The Annang (also spelled Anaang) is a cultural and ethnic group that lives in the coastal southeast Nigeria. At present, the Annangs have eight local government areas of the present thirty-one local government areas in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria (Akwa Ibom State Local Government Areas), namely Abak, Essien Udim, Etim Ekpo, Ika, Ikot Ekpene, Obot Akara, Oruk Anam and Ukanafun in the Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria.
The Anaang people are located in southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon which was a part of the present-day Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State. However, during the then Nigerian Regional era, the then Eastern Region of Nigeria allowed Southwestern Cameroon to be partitioned out of Nigeria into Cameroon through the 1961 plebiscite. In this action the Anaang, Efik, and Ibibio people were divided between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Anaang society is patriarchal. Individuals locate their place in the social world from the Idip, literally translated as “womb”. Thus a brother/sister from the same Idip means that they can trace their origin to the same mother or father. Since polygamy is practised in the society, those who can so trace their ancestry to the same parents form Ufok (literally a house or compound). Several ufoks make up Ekpuks or extended family and several Ekpuks (extended families) make up “Idung” (meaning village) and several villages make up the “abie” or clan.
Leadership at the family, lineage, village, or clan level remains the prerogative of the men, and lineage ties extends to women even after marriage. There are many societies and associations (Urim) for men and women which are very important in traditional village life. Individuals are measured by both the number and types of memberships in Urim and by the achievements of one or more Urims. Governance is done by elderly males who act as the legislative arm called Afe Isong, directed by the Obong or Abong Ichong (Village Chief and Clan Chief) who is the head and the chief executive but without the authority beyond what the Afe Ichong gives. A chief can be appointed by the Afe or can be an inherited office.
The Anang people speak a language called Annang. They pride themselves in the ability of eloquent speech and refers to a good speaker as “Akwo Annang” The Anang carve masks with grotesque features, known as idiok, which are considered dangerous and may only be viewed by members of the ekpo. Other masks embody the beautiful spirit, or mfon.
The strength of any individual, family (or group for that matter) is typically based upon a consensus of the village or clan through this complex social system. In all this, Anang women are not completely subordinate to men. Instead Anaang women are partners and leaders in many aspects of Anaang tradition, including serving as female chief priests “Abia Idiong” in the Idiong cult or as healers in the healing cults. The first-born female known as Adiaha is important and commands respect in the family and lineage. Some traditions hold that a woman’s first birth should take place in her mothers compound. Women organizations such as “abi-de” and “Nyaama”, and “Isong Iban” play important roles in giving the women voice and status in society. There are no traditional or cultural barriers that prevent women from attaining high offices or positions. Indeed, traditionally Anaang women have a great deal of economic independence from men. The society was semi-matriarchal before colonialism. Children bore the names of their mothers and such common names as Essien, Essiet, Ukpong and Umo were female names and became androgynized when the missionaries saw matriarchy as anti-Christian .(Ette,2009). Anaangs value the ability to speak well and oratory ability using proverbs is highly desirable, especially among the leaders. The American anthropologist, Peter Farb, stated that the name “Anaang” among this group means ‘they who speak well’ An individual who has the gift of eloquent speech is often complimented as Akwo Anaang meaning the “singer of Anaang”.
The fattening room is traditionally where virgin adolescent girls are fattened up in preparation for marriage. A fattening room girl is known as a mbobo. This was an occasion for a major village celebration and as part of her preparation for marriage the girl was also instructed on how to be a wife. She would spend her time in the room naked so that her fattening could be observed, and would sleep on a bamboo bed which was thought to fatten her up. It was also meant to make it more possible for her to conceive easily. This use for fertility purposes was also used at time for infertile wives and as a prerequisite for entrance into secret societies.
According to oral tradition, the Abiakpo came to the northern range of Anaang from Eka Abiakpo. They were quickly followed by the Ukana clan, the Utu, Ekpu, Ebom and Nyama (the British lumped these groups together and gave them the name Otoro), and other Anaang clans. The Anaang and the entire people of akwa Ibom and Cross River States of Nigeria (AKwaCross people) have occupied their land in the coastal Southeastern Nigeria for thousands of years.
The group is related to the Efiks, the Ibibios and the Igbos. Migration brought the groups to live among the Twi of Ghana where the name Anaang means “fourth son”. From Ghana, the group moved eastward into present-day Cameroon. It was in the Cameroon highlands that the group broke off but later arrived at same territory in the Coastal Southeastern Nigeria. Lineages were recognized and the groups organized themselves into clans based on old family origins known as Iman, a similar structure extends into the land of their northern neighbors, the Igbo.
Very little was written about the Anaang people before the mid-19th century. Early European traders who arrived in the cross river territories referred to groups who lived outside of the coastal areas as residents of Egbo-Sharry Country. Rumors of cannibalism and fear tactics were used by the Efik people to keep European traders from trading directly with groups outside the coast. This tactic worked. It prevented the traders from going outside of the Calabar middle men until Christian missionaries arrived. The first written mention of the Anaangs is in Sigismund Koelle’s account of liberated slaves in Sierra Leone. He mentioned a liberated slave named Ebengo who hailed from Nkwot in Abak. Ebengo was captured and sold to the Portuguese but was subsequently freed by a British warship and later settled in Waterloo, Sierra Leone. The British soldiers listed the languages spoken by the slaves in that captured ship as “Anaang”. The second mention is a description of what is known as the Ikot Udo Obong Wars. The British described the killings of the Anaangs by King Jaja of Opobo as a punishment for defying his orders and trading in palm oil directly with the British merchants instead of going through him as a middle man. In the war that ensued, the British intervened and with the help of the Anaangs, they captured King Jaja and exiled him to the West Indies. The British established a military post at Ikot Ekpene in 1904.
Following British colonialism and with changes and ban in ancient hunting practices, the Anaang witnessed attacks by wild animals. As the men went to fight in World War II these attacks intensified. The British authorities called the attacks murder and blamed it on “the barbarism of the Africans”. The Anaang were accused of belonging to a secret society called Ekpeowo (The Human Leopards Society). It has been argued that killings born out of insurgency against the British elsewhere in Africa led to the branding of leopard attacks as murders by the British authorities among the Anaang. Between 1945 and 1948 about 196 people were killed in Ikot Okoro community in the present-day Oruk Anam LGA; the Ikot Okoro Police station was set up because of this reason. The British convicted 96 people and executed 77 innocent people. The Anaang religion called Idiong was banned and the priests arrested. Articles and worship materials were publicly burnt and those who did not convert to Christianity automatically became suspects.
The Anaangs have a history and reputation for fearlessness and the ability of villages and clans to bind together to fight a common enemy. This is perhaps why they were able to thrive living so close to the Aro Confederacy’s center, Arochukwu with its famed Ibini Ukpabi oracle. A particular interesting war group, or “Warrior cult”, was the famous Oko warriors. This war group was highly functional in the 1950s. These warriors were considered invulnerable to penetration of knives, spears, and arrows. In various instances sharp machetes were tested on the body parts of members.
The Anaangs suffered genocide during the Nigerian Civil War. The war lasted for three years (1967–1970) and the Anaang lost a significant number of its people. The effect of the war and the resulting neglect of the Anaang is now a serious political issue and a source of unrest in the area.
Parts of the Annang language may be intelligible to speakers of Efik, Ibibio, Oron, Ekit (also known as Ekid) of the Old Calabar Kingdom. Though the Anaang speech pattern was not written down, linguists have now produced an orthography of the language which makes it possible to produce written materials in the language (Idem-Agozino & Udondata, 2001; Ette (2009).