Cultural similarities between Akwa-Ibomites and Ndigbo

Most Igbo masquerades and other traditional paraphernalia are sourced from Ikot-Ekpene, the centre of raffia and carved artworks trading in the South-East and South-South

By Uche Nworah, PhD

I lived in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom state, for four years. This was during my undergraduate days at the University of Uyo where I studied Communication Arts. We had the best time. We did not only go through the university, the university also went through us. We were very young and fully explored what Akwa-Ibom had to offer. We immersed ourselves in the culture and sampled local delicacies such as ‘404’ (dog meat) and palm-wine etc. We, the Aba boys, dated mainly Akwa-Ibom students. They appeared to be more loving and caring. This was unlike our own sisters who approached campus relationships from an ‘OMATA’ or mercantile perspective – ‘What’s in it for me?.

We later learnt that Akwa-Ibom girls from early on receive special training in caring for a man, especially in libido, food and other matters. Akwa-Ibom and Cross River girls we understood were sent to fattening room just before marriage where older women school them in various aspects of husband and home care. I don’t know if this culture still obtains.

During this time, there was influx of Aba-brought-ups (ABUs) into Uniuyo. The first set that went from Aba and got admitted came back and announced to others what they saw; good food, beautiful women, competitive academic standards etc. This triggered the mad rush for Uniuyo by Umu Aba.

My first-hand experience revealed to me that Akwa-Ibomites are very kind, peaceful and hospitable people. They are a bit laidback though but I think that that culture has changed. They were not sojourning and venturing out of their state so much like Ndigbo did back then. I was also able to observe some cultural similarities between Akwa-Ibomites and Ndigbo. We share the same food; rice, yams, beans, plantains, Garri, cassava, stew etc. We also share soups such as vegetable and nsala soup which they call ‘white soup’. Afang soup, though now popular in Igboland, is traditionally an Akwa-Ibom delicacy. I have always wondered why Akwa-Ibomites prefer to add periwinkles and its shells into the soup, and then use tongue to suck out the periwinkles while eating. Not everyone does this though. Some break off the shells and cook only with the fleshy periwinkles.

Akwa-Ibomites also wear ‘Scottish Kilt’-like dresses. Ndigbo do also but we call ours ’Peteli’. They adorn the ‘Okpu Agbala’ made popular by Ndi Nze na Ozo in Igboland. You can see in this picture an example of Akwa-Ibomites wearing the ‘Okpu Agbala, and wearing ‘Peteli’- like dress.

Most Igbo masquerades and other traditional paraphernalia are sourced from Ikot-Ekpene, the centre of raffia and carved artworks trading in the South-East and South-South. This re-enforces my assertion of cultural similarities.

During our Uniuyo days, one sensed a pervasive subservient culture. Maybe because then, Akwa-Ibom’s largest export to the rest of Nigeria was domestic servants. No wonder Nollywood was always casting Akwa-Ibomites in such stereotypical roles. Before the coming of Nollywood, the Gringory character in the sit-com ‘New Masquerade’ had already done its damage on the psyche of Akwa-Ibomites. James Iroha played the role of Gringory, a ‘dumb’ Akwa-Ibom-born houseboy to Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, the lead character of the sitcom. Funny as the act was, his portrayal of a dumb, stupid, though funny houseboy, didn’t help the people of Akwa-Ibom at all. Rather, it helped to promote a ‘culture of tribe inferiority’.

However, when current Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, was the Governor of Akwa-Ibom state, he launched an audacious and ambitious state repositioning campaign which greatly led to a significant mindset shift. The ‘Akwa-Ibom Ado Ok’ cultural re-awakening and social awareness campaign introduced a culture of self-belief among Akwa-Ibomites. Free education was introduced alongside the ‘uncommon’ transformational infrastructure the state government embarked upon.

The state government used extensive media campaign to discourage Akwa-Ibomites from taking up ‘Boy-Boy’ and maid roles for people. These efforts excited Akwa-Ibomites and also helped to enthrone a ‘can do’ culture in them.

* Uche Nworah

Governor Udom Emmanuel continued from where Governor Akpabio stopped and launched the ‘Akwa-Ibom Dakkada’ project, a state repositioning, self-belief and mindset renewal campaign.

Also, the current Governor, Pastor Umo Eno has not dropped the ball and is running with the ‘Akwa-Ibom Arise’ campaign.

Perhaps the cultural similarities between Akwa-Ibomites and Ndigbo may be as a result of long periods of inter-marriages and cultural exchanges. Successive boundary divisions have also seen some native Igbo speaking people being drawn into Akwa-Ibom territories.

We should continue to celebrate what unites rather than what divides Akwa-Ibomites and Ndigbo.

* Dr. Nworah, a culture enthusiast, wrote from Abuja.

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