Apart from Anantigha and Anansa, there are other deities in Efik land like Esierebom, Afia Nton metal but the former two gained prominence in the cosmology of these tribes. The Anansa the dreaded mermaid is said to have possessed an egg stone to whom requests are made during Anansa rituals. As earlier mentioned the procession birthed the famous Calabar Carnival.
The procession usually takes off from the house of the chief priest and headed to the shrine. The most ideal object of Anansa worship is actually the egg-stone which after use that day returns to a stone that will never break until after 7 days. The deity will not function without this object. However, opening the egg stone is the most challenging aspect of Anansa worship. It was reported that a lineage failed at trying to open the egg stone thus rendering the whole sacrificial process void.
A story is told of how the Navy men in the time past usually do rituals to appease the deity and each time they do, a huge serpent would dive out of the sea as a sign that the sacrifice has been accepted. Immediately the sky changes to allow a mighty downpour. Such sacrifices come up every year till when she was driven far into the mid-sea.
Anansa is considered a spouse of many and a sparkling serpent behold the arrangement of the Anansa procession is in this order. It starts with a teenage boy known as Ibiadim bearing (an Ika, an Efik word for divination) in his right hand. He is followed by a 7 years girl, hanging a day old chick on her neck. A spotless boy of nearly 21 years holding a basket of sundry things called Inuak Udia on his head joins the procession.
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On the procession next to the spotless boy is the Ndem priestess, she is closely followed by 14 teenage girls bearing raffia clappers, mirrors, a pale cow horn known as Oti then 7 men who just attained manhood, aged about 30-35 years all of them bearing swords. They are followed by the chief priest whose head is totally shaved to be bald. On the hairless head, he rubs coconut oil carrying a small white bowl of water fetched from the Enwang spring.
The chief priest is flanked on the right by Nsen-Itiat and the Uto bearer, the Uto bearer is the person bearing the egg-stone and the yellow chalk having a sword across his waist. On his left-hand side is the Afia Ndom or white chalk bearer. These three are followed by a group of chalk bearers carrying bless, red and purple chalks.
They are all dressed on white parallels, except the priestess and the chief priest that wears an overall white, all others just go on a loin of clothes tied round their waist and a bare upper body that is printed with Nsibidi writings, an ancient style of writing just like tattoos. The deity men and women wore white necklaces, wristlets and anklets depicting purity of royal descent.
At the shrine entrance, the Uto Anansa cuts open the veil of tender palm trees called Ekpin, Then the boy with the split sword enters followed by the Ndem priestess and her group. While few of the girls kneel, some stands mirroring the priestess who then sits on a brass stool. On her front, is an old basin, in it stood an Oboti tree. She pours the water at the Oboti trees’ feet and places a roundly, folded pad of Mkpatari into the basin.
The Priestess then enters and collects the egg stones from its bearer and give 7 knocks before dropping them inside a basin. The egg-like stone will open up to show 7 concentric layers revealing a colourless fluid-like yolk.
One other thing the chief priest comes with is the tray called Usang Abasi and the whole ritual practice takes place at the Efe Asabor, the same place the Obong of Calabar is crowned.
The advent of the calabar carnival in 2004 by the Mr Donald Duke administration took a clue from this procession which later turned out to be the biggest street party in Africa.
Hmmm…next time you’re at the beach, never never you run away when you see a mermaid, the legendary crooner, Sir Victor Uwaifo once advised. She might just be Queen of the coast, one so powerful and influential like Anansa, she just might be kind or what do you think?
Anansa Afia Ndem Iboku!!!
Ekubi Bassey can be reached on: [email protected]