Ancestral Spirits Embodied in Ekpu Figurines of the Oron People

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Ekpu Oro ancestral figures existed as summaries of the personal and social experiences of the Oron people of Southeastern Nigeria - they embodied Oron spiritual beliefs and cultural history; hence, were vessels for the spirits of the dead that instilled great influence over the daily, religious, and social lives of the living. As an art form, Ekpu held the key to understanding Oron past tradition that was largely destroyed by colonial and Christian presence in Oron society. This book attempts to reconstruct the histories of Ekpu Oro figures and the Oron people through art historical analysis and ethno-historical reconstruction based. It will also be an experiment in methodology, relying substantially on collected oral testimony and interviews with Oron elders, diviners, and titled chiefs. Thus, this book focuses on the significance of Ekpu figures in Oron life, because of missionary presence, colonial punitive expeditions, and how Ekpu figures served to hold Oron collective memories of Oron people despite overwhelming social changes. This book contains 35 black and white photographs.


“Onyile greatly extends the depth of the study. Explaining symbolic dimensions of the carving style that are limited to the Oron people alone, he interprets the characteristic swollen abdomen of Ekpu figures, as well as conventions used in depicting clothing, accoutrements, hairstyles and headgear. He also expands the breadth of the research, discussing the Ekpu in relation to gender distinctions and the status of each Oron family. As a result, this thorough account deserves recognition as the definitive authority on this individualistic branch of Nigerian art.” - Barbara W. Blackmun, Emeritus Professor of Art History, Mesa College

Table of Contents

Embodied Spirits of Ekpu Ancestral Figures
Table of Content
List of Maps
List of Figures
Objectifying Oron
Chapter 1
The Oron People and Ekpu
Traditions of Oron’s Origin
Usakedet Tradition (East–West)
Igbo–Otong Ama Traditions (North–South)
Ibibio Tradition
Middle East Tradition
Andoni–Oron Tradition
Connecting Oral Narratives to Ekpu Oro
Oron Cosmology
Parallel Meaning in Christianity
Development of Odu Oro
Imagining the Oron Self
Chapter 2
Historical Overview
Oron Family
Structure of Oron Family
Defining Ekpu
Ekpu Characteristics
Comparative Analysis of Styles
Chapter 3
Oron Sociopolitical System
Iban Isong Association
Eke Eme Oro
Situating Women in Oron Society
Ekpe Fraternity
Ekpe/Abakuá Synthesis
Inam Institution
Chapter 4
Primitive Methodist Mission in Oron
The Bible and the Plough
Consular Administration
Colonial Rule in Oron
Christian Impact in Oron
Chapter 5
Ekpu Transformation
Oron Museum
Archival Sources
Books and Other Unpublished Works

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