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Identification. The name "Ibibio" identifies the largest subdivision of people living in southeastern Nigeria, in Akwa Ibom State, and it is generally accepted and used for both ethnic and linguistic descriptions. Like their Igbo neighbors, the Ibibio people originally shared no common term that identified them as a whole. The name "Agbisherea" was first used by European explorers in the nineteenth century to describe Ibibio inhabitants, but apparently died out soon after. Some Igbo-speaking people refer to their Ibibio-speaking neighbors as "Mong"; others call them "Kwa."

Location. The Ibibio are located to the south and southeast of the Igbo, in southeastern Nigeria. This includes the former Calabar Province (the Itu Mbuzo subgroup is in the Bende Division), Owerri Province, and certain villages of the Obong. The Eastern Ibibio, or Ika, have attached their village groups to the Ndokki Igbo of Owerri.

Demography. The Ibibio numbered over two million in the 1963 census and fell into the following six major divisions: Riverain (Efik), Northern (Enyong), Southern, (Eket), Delta (Andoni-Ibeno), Western (Anang), and Eastern (Ibibio proper). These main groups are further divided into groups that are identifiable by geographical location. The Efik reside mostly in the Calabar Province, and are divided into Enyong (Aro), Calabar, Itu, and Eket groups. The Riverain area also includes the Cameroons, inhabited by the Kumba and Victoria groups. The Eyong are divided into the Enyong (Aro) and Ikot Ekpene of Calabar Province and the Bende division of Owerri Province. The Eket division resides in Calabar Province. The Adoni-Ibeno are divided into the Eket and Opopo of Calabar Province. The Anang are divided into the Abak and Ikot Ekpene of Calabar Province, and the Aba of Owerri Province. The Ibibio proper are divided into the Uyo, Itu, Eket, Ikot Ekpene, Enyong (Aro), Abak, Opopo, and Calabar groupings. They also make up the Aba division of Owerri Province.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Ibibio speak dialects of Efik-Ibibio, a language of the Kwa Branch of the Niger-Congo Family. Being the best-known dialect, Efik has been established as the literary language, and is understood by most educated Ibibio. Because of its remarkable assimilative power, Efik spread throughout the Cross River area and even into the Cameroons.

The most basic difference among the many dialects of Ibibio is in the vocabulary. To a lesser extent, the sound system, tone, and grammar can be distinguished. Comparative studies have shown considerable similarity between the Efik and the Ibibio proper, Oron, Eket, Anang, and Ibeno dialects.

History and Cultural Relations

Historical records indicate no traditional migratory pattern among the Ibibio proper and the Anang; they appear to be longtime occupants of their present habitat. All of the other Ibibio-speaking groups were derived from the Ibibio proper. Direct references to the Ibibio are found in early historical records. This is presumably because of their activity in the slave trade. Their history is associated with the Calabar and Efik of the lower Cross River area. (The name "Efik" refers not to the Ibibio subdivision, but to the indigenous groups among whom the Efik Ibibio settled.)

The first Christian mission was erected in Calabar circa 1846. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, numerous military expeditions were undertaken to bring the Ibibio under British rule. As a direct result of the conquest, military posts were set up in 1903 in Ikot Epene, Itu, and Uyo.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Like their Igbo neighbors, the Ibibio are primarily rain-forest cultivators of yams, taro, and cassava. They engage in subsistence agriculture. Other food crops include plantains, chilies, maize, beans, and pumpkins. Most of Ibibio wealth comes from the export of palm-oil products, distributive trading among themselves, and town wage labor.

Industrial Arts. The Ibibio, especially the Anang, are well known for their skill in wood carving and are considered masters of an adroit professional technique. Weaving is generally done by youths of both sexes, whereas women are responsible for mat making.

Trade. The Efik engage in trading fish and palm oil in considerable amounts.

Division of Labor. As with the Igbo, yams are traditionally considered to be the chief crop of men, and cocoyams the chief crop of women. Men do most of the clearing, planting, and harvesting of the yams. Women weed, plant, and tend other crops. They also collect the harvested yams into baskets and carry them to the market.

In collecting the produce from palm trees, men generally do the climbing, and the women collect and carry the fruit to the market. The extracting and processing of palm oil is usually done by women, who retain the palm kernels. Also, raffia palms may be tended by men, but are usually owned by women, and are used to make wine, mats, and poles.

