The Oron people or 'Oro people is a multi-ethnic tribe located primarily in southern Nigeria and Cameroon, in the riverine area of Akwa Ibom and the Cross River State. Akpakip Oro are regards as an ancient warrior clan, speaking the Oro language which is in the Cross River family of the Benue–Congo languages. They are ancestrally related to the Efik people of the Cross River State, the Ibeno and Eastern Obolo in Akwa Ibom, the Andoni people in Rivers State and the Balondo-ba-Konja in the Congo.
The Oron Nation, popularly called Oro Ukpabang, Akpakip Oro or Oro Ukpabang Okpo by its members derived from their ancestral father Abang Okpo, are made up of nine clans known as Afaha. These are: Afaha Ukwong, Ebughu, Afaha Ibighi, Effiat, Etta, Afaha Oki-uso, and Afaha Idua (Iluhe) and Afaha Ubuoho which was later divided into two namely Afaha Okpo and Afaha Ubodung in 1959.
The geopolitical restructuring of states and local government within Nigeria has seen the egalitarian society of the Oron Nation being fragmented politically in the Niger Delta . They have been divided across two separate Nigerian states, the Cross River State and Akwa Ibom state, and then into five Oron local government areas (LGAs) within the Akwa Ibom state, namely: Urue-Offong/Oruko Oron West, Oron, Akwa Ibom Oron Central, Mbo, Akwa Ibom Oron South, Udung Uko Oron East, and Okobo, Akwa Ibom Oron North. Bakassi Oron Peninsula is the sole Oron LGA in the Cross River State with the Stubs and Widenham creeks/forest now in Ibeno.
Oron town is said to be the third largest city in Akwa Ibom state after Uyo and Eket. It has an indigenous population of over 250,000 people living within the city, who are traditionally fishermen, traders and famers, with influx number of migrants entering the city in daily with over 400,000 people living across Oron Nation around (2005).
The Oron people speak a dialect known as “Örö” by the Oronians, but widely called “Oron”, an anglicized spelling and pronunciation. Many Oron people are also fluent in the Efik dialect. Örö has many dialectical similarities with the Ibibio and Annang people, hence many Oronians can communicate proficiently in Ibibio and Annang languages.
The Oron people religio-cultural heritage was handed down from generation to generation through oral tradition and sacred institutions. The religion emphasized belief in ancestral spirits, life after death, good moral values, superhuman (transcendental) powers, divinities and a belief in a Supreme Being known as Abazi Oro (The God of Heaven).
Abazi Udung Oyong (Abazi Oro)
Like their Ibibio and Efik neighbours, the Oron people recognized a hierarchy of a spiritual power culminating in the Great, Omnipotent, Omniscient and all-powerful Abazi Odung Oyong (God of the Sky). The special attributes of this God were that he lived in the sky from where he saw and judged all human actions; He is regarded as the creator of the everything, rewarding all good deeds and punishing bad ones, also being the source of life and death and manifested himself daily among the people. However, this Omnipotent God was far removed physically and manifested himself through equally powerful representatives who are also designated Abazi.
Abazi Udung Isong
Many Abazi is held in high esteemed after the Abazi Odung Oyong, in Agriculture She was represented by Abazi Utei (God of farming) to which everyone sacrifice at the beginning of every far farming season, and every family had Abazi Okoro (God of the Compound) which is the protector of the people, animal, properties and among others, sacrifices were made on Obribong a local market day. Similarly God of prosperity (Abazi Inam) which was credited for responsibility of the wealth of any individual or society. Finally in the Fishing sacrifices were made to Abazi Esuk (god of the river) by throwing the head of beheaded cows in the river for security in the sea with blessings and abundant catch.
Serving as intermediary between this gods and man were ancestral cults. Each family had its shrine where they carved wooden images made from the 'Oko' tree representing their ancestral father was kept.
