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stories and histories THE AKPA ANCESTRY

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Adeyemi Olajide » THE AKPA ANCESTRY


By Okoi Obono-Obla

Dr. Okoi Arikpo Egede (SAN) made a First Class Honours Degree in Chemistry in the University of London, United Kingdom, in 1935. He later veered into the arcane discipline of anthropology where he bagged a Doctorate Degree in Anthropology from the School of African and Oriental Studies of the University of London in 1943. He made history as the first West African to bag a doctorate in Anthropology. Okoi Arikpo also studied Law in the University of London and was called to the English Bar in 1956. He was first appointed Minister of Lands and Survey of Nigeria in 1953. He was the first executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission. Okoi Arikpo was the Secretary General of the Calabar Ogoja Rivers State Movement that agitated for the creation of a State for the minority people of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers States in the 1950s. He was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria in 1967 and remained in that position till 1975 when Gowon's Military regime was toppled. Okoi Arikpo died in 1995.

Read below his classical essay where he established a historical and cultural affinity between the Jukun (of the present Taraba State); Kanuris (of Bornu, Yobe States) and the Aro-Igbos (Abia State); Igalla of Kogi State; Ibibio (Akwa Ibom State); Efik, Ejaham (Ekoi, Yakurr) of Cross River State. This is the Akpa legend pure and simple.

Happy reading!!!

This article is the third of a series of six extracts from the Lugard Lectures, 1957, by Okoi Arikpo

I ended my last talk with a brief reference to the peoples who inhabit the Niger Benue confidence. I said that most of these peoples had a great deal to do with the history and social life of the peoples of South-eastern Nigeria.

Amongst those who contributed most to the process of spreading the culture and languages of the invaders were the Jukun. The Jukun are undoubtedly people of Hamitic extraction who, according to tradition, migrated into Nigeria from the Korodofan and the region of the Nile valley. They claim kingship with the early ruling Berbar race of Kanem, a type of Sahara Berbars known as the Arabs as the Zaghawa, and remnants of whom still occupy the region to the north of Wadai and Darfur.

A Wukari version of the Jukun Legend of origin says that the Jukun came from the Yemen in company with the Kanuri and together they settled in Bornu. Here a quarrel broke out in the question of succession to the kingship. This resulted in a breakup of the tribe. The Kanuri remained in Bornu while the Jukun migrated Southwards to establish the settlement of Kona, Kororafa, Pindiga and Wakari. Other versions of the Jukun group which broke away from the Kanuri and Kona tradition adds that some of the Jukun after separating from the Kanuri, proceeded down the Benue as far as south of Idah, whence they drove out the Yoruba rulers and established the kingdom of Igala.
Whatever have been the truth about these stories, there is some historical evidence that between A.D500 and 1400, these Zaghawa tribes dominated the region between Darfur and the valley of the Shari river; They established a powerful kingdom in the region of Fika Biyiri and Ribadu on the valley of the Gongola river about A.D 1250. From this centre Jukun influence radiated in all directions until by A.D 1550 the Jukun occupied the whole of South-Western Bornu.

There is an amusing legend about the manner in which the Jukun and the Kanuri, after generations of warfare, decided to become friends. The say that the Jukun king named Katakpa, the founder of Wukari, once attacked bornu without scoring a decisive victory. The King out of being hard pressed by the enemy, prayed to Allah for help and all of the sudden the Jukun people found themselves surrounded with a circle of burning grass. They Jukun took fright but as they started to run in disorder their king, who was a rainmaker, proceeded to invoke rain. Torrent of water poured down immediately and put out the fire. Whereupon both kings saw each other’s super-natural powers and withdrew to their capital. When the king of Bornu heard of Katakpa’s arrival at Wukari, he put some cotton in the basket in the middle which he placed a piece of burning charcoal. Covering the a basket with a tray of plaited glass, he sent it with his “warmest” compliments to the king of Wukari, adding the following message, “on the day that you ran away from Bornu you got thoroughly drenched so I sent you something to dry and warm you up”, Katakpa returned the compliment by sending to the king of Bornu a water tight basket adding the following message, “the king of the rain sends you some water to quench your thirst”. This message of pleasantries led to peaceful settlement between the two kings.

The Jukun at one time conquered most of the region of the Niger-Benue confluence and extended their influence eastward to central Cameroons and southwards to the Bight of Biafra. They were called by the Kanuris as Kwana by the Hausas as Kwararafa and by many of the tribes with whom they came into contact as the Akpa, the name by which the Jukun designate themselves. It may be of some significance that the original inhabitants of what is now known as Calabar were also known as the Akpa. The Jukun were in contact with these early inhabitants of Calabar and were probably ethically and culturally related to them. Indeed many of the traditions of origin of the peoples of the Cross River valley refer to the Akpa invasions. For instance an Aro-Chuku legend says that the Aros were the descendants of Akpa people who migrated into their present land from the north-east under the leadership of a king named Kakakpu. They drove out the original inhabitants and established the original Seven Aro villages. The Akpas whose skills and foresight soon made them masters of the surrounding territories, adopted the languages of their new neighbors and established trading post over a wide area.

