Origin And Early History Of The Ibibio People Of Nigeria

The Ibibio people are from southern Nigeria. They are mostly found in Akwa Ibom, Cross River,and on the Eastern Part of Abia.They are related to the Anaang Igbo and Efik peoples. During the colonial period in Nigeria, the Ibibio Union asked for recognition by the British as a sovereign nation (Noah, 1988). The Annang, Efik, Ekid, Oron and Ibeno share personal names, culture, and traditions with the Ibibio, and speak closely related varieties of Ibibio-Efik which are more or less mutually intelligible.]


The Ibibio people are reputed to be the earliest inhabitants of the south eastern Nigeria. It is estimated that they arrived at their present abode from very earliest times, about 7000 B.C. In spite of the historical account, it is not clear when the people known as Ibibio arrived the state. According to some scholars, they might have come from the central Benue valley, particularly, the Jukun influence in the old Calabar at some historical time period. Another pointer is the wide-spread use of the manila, a popular currency used by the Jukuns. Coupled with this is the Jukun southern drive to the coast which appears to have been recently compared with the formation of Akwa Ibom settlements in their present location.

Another version had it that the Cameroon will offer a more concise explanation of the Ibibio migration story. This was corroborated by oral testimonies by field workers who say that the core Ibibio people were of the Afaha lineage whose original home was Usak Edet in the Cameroon. This was premised on the fact that among the Ibibio people, Usak Edet is popularly known as Edit Afaha (Afaha’s Creek) which reflects the fact that Ibibio people originated from Usak Edet. After the first bulk of the people arrived in what later became Nigeria, they settled first at Ibom then in Arochukwu. The Ibibio must have lived in Ibom for quite sometime, but as a result of clashes with the Igbo people culminating into the famous ‘Ibibio War’ which took place about 1300 and 1400 A.D, they left Ibom and moved to the present day Ibibio land.


The Ibibio people are found predominantly in Akwa Ibom state and are related to the Anaang community, the Ibibio community and the Eket and Oron communities, although other groups usually understand the Ibibio language. Because of the larger population of the Ibibio people, they hold political control over Akwa-Ibom State, but government is shared with the Anaangs, Eket and Oron. The political system follows the traditional method of consensus. Even though elections are held, practically, the political leaders are pre-discussed in a manner that is benefiting to all.

Location of Ibibioland

The Ibibio people are located in the South South geopolitical zone of Nigeria also known as Coastal Southeastern Nigeria. Prior to the existence of Nigeria as a nation, the Ibibio people were self-governed. The Ibibio people became a part of the Eastern Nigeria of Nigeria under British colonial rule. During the Nigerian Civil War, the Eastern region was split into three states. Southeastern State of Nigeria was where the Ibibio were located, one of the original twelve states of Nigeria) after Nigerian independence. The Efik, Anaang, Oron, Eket and their brothers and sisters of the Ogoja District, were also in the Southeastern State. The state (Southeastern State) was later renamed Cross Rivers State. On 23 September 1987, by Military Decree No.24, Akwa Ibom State was carved out of the then Cross Rivers State as a separate state. Cross Rivers State remains as one of neighbouring states.

Southwestern Cameroon was a part of present Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. During the then Eastern Region of Nigeria it got partitioned into Cameroon in a 1961 plebiscite. This resulted in the Ibibio, Efik, and Annang being divided between Nigeria and Cameroon. However, the leadership of the Northern Region of Nigeria was able to keep “Northwestern section” during the plebiscite that is now today’s Nigerian Adamawa and Taraba states.

Political system

Traditionally Ibibio society consists of communities that are made up of Large Families with blood affinity each ruled by their Constitutional and Religious Head known as the Ikpaisong’. The Obong Ikpaisong ruled with the Mbong Ekpuk (Head of the Families)which together with the Heads of the Cults and Societies constitute the ‘Afe or Asan or Esop Ikpaisong’ (Traditional Council or Traditional Shrine or Traditional Court’). The decisions or orders of the Traditional Council or the Obong Ikpaisong were enforced by members of the Ekpo or Obon society who act as messengers of the spirits and the military and police of the Community. Ekpo members are always masked when performing their policing duties, and although their identities are almost always known, fear of retribution from the ancestors prevents most people from accusing those members who overstep their social boundaries, effectively committing police brutality. Membership is open to all Ibibio males, but one must have access to wealth to move into the politically influential grades. The Obon society with its strong enticing traditional musical prowess, with popular acceptability, openly executes its mandates with musical procession and popular participation by members which comprises children, youth, adults and very brave elderly women.


Pre-Colonial Era

Ibibio religion was of two dimensions, which centered on the pouring of libation, worship, consultation, communication and invocation of the God of Heaven (Abasi Enyong) and God of the Earth (Abasi Isong) by the Constitutional and Religious King/Head of a particular Ibibio Community who was known from the ancient times as the Obong-Ikpaisong (the word ‘Obong Ikpaisong’ directly interpreted means King of the Principalities of the Earth’ or ‘King of the Earth and the Principalities’ or Traditional Ruler).[5] The second dimension of Ibibio Religion centered on the worship, consultation, invocation, sacrifice, appeasement, etc. of the God of the Heaven (Abasi Enyong) and the God of the Earth (Abasi Isong)through various invisible or spiritual entities (Ndem) of the various Ibibio Division such as Etefia Ikono, Awa Itam, etc. The Priests of these spiritual entities (Ndem) were the Temple Chief Priests of the various Ibibio Divisions. A particular Ibibio Division could consist of many inter-related autonomous communities or Kingdoms ruled by an autonomous Priest-King called Obong-Ikpaisong, assisted by Heads of the various Large Families (Mbong Ekpuk) which make up the Community. These have been the ancient political and religious system of Ibibio people from time immemorial. Tradition, interpreted in Ibibio Language, is ‘Ikpaisong’. Tradition (Ikpaisong) in Ibibio Custom embodies the Religious and Political System. The word ‘Obong’ in Ibibio language means ‘Ruler, King, Lord, Chief, Head’ and is applied depending on the Office concern. In reference to the Obong-Ikpaisong, the word ‘Obong’ means ‘King’ In reference to the Village Head, the word means ‘Chief’. In reference to the Head of the Families (Obong Ekpuk), the word means ‘Head’ In reference to God, the word means ‘Lord’. In reference to the Head of the various societies – e.g. ‘Obong Obon’, the word means ‘Head or Leader’.

Colonial and Post-Colonial Era

The Ibibios were introduced to Christianity through the work of early missionaries in the nineteenth century. Samuel Bill started his work at Ibeno. He established the Qua Iboe Church which later spread places in the middle belt of Nigeria. Later, other churches were also introduced e.g. The Apostolic church. Independent churches such as Deeper Life Bible Church, came into the area in the second part of the twentieth century. Today Ibibio people are predominantly Christian.


The masks and accoutrements of the Ekpo society make up the greatest works of art in Ibibio society. Drumming and music are also important elements in Ekpe ceremonies. The wooden sculpture from this area is also very detailed, and artists are just as likely to capture beauty.

Ibibio tribes and ethnic groupsSee also: Ibibio-Efik languages

The Ibibio are divided into six subcultural groups: Eastern Ibibio, or Ibibio Proper; Western Ibibio, or Annang; Northern Ibibio, or Enyong; Southern Ibibio, or Eket; Delta Ibibio, or Andomi-Ibeno; and Riverine Ibibio, or Efik.


  • Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria
  • Cross River State of Nigeria
  • Benue Area of Nigeria (Efik-Ibibio people were fourth largest ethnic group of original settlers of Benue of Nigeria)

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