Apart from the ancestral shrines each villages had its central deity (Olughu) and a shrine dedicated to her. Among the best ones whose influences went beyond their villages were 'Abanga Nlak Umume', 'Atiabang Okuko', 'Awai Uboro-Oro', 'Ukit-eti Eyo-Bassey', 'Atakpa Udung-Uko', 'Okpokim Edikor', 'Enweme of Ubotong people', 'Etifit of Eyukut all in Enwang', 'Olughu Ubuoho of Eyotong' Olughu Mkpok Okwong of Okossi, and 'Otokpor of Udesi' and so on. These villages Olughus were used to detect crimes, settle disputes between individuals and families, and enforce village norm through rituals and punishment of offenders.
Also each of the clans had their deities whose influences went beyond villages in a particular clan. Thus, the Ibighi had their 'Eke-Eme Oro' (The Great Mother of Oron people) whose shrine was at Uya Oron to whom villages in the clan made their periodic sacrifices. The Idua had 'Uruting', 'Asang', 'Anamfa', 'Etung Okin' etc. The Ebughu had 'Atabang Ebughu' located in present day Ebughu and Udung-Uko Villages. The Enwang had 'Anantigha' whose approval was sought before undertaking any major task. Among the Okobo, the best known Olughu were 'Esuk Itak ' in Odu and Udutin in Eta. Sacrifices were made to this clan deities periodically by each villages meanwhile some were being consulted by other villages outside their clan of origin.
Taken together, the Oron entire religious system of the Supreme God, the lesser god, the ancestors spirit, the various Olughu and Mbiams, the Ndem etc, served as an essential ingredients in the maintenance of order, law and social control as well as unifying influences among villages and clans that made up Oron.
The Oron people have a unique culture and tradition. Oron Nation has a rich culture expressed in songs, folklore and dances. The first National Museum east of the Niger is in Oron known as the Oron Museum which contain severally cravings and artifacts of the Oron People dated back to 2370BC.
Naming Structure is another interesting aspect of Oron culture which is quite different from some other cultures outside Akwa Ibom (and probably Eastern Nigeria) is the way that children are named. A child is given his/her own name as a first name (e.g. Okon, Etim, Joe, Affiong etc.), then the father's first name is the child's middle name, and the family name is the child's surname. So, if someone is named John Okung Enyenihi, it is easy to figure out that his name is John, son of Okung, from the Enyenihi family.
Oron Cuisine is another amazing aspect of Oron culture. The Oron people has a large variety of tasty dishes, most of which we share with other ethnic groups in Akwa Ibom State, Cross River State and Southern part of Cameroon. These include delicacies hits like Afang, Edikang Ikong, Ekpang Nkukwo (called Ötotö in Oron) and some lesser-known (but still very delicious) dishes like Atama soup and the Oron traditional soup called Otong that is unique to Oron and is regarded as the traditional dish of Oron people. Otong is very nutritious and is eaten with Iwe Ekpang pr Ekpang, which is made of cassava (wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled).
Ancient Oron Traditional Dressing was made from raffia fibre they later worn local fabrics and beads known as Ngwa, their men were clean shaved with an artificial Beard with cap just like the ancient Kemet people which is seen in several ancient cravings known as (Ekpu) and as describe by Percy Talbot. Their women plaited hair naturally.
Today The Oron people (male) have a very colourful mode of traditional dressing with a piece of fabric called the Iyara (usually red in colour) worn in any occasion and weddings. The red Iyara is usually worn with a white tailored traditional shirt and wrap-around (wrapper) fabric common to people all over the South-Southern regions Nigeria. Sometimes this attire is combined with a rich native tie, usually a colourful silk fabric worn around the neck. These attires are also commonly worn by the Efik, Ibibios and Annang ethnic groups, except that the Annang and Ibibio people do not wear a red Iyara because of political implications except the people of the Balondo Civilization in Congo.
There are different types of Oron female traditional attire. Some garments are used for events like weddings or to perform ancient dances. Each detail in such an attire is carefully thought over and has its special meaning. For instance, those who perform a traditional Abang Dance, the dance of beauty and femininity, wear special headpieces called Ibûd Abang. Such dancers usually have multiple strings of beads around their necks. They are colorful and bright and meant for additional decoration. They are called Nkwaogid Ûtong. Other strings of beads that are worn across their shoulders are called Anana Ubok, and all those colorful raffias that are worn on dancers’ hands are known as Nkpakhá Ubok. The raffias that are worn on legs together with bells have the name of Nkpakhá Etim. In addition to all this, the dancers wear a kind of skirts made out of cane called Akasi. Such details are meant to attract additional attention to the waistline of the dancer. In accordance with the traditional Oron visions of female beauty, a healthy attractive woman should have a full waistline.
