By Bassey Asuquo
Many cultural groups in Akwa Ibom help to give the State a cultural identity. There may be two or more of such groups in each of the 31 local government areas of the state. One important cultural idiom of the Ibibio is the Utuekpe Cultural Dance.
Utuekpe means spider, and as the name implies, its performance is spider-like. This cultural group uses unique traditional technological approach which is only known to the initiates.
Like the spider, the Utuekpe masquerader scales heights on strings, even riding motorcycles on string up a dazzling height. This group is the most complete and all-embracing of idioms in Ibibio drama and theatre.
Idongesit Ikrok, a dance artist, had this to say, “Utuekpe to me is a mystic cultural group because of its performances. For a masquerader to be on a motorcycle and ride on a rope to a height is a mystery. This masquerader will remain on that rope with his bike for as long as he wants, without falling off. When he is done, he rides down to the ground. Its performance is spider-like.”
Utuekpe which is commonly found and performed by the Annang axis of the state includes both institutional and non-institutional drama, because it has the prime objective of re-structuring the communal and individual personality, developing a critical social conscience, and reforming the thoughts and behaviour of posterity.
Mr. Ikrok confirms this, “Utuekpe cultural performance is owned chiefly by the Annangs. If you want to do research, you can go ahead. It is their dance, it is their culture and it is their heritage. They inherited it from their forebears. The Ibibios and Oro speaking groups have their own personal cultural dances, but Utuekpe belongs to the Annangs.”
The style and structure of this cultural performance depend largely on two factors, namely, the context of the drama, and the variable artistic combinations of the dominant idiom of the drama. The context could be social, ceremonial, political or religious.
Utuekpe is a secret society which usefulness and impact in the society is immense. It is a cultural display made up of several masquerades and puppets. There are masquerades, such as EkooÅ, Utuekpe, Obiokpo, Ndito EkooÅ (children of Eka EkooÅ), Ada Iso EkooÅ (forerunner) and lastly, Eka EkooÅ herself, usually a dome-like masquerade.
It is a secret agent in all communities where it is practised. Its main purpose is to act as a security agent for the society in particular, and the community in general. It is played by able-bodied young men. .
Umo Sunday, an indigene of Oruk Anam Local Government Area, said, “Utuekpe cultural dance has roles to play. It serves as agent of security in the community. It is performed by strong and agile men. It is not for the weaklings. You must have mind, courage and what we sometimes say, liver, before you take part in this performance, especially if you are to be the carrier of the masquerade.
‘’Though it is mainly our play, I don’t think I will be take such a risk to carry the masquerade, climb the robe with me on a motorcycle. I don’t have that grace to do that. It is for those with will power and not for people of small faith.”
With this outstanding performance by Utuekpe, many people assume that this group acts on influences of deities or charms, while others dispute this fact.
Etim Udo Ikpang from Abak was not in support of this notion and he remarked, “I will not attest to that, because I belief in creativity. For me, Utuekpe is an act of creativity. The carrier of the masquerade must have taken time to practise the style and technique very well before embarking on the mission”.
But the reasoning by Mr. Nkanta Inokon was different, as he stated thus ‘’I don’t think their performances are usually ordinary. What could be normal in somebody sitting on a machine and climbing a rope? They must have done something that would make them and their bikes lighter to be able to climb the robe.”
Utuekpe and its cultural practice is seen as a vehicle for transformation, discipline, and other good virtues. These values are gradually being thrown to the winds because of modernity and enlightenment.
Contemporary times desire our going back to the roots to sustain these virtues and values. Also, there seems to be no single transcription of the songs as practised by this group. Indeed, its history is amazing and confounding to visitors and tourists.