An Ovat of Adun.




Part I The Mbembe People  
CHAPTER I. Introduction 3
CHAPTER II. The Mbembe and their Neighbours. 11
CHAPTER III. The Mbembe Cosmology 16
CHAPTER IV. The Mbembe and the Social Structure. 25
CHAPTER V. The Avat and the Social Structure. 50
CHAPTER VI. The religious position of the Avat. 61
CHAPTER VII. Introduction, in Part Two. 75
  Part II The Tribal Variations  
CHAPTER VIII. The Historical Setting. 79
CHAPTER IX. The Osopong. 87
CHAPTER X. The Okum. 121
CHAPTER XI. The Adun 151
CHAPTER XII. Conclusion 187
Bibliography   207
APPENDIX A. Farm Budgets. 199
APPENDIX B. Evidence for the existence of a pre-1900 route between Okni and Calabar. 202
APPENDIX C. Population of Mbembe tribes according to the 1953 census. 204
Maps 7 Maps at the end of the book 211
INDEX   227


Frontispiece: An Ovat of Adun.
Plate 1 Adun: Trading canoes leading yams.
Plate 2 Osopong: Open country north of the Cross River.
Plate 3 Adun: Farmer with North-east Ibo Labourers.
Plate 4 Adun: Village Ovat at a burial rite
Plate 5 Adun: Girls dancing in pre-marriage rites.
Plate 6 Okum: The Ovat of the Ovurugi matriclan in Okumorutet setting out on a formal visit to Apiapum.
Plate 7 Osopong: Village shrine against witches and sorcerers.
Plate 8 Adun: A tribal meeting of many of the Avat.
Map 1 Position of the Mbembe People.
Map 2 Villages in the Obruba Division, South of the Cross River.
Map 3 Osopong Settlements.
Map 4 The Population of Villages in Obubra.
Map 5 Adun Settlements.
Map 6 Ofodua village Adun.
Map 7 An Ofodua hamlet.


This study of Mbembe political institutions is concerned primarily with Mbembe chiefship - or an institution which may for simplicity be referred to here as such. In the first part of this work I shall seek to show that the particular form and function of this institution follow almost necessarily from certain characteristics of Mbembe society which are connected with its double unilineal descent system. In this first section, therefore, cultural variations between the different Mbembe tribes are largely ignore and the discussion is based on features common to them all. The second section, by contrast, consists of a study of the differences between the main Mbembe tribes. In this, as the first part, the discussion is concerned primarily with current institutions, but an attempt is also made to reconstruct the nineteenth century history of each tribe. The reason for dealing with each tribe in such detail is, paradoxically, that by doing so I hope the whole study may achieve a wider relevance. The main interest of Mbembe political institutions lies in the fact that although the different tribes have many characteristics in common they nevertheless vary widely in their political structures. In this type of situation, which is the nearest the anthropologist can hope to get to a controlled experiment, the possibility exists of determining, at least in part, the processes by which these political differences have been brought about; and the processes which we shall find to have been at work among the Mbembe may prove to have been active among other peoples also.

This work is therefore in part a study of social change but, since our main interest lies in discovering just how and the tribes differed from each other at the beginning of this century before the coming of the British largely stopped further independent development, we shall not consider in any great detail the changes brought about in Mbembe life by British influence. This has been uniform, at least in intention, over all the Mbembe peoples and therefore, in so far as we are concerned with the study of tribal variations, modern changes are significant to our main discussion only where the people's different reactions to the same outside stimuli shed light on pre-existing tribal differences.

Lest it be thought, however, that the whole study is somehow a reconstruction of the past I must emphasise that this is not so and that where the present tense is used it indicates that what is described was observed during the late 1950s. It is also relevant to stress here that at this time, as I shall show, the Mbembe were relatively little influenced by direct European contact.

In all I spent almost two years with the Mbembe, in three different periods. The first, which was by far the longest, I spent predominantly with the Adun, but throughout I had much contact with the Okum people and made short stays in Osopong and Okum. My other two visits were spent mainly with the Okum and Osopong.

My thanks are due to the Emslie Horniman Trust and to the Social Science Research Council of the Colonial Office, for financing the major part of my research and to University College London, for making it possible for me to make two short visits to Nigeria in the long vacations of 1958 and 1959.

For the preparation of this work I am indebted to many people, particularly to Professor Daryll Forde, whose knowledge of he field and whose encouragement have been invaluable to me. My thanks are also due to Dr. Mary Douglas and Dr. Phyllis Kaberry of University College London, and to members of seminars there and to members of seminars held by Professor Max Gluckmn at Manchester. I must also record with sincere gratitude the great help I received from many members of the Administration in Eastern Nigeria, especially from Mr. and Mrs. David Carson. Among those not in government service I must record my particular gratitude to Mr. R. H. G Lowes of B.E.L.R.A whose kindness and assistance and whose knowledge of the Mbembe gave me great encouragement; also the very great help I received from Mr. and Mrs. Peter Cramb of the Cross River Mills Timber Company.

Above all my thanks are due to the Mbembe people who made my work not only possible but enjoyable. There are so many among them who helped me that it is almost invidious to mention names; but those whom I must record are, in the village of Ofodua, Adun, where I stayed so long, Ovat Egba, and Messrs Egbe Odjen, Onyam Atam, Daniel Ekong and Dominic Aeyo; and in other places Messrs D. O. Enang, D.Awassam, and E. O Egbarra; and Arobo Adoga of B.E.L.R.A In addition I have to acknowledge with thanks the courtesy of Court Clerks and Local Councillors in giving me access to Court Record Books and the minutes of Council meetings and of village meetings. I an conscious that these people and their children may feel that at times I have touched on aspects of Mbembe life about which they would probably have preferred me to remain silent. To them I offer the excuse that to understand the way Mbembe society works it has been necesary to study it in all its aspects and I hope that they will feel that the general picture of Mbembe society which emerges from this account is one which they can take pride. The Mbembe are a modest people believing others to be wiser and more clever than they are. I hope they will see from this book that their fathers, acting often under very adverse conditions, displayed a degre of political acumen and inventiveness remarkable in a people so few in numbers.

This book dedicated to my parents with gratitude and affection.

The Queen's University.
Belfast, 1964.


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