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History of Mfom People from the Earliest Times To 1900

A History of Mfom People from the Earliest Times To 1900

CHAPTER ONE

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

            One of the key factors that tend to make the Nigeria social setting rather complicated is the heterogeneous grouping of its people. It is also important to understand that as one move from one area to the other within the country one will begin to see how people do things in different ways due to their ethnic, linguistic and cultural divisions. In places like Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa and even Cross River here, for example, one can see this language cluster, within a very small geographical area or location. It is key to also understand that here in Nigeria, for example, research shows that there are about 500 languages in the country. This indeed means that there are atleast about 250 ethnic groups as well as many cultural groups in the country. And just as these people differ linguistically, so also is to their general way of life.

Each tribe speaking its own separate mother tongue which may have a culture or way of life that is different from every other tribe. These divisions of language and culture are formidable barriers to good relations.

This has eventually led to the problem of “tribalism” which government after government within the nation has tried to solve with little success, but organizations like the church refuse to recognize it as a problem. However, this difference not withstanding Nigeria tends to be people oriented. This is particularly true when one comes into any of the ethnic groups, at that level, it then becomes “homogeneous in terms of social structure, way of communication and cultural identification.

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION, LAND AND PHYSICAL FEATURES OF MFOM

Mfom is found in Ogoja local government area of Cross River State, located at about 26 kilometers in the South-East of Ogoja. They are bounded in the North by the Obudu speaking people, Yala people to the south and the Boki speaking people in the West: Mfom being one of the major communities in Ogoja local government Area is divided into two major settlements; Mfom 1 and 2. The village under Mfom generally include; Ejapemang Ewemmbp, Ekanji, Njpakenah, Nbangkakerah, Mwang Nniteh, Nyakeh, Nkpalleh, Mgbenkpin, Ekaduna, Akpate fan, Adegbo, Ejunction, Akpunung, Ntumtem, Nkuliyah and Takekare.

Subsequently, Mfom has a land mass of about 592 km2 and a population of about (20,000) as at 2006 National Population Census, who all speak “FOM” as their language. FOM language simply means ‘love’. Mfom is a forest area with a few numbers of notable hills, mountains and as well rivers. Some of these physical features found in Mfom land indeed separated them from some of their neighbours. Like the Obudu speaking people who are found in the North are both separated by the river called “Oki-Mfom”. Their soil is reddish in colour and is suitable for agriculture and majority of the people are farmers who grow yams, cocoyam, maize, plantain, banana, rice and cassava. It is still very obvious that the Mfom people major source of livelihood is subsistence agriculture. Mfom people are well known within the state and even beyond in agricultural activities especially farming.

Infact, as historian, many factors motivate me to write on this history. Ofcourse, several people may have written on the history of Mfom people but I discovered that so many mistakes made have to be corrected and thereby promote the history of Mfom. Indeed, one of the conflicting issues to this history is the wrong dating and documentation. It is very obvious that from what is personally read and my field experience through the oral information collected, I also found out that sequence in history is key. Therefore, for the purpose of knowledge and clear documentation, so this history must follow their order of occurrence. This simply means that events that occurred especially in early 60s and 70s respectively are properly dated1.

Furthermore, many people wrote on this history in order to suit their political interest in order words, about thing which were not really historical i.e. it could be called political propaganda. There is also a need to expand the history of Mfom because, I found out that detail about the Mfom people historically were not fully collected and documented. Not yet enough, some of these facts that have been documented or written by these hungry writers are very much questionable by many in this present generation especially those in the field of history. Therefore, my motivation on this topic is to address all these conflicting issues.

PEOPLE AND TRADITIONS OF MFOM

Traditions are set of beliefs, customs that have been handed down. According to Chief Monjima2, there were number of traditions which Mfom people had, but do no longer exist today. The most out-standing ones were two; the naming ceremony and burial ceremony. These two traditions were significant to them because they marked the beginning and closing of a person’s chapter on earth. They saw death as a means of going back to the ancestors.

When a woman was pregnant, her husband took her to a native doctor, who prescribed the medicine necessary to avert the birth due to evil spirit. The medicine took the form of guinea fowl feathers to be worn around her waist. Once a child was born, the child is bathed and rubbed with canwood by a native doctor so as to bring out the black pigment of the skin quickly and this will be followed by exchange of gifts between parents of the child and grand parents3.

If the child is a male child, he is circumcised six days after birth with the advice of a native doctor. The ceremony of circumcision was performed between the age of four and six years. Children circumcised at same time, often belong to the same age-grade for life. In the ceremony, the father to the child must treat his friends and kinsmen with food and drinks such as palm wine, dried fish and bush meat.

On the contrary, burial ceremonies in Mfom community required elaborate preparation. This means that, they kept their corpse for three to four days, the purpose was to delay the process of reincarnation of the individual. But on the case of the death of their clan head, the announcement was not made immediately because it could render the clan inactive. The corpse stayed for seven days before burial and once buried, no other ceremony was done except the traditional killing of native cow to appease the ancestors.

There were other traditions that evolve with the people such as marriage, hunting and chieftaincy. Infact, they respected their tradition because they saw a reason for doing so. Their tradition made them lived happily with one another in the community. At this point, young men who wanted to get married were never allowed to do so with women of the same blood relation which they referred to as “Ndim” meaning people of the same blood relation4.

Marriage was in three stages: the introduction which the people called “Kiliani” it is seconded by labour and the presentation of kolanut, palm wine and a female goat.

The young man was expected to be industrious and the family background was also examined. When all things go well, the lady is asked in the midst of her parents if she loved the young man5. Once she accepted, the palm wine and kolanut must be eaten.

Moreso, the Mfom people were mostly farmers whose farming system was mixed cropping and crop rotation due to the presence of vast land and large families. They never conflicted with themselves because of land since land was owned by nobody; however, things changed and people started owning land from about 1964, when people began to acquire western education within the clan.

Indeed, farmers were seen as great men and majority of them married three wives and got many children. One of the famous farmers at that time according to history was a man called “Egbaji Moshe” who married fives wives and got thirty (30) children. They stored their crops against famine because they produced at once. They also had a tradition through which they waged war against their enemies and during the war, all drinking and cooking utensils must be kept with their cover open and women were never allowed to cover their head.

In war, the warriors were asked to cut off the head of their enemies which would be used for their titles. Those who died because of their engagement in one offence or the other were buried in the forest with their faces on the ground to prevent re-incarnation back to the clan.

It was also a tradition of the Mfom people to train up children to follow the foot steps of their parent. The male child was taught how to set traps for animals hunting and fishing.

They also had a tradition in their chieftaincy making the chief remain indoor for six days and must dance culturally in the midst of elders, on the 7th day then, after he took the oath of allegiance. There were other aspects of their tradition which they were noted for. For instance, as part of their tradition and culture, they never hunted for fishes in their drinking streams and they had a means through which they settled such kind of disputes by putting palm front at strategic location on the land6.

As a tradition, those who were caught polluting the land were sent on exile, so that the land can be cleansed. This was done by the pulling of a female goat along the road and at the end; the goat was thrown into one river called “Lekang” which is found in Mfom settlement. However, the Mfom people were peace-loving people, who were very kind and good to strangers because they received visitors.

 

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