Facts, Origin, Lifestyle & Population Of The Efik People

Efik happens to be an ethnic group that is believed to have originated from Cross River State, and which large population are found in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Ghana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Cuba, among other places.

Facts, Origin, Lifestyle & Population Of The Efik People

The Efik are an ethnic group located primarily in southern Nigeria, in the southern part of Cross River State. The Efik speak the Efik language which is a Benue–Congo language of the Cross River family. Efik oral histories tell of migration down the Cross River from Arochukwu to found numerous settlements in the Calabar and Creek Town area. Creek Town and its environs are often commonly referred to as Calabar, and its people as Calabar people, after the European name Calabar Kingdom given to the state [in present-day Cross River State. Calabar is not to be confused with the Kalabari Kingdom in Rivers State which is an Ijaw state to its west. Cross River State with Akwa Ibom State was formerly one of the original twelve states of Nigeria known as the Southeastern State.

Ethno-linguistic groups in Nigeria. Efik-Ibibio in burgundy at bottom.
Ethno-linguistic groups in Nigeria. Efik-Ibibio in burgundy at bottom.

The Efik people also occupy southwestern Cameroon including Bakassi. This area, formerly a trust territory from German Cameroon, was administered as a part of the Eastern Region of Nigeria until it achieved autonomy in 1954, thus separating the Efik people politically. This separation was further extended when as a result of a 1961 plebiscite the area voted to join the Republic of Cameroon. Most of the area was immediately transferred, but in August 2006 – Nigeria handed over the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.

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The Efik people are found in the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria, in “the South Eastern corner of the Cross River State.” They occupy the basins of the Lower Cross River and down to the Bakassi Peninsula, the Calabar River and down to its tributaries – the Kwa River, Akpayafe (Akpa Ikang) and the Eniong Creek.” They occupied Calabar “towards the end of the seventeenth century or at the beginning of the 18th century.” The Efik are related to the Annang, Ibibio, Oron, Biase, Akamkpa, Uruan, and Eket people.

Although the actual origins of the Efik people are unknown, oral traditions provide accounts of their migration from Igbo and Ibibio territory (to the north-west of Calabar) to the present location. The bulk of them left to Uruan in present-day Akwa Ibom State, some to Eniong and surrounding areas. They stayed in Uruan for about a hundred or so years and then moved to Ikpa Ene and Ndodihi briefly before crossing over to their final destination in Creek Town (Esit Edik / Obio Oko). There would seem to be three successive stages in the history of efik migration and settlement: (a) an Igbo phase (b) an Ibibio phase and (c) the drift to the coast.[citation needed] The people of Uruan were said to have given them the name “Efik” deriving from a verb meaning to press or oppress, since they were alleged to be aggressive.

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The language spread of Efik in the United States according to U.S. Census 2000
The language spread of Efik in the United States according to U.S. Census 2000.

Although their economy was originally based on fishing, the area quickly developed into a major trading centre and remained so well into the early 1900s. Incoming European goods were traded for slaves, palm oil and other palm products. The Efik kings collected a trading tax called comey from docking ships until the British replaced it with ‘comey subsidies’. The diary of Antera Duke, an Efik, is the only surviving record from an African slave-trading house.

The Efik were the middle men between the white traders on the coast and the inland tribes of the Cross River and Calabar district. Christian missions were at work among the Efiks beginning in the middle of the 19th century. Mary Slessor, a Presbyterian missionary from Scotland, was concerned with eliminating the superstitious practice of killing twin babies. Even by 1900, many of the native peoples were well educated in European ideologies and culture, professed Christianity and dressed in European fashion.

Facts, Origin, Lifestyle & Population Of The Efik People

In 1884 the Efik kings and the chiefs of the Efik placed themselves under British protection. These treaties and attendant territorial economic rights, are documented in CAP 23 of Laws of Eastern Nigeria, captioned ‘Comey subsidies law’. The Efik king, also known as the Obong of Calabar, still (as of 2006) is a political power among the Efik. The Efik and indeed the people of the Old Calabar kingdom were the first to embrace western education in present-day Nigeria, with the establishment of Hope Waddel Training Institute, Calabar in 1895 and the Methodist Boys’ High School, Oron in 1905.

Secret societies

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A powerful bond of union among the Efik, and one that gives them considerable influence over other tribes, is the secret society known as the Ekpe,[11] the inventor of the Nsibidi, an ancient African script. This society was transformed into the Abakuá cult in Cuba, the Bonkó cult in Bioko and the Abakuya dance in mainland Equatorial Guinea. The Ekpe society is exclusive for male, while females have their own Ekpa society.[11] People of Efik descent are known as ñáñigos or carabalís in Cuba.

Ekpe Ekoi skin covered head dress
Ekpe Ekoi skin covered head dress.


The Efik people speak the Efik language, which is a Benue–Congo language of the Cross River family.

King Duke of Calabar, 1895
King Duke of Calabar, 1895.


Efik populations are found in the following regions:

Cross River State, Nigeria
Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria
Bioko, Equatorial Guinea
Cuba and the West Indies
Western Cameroon
Benue (Efik-Ibibio people were fourth largest ethnic group of original settlers of Benue area of Nigeria)

Facts, Origin, Lifestyle & Population Of The Efik People


Edikang Ikong is a vegetable soup that originated among the Efik. Afang soup is another popular cuisine sort for all over the federation and beyond.

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