The Traditional wedding attire for an Oron bride looks exactly like an Efik bride and cannot be differentiated, the garment that a young woman, especially a bride, wears is meant to show what a desirable wife she is. It is necessary to remember the Oron beauty standards. All this determines the way a wedding attire will look. There are two main types of Oron native wedding attire.
It consists of two pieces, roughly speaking. The bigger one is a kind of skirt that falls down from the waist and covers the bride's legs to the knees. The smaller one is a top that barely covers the bust. All this is meant to show how full the bride's waist is and how healthy, feminine, and desirable she is for any man. Of course, all this is accompanied by plenty of accessories like strings of beads, elaborate head decorations, and so on.
is the second type of the Oron native wear used for weddings. It is a long, flowing dress that looks like a gown and makes its wearer look like a true queen. In most cases, this gown is decorated with coral beads. Heavy strings of other coral beads will surely be placed around the bride's neck.
These attires are accompanied by beaded shoes, lovely accessories, and specific hairstyles that look like real crowns on those women's heads. Of course, Oron women needn’t necessarily be as plump as their ancestors would love to see them. Still, the tradition of wearing the Ofod Ukod Anwang is still alive. It allows modern brides to show how graceful their bodies are in any size. The onyonyo is a long gown. It has been suggested that the onyonyo’s resemblance of Victorian gowns is as a result of the influence of the Scottish missionary Mary Slessor.
Traditional Marriage In Ancient Oron Nation Marriage between a brother and a sister is forbidden even till date. It is the Oron custom where the groom with his kinsmen visit the house of the bride which must be from another family with the village, community, clan or Oron Nation to meet the parents and announce his intention. The betrothing process is long and ceremonious. There is a long waiting period, which is the period for the bride-to-be to attain puberty. This practice of child marriage has been abolished. In case both the bride and groom are of the same age, the waiting period is brief.
Nkugho, or the “fattening room,” is an ancient marriage practice in Oron Nation. It is the practice where girls are prepared for womanhood. Girls are taken to the room during puberty, and acceptance in the room is a demonstration of virtue, sexual purity, and proven virginity. While in Nkugho, girls have to live without their families and trained by older women of the community. They are given heavy meals to make them gain weight as in ancient times being fat was a sign of prosperity, fertility, and beauty. In Ancient Oron Society old 'Fattening Room' tradition is the first thing that comes to mind. Six months before marriage, Oron girls are sent to the fattening room that they may be pampered with massages from head to toe; fed as much as they would like to eat to eat, and enlighten them on the ins and outs of marriage. They would not be allowed to do a work. Instead they are to eat sumptuous dishes, engage in meaningful conversation, and sleep; coupled with the three times daily massages that are meant to bring out the natural endowments.Because the ancient Oron people belief that a woman who is full-figured with a healthy waistline is beautiful.
In addition to the above Fattening Room activities, the girl goes through domestic training of home management (like cooking, child care, and housekeeping) and how to respect and make her husband be and his family happy. It is the duty of the older women gives advice about their experience in marriage to ensure a successful one. Also included in the training are the cultural dances, folklore, folktales, songs and other forms of entertainment. Skills in artistic designs on Calabash and other materials are taught as well. It is here that she is also taught about sex with the intention of giving proper satisfaction to her husband. At the end of the six months period, which also brings an end of the seclusion days, people all over are invited to honor her success in passing through this ordeal. This ceremony is celebrated with traditional dances and other forms of entertainment. The ceremony continues throughout the whole day and night as families, friends and well wishers express their joy and happiness with gifts and donations to the bride. And finally, she and her future husband embrace and dances; welcoming their good wishers that have come to join the celebration. The Nkugho period lasts for one month, after which the girl's family would present her to the groom and his family, well-wishers, and the community at large.
