Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ekpe: A Dying Culture

The Manyu people like most people on the run are entrenched in their culture. Thus, culture influences their daily living and becomes the sum total of their existence. The required condition of sleeping in the bush for 14 days to learn the rudiments and secrecy of Ekpe so as to fulfill that rite of passage has been replaced by the highest bidder. Some time ago, there was an outcry that even led to a summon from General Mgbe Mamfe when it was alleged that the paramount Sesekou of Mgbe North America-Sesekou Ojong-Orock had initiated a novice. It was odd to those in the Diaspora and those at home, but the reaction again was hypocritical since there has been a precedence right in Mamfe itself with the honorific Sesekou that was awarded to Hon Mengot who was not even an Etebe Etebe Ntui but was made a Sesekou. Just recently we have had three new Sesekous in town who had never even been in Ekpe before. These actions may actually augur a premonition to the downfall or at least the tomfoolery of the Ekpe society. There are actually four factors signaling the collapse of Ekpe.

When relics become artifacts.
Because Ekpe relics are fast becoming artifacts, Ekpe is now a plaything. Initially, Ekpe was the police and arbiter of the civil society. The Sesekous were the judges on the people as they headed their households and families. They were not men of low honors. There were other societies like Nkanda, Amgbu (that haunted for ghosts) and Obasinjom (that only chased and destroyed evil and evildoers), but none of them had the civil powers that Ekpe had.

In every Ekpe occasion, the Tiger moaned, and in big ceremonies, the Achuimgbe paraded the village. Sadly, some Ekpe members of Mgbe North America almost trivialized Ekpe and the culture thereof when the Achimgbe was built in the presence of strangers and abandoned for janitors to dismantle and discard. People may say well it was not the real Achuimgbe because it cannot be built in the city. If that same theory is upheld that Achuimgbe cannot be built in the Diaspora not even is it built in Yaoundé, Kumba or Buea, then there cannot be any Ekpe celebration at all in the Diaspora since Ekpe cannot dance without the Tiger coming home. Rather than pose this argument, Achuimgbe should be built in serious occasions but be appended with the same cultic mystery as at home. Coca cola has a secret, it is made everywhere but no one knows the secret.

I have never heard the Tiger groan in all my years in the US. That part of the mystery made onlookers desire to decipher the code, and that is what prompted Father Dongen of Nchang to enter Ekpe because he wanted to see the Tiger that moan.

Ekpe membership is not hereditary. That means, it is not because your father was a member that you are automatically a member. Even when you were initiated as a child, when you become an adult, you must answer to the tiger when it calls to activate your membership. Your initiation as a child is only to whet your appetite to do the right thing when you grow up.

No Transition
Perhaps a worthy annotation necessary to be appended to this discourse is that those who receive honorary Sesekous are not initiated. For anyone to be initiated, they must go back to their village of origin. The honorary could be bequeathed on any person Ekpe deems worthy. This is still a deviation for it did not exist before. Despite the fact that the honorary Sesekous have been banned, they have looked for new ways to circumvent and still get the title by going to buy the Sesekou title from another family and at times from another village.

The presence of honorary and fly-by-Night Sesekous does not ensure transition because there is no Nkore- Nti. If Musonge or Biya died today who will take over from them? Consequently, if Musonge or Biya dies, though theirs was acquired by burning the stages, they are still entitled to all Ekpe rites as the poor guy in the village who ascended to that throne by longevity or adherence. This makes the poor man in the village to look at Ekpe as a club of the rich.
So tell me how will this tradition continue? Such is a culture in decline and such is the fate of Ekpe.

Before anyone is made a Sesekou, they should have a home in their village (acha Mgbe). They should be given at least three years to learn. The first year they go and get initiated, the next year they clear the bush, and then the third they obtain the title. During which time you have built your home there for your Achuimgbe. Sesekou is to protect the culture but culture does not function without people.

Division within
A house divided by itself will not stand. When generals in an empire start to fight, the empire collapses. When custodians of a given culture start to fight amongst themselves, they trivialize the culture and expose its secret code. Ekpe members in the USA are the mayungdack (instigators) of this community. They are the arsonist firefighters at the same time. In the Ekpe of before, if an Ekpe member got drunk, he was fined. If they insulted someone, not to talk of a woman’s jigijigi, they were corobo (clean shaven-figurative). What tradition or culture is Ekpe USA preserving? If a member disgraced another member in public, they were fined. Wasn’t it so? Those in USA and Europe are always fighting amongst themselves.

