ORON Information

Location: Southeastern Nigeria
Population: n/a
Language: Oron (Kwa)
Neighbors: Igbo, Ijaw, Idoma, Igala, Bangwa
Types of Art: Some of the finest wooden statuary attributed to Oron peoples are beautifully carved ancestor figures (ekpu). Many of these were destroyed or removed from Nigeria during the Biafran war in the 1970s.
History: Oron are closely related to the neighboring Ibibio peoples. Both groups have lived in the Cross River area of modern day Nigeria for several hundreds of years, and while written information about them only exists in colonial records from the late 1800s on, oral traditions have them in the region much earlier than this. The peoples in the Cross River delta area were very resistant to colonial invasions, and it was not until after the end of World War I that the British were able to gain a strong foothold in the region. Even at this time, however, the British found it necessary to incorporate local traditions in order to impose indirect rule in the region.
Economy: The main economic staple in the region is the palm tree, the oil of which is extracted and exported. Among Oron, those of the highest rank in the Ekpo society (Amama) often control the majority of the community wealth. The Amama often appropriate hundreds of acres of palm trees for their own use and, with the profits they earn, ensure that their sons achieve comparable rank, effectively limiting access to economic gain for most members of the community. The Ekpo society requires that its initiates sponsor feasts for the town, which fosters the appearance of the redistribution of wealth by providing the poor with food and drink. In effect, this allows a disparity in wealth to be perpetuated in Oron society.
Political Systems: Individual villages are ruled by a group of village elders (Ekpo Ndem Isong) and the heads of extended families. Their decisions are enforced by members of the Ekpo society who act as messengers of the ancestors (ikan). Ekpo members are always masked when performing their policing duties, and although their identities are almost always known, fear of retribution from the ancestors prevents most people from accusing those members who overstep their social boundaries, effectively committing police brutality. Membership is open to all males, but one must have access to wealth to move into the politically influential grades.
Religion: Oron religion is based on paying tribute to the village ancestors. Failing to appease these ancestors brings the wrath of the Ekpo society. The most important ancestors are those who achieved high rank while living, usually the house heads. They may control the fortunes of the descendants and are free to afflict those who fail to make the proper offering or those who fail to observe kinship norms. Ala is the earth deity and is appeased through Ogbom ceremony, which is believed to make children plentiful and to increase the harvest. It is performed in the middle of the year, every eighth day for eight weeks by each section of the village in turn.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,