Thursday, 28 May 2015

The place of Nsibidi among the Efik people of C.R.State

The place of Nsibidi among the Efik people of C.R.State


Nsibidi is a uniquely African form of  writing and communication system  which originated in the Ejaham people of Cross River State and South Western Cameroon.  It is from here that it spread to other places such as Efikland, Igboland, Cubaland etc.

It is a type of non-verbal communication and a graphic writing system which had influenced he cement sculptures of the Ejaham people.  This graphic writing system which may be upwards of a thousand years old, consists of pictographs and ideographs based on line drawing, many of which are formed with geometric shape.

Individual may present Nsibidi signs in variety of ways drawn in the air (gestures) or on the ground, on the skin of man and animals (tattoos) and on art forms (dance costumes) and on mask, stones, monoliths, cloths funerary sculptures etc. to name but a few.  It is an integral feature of many traditional based art forms which continued to be produced today.

It is a heoglyphine form of secret writing based on combination of symbols, representing concepts, this enable the preservation of its pictorial records on cloths, drums, skins, wooden pillars, wall of houses, etc. which served both as a decorative element and historical records.

This writing has survived up to the present day in the form of secret symbols on the paraphernalia and materials used by traditional societies, royal fathers, kings, chiefs.  Unlike many Western writing system, Nsibidi does not correspond to a spoken language, thus it is a type of communication which is displayed in written signs in three dimensional forms and in pantomimed gestures.

With these, Ejaham people called it Nchibbi, South Western Cameroon called it BAMUM, while the Igbos called Sibidi and theEfiks, Ibibios and Annang called Nsibidi.  In Cuba it is being called ANAFORUANA.

At this juncture, let’s assess the place of Nsibidi among the Efik people of Cross River State.  By gleaning the advantage of both art and writing, the Nsibidi is a means of expression that allowed for exploration of ideas and relationship through creative means that often pushed the boundaries of what is already known.  For example these can be seen among the Ekpe society members of Old Calabar in which Nsibidi is used both as an art and writing for expressing their secret symbols and for creating relationship among members.
Again, it provides a language that is not dependent on verbal communication but allowed for linkage between the numerous people in the Old Calabar regions, even up to upper Cross River Region.  These can be seen in the various secret societies like Ekpe, Nnabo, Ekong Ekpo etc. found in Old Calabar and beyond; in which the Nsibidi symbols is seen as linkage between them.

It provides an insight into substantial intellectual activities that revolve around art rituals and performance found in Old Calabar region.  Example during burial of kings, coronation of kings, festivals etc.

It helps in the preservation of its pictorial records on clothes, drums, skins, wooden pillars, walls of houses etc. which serves both as decorative elements and historical records for the Efik people of Cross River State.

It helps to debunk the myth of Africa or Nigeria as a continent or country without writing and knowledge, the achievement of uniquely African system of communication found among the Ekpe society members of Old Calabar.

It helps in trade development because trade goods such as Ukare Clothes are produced and sold to members of the Ekpe society within the areas.

It equally helps in the painting work of contemporary Nigerian arts for example Uche Edochie woks illustrate or utilizes a style of painting that incorporates Nsibidi signs and symbols.

It is an important component of Efik identify because the Nsibidi is one of the distinguishing features of the Efik kingdom, as expressed in the Ekpe society which was an arm of government in Old Calabar.

With these, Nsibidi has maintained its relevance in the Efik society over many centuries because of its ability to adapt to new social and cultural situations.  Moreover, these dynamic and far reaching elements of this Efik kingdom have spread to neighbouring people in Nigeria, Africa and their Afro-Cuban descendants in the Diaspora.

In addition, artists working withing cosmopolitan arts centers such as Nsukka, Lagos, Havana, London and New York have found new uses for Nsibidi within the language of contemporary arts.

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