By JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE
The Efik people love their culture, cuisine and fashion and are proud to showcase them any day .
For many years , there has been widespread claim that Efik women lure and hold onto men through delicacies . They achieve this feat after undergoing domestic training in the Fattening Room . This training focuses on home economics (like cooking and housekeeping), childcare and how to respect and make her husband to be and his family happy. The older women , guided by their vast experiences offer advice and admonition to younger women on how to be successful in marriage.
The Efiks resident in Abuja seem to take the warning by the United Nations (UN), that many languages and cultures will go extinct, especially in Nigeria, if adequate measures are not taken to preserve it, seriously.
Their concern in this area showed clearly at an outing last week. They believe in the saying that a stitch in time serves nine. To halt the existential threats of aculturation, urbanisation and modernisation they must talk to themselves
Their fear is heightened by the fact that most modern Efik parents especially those residing in other countries and Nigerian cities are reluctant in passing the language and cultural heritage to their wards and children .
Frankly speaking, it is not strange to see parents these days speaking , on regular basis , English to their children rather than the native language .
All these and more were adduced as the reason for organizing the maiden edition of “Usen”, a mini-carnival and get together by the Efik community in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The meeting was help them display their fashion, cuisine, culture and above all interact closely and freely in their native language.
The maiden edition of “Usen” which means day, was put together by the Chief Executive Officer of the Cool Cover, Mr. John Offiong. According to him, he is deeply concerned that the Efik culture and language were “fast disappearing from our homes, especially those in Abuja”.
He explained , “Usen means day. It could be day of joy, birth, celebration. For us in Abuja is a day of bringing the whole Efik – The Efuts, Abakpas, Efiks, in Abuja to sit together and make merry.”
According to Offiong, it was also to showcase their rich culture and cuisine to their friends from other cultures as well as create a harmonious community familiar with their roots.
Offiong who expressed optimism that the event which will now hold every last Saturday of the year, will attract more sponsors. He assured that it will not be a one-man show beginning from next year describing Efiks as proud people with rich cultural heritage that are admired all over the world and hence, worth preserving. He further noted that as people troop to Calabar every year to watch the cultural festival, they want to create such effect here in Abuja that will attract not only the Efik people of Efik but people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
He said “Our vision is basically to come together and form a united front, displaying our rich culture, cuisine, to our friends that are not from our state. But most importantly, is showcasing our culture to our young children who have never been home or don’t go frequently as they should.
“Our maiden outing is very impressive. We had to bring the masquerades from Calabar to display here. This is the first edition and is going to be a yearly event on the last Saturday of every November henceforth.
“Initially I thought it would be very difficult to get people together but considering the fact that our culture is very unique and everyone will want to watch our masquerades, 90 per cent of those that turned up are Efiks but the rest 10 per cent are people from other tribes. Everyone is aware of Calabar carnival so if you call this a mini-Calabar carnival you won’t be wrong.
“One of the thing that is making us do this is because gradually is becoming a challenge to hear our kids speak our dialect. If this trend continues, we will at the end of the day lose our language and lose our culture. So we have to ensure our kids embrace our culture and language just the way our forefathers handed down to us.
“It takes a lot of funds to do this but thank God we pulled through. This year was sponsored by Coolcover Group but hopefully next year we will have more sponsors. This is our culture and our people are proud people who like to display our culture and would want to sustain it.
“The children’s excitement has been phenomenal. A lot of them were wowed by the display of the masquerades and they came out to dance. A lot of them have never seen these number of masquerade at the same time. This the first time it has happened in Abuja though it has happened in the Calabar community in Surulere, Lagos. We want the children not to be scared of the masquarade but to enjoy and dance along.
“Is the fault of the parents that the children are unable to speak our dialect that is why we want to encourage that. A lot of schools do cultural day, your kids should be able to fluently talk about his or her culture. They should be able to show their culinery skills afterall is not by mistake that we are good cooks. In my days while growing up in Calabar, I grew up listening to our high life music from the likes of Peter Efiom, Inyang Ita Henshaw and any time those musics are played I sing along effortlessly but that is not so with our kids. We want them to be free to speak our language, eat our food, wear our clothes, and sing our songs flawlessly. This event will encourage the parents to do this at home”.
On the turn out, Offiong said, ”We are overwhelmed with the turn out. The Head of Service of the Federation considering her busy schedule made it out here and is enjoying every segment of the event. I’m sure next year will surpass this one.
“In the next five years it will become a big reunion event of the Efiks in Abuja”.
The Head of Service of the Federation (HOS), Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, who sat through the event, expressed happiness on the success of the event especially the fact it would encourage parents to speak their local dialects to their children.
Oyo-Ita said that she is an advocate of passing one’s cultural heritage to their next generation, saying that all her children can speak her language and urged other parents to do so.
”The event is an opportunity for us to meet old friends who maybe here with us in Abuja but we don’t know. We are also able to interact with people from other parts of the country and non-Nigerians resident in Abuja, we have also come to witness the legendary Efik hospitality.
“Is a very good event, a social cultural event but is also an opportunity for us to speak to ourselves to see how we can bond together, to make this present administration of President Buhari successful one. Because this is one administration that has identified with the people of Cross River State. I am very happy to be here.
Oyo-Ita also threw are support behind the need to preserve the Efik language.
“Is important for parents to speak their local dialect with their children, I for one I speak my dialect with my children and they understand Efik.
On display were masquerades like Ekpe (a lion which symbolizes authority), Ebongo, Nnabo, Nsibide, Asimanyom, Ekong, Ogele, and Atemtem, Ebonko and cultural dances like Abang, Akpan and Afia Anwan amongst others were.
The cuisine on display include eresi isip (coconut rice), Afang, Edikang ikong (vegetable), Otong (okro) soups, amongst others.