aye, "At night, a secret society, Ekpri Akata, with the use of certain mechanisms to disguise their voices, sang or repeated some satirical poetry aimed at holding up people's vices or follies to ridicule, or lampooning against certain individuals. There were also songs of lamentation at the death of a dear one. The stock of subjects for the poetry was drawn from the actual present."[6] Some popular myths recalled during such epic poetry include the death of Akpa Uyok, the disappearance of Otu Asiya, the events of Efik-Portuguese interrelations. Some Efik bards of the early 20th century were Adiaha Etim Anwa Anwa, Atim Etayong, Okpok Ndem Ndem, Nne Eke Mkpananie, Etim Anwa Etim Nsa.[7]

Classes of Efik Mythology

Creation myth

The creation story of the Efik reveals characters such as Abasi, Atai and the first humans. It is believed that Abasi first created the earth and later created the first humans; a man and a woman.[8] Abasi did not let the first humans live on earth because he wanted no one to contend with him.[8] Abasi's wife Atai disagreed with him and insisted that Man and woman should live on earth.[9] Abasi gave the humans permission to live on earth but ordered that the Humans should not cultivate their own food but should dine in the heavens whenever a bell is rung.[9] Abasi also ordered that the man and woman should not procreate.[9] This second instruction was given so that the humans would never forget Abasi.[9] Each day, a bell would be rung and the humans would visit the heavens to dine with Abasi.[9] The law prohibiting the cultivation of crops of Earth was first broken by the woman.[9] The woman cultivated plants and used them to cook food which she served to the man.[9] The man and woman also broke Abasi's second command by sleeping together and having intercourse.[9] The next time the bell was rung, the man came alone.[9] Abasi asked the man where his wife was located, the man lied, saying she was unwell.[9] In reality, the man had hidden his wife because she was pregnant.[9] The woman had bore a son and later bore a daughter.[9] Abasi was aware of what had transpired on Earth and told Atai that the humans had broken his laws, had neglected and forgotten him.[9] Atai reassured Abasi that the humans would never forget Abasi and sent death into the world.[9] Some versions of the story attest that Atai killed the man and his wife while other versions employ a form of poetic language attesting that Atai sent chaos and death into the world.[10][9] The names of the first humans are not given but Burton attests that the earliest humans may have been known as Esefe and Akpara, as there are names which featured often in Efik proverbs.[11]

Myths on deities

Abasi is regarded as the supreme being, the all powerful being who created everything. In the creation story of the Efik, Abasi is depicted as a loving father who desires to have a personal relationship with the Humans. When the man lies to Abasi that the woman is unwell to hide her sin, Abasi is already aware that the man and woman have broken the laws. Abasi's knowledge of the affairs on earth reveals his trait as all-knowing and all-seeing. Abasi is also depicted as a listening husband who takes into consideration the advice of his wife. The Efik originally believed that Abasi was too high up in the heavens and was unbothered by the affairs of man.[12] Such beliefs may have been used in the past as justification for the worship of Ndem, whom the Efik believed had more connection with the earth.[13] In some Efik myths, there exists a concept of a triune God. Ibom En? is regarded as the father of Abasi who gave birth to two sons Abasi Ibom and Inyañ Ibom.[14] Burton hypothesises that Abasi Ibom and Inyang Ibom are personifications of Earth and Water.[14][15]

Atai is regarded as the wife of the supreme being Abasi Ibom. She is featured prominently in the creation story of the Efik as an all-powerful goddess who desires the utmost satisfaction of her husband, Abasi.[9] In the Efik creation story, she suggests to Abasi that man should inhabit the Earth.[9] This part of the story reveals two contradicting views towards the future of man. While Abasi desires that man and woman should live in the heavens, Atai suggests that they reside on earth.[9] The creation story reveals Atai as one whose suggestion is invaluable in the abode of Abasi. Atai is therefore regarded as a decisionmaker in Abasi's kingdom. Atai is later saddened when she realises that things did not turn out the way, her husband expected for the humans.[9] She sends death and chaos to the world with aim of ensuring that the humans never forget God and are rejoined with him in the heavens.[9] Atai is also regarded as the messenger of Abasi. She is believed to be represented on earth by the Vulture which is known in the Efik language as Utere and nicknamed "Atai Abasi".[16] There is no evidence to suggest that the Efik worshipped Atai. This would be unlikely as Atai's principal desire is that her husband should be worshipped. However, the Efik determine the presence of a vulture as a sign from Abasi which further affirms the theory that Atai was not just a decision maker but a messenger of Abasi.[17] During sacrifices to Abasi, the presence of the vulture at the end of the sacrifice meant that the sacrifice had been accepted by Abasi.[17] The story of Atai sending death and chaos into the world may also explain why the vulture is nicknamed "Atai Abasi".[18] Vultures are often found in places where death has taken place. In the traditional kingship of the Efik, the wife of the Edidem is known as Atai Abasi.[19] The reason for the title assigned to the first wife of the Edidem is that the Edidem is regarded as a representative of Abasi on earth. Therefore, his wife is regarded as the voice of Atai, Abasi's principal wife.

