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  E´kpe` ‘leopard’ society in Africa and theAmericas: influence and values of anancient tradition Ivor Miller and Mathew Ojong( First submission May 2011; First published April 2012 ) Abstract The E´kpe` (‘leopard’) society represents an ancient African institution thathad provided the supreme functions of governance in the communalsocieties of the forest regions of the Cross-River basin and the hilly terrainto the east. With the colonial intervention in the late nineteenth century,the emergence of modern individualism and western political systems hastended to ignore the important roleswhich E´kpe` played in the past, leadingin some cases to its condemnation as a primitive institution that should beforgotten in light of monotheism. This essay discusses the srcins of E´kpe`,its symbolism, its values, its gender dynamics, its dispersal within Africaand the Americas, with the intent to demonstrate its relevance tocontemporary community relations in all regions where E´kpe` traditionhas been sustained, such as Cameroon, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeriaand, most recently, the USA. Keywords:  Abakua´; African diaspora; Cross River region; Cuba; E´kpe` ‘leopard’society; traditional community police. Origins of E´kpe` in African Societies E´kpe` is an ancient African institution incorporating art forms andperformance styles of dance, music and esoteric knowledge. Its srcinsremain obscure over centuries of its existence, but it is nonethelessacknowledged to be an invention of communities inhabiting the forestregion of West and Central Africa. The controlling and integrativequalities of E´kpe` provided security and solidarity to migrating groupsfrom the earliest times of their dispersals through the forested andriverine areas. E´kpe` had four major roles in pre-colonial life: first, the Ethnic and Racial Studies 2012 pp. 1    16, iFirst Article # 2012 Taylor & FrancisISSN 0141-9870 print/1466-4356 onlinehttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2012.676200  conferment of full citizenship    holding a title in E ´ kpe` accorded one thestatus of full citizen with rights to make decisions having implicationsfor the entire community, much like the respect accorded to the  togavirilis  in ancient Rome. E ´ kpe` was also the no-nonsense communitypolice, with the power to discipline and, as a measure of punishment, toconfiscate the property of a community member who disobeyed the law.And E ´ kpe` provided entertainment, with dances, music and body-maskperformance, for members. Finally, E ´ kpe` was a school for esotericteachings regarding the human life as a cyclic process of regeneration,with the eventual reincarnation of that being.E ´ kpe`, in its literal translation, means  ‘ the leopard ’ , an animalconceived by traditional Africans throughout the forest belt to be asymbol of strength, tenacity, agility and vitality. These virtues wereconsidered necessary for any well-organized society that aspired toorder, peace and stability. But why the leopard of all animals? Used as asymbol of royalty and leadership in many parts of Africa, within theCross River region the leopard has become the personification of the E ´ kpe` society itself. Generally within African perceptions of themysterious, the leopard is a  ‘ sacred ’  animal that is active in the nightwhen ordinary humans are dormant. The reverence accorded to theleopard seems justifiable to the native since it is corroborated by thefact that this animal is at the top of the food chain, devouring allothers while remaining secure, stable and un-subdued (cf. Rosevear1974: 441, 446).Historians and anthropologists have speculated that the sources of the E ´ kpe` society are from the Nigerian-Cameroon border area,inhabited largely bygroups of peoples speaking Bantu-related languagessuch as Ke ´ a ´ ka`, Balondo, E ´  ja ´ gha ´ m, Badundu, Etung and so on (cf.Talbot 1912; Thompson 1983; Leib and Romano 1984; Nicklin 1991;Onor 1994; Tangban 1982, 2003). These communities were geographi-cally contiguous, already clustered before the balkanization of theregion by German, British and French administrations into the separateentities of present-day Nigeria and Cameroon. Before then, all was  ‘ theforest region ’ . Within these affiliated territories, E ´ kpe` was a widespreadform of governance used primarily to institute regional authority, aswell as to ensure justice, peace and commerce in communities wherecentralized kingdoms were rare. E ´ kpe` symbolism: the body-mask The E ´ kpe` institution is represented in public displays as a body-mask,accompanied by a group of singers, drummers and a spectrum of activities by other actors. For example, in the region of Ikom-urbanand Etung, jesters and demonstrators of Ns ı `b ı `d ı ` signs often accom-pany the procession to enhance the performance. 