Dowry is a way of validating marriage among people of Oron Nation. The dowry comprises clothes and food items, but no money as of then. It is a token of the parents’ effort in raising a suitable female child. At the time of betrothal, the child in past child marriages could not influence the dowry process because of her age, but a mature bride-to-be can influence the process even in contemporary times. There are five interrelated stages of Oron marriages: courting, asking for a girl's consent, working through a middleman, test of bride's character, and paying the bride dowry.
The most important secret societies of the Oron people are the 'Ekung', 'Ekpe', 'Nka', 'Inam', 'Abang', 'Ukpok', and 'lban Isong'. The last three named are women's society.
Ekpe The Ancient Oron Original way of ruling the Villages was through Isong before the advent of Ekpe which later became popular and important. In Oron level of governing every society was involved, by far the most important of it was the Ekpe, it is important to note that despite the proximity of Oron to the Ibibio people , Ekpo was not known in Oron until the establishment of colonial rule.
There are considerably controversy as of how different Oron groups acquired the Ekpe. The Ukpabang groups claimed to acquired their Ekpe from Usakadit in the cameroons and brought it with them as they dispersed meanwhile the Iduas claimed to be the first to got in contact with the Ekpe which was originally owned by the Efut and Usakadit when one man named Nta Nya on a fishing expedition one day met some Efut men at Ube Osukpong in Akpa Edok playing Ekpe. they went into negotiation with them on how to acquire Ekpe. The Okobo acknowledge to acquire their Ekpe from the Efiks of Old Calabar.
Ekpe became the legislative, Executive ad police system of Oron as every high chief and title owner most be a member of the Ekpe society, which is made up of seven grades in Oron namely Nyamkpe, Nkanda, Usongo, Ekpeyong, Esa, Ibang and Eyamba. Apart from the Nyamkpe there are other two types of Ekpe in Oron namely Obon and Ekpe Uko. The supreme head of the Ekpe was known as Offong Ekpie (Chief of Ekpe) which is authority could not be challenge by any of the member.
Ekung society is a male society which members was distinguish from the Ekpe members by wearing the Iyara (red woolen cap), which was a mark of great honour and distinction in Oron. The society originally celebrate the martial prowess of it's members in their old age. All village chiefs and elders were formally members of the Ekung society to enforce law and oreder in the society through the imposition of fines iki on those who broke community law.
Awan-idit (Ekpri-Akata) was a male society intimately concerned on the moral fibre of the society. They were regarded as spirits, therefore ubiquitous and capable of knowing every scandal committed in the community. The main function of Akata was the detection of antisocial behavior, the popularization of crimes and the ridiculing of culprits into correction. Akata members were famed in their ability to concoct songs to spotlight such of offences like immoral association of sexes, pregnancy without husband, stealing, witchcraft and other crimes supposedly committed in the dark. The Akata was a mouth piece of informing the public about secret happenings in the Village.
Iban-Isong is a female society which played an important role in the maintenance of law and order. Women organisation which was also known and regards as Abang led by their chief Offong Abang, the society exercised unquestionably authority over the affairs of women in each village with the primary intention of protecting the tendency of womanhood at both homes and marketplaces in other to create law and order in the society. With an entertainment of Abang dances women of different age groups perform their dances style in the village occasionally to bring togetherness in the society meanwhile the men in other societies made dry gin (Ufofo) in other to appease the women.
Nka In Oron, every person in the community both male and female was expected to belong to an Nka, except the very young children. This society was set to enforce the norms of the village on its members who were at the grade of a same age. It was a socializing institution which taught members of the society the norms, law and orders in the society and also contribution in the development of the community. In Oron members often refer to themselves as Nda (Oron) and Adami (Okobo), punishment was given by the Nka on any members that disobey the norms and tradition of the society. The Nka are charged in correspondence role in maintaining public sources of water supply, street, market as well as guarding the village. In Okobo the Nka UkparaIsong was charged in cleaning market square, stream and streets. Nka Ufere look after the shrines abd administered oath for accused person of witchcraft, Nka Ndito was charged in the general administration of the village and ensure orders, Nka Eso acted as village guards. Among the Idua, Nka Mkparawa acted as warriors grade charged with responsibility of fighting of treats in the village, Nka Ndito Isong which membership was both for male and female was to enforce unity and development in the village. Among the Ukpabangs Nka includes, Nka Nlapp (for Youths), Nka Ikponwi ( for elders), Nka Asian, Nka Ime, Nka Afe, Nka Nkwak and Nka Uteghe. Taken together this sets maintain roads, guard villages, constructed bridges and cleaned the markets.