Eka Abasi is regarded as the goddess of Fertility in Efik mythology. She is greatly revered and equally dreaded. Although the name Eka Abasi literally translates to "Mother of God", she is not believed to be an actual relative of God but is so-called because she possesses the power of giving children to her followers.[20] Eka Abasi was worshipped by the Efik and the Ibibio but is viewed differently between both ethnic groups. Among the Ibibio, Eka Abasi is regarded as the great mother whom by her own might, gave birth to Obuma, the god of thunder.[21]


Marine deities also known as Ndem (Singular: Idem) form a principal part of Efik traditional religion. The Ndem are regarded as territorial in character as they are believed to reside in several areas in the lower Cross River. Among the Ndem include Udominyan, Anansa, Atabrinyang, Atakpor Uruan Inyang, Afianwan, Ekpenyong, Ekanem and several others. Although Ndem are regarded as territorial, certain Ndem are believed to be present in several other locations while still headquartered at one site. Among these would include Atakpor Uruan Inyang. This is further confirmed in the Uruan saying: "Ke Ndem Efik Iboku, Atakp?r Ndem Uruan ke Ek?k", which can be interpreted to mean "Where there is the Efik deity, there is also Atakpor Uruan to share with it."[22] Many Ndem are described as possessing extremely beautiful features, among them is the deity Udominyang. Udominyang is a symbol of beauty and is believed to reside at the bottom of the river where she possesses a fine mansion.[23] Udominyang is also believed to possess a lot of wealth as she obtains everything that falls into the river from capsized ships and canoes.[23] She is depicted on several brass trays as possessing a fish body with a woman's head and upper torso.[23] Another principal deity is Anansa also known as Anansa Ikang Obutong or Anansa Ikot Obutong or Anansa Enwang. Anansa is exalted in many Efik songs, one of the most popular was sung by Chief Inyang Nta Henshaw. She is believed to reside at the head of a spring or river near the Hope Waddell Training Institution.[24] Ekpenyong may be regarded as a national deity in the area formerly known as Eburutu. By the 17th century, the cult of Ekpenyong was quickly spreading from the focal point which was Old Calabar. Ekpenyong or Ekpenyong Abasi is known by several names. At Arochukwu, it was known as Ekpenyong Ibritam; Ibn Ukpabi and Ibitam inokon.[25][26] The deity was mainly worshipped by riverine communities such as Eniong, Uruan, Ito, Ukwa, Idere and several others.[27][28][25][29] Among the Efik, Ekpenyong is regarded as the custodian of Nsibidi.[30] Although Ekpenyong is regarded as a marine deity, his spirit is believed to reside in a tree known as Ekom.[25][29] Some Efik communities such as Mbiabo Ikot Offiong believe that his spirit dwells in the cotton tree known in Efik as Uk?m.[31] At Mbiabo Ikot Offiong, Ekpenyong is believed to have had a son known as Akpan Ekpenyong.[31] Unlike Ekpenyong, Akpan Ekpenyong is believed to reside in the water.[31] Just as Ekpenyong is believed to have bore a son, he is also believed to be married to the deity Ekanem Abasi.[31] The worship of Ekanem was also prominent in the lower Cross River but the cult of Ekanem did not travel as far as the cult of Ekpenyong. In many Efik folktales, Ekpenyong and Ekanem are featured as the supreme god and goddess.[31] Like Ekpenyong, the spirit of Ekanem is also believed to inhabit a cotton tree.[31]

As Ndem are primarily marine deities, most of its emblems are aquatic creatures. Among these creatures include python, alligator and crocodile.[32] The species of Crocodile known in the Efik language as Fiom Nk?i represents Atabrinyang, a deity believed to reside at Effiat.[33] The black kite is regarded as the messenger of Atakpor Uruan.[34] Marriages are also believed to occur among the Ndem. Atakpor Uruan is believed to be the spouse of Atabrinyang.[34] Other unions between Ndem include Obo and Eme; Ebebe and Uk?ñ Es?k.