The Kakakpu of the Aro legend may well be the same legendary figure as the Katakpa of the Jukun. Legends about Akpa invasions are wide spread amongst the people of Calabar, Ogoja and Cameroons Provinces, many of them have in their traditions of origin variant of the legend of Akpa invasions. They all relate how they migrated from somewhere north of the Cross River as a result of the pressure from the Akpa. All these peoples like the Efik-Ibibio, Aros, Ejagham, Yakurr, must have come from an area somewhere in the valley of the Benue. It is, of course possible that the term Akpa was applied to wide range of culturally distinct peoples all over the area of former Jukun influence. The Jukun played a prominent part in the slave trade and the trade must have been one of the main incentives to the Jukun kings in carrying out war into distant regions such as Kano and Bornu.

If as I have already suggested, Calabar was the port to which the Jukun consigned their slaves then the name Atakpa which is the local Efik name for Calabar may have been derived from the Jukun terms Ata Akpa, meaning king of the Akpa. Today the descendant of the original Ejagham inhabitants of Calabar are known to the Efiks as the Abakpa or the people of Akpa.

That the Jukun were in close touch with the Efiks, Ejagham and Aros during the 16th Century is supported by evidence of the widespread use of “manilas” or copper-bar currency in the Benue Region. This currency was introduced by Portuguese traders from the coast and exchanged for the slaves by Aro middle men over a great distance north east of the Bight of Biafra. There is some sociological evidence which point to the early association and probably cultural affinity between the Jukun and Ejagham. This evidence is found in the institution of divine kingship and sun-worship. The institution of divine kingship among the Jukun has been described in considerable detail by C. K. Meek. According to Meek, the position of the Jukun kings is somewhat like that of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt who were regarded as the descendants of the Sun-god. Meek says that the Jukun do not in practice identify their king with the sun, but the daily rituals performed by the Jukun king bears a strong resemblance to that which was performed on behalf of the Sun-god at Heliopolis. The main feature of these daily rituals is the ceremonial drinking of corn-beer at sunrise by the king. This rituals may be regarded both as the feeding of the god and as a holy communion with the deity the object of which is to promote fertility and sustain the life of the crops and of the community. I found in this course of my research work amongst the Ejagham that in some of the village communities, the village head or Ntoe as he is called, performed daily sacrificial duties which are essentially connected with fertility and the sustenance of the health of the community. Besides, I found a considerable amount of local evidence which suggest that the Ntoe is connected with supreme being or the Sun-god. The title of Ntoe itself connotes descent from the sun and many be regarded as the early representation of a sun-cult or divine kingship.

I have already referred to the early influence of the Jukun over the Igala. Divine kingship and the existence of the sun-cult are also features common in Igala culture. There, however, no legend about the direct influence of the Jukun people over the Nupe, another large cultural group found in the Niger-Benue Confluence, but the Nupe themselves says that their kingdom was founded by a man of Igala descent, their legendry hero, Tsoede. According to tradition Tsoede was born in the 15th Century at a time when Nupe were grouped into various chieftainships subject to Ata of Igala whose capital was Idah. At the time the Nupe paid an annual tribute to the Ata. The son of the Ata once went hunting in Nupe country and there met and fell in love with the daughter of a Nupe chief. He lived with her for some time and had a child by her. The child was Tsoede. When the king of Ida died his hunter-son left Tsoede’s mother in Nupe country and returned to Idah to succeed as king. When Tsoede was thirty years old he was sent with other Nupe youths as part of the annual tribute in slaves to the court of the Ata of Igala. The king recognized him as his natural son: consequently Tsoede enjoyed considerable favor and success at the King’s Court.

This aroused the envy of the king’s sons and Tsoede was eventually forced to flee by his half-brothers. He travelled upstream in a bronze canoe and after many adventures and narrow escapes he founded the royal city of Bida where he established himself as king and taught the Nupe of Bida the traditional Nupe art of bronze making. Without going into analytical details we have here the explanation of the cultural association between Nupe and Igala. The Igbirra, another of the groups in the Niger-Benue area, also claim to have been colonized from the Igala kingdom of Idah, and claim ultimate descent from Wukari the traditional Jukun capital. The TIV who constitute the largest cultural group have a rather different origin. They speak a semi-Bantu language and have developed social institutions which are reminiscent of the Southern Cameroons and the Central Africa Bantu. It is fair to suppose that they migrated into their present territory from Bantu Africa.

We see, therefore, that diverse as the peoples of the Niger-Benue confluence may appear to be, they have been in long contact with one another, and as well as we see from an examination of the structures of their languages, have been derived from a single social group. This short account of the legends and stories about the various people, I have mentioned so far give some indication of these migrations of our ancestors and the social result of these migrations. In a short series, such as this, it is not possible to consider in detail the cultural history of any particular cultural group, nor am I competent to supply sufficient information about every and all the many groups of peoples found in Nigeria today. But what I have outlined so far is enough to illustrate the complexity of cultural composition of the present population of Nigeria. I want to repeat that in the absence of recorded evidence our conclusions about what happens in the past must remain tentative.
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