The Ekpe Masquerade Cult In Igbo Land

The Ekpe masquerade cult was originally introduced into southern Igboland (Imo, parts of Ebonyi, and Abia) by the Aro people, who had borrowed the cult from the Efik (in Cross Rivers State). In Arochukwu (the homeland of the Aro people) and its environs, the cult was known as 'Ekpe', while elsewhere it was known as 'Okonko'. The masquerade cult served as a governing body in local village politics and was the custodian of the nsibiri script (a secret written language employed by the cult).

Each village in which the cult was present had an 'mgbala ekpe' (an Ekpe lodge) in which members convened regularly to settle disputes between quarreling parties, levy taxes, and discuss issues relating to the welfare of their community.

Each lodge had a president as well as several members who were arranged in either seven or nine age-grades (ranks). Entrance into Ekpe was expensive and was afforded only by the privileged.

Although membership in the cult was exclusive to males, in certain areas, females were allowed to perform duties that did not require knowledge of the cult's intricacies and masquerades. Due to the wide network of Ekpe lodges in southern Igboland, members were allowed to travel extensively without fear of harm.

Through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Igbo and Efik captives who had knowledge of the cult introduced it into the Caribbean (Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and etc), where it is known today as 'Abakua'. 

Credit: Igbo History

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