2  Ivor Miller and Mathew Ojong   E ´ kpe` body-masks perform two functions: one to ensure anonymityand the other as a symbol of power, of its unchallengeability. Theaspect of anonymity is considered sacred. Because the justice metedout can be harsh, the identity of the mask carrier must be concealed toavoid recriminations by those affected.Another role of the body-mask is signified by the bell carried on itswaist to announce its presence, a symbol of the openness of E ´ kpe`authority. The  ‘ leopard ’ society does not operate surreptitiously, but inthe open. The enduring principle is that, as a system of justice, E ´ kpe`does not have to hide itself. No opposition to it is possible becausedecisions by the council of elders are final. Those who attempt tooppose E ´ kpe` sanctions will be fined heavily, to the extent of losingtheir land in extreme cases, thus alienating them from the community.For example, in 1850 in Calabar, the Reverend Anderson inquired of the  ‘ king ’  what would happen to anyone who broke an E ´ kpe` law:  ‘ Heassured me that it is so strong a law that no man can break it. Wishingto know the penalty, I asked if Egbo [E ´ kpe`] would kill him? 1 The replywas,  ‘‘ He will chop him down to nothing ’’ ; that is, he will forfeit toEgbo [E ´ kpe`] all that he possesses ’  (Marwick 1897, p. 237). E ´ kpe` and gender E ´ kpe` did not represent a small faction of people, but the communityitself acting as adjudicator, since its decisions affected the entirecommunity (Toyo 2011). Nevertheless, E ´ kpe` was a male-dominateddance group and social institution. An E ´ kpe` chief preferred to initiatehis first son, or any of his sons, into E ´ kpe`, as a status symbol tocomplement his position in society. In the lower Cross River region    particularly among the E`f  ı `k, E`fu ´ u`t, Eket, I`b ı `b ı `o`, Qua-E ´  ja ´ gha ´ m andU ´  ru ´ a ´ n     women were completely excluded from participation. AnE ´ kpe` chieftain, however, could be allowed to initiate any of hisdaughters into E ´ kpe` society, but this initiation was usually honoraryand cosmetic. In practice, this act granted them access to the E ´ kpe`playground (i.e., the patio of an E ´ kpe` lodge) and association with itsmembers without fear of intimidation. Similarly, in the upper CrossRiver region of Ikom, Etung and Okuni, women were excluded, exceptfor older women past menopause, who were allowed to participate inthe entertainment activities inside the E ´ kpe` temple.In the northern Cross River region of Ogoja, Boki and Obanliku,women have greater participation inside the lodge itself, for exampleamong the Balegete. Among the Upper Banyang and the Bangwa inCameroon every Mfor Mbge` (lodge leader) designates one of hisdaughters to serve as the Manyang Arong (female member) whoparticipates in the lodge to assist her father. 2 E ´ kpe` ‘leopard’ society in Africa and the Americas  3  There were also some intrinsic and symbolic aspects of E ´ kpe`ceremony in the Calabar region that required the intervention of elderly women of high status in the society. For instance, the ceremonyof the replacement of a deceased Paramount Ruler or  ‘ king ’  with anew one was usually accompanied by the invocation of the ancestorsby such a woman    ideally the oldest woman of the community whois an E ´ kpe` initiate     without whom the rites cannot be completed(cf. Talbot 1915, p. 193). E ´ kpe` tradition holds that, while the king isdead, esoterically his soul lives on and the next king must inherit thatsoul. To make that possible, a woman of high recognition in thesociety, sometimes with the right connection to the royal house, wasrequired to perform a particular role in the obsequies. On the onehand, this is explained by reference to a mythological female founderof E ´ kpe`, without whom the society would not exist. On the otherhand, women past menopause and who no longer have sexualintercourse are considered to be spiritually potent.Women too had their own associations that excluded men except inrare cases, in keeping with a generalized pattern of separate-but-parallel gendered spheres of social life. Among the E ´  ja ´ gha ´ m, the Ekpasociety was prominent in defining the authority of women. In the earlytwentieth century, Talbot noted that  ‘ [t]he women ’ s society, Ekkpa...isthe same as the one called  ‘‘ Oo ´ m ’’  at Big Kwa town...this society isthought so powerful as to take for women the place of the men ’ s Egbo[E ´ kpe`] ’  (1912, p. 225). The medicines used were thought to be  ‘ strongenough to kill a man, and can ward off sickness    especially small-pox    from family or town. ’  Ekpa still functions as a cleansing ritualagainst diseases and anti-social behaviour in villages of the northernCross River region. 3 The potency of such women ’ s societies wasgeneral in the Cross River region, particularly the Nimm society of E ´  ja ´ gha ´ m peoples, the Ebere and Iban Isong of the I`b ı `b ı `o`s and theNde`m in Calabar (cf. Talbot 1915: 7, 189    91). Community dispersals within Africa Over the centuries, the E ´ kpe` institution has spread throughout vastgeographical and cultural terrains that are among the most diverselinguistically and ethnically in the world (cf. Ottenberg & Knudsen1985; Ro ¨ schenthaler 2011). In the face of such complexity, a sharedinstitution like E ´ kpe` functioned to integrate communities, as well asto consolidate relationships among peoples. These functions weresignificant in communities historically known to be autonomousprincipalities, stateless, without centralized governments, devoid of standing armies or a systematized judiciary. In this context, E ´ kpe`society provided an authoritative framework to regulate socialinteraction above the level of the extended family group. Copious 4  Ivor Miller and Mathew Ojong 
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