The Mythology Of The Efik People

Stacey Osalumhense
December 30, 2023


The Efik mythology is a lavish mosaic of myths that have been penned down, sung and narrated by the Efiks. These myths encapsulate various aspects and classes such as mythical creatures, creation myths, legends and warriors, supernatural beings, and they have been passed down from generations. Like most cultures, the sources of Efik myths are from their art, songs, oral tradition, proverbs and bardic poetry. These mythologies give insight on the belief system and culture of the Efiks.


The Efik people are an ethnic group located in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states of Nigeria. They can also be found in Southern Cameroon and Bakassi. The Efik people are also related to the Annang, Ibibio, Oron, Biase, Eket, Uruan, and Akamkpa people. According to their history, the Efiks have had three successive stages of migration and settlement.

The actual origins of the Efik people is not clearly known, but their traditional tales, accords a sojourn from Nubia through to Ghana and then Arochukwu. They dwelled with their hosts for about four hundred years before they left due to a disagreement with the Aro's. When they left Arochukwu, majority of them settled in Uruan, while others went to Eniong and environ. They later moved from Uruan and relocated to Ikpa Ene and Ndodihi, though for a short time before crossing over to their permanent residence in Creek Town and its surrounding areas which is today regarded as Calabar.


Abassi is the giver of life, and supreme controller of the universe, he is the creator of life, the stars, the earth and the wildlife upon it. He lives in heaven with his wife Atai, in the sky. She gives him good advice and most times serves as a mediator.

After Abassi created the universe and the earth, he created two humans, a man and a woman. These humans lived with Abassi and Atai in the sky. Abassi created humans to be very innocent, they had little knowledge and relied on Abassi and Attai for protection, accomodation and even sustenance, because they lacked the knowledge to feed themselves.

One day, the humans looked down on earth, and admired its scenery and beauty and decided they wanted to live there. When they informed Abassi of their decision to leave the sky for the earth, Abassi vehemently rejected the idea.

Abassi feared that if he allowed the humans to live on earth, they would learn the many secrets of the earth, and humans would no longer be dependent on him, even worse, they might match his wisdom or even surpass him.

Abassi's wife Attai came to the rescue. She heard about the humans plan to live on the earth and her husband's refusal, she therefore proffered a solution. The humans could live on the earth, as long as they promised to return to the sky everyday to eat with them. To calm her husband's fears of the humans surpassing him, Atai also added the humans were not to till the soil, hunt or procreate.

Atai's plan worked for a while. The humans returned everyday to dine with Abassi and Atai. However, the day came the woman decided she was tired of going up to the sky to feed. She decided to till the soil and started to farm. When the man told her to follow her to the sky to eat, she declined and focused on her farming.

When the man saw the woman was growing her food, he decided to join her. In time, they both fell in love. They didn't return to the sky, and for many years they enjoyed the work of their hands and started having children. When the children got to the age that they could work, they joined their parents in the field. The humans taught their children the secrets of the earth and together, they explored more of the earth's secrets.

This new development enraged Abassi. The humans had not only defied his command to them of not feeding themselves, but they were also bearing children. He blamed it all on Atai since it was her idea to allow the humans to live on the earth. Atai once again came up with a plan to inhibit the humans from becoming too powerful. She sent death and conflict to the world of humans.

The moment Atai's agents (death and conflict) reached the earth, the man and woman died immediately. While their children continue to suffer the misfortunes of the world and fight amongst themselves, their mothers defiance to the gods enabled her children to keep learning the secrets of the earth to this day.


Abassi: He is recognised as the supreme being and creator of everything. He is also all knowing and all seeing.

Atai: she is the wife of Abassi. In the creation story, she desires the happiness of her husband. She is also regarded as Abassi's messenger. Her animal representation is the Vulture.

Eka Abassi: Although her name means mother of God, she isn't the mother of Abassi, she was given the name because she grants children to her followers.She is attributed to being the goddess of fertility. She is one of the most revered and dreaded goddesses.

AnEfik plate showing a water deity

Ndem (Singular; Idem): These are marine deities and they form an integral part of the Efik religion. Ndems are believed to be territorial in character because they reside in various areas of the lower cross river. They had animal representations such as crocodiles pythons, Popular

Ndems include:Anansa, Udominyan, Atabrinyang, Atakpor, Uruan Iyang, Ekpeyong, Ekanem, Afianwan and many others.

Anansa: She is by far the most popular of all the deities of the Efik people. She is said to be the goddess of the sea and the goddess of beauty. Anansa is believed to possess young girls, after which the posessed girl dreams a lot about the water and the famous ekombi dance - a dance attributed to Anansa. The ekombi dance movements were invented from the motions of the oceans. It’s believed that by dancing ekombi, the spirit of Anansa can be invoked.

Statue of Anansi waving farewell to sea travellers


Okukubarakpa: This is a monstrous serpent that stretches across rivers disturbing its waters. It is described as a large water serpent that has a diamond stone in its head, and also grows a comb on its head like a cock.

Ikpun kpun kpun Ine: This is a mammoth-like creature far bigger and stronger than an elephant.

Unamin: This is regarded to be