Ancient Oron people were governed by each Family head who settles every family issues among the family. And this family head in turns represent each family in the Village traditional court, and in turns a Village Head (Offong) is being chosen which is rotatory in the Village Court to represent their Village in the community setting.
Today Traditionally, the Oron people have one king that rules over the land. He is known as the Ahta Oro.
Ahtaship owes its origin to a legendary hunter, AHTA AYA-ARAH. He was a great hunter native to Eweme, the ancestral home of Oro Ukpabang. During a perilous time of hunger in the middle ages, AHTA AYA-ARAH, went out on his usual safari, but failed to return home same day as should have been. The following day, the community met and set up a search party for a rescue, but all to no avail. One day led to one week, one month passed by, AHTA AYA-ARAH, remained unfound.
Thereafter, a burial was done, believing that AHTA was dead, but surprisingly, two months after his missing, AHTA AYA-ARAH reappeared with species of sweet yams known in Oro today, as NYIN-ENI.
This feat, earned AHTA AYA-ARAH, the Oro kingship about over 500 years ago, such that the Royal Stool, the contemporary AHTA-ORO sits today, is the same Stool AHTA AYA-ARAH sat in the medieval age. This well calved wooden Stool, remains the oldest surviving artifact of Oro and in the Lower Cross River Basin.
The Ahta has all the Ofong (Ivong or Ifong) afaha and the paramount rulers as members of his traditional rulers council. Some high chiefs (for example, Ikpoto, Akpaha and Okete Okete) are also recognized by the Ahta's council, the Ahta is chosen among the Oldest of all the paramount rulers members of Council of Oro Traditional Ruler (COTR). The President-General of the Oron Union worldwide is regarded as the administrative head of the Oron nation and second-in-command at the Ahta's traditional rulers council.
With a well formidable socio-cultural group called the Oron Union founded in 1925, the Oron people became one of the most formidable and vocal groups in the South-South region of Nigeria, hence one of the three political forces in the present day Akwa Ibom State.
Oron became a Division in August 1970 and in 1976, was made a local government area. However, following the local government creation exercise of the federal government in 1989, Oron was split into 3 Local Government Areas of Mbo, Oron and Okobo. Again in September 1991, Urue Offong/Oruko Local Government Area was carved out of Oron Local Government Area. Finally in December 1996, Udung Uko Local Government Area was further carved out of Oron.
Currently, the Oron people are still struggling in their attempts to properly place the Oron union in a position to control their political interests in the state. In the past, the Oron Union has put up such structures as the CWC (Central Working Committee), Esumbuke Oro, and quite recently, the Oron Think-Tank, and many others to address certain issues. There has been little success with these structures, when compared to the political expectation of the average Oron person within the state and Nigeria.
The migration pattern of Oron people was similar to that of the Efik Eburutu people. In fact, Efik people regard the Oron people as part of the larger community of Calabar people.
Some quarters also relate Oron and Efik people with Eket (Ekid) people because of very close dialect relationships, especially in the days of the Okpo Ekid. But today, many Oron people avoid such history, although they will accept the fact that they share the same ancestral history with the Ibono, who dwell among the Ekids. The relationship of the Oron with Eket is said to have gone sour when Eket under the regime of Brigadier General U.J. Esuene agreed to be a sub-group of the Ibibio Nation to gain political relevance and advantage. Brig. U.J. Esuene was also said to deny Oron people the opportunity to locate the Exxon Mobil first terminal in Mbo and Effiat.
Oron people encountered Western education relatively early compared to their Southern Nigeria counterparts with the establishment of the Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar in 1895 and the Methodist Boys High School, Oron in 1905. These are the oldest schools in the history of Nigeria.