RESEARCH PROJECT TOPIC ON UTUEKPE MUSIC AS AN INSTRUMENT OF CHANGE
1.1 Background of the Study
Akwa Ibom is rich in folk music and dance. Symbols play very important roles as they relate to the process of adjusting the individual to the traditional social order in which one is born. Melodies are most commonly used in creating folk songs. One unique thing about the melodies of Ibibio music is that it is the only part of Nigeria that makes use of the three-note scale (Tritonic scale) (Akpabot, 1974). Akpabot explains that the melodies are either ritualistic, like the praise songs, or non-ritualistic which are meant purely for entertainment. Here, the melodies become more improvisatory and humorous. Folk melody are normally played in social celebrations such as marriage feasts, birth of a new baby or elevation in social status. Folk songs are also used as a means of communication through a masquerade.
In Akwa Ibom State, there are many cultural groups which have helped 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. Examples of such groups include: Ikon, Uta, Asian Uboikpa, Oko, Ekpo, Ekpe, Obon, Atata, Ekpri Akata, Utuekpe, Ntok Odio-Odio, Mbopo, Ebre, Ibaan Isong, etc. The Ibibio believe that the spirits of their ancestors usually come back in the form of Ekpo (spirit) to help in the government and social control of their communities. For instance, Ekpe, which in Ibibio dialect means leopard. (A most ferocious beast) is used as a vehicle of social control in the communities where it is played. All cultural idioms stated above play different roles in the society. The Mbopo, for instance, shows the beauty of maidenhood, and highlights the need for chastity in maidens. These maidens are taken into fattening rooms and groomed in all areas of a woman’s life. The Ekpo masquerades (spirit manifests) are seen as departed kinsmen and rulers who have returned from the land of the spirits to participate in communal ceremonies and rites. The Ekpri-Akata is an important masquerade whose main responsibility is to get the people informed in the society. The Ekpri-Akata broadcasts every hidden thing in the community hence people are for forced to live right in order to avoid the wrath of the Ekpri-akata.
One important cultural idiom of the Ibibio is the Utuekpe, which is the focal point of this work. Utuekpe means spider. As the name implies, its performance is spider-like. This group makes use of unique traditional technological approach known only to the initiates. Like the spider, a masquerade scales heights on strings, even riding motorcycles on string up a dazzling height. Utuekpe is the most complete and all-embracing of idioms in Ibibio drama and theatre. The origin of this group is chronicled in antiquity. Utuekpe 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.
The style and structure of this performance depend largely on two factors. 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. The dominant idioms of Ibibio drama are:
- Sound and music, (songs, incantation, ululation poetic renditions, instrumentation).
- Movement, (dance, mime, gymnastics, acrobatics).
- Mask idioms, (the mask, masking, and the masquerade).
- Metaphysics, (magic, exorcism, trance or possession).
- Ritualism, including lustration, libation, sacrifice, worship and so on.
- Symbolism, both auditory and visual.
Utuekpe is a secret society and one way of identifying it is through its masquerades, in which all initiates participate. The usefulness and impact of this cultural group in the society is immense, therefore, it will be proper to highlight the value and significance of such group in the society for record purposes. Utuekpe itself is a cultural display made up of several masquerades and puppets. There are masquerades like Ekooŋ, Utuekpe, Obiokpo, Ndito Ekooŋ (children of Eka Ekooŋ), Ado Iso Ekooŋ (forerunner) and finally, Eka Ekooŋ herself, usually a dome-like masquerade. Utuekpe is a secret agent in all communities where it is practised. The main purpose of this group is to act as a security agent for the society in particular, and the community in general. Utuekpe is played by able-bodied young men. However, there seems to be a dearth of documented materials on Utuekpe music. The songs are not written down, and this puts this performance in danger of becoming extinct.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Ibibio land is blessed with abundant traditional music, dances, and plays. Most of these performances, as noted earlier, served vital functions in the society. Almost all the groups served as the media that could help the indigenes to live right in the society and maintain peace, order, and harmony. Some geared towards correcting social ills and encouraged virtues of sanctity, self-discipline, chastity/moral uprightness, etc. Sadly, modern trends seem to affect their performances negatively. It is worthy of note that Ibibio music, dances, and plays, from the onset had not been documented. Some of the songs and practicesare losing their popularity, while some have been lost completely. Utuekpe, and its cultural practices is seen as a vehicle for transformation, discipline, and other good virtues. These values are gradually being thrown to the winds because of modern developments and enlightenments. 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.
In the light of the afore-mentioned, it is necessary and important that this study be carried out to document the musical practices of this group to forestall its total extinction.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of this study was to document Utuekpe group, its social and cultural impact. Specifically the study sought:
- Document Utuekpe songs for further references and learning.
- Provide a scholarly document for further studies or research in Utuekpe.
- Transcribe and analyze Utuekpe songs for posterity.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The documented works of Utuekpe cultural group will enhance the knowledge of the history and practices of Utuekpe for current and future generations. This work will also create awareness about the culture of the people, as laid down by tradition. This work will serve as a pedestal for further research work.
1.5 Scope of the Study
The study is on Utuekpe cultural group as an organization in Ibibio ethnic group. It takes a cursory look at the practices, functions, and songs used by this group.