Myths on the Origin of Ekpe

Brass plate depicting an Ekpe spirit

The Ekpe society plays a prominent role in Efik society. During the Pre-colonial era, Ekpe was the government of the day at Old Calabar.[35] The society operates via a grading system.[36] Some ekpe grades include Nyamkpe, Okuakama, Okpoho, Mboko and Mboko Mboko.[36] As much as Ekpe acted as the preserver of law and order in Efik society, the society is also grounded in esoteric rituals. Ekpe is the Efik word for "Leopard" and is believed to be a mysterious being or spirit residing in the forest.[35] According to Savage,"...despite the fact that Ekpe is a forest spirit, very often when Ekpe chiefs go to bring it from the forest to the village, town or shrine, they do so by means of a canoe. Thus this forest spirit is convened by water transport to land."[37] It is also believed that only the initiates of the Ekpe society can see the Ekpe spirit. Several legends surround the founding of Ekpe. One legend as documented by Donald Simmons in 1958 states:

An Efut woman named Ata Iroko observed several supernatural spirits playing in the forest. When they departed they left behind the mb?k? which Ata Iroko found and took home. This is the instrument which produces a sound similar to a leopard roar and knowledge of its mechanism constitutes the greatest secret of the Leopard Sooioty, Ata Iroko took the mb?k? to her husband, who showed it to the town chiefs. They were so captivated they Immediately bribed the husband to kill his wife so that no woman would know of the mechanism. Accordingly, the husband killed Ata Iroko, The Efik subsequently purchased the secrets of the Leopard Society from the Efut,[38]

Donald Simmons also provides another narrative which states that Ata Iroko was shown the secrets of Mb?k? by her father because he loved her so much.[38] On the death of Chief Iroko, Ata and her husband fled with her husband from Usakedet to Calabar.[38] Thereafter, Ata showed Mb?k? to the chiefs who immediately decapitated her and her husband so that noone except the chiefs could dispense the secrets of Mb?k?.[38] Donald Simmons further asserts that when the Efik desire to produce the mb?k? sound, they first make a sound similar which represents the name Ata Iroko.[39] In spite of Simmons assertions, the names mainly called during Ekpe processions include Eyo Ema, Esien Ekpe, Asibong Ekondo, Mutaka and Nkok Ofuta.[40][41] Another myth narrated in 1964 at the Hart's Enquiry by Barrister E. Koofreh states,

Asibong Ekondo discovered Ekpe floating on the river and he sold it to Esien Ekpe as his personal property. All the people of Usak Edet from where Asibong Ekondo hailed are reputed to be able to live under water and know what transpire there. Their souls normally lived underwater. Until recent times, they performed Ekpe plays under the water. When he sold the Ekpe to the Efiks whose souls do not live under water, Asibong Ekondo showed them how to use it.[42]

Aspects of comparative mythology can be observed in the tale narrated by Koofreh. The Balondo of Cameroon equally narrate a similar tale regarding the origin of Ekpe. The Balondo of Cameroon call Ekpe, "Matamu". According to Roschenthaler as quoted by Nanji:

In the Balondo version, the women had been fishing, the women caught the Nyankpe from fishing in the river, the women caught a giant fish. The head of the fish produced a growling sound. The women made it sing, but the women did not know how to drum it. They tried in vain to control the sound of the fish. Their drumming did not help. The men knew how to drum. Then later they cut the físh, took the head for themselves and gave the tail to the women. Whenever Butamu (Ekpe) escapes into the river or forest, only the women can get it back... The myth does not explain how the men made the society and what it looked like at the beginning. It only says that the men took Nyankpe from the women and made its growling voice the basis of a powerful association.[43]

Mythical Creatures

Several mythical creatures can be found in Efik mythology. Such creatures are different from the Efik Ndem which equally have their own separate descriptions in folklore. Some of these creatures include Okukubarakpa (also known as Ukara-akpa), Akaka Obu, Animana, Ik?ñw?, Unanim and several others. Okukubarakpa is regarded as a monstrous serpent that stretches across the river disturbing the waters.[44][45] The creature can be likened to the Leviathan or the Dragon. Okukubarakpa is described by E. U. Aye as, "a large water serpent said to possess a diamond stone in its head and grows a comb on its head like that of a cock."[44] The creature can be found in several folk tales of the people of the lower Cross River and certain parts of Cameroon. Talbot narrates a tale told to him regarding Okukubarakpa:

Two towns, which lay on either side of a narrow creek, had long been on unfriendly terms. After a while the inhabitants of one of these crossed over at low tide and attacked the other, thinking to gain an easy victory. Instead of this, after hard fighting, they themselves were driven back to the edge of the water, which had, meanwhile, risen so that they, were cut off from escape. Now, in the creek lived a great python named Kukubarakpa, and no sooner did he see the plight of the invaders than he laid himself bridge-wise across the water--his head on the one bank and his tail upon the other. Over his body fled the van¬ quished, and, when all were safely landed on the farther shore, the bravest of the victors tried to follow. Kukubarakpa waited until these were crossing over his body, then sank suddenly, dragging them down with him, so that all were drowned. In gratitude, none of the people whose ancestors were thus saved kill or eat python to this day.[46]

