Marriage and Lineage Segmentation in Ibibioland

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article discusses the dynamics of Ibibio lineage structure. It presents ethnographic evidence that fission of maximal lineages (ekpuk) into minor lineages (ufok) in Ibibioland was principally a function of marriages involving agnatic kin. Such a marriage caused initial disruption in the lineage because it led to the creation of a new minor lineage with a separate ancestral shrine (iso ekpo) from that hitherto worshiped by the inclusive unit. The paradox of Ibibio marriage involving agnatic kin, which this article demonstrates, is that the initial disruption is ameliorated by new but sacred kinship bonds arising from the marriage which reintegrate these lineages as exogamous units at different structural levels. Introduction Lineage segmentation or fission is a widespread phenomenon in African societies. It is often attributed to demographic pressure, which causes a lineage to get too large numerically, subsequently splitting into competing (and cooperating) units. In some cases the fission could occur for such economic reasons as pressure on land (Fox 1967:chaps. 1 and 3). In other cases still, lineages could segment for political reasons, as best illustrated by the Nuer of Sudan and the Tiv of Nigeria (Bohannan and Bohannan 1953; Evans-Pritchard 1940). However, the dominant role of marriage as a determinant of lineage segmentation has remained relatively unexplored. This article concerns itself with two aspects of Ibibio social structure--marriage and lineage segmentation. It addresses the following questions. What specific role does marriage play in the segmentation process in Ibibioland? What constitutes an exogamous unit in Ibibioland and what mechanisms exist to foster the re-integration of the segmentary structures in this society? Methodology The data for this article were drawn primarily from a field survey in Mbiokporo Nsit No. 1, Nsit Ibom Local Government Area (LGA) in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. However, for comparative purposes, cases collected from other Ibibio communities will be highlighted in the discussion of the data. Because of their greater knowledge of the history of lineage segmentation and its causes, only elders aged 50 and above were interviewed. The snowball sampling technique was used to select these elders in the community. Location of Study Forde and Jones (1950) identified six dialect groups in the Old Calabar Province,(f.1) one of which is the Eastern Ibibio or Ibibio proper. The other groups are Uyo, Itu, Etinan, Eket, Enyong and Opobo. These various Ibibio groups are currently demarcated into distinct administrative units, based on the political expediency of the Nigerian government. Mbiokporo Nsit No. 1 is a village in the Nsit Ibom Local Government Area (LGA) carved out of the former Etinan Local Government Area (LGA). It has a population of about 6436.(f.2) The cultural practices of this village are shared by other parts of Ibibioland. This village was chosen for three reasons: (1) it is situated in the core Ibibio settlement; (2) it is accessible from all parts of Akwa Ibom State and other parts of Ibibioland; and (3) compared to other surrounding Ibibio villages, Mbiokporo Nsit No. 1 is more thickly populated and is blessed with a relatively large number of aged people. Descent, Kinship and Lineage The social structure of Ibibioland is built on a patrilineal system. The Ibibio trace their descent through the male line only to a common known ancestor. The father is primarily the head of the household and he is also a disciplinarian. Children born into the marriage succeed to offices and property only in the patrilineage, though they enjoy some privileges in the mother's patrilineage through complementary filiation. One does not have to contest for offices or rights to property in one's mother's lineage. Children may live in the mother's village, but it is preferred for children to live in the father's village. An Ibibio proverb which says that "Ayin ase odung ke ndon ere" (a child normally lives in his father's compound) reminds every Ibibio child that the only appropriate place of abode is in the father's village. …