Finding your tribe: Societies from Ibibio history

Ibibio mask.jpg

Individual growth does not have to be without the presence of support circles. When we think about cultivating spaces to heal and evolve, this also coincides with the idea of finding and connecting to your tribe. Having an intimate space to share, learn and grow with others whilst we assist each other in our journeys is a key aspect of self-care. The process of connecting to self can be aided in spaces where we can relate to the experiences of others and hold space to support and learn about ourselves as well as from each other. Looking to the history of the Ibibio people, the presence of various societies within the wider community draws attention to the efforts made to support the process of collective and individual growth.

The Ibibio people have inhabited parts of present-day Nigeria and Southern Cameroon since at least the 17th century. Societies were a common feature in the social structure and served a number of functions for the individual and wider community alike. Notable societies from Ibibio history include:

Iban Insong society – Iban Insong in the Ibibio language translates to ‘women of the land’. This was a society that was reserved strictly for women, and it is said that part of the societies functions included “preserving female dignity and honour” and “checking the male excesses on women” as pointed out in a study on the Ikot Effanga Mkpa Community by the University of Calabar. Having a space for women in the community to connect and, if needed, protect each other emphasises the importance placed on coming together to celebrate each other and foster a sense collective trust and support.

Ekpe society – Ekpe in the Ibibio language means leopard. In Ekpe leopard society in Africa and the Americas: influence and values of an ancient tradition Ivor Miller and Matthew Ojong note that within the Ibibio region the Leopard symbolises “strength, tenacity, agility and vitality. These virtues were considered necessary for any well-organized society that aspired to order, peace and stability”. The society convened for dances performed by Ekpe masquerades as well as coming together to resolve disputes within the community in the absence of a centralised authority. Moreover, the Ekpe community served a function in providing an outlet for men to invest their energy into community projects. Having an outlet is crucial to process of managing emotions and instilling a sense of recognition and growth from an experience.

Ebre society – It is said that the presence of the Ebre society encouraged personal growth for women through Nnim nno idem (self-discipline). This was a society where members made weekly contributions in support of community projects throughout the kingdom. Creating a space for women to come together to brainstorm and manifest projects for the community highlights the importance placed on collective advancement in the Ibibio social structure.

Ekpo society – Ekpo in the Ibibio language means ghost, which draws attention to the ancestral link the society provided for its members. Similar to the Ekpe society, it served a role in resolving disputes and conflicts that arose in the community. Moreover, it also provided a space to cultivate Ibibio art, as noted by Daniel Offiong in The functions of the Ekpo society of the Ibibio of Nigeria “members of the Ekpo employed their talents in producing the best masks and other accoutrements, music, drumming, and in all sorts of acrobatics”, which shows the importance placed on creativity as a form of preserving and contributing to culture through the presence of this society.

Babane Ekpache-Nkomer society –  Similar to the Ekpo and Ekpe societies, the Babane Ekpache-Nkomer society’s function included resolving “misunderstanding among the womenfolk, which could lead to a breach of peace in the community if left unresolved” noted by Patience Erim and David Imbua in Women in the Colonial Economy of the Cross River Area of Nigeria, 1900-1950. Having a society that played a key role in resolving disputes indicates the importance placed on social harmony.

The presence of societies among the Ibibio people gives an indication of the importance placed on cultivating spaces in communities for collective and individual growth. Taking inspiration from the idea of connecting with others, this glance at Ibibio history provides a lesson in understanding the importance of building together. As we each navigate our way though life, let us not forget the importance of surrounding ourselves with people that can pour into our personal development and vice versa. Individual and collective growth are synonymous, may we each find and honour the process of both as we heal and grow.


Woman’s Mysteries of a Primitive People: The Ibibios of Southern Nigeria –  D. Amaury Talbot (1915)

Women in the Colonial Economy of the Cross-River Area of Nigeria, 1900-1950 – Patience O. Erim and David L. Imbua

The Functions of the Ekpo Society of the Ibibio of Nigeria – Daniel A. Offiong

Ekpe ‘leopard’ society in Africa and the Americas: influence and values of an ancient tradition – Ivor Miller and Mathew Ojong

Gender and Occupation in Traditional African Setting: A Study of Ikot Effanga Mkpa Community Nigeria – A.O Bassey et al

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