Another creature, Ikpun kpun kpun Ine also known as ?kp?ñ ?kp?ñ ?kp?ñ is described as a mammoth-like creature far greater than the elephant but existing only in fables.[47][48] Unanim is described as, "a terrible prehistoric creature said to be extinct".[49] Unanim is believed to have been aquatic and may have been an ancestor to a species of shark known as Unaon?m.[49] Ik?ñw? is believed to be related to a species of catfish but was far monstrous.[50] The Efik believed that Two giant crabs (Efik: Akaka Obu) both male and female, guarded the entrance to the Calabar river and protected Old Calabar.[51]

Mythical Places

Several mythical places can be found in the Efik cosmology. The Efik believed that the world was flat as such, the edge of the world was known as Ononkoni (Efik: ?n?k?ni)).[52] The Efik believed in the existence of a realm known as ?n?si where the spirits of the dead reside.[53] ?n?si is said to have been located around the village of Usahadet and was bordered by the realm of the Ndem (Marine deities) known as Obio Ndem.[53] Obio Ndem was believed to be the meeting place of the society known as Ekongeze.[54] Mkposok (Efik: Mkp?s?k) was regarded as the deepest part of the underworld where evil souls reside.[55]

External influence on Efik mythology

Due to peregrinations of the Efik across the Cross river and their external trade with the Europeans, several foreign influences can be seen in the myths of the Efik. Oral tradition maintains that the earliest Europeans to interact and trade with the Efik were the Portuguese.[56] Later Europeans entrants into the Cross River were the Dutch, British and French. Christianity also played a role in shaping Efik mythology. The earliest Christian missionaries arrived from Jamaica in April 1846.[57]


  1. ^ a b Aye, Old Calabar, p.189
  2. ^ Simmons, p.9
  3. ^ Goldie, Principles, p.89
  4. ^ a b c d e f Aye, Old Calabar, p.91
  5. ^ "Ndem Efik Iboku". efikeburutu.org. Retrieved 2021.
  6. ^ Aye, Old Calabar, pp.189-190
  7. ^ Aye, Old Calabar, p.191
  8. ^ a b Scheub, p.3
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Scheub, p.4
  10. ^ Benge, Geoff (28 July 1999). Mary Slessor: Forward into Calabar (Christian Heroes: Then & Now). YWAM Publishing. p. 203.
  11. ^ Burton, p.342
  12. ^ Walker, p.122
  13. ^ Hackett, p.33
  14. ^ a b Goldie, Dictionary of the Efik (1862), p.114
  15. ^ Burton, p.326
  16. ^ Goldie, Dictionary of the Efik (1862), p.16
  17. ^ a b Simmons, p.380
  18. ^ Goldie, Dictionary of the Efik (1862), p.16
  19. ^ Aye, A learner's dictionary, p.9
  20. ^ Simmons, pp.347-348
  21. ^ Talbot, p.8
  22. ^ Essien, p.82
  23. ^ a b c Simmons, p.348
  24. ^ Waddell, p.328
  25. ^ a b c Goldie, Dictionary of the Efik (1862), p.74
  26. ^ Nwokeji, p.6
  27. ^ Essien, p.25
  28. ^ Hutchinson, p.147
  29. ^ a b Ndaw, p.33
  30. ^ Savage, p.294
  31. ^ a b c d e f Akak, p.299
  32. ^ Simmons, p.284
  33. ^ Talbot, p.51
  34. ^ a b Essien, p.23
  35. ^ a b Aye, Old Calabar, p.70
  36. ^ a b Aye, Old Calabar, p.71
  37. ^ Savage, p.300
  38. ^ a b c d Simmons, p.246
  39. ^ Simmons, pp.246-247
  40. ^ Okon, p.120
  41. ^ Hart, p.63
  42. ^ Hart, p.75
  43. ^ Nanji, pp.25-26
  44. ^ a b Aye, A learner's dictionary, p.115
  45. ^ Burton, p.409
  46. ^ Talbot, pp.90-91
  47. ^ Waddell, p.380
  48. ^ Goldie, Dictionary of the Efik (1886), p.18
  49. ^ a b Aye, A learner's dictionary, p.143
  50. ^ Aye, A learner's dictionary, p.53
  51. ^ Aye, Old Calabar
  52. ^ Burton, p.401
  53. ^ a b Aye, A learner's dictionary, p.119
  54. ^ Uya, p.37
  55. ^ Goldie, Dictionary of the Efik (1886), p.13
  56. ^ Aye, Old Calabar, p.4
  57. ^ Kingsley, p.556


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