Any Manyu son or daughter has the right to go and get initiated, but they must do it properly. When replicas are built in Diaspora like a plaything, they expose the very notion to the stranger. There may not be an Ekpe Bush in the Diaspora but whatever relic is presented, should be treated as sacred.
Atchuimgbe built in USA
The unity in Ekpe made decisions and sanctions against unruly individuals easy to be enforced. If you were fined but you refuse to pay then they will memorize it in the black books of their hearts. The day you die, your family will be forced to pay all your fines before you are buried. But here is why the decision can be enforceable; because most lodges at home work as one unit under the general Ekpe of the village, region and Mamfe. Once you fail to pay a fine the matter is transferred to your village Ekpe who will prohibit any villager from dealing with you in addition to unorthodox means being employed.

Ekpe is not a forum for settling scores like the Mgbe North America is doing now. They should do all to get their act together if they intend to preserve the culture. Those who have wronged others should apologize, and those who have been wronged should accept the apologies and move on.

The rush to be all sesekous.
At the outset, there was only one Sesekou in a family. It was never bought, no matter how rich you were. Its importance in those days was more than what we have today. This culture began experiencing dilution when the people began mixing up politics and traditions. Immediately as a man became a minister, he was awarded the Sesekou title, and it was on that basis that the title was awarded to HE Paul Biya, Musonge, Glenn Wilson (Australian) and other Manyu ministers.

"HONORARY SESSEKOUS" are called 'Ma Nnem boh'. These are Manyu people appointed in high government positions e.g. chief Peter Agbortabi, Mengot, etc. When these Honorary Sessekous are given, the recipient is supposed to take further steps to go the bush and fulfill the remaining requirements. The truth of the matter is that all those flight by night Sessekous who rushed to their respective villages and sit in front of a house holding monyors are all Honorary Sessekous. Ma Nnem boh are those village elites who use their monies on carrying out development in that village. It happened in Nchang with some Nchang sons and daughters. Honestly, the village has banned those folks due to chieftaincy fight. 

Although some of these titles are honorary, we all know that no one will stop anyone with an honorary title to do what the rest of the people are doing; after all, it was on basis of his riches that he was awarded the title. Right there, his money speaks louder than the culture.

While the poor man in the village does not have money to fulfill the conditions for all the stages at once, the minister has the money to burn the steps. As such, they do not go through all the steps necessary since they can afford all of them in a session.

There was only one muyong holder and one nkore nti in the same family. If someone came from outside with their title, while they may jibe Mgbe up to Hi hoohhhh, they will not carry the muyong. The only person to carry muyong during that particular ceremony is the person who had it as the traditional head or family head in case there are many households with Sesekous. If the Sesekou died, it was the Nkore nti who took over. That is the significance of him dancing with a cutlass behind the mujong holder as if saying: “die; let me take your place.”

There are many Sesekous in Mgbe USA than the floor members (bhoh mgbes). Can you imagine a city where there are many more governors than the governed? There are two types of Sesekous: inherited and acquired or bought to say the least. By a stroke of luck, one could be a Sesekou if he or she was in Ekpe and was the only Ekpe member in their family with the Sesekou. Once he dies, the Nkore-Nti who is already an Ekpe member takes over. That is Sesekou by inheritance. No matter how rich you are, you are not supposed to take a Sesekou before your senior brother, if he is in the family and in Ekpe. Today, to respect your wealth, your senior brother could give it to you. When he is ready to compete, he buys his from another family. When people defy this tradition, they set the family asunder and family feuds are born. Again for mere titles!

Meanwhile, there is another type of Sesekou which is acquired when you think you have attained a level in the society. This one you can buy it from anywhere you want. The recent crop of Sesekous in North America  and Europe benefited from this type. The tradition of sleeping in the bush for 14 days to find the Tiger and learn the jargon of Ekpe totally eludes them. That is why they fumble in public because they do not know the rules. Normally, when anyone is looking for leadership, they have to wait for their turn.

Until then, wake up for Ekpe is losing its importance.

Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk.

“Bonyfish beware because the same net that caught the jawless fish, caught the cartilaginous fish” (Hamilton Ayuk).
Beware earthly paradise seekers because there is a serpent in every paradise"(Hamilton Ayuk).

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