Land Tenure. With a strong emphasis on the patrilineage, the male members form the dominant nucleus of the hamlet and have collective rights to its land. The lineage head allocates the land for farming among its members on a yearly basis (see also "Social Control").


Kin Groups and Descent. Although not as extensively studied, the Ibibio appear to have shared the same settlement patterns and territorial organization as their Igbo neighbors. Ibibio villages generally consisted of compounds of rectangular constructions, each with several rooms, arranged around a courtyard or common meeting place. Their villages usually held about five hundred people, and were divided into physically distinct hamlets that contained separate patrilineages. The hamlets were part of a larger settlement, which was represented by a secular leader who was generally the senior male member of the group. In patrilineal descent groups, the men traced their descent to a single male ancestor. Women continued to claim the support of their own lineage head after they were married.

Kinship Terminology. The ete otun, or secular leader, is distinguished from the ete ekpuk, the ritual leader. The ete otun may not rightfully act without the latter's consent.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Betrothal before the age of 14 was common. Marriage payments were made to the prospective bride's parents. The marriage payment was shared among the bride's kin, with the father keeping the largest share. The marriage payment traditionally had to be completed before the marriage could be consummated; it was supplemented by services rendered by the husband to the bride's father.

Domestic Unit. Men and women had separate houses grouped in compounds usually composed of the houses of a single household (i.e., a man, his wives, and other dependent relatives). Several of these made up a family (nnung), whereas many such families made up a compound (ekpuk).

Inheritance. As with the Igbo, personal property is inherited by the deceased father's eldest son.

Socialization. Ibibio men and women are formally grouped into age sets, the status of which increases with seniority. They are informally established for youths around the age of 10, and are formally recognized when its members are about 12 years of age. Members of the young sets are given instruction in morality and native laws. To this end, age sets function as self-disciplinary institutions and guardians of public morality.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Restricted title associations are important marks of prestige among the Ibibio. The principal women's society is the Ebre society. The principal men's society is the Ekpo society.

Political Organization. The lineage head (ete ekpuk) and the town head (obon ison ) are traditionally regarded as the main sources of justice for their respective groups, but the ade facto (council of elders) also meets for judicial purposes in the village court.

Social Control. As among the Igbo, cooperation and social control outside the family is most effectively achieved within the patrilineal and exogamous lineage. The ete ekpuk maintains moral authority and ritual obligations over a wide field, as he is the guardian of the ancestral shrines. In theory, he maintains the right to assign farming plots on lineage land, although in practice these duties are usually carried out by the ete otun (see also "Socialization").

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Although religious rituals concern several deities and spirits of ancestors, it has been argued that, like the Igbo, the Ibibio believe in a Supreme Being, Abassi, who is the sky god. Abassi is generally regarded as the creator of human beings. As in Igbo religious culture, there is no specific cult or priesthood established for this supreme deity. An Ibibio myth attributes the distancing from the earth of the abode of this sky god to the pounding of an old woman's pestle.

Death and Afterlife. Worship of the ancestors is a very important part of Ibibio religious culture. Sacrifices are often made at the ancestral shrine, which is kept at the house of the eldest member of the lineage group. Disgruntled ancestors may wander among the living, causing harm until the ceremony of Obio Ekpo ("world of the dead") is performed so that the spirit can enter the world of the dead. The Ibibio have a concept of good (eti ) and evil/bad (idiok). A person has two souls, the immortal soul (ukpong ) and the animal-linked soul (ukpong ikot), which can live in lions, leopards, bush pigs, antelopes, and pythons. The latter also dies at death, whereas the former is reincarnated or becomes a malevolent ghost troubling the living.


Forde, D., and G. I. Jones (1962). The Ibo and Ibibio-Speaking Peoples of South-Eastern Nigeria: Ethnographic Survey of Africa. London: Stone & Cox.

Horton, R. (1976). "Stateless Societies in the History of West Africa." In History of West Africa, edited by J. E Ade Ajayi and Michael Crowder. Vol. 1, 72-113. London: Longman.

Offiong, D. A. (1991). Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, and Social Order among the ibibio of Nigeria. Enugu: Fourth Dimension.