In the rich tapestry of Akwa-Ibom culture, the art of dance is valued, and even more so is the dance’s significance. Some are performed by men—the oko, for example, a dance demonstrating masculine resilience, in which dancers slash at each other with machetes but spill no blood. Most, however, are performed by women.
There is the Asian Ubo Ikpa, a flamboyant dance for maidens who have completed marriage preparation. There is the Nkerebe, performed once a year as young women begin marriage preparation. And there is the Asian Mbre Iban, danced by maidens who wish to announce their beauty and marriageability. But two more dances stand out in how they assert the rights of women, as feminist protests: the Ndok Ufok Ebe and the Ebre.
The Ndok Ufok Ebe is a dance of marital grievance, performed once a year by women protesting the maltreatment of wives by husbands. The women remove their tops and proceed to the market. As they dance, they sing, telling stories.
The Ebre has a wider significance than the Ndok Ufok Ebe in how it presents women’s abilities. Also performed once a year, it is done during the harvesting of new yam. With wooden drums and gongs, the women go to markets, venture into neighbouring communities, moving and entertaining onlookers. Their songs call out male chauvinism, listing women’s everyday experiences and suggesting that women are capable, too.
The dances are organised and timed by traditional societies whose roles include moral education and sensitisation.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.