Ejagham, Ekoi in Cameroon

Ejagham, Ekoi
Photo Source:  Anonymous 
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People Name: Ejagham, Ekoi
Country: Cameroon
10/40 Window: No
Population: 104,000
World Population: 234,000
Primary Language: Ejagham
Primary Religion: Christianity
Christian Adherents: 74.00 %
Evangelicals: 12.00 %
Scripture: New Testament
Online Audio NT: Yes
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Benue
Affinity Bloc: Sub-Saharan Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

Ejagham in Cameroon, known also as Eastern Ejagham (EE), is part of the larger Ejagham community found across the southern border between Nigeria and Cameroon; that is, South-Eastern part of Nigeria and Southwest Province of Cameroon. The larger Ejagham world has always been a united community until the colonial era which saw it split between two international borders that are now Nigeria and Cameroon. In what became Cameroon, Ejagham and the rest of the indigenous communities in this territory first came under German rule before the French took over. Despite the international line of demarcation, the Ejagham people still consider themselves as one entity hence, their descriptive form of their name Ekpokpa which translates as “a united people”. This can be seen in their culture and tradition which remains largely the same despite the international border between them. The Ejagham believe they originated from an area around Lake Ejagham (sometimes rendered as Lake Ijagham in older literatures) found in Manyu Division. Their origin stories are varied, having been passed down from generations through oral tradition. Such origin stories sometimes bear strong connections with Lake Ejagham which indicates its centrality in their geography and historical development. Due to internal strife, they began migrating in groups mainly towards the area that is now Cross River State in Nigeria. The abundance of salt mines has been attributed to be one of the pull factors for this destination and choice of new settlements. One group is believed to have been led by the prominent warrior-king called Attah Akam Nku who established a kingdom that evolved to what is identified today as the Ofutop and Bakor groups. The Ejagham in Cameroon have as part of their culture, the skin-layered headdresses which they invented and agurr, a unique anklet worn by the mmuoninkim (a betrothed maiden) during a customary period of ritual seclusion and outing ceremony. They are also known for the creation of mgbe, a graded, male-only society as well as nsibidi, their tradition alphabets and form of writing. Ejagham in Cameroon is mainly an agrarian community engaging predominantly in subsistent farming. Crops include yam, cassava, plantain, maize, groundnut, cocoa among others.

Where Are they Located?

Ejagham community in Cameroon is found in the Southwest Province. Here, their communities stretch to the southern border with Nigeria, that is, South-Eastern part of Nigeria where the Ejagham of Nigeria are located. Their highest concentration is in the Manyu Division within the Province.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Ejagham are a traditional people with practices that have been passed down from generations. Some of these practices are their festivals, most prominent of which is the new yam festival. During this event celebrations are held, and rituals are conducted to honour their deities and ancestors for the harvests. Even though the festival is called ‘new yam’, it is celebration of the generality of harvests and any fortunes or successes people may have had in the year. Therefore, to the Ejagham in Cameroon just as the larger community, yam is both iconic and indicative of success thus, men are distinguished by their yam title known as nti maetahn. Individuals with this title, and families whose member(s) hold the title form the upper class of the Ejagham society. Nkim is another important tradition. It combines marking the coming of age and marriage ceremony for the maiden who at this point is called mmuoninkim. During nkim, a betrothed maiden stays indoors for an extended period (usually for at least two months) and is cared for by her family and the family of her husband-to-be. It is planned in such a way that other maidens in the community would also be ready for nkim which makes it a group ceremony and therefore, exciting. On set days, the maidens come out to dance and be celebrated. These initial outings serve as warmups to the grand finale oduu’nkim when they are expected to put up their best performance, and immediately after which they are expected to join their husbands in matrimony. This is signified by her husband with his friends and/or age grade in much jubilation coming to lift her up from the playground (effa) to her new home. On the day of the grand finale, abuonokim (plural for mmuoninkim) are adorned with beautiful traditional ornaments and makeup before they perform at the playground. Thus, much display of financial capacity on the part of the family and creativity on the part of the craftsmen may be involved. Some of the craftsmanship involved like the design of agurr (anklets) are closely guarded secrets held within families. Nkim involves female genital mutilation which is traditionally considered a circumcision. Subtle competitions are involved during Nkim as the spectators often make comparison over which of the abuonokim is better adorned, which was more fattened or looked healthier, which was a better dancer, and which family and/or husband-to-be family could afford to keep their mmuoninkim in seclusion for longer. This adds up to the overall build up to the oduu’nkim – the final outing ceremony – and for some Ejagham groups like the Ofutop, nkim is so serious that for the rest of the woman’s life, her mates and any elder in the community may choose to call her mmouninkim as a mark of respect. Ejagham society is organised in age grades which serve various functions. Specific age grades may be assigned to tasks or financial levies which contribute to the development and overall welfare of the community. These tasks may include anything from clearing overgrown bushes by roadsides to cleaning of drainages. Also, there are several gender-specific societies like Otaba which is male-only and ekpa, a female-only society among others. Elders are held at high esteem and in their different capacities they contribute to administrative policy of the community. All this have their place and relevance in the overall sociological developments that distinguish Ejagham in the history, anthropology, ethnology, and cosmology of the peoples of Africa.

The Ejagham in Cameroon speak Ejagham with various subdialects. As a former British mandate territory, this community speaks English unlike the rest of the country which speaks French. For this reason, linguistically, the Ejagham in Cameroon are part of Anglophone Cameroon.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Belief for Ejagham in Cameroon centres on osowo osusó (the god on high) who is approached or interacted with through ancestors and other mediums/intermediaries. Like most African traditional beliefs, the mediums/intermediaries through which they interact with the ‘god on high’ whom they believe is supreme are categorized into higher and lesser mediums. Deities like mforgha, ezza (eja), ekpa, and others constitute the higher intermediaries while ancestors come next in the hierarchy. In another religious or cosmological sense, these deities collectively may constitute what the Ejagham refer to as osowo atuor (the god on earth). As B.A Okon (2023) indicated ancestors are important in these beliefs because to them, “the dead have only lost the sense of seeing but not that of hearing, so they can always listen to our cry for help whenever we call on them”. From this prism, it could be seen why ancestor veneration has a prominent place in Ejagham belief system.

Prayer Points

Prayer for peace to return. Prayer for political stability. Prayer for the salvation of souls. Prayer for economic development for the community. Prayer for volunteers for the mission field in this area. Prayer for the safety of missionaries in this area. Prayer for donation of aid by individuals and organisations for those affected by the war.

Text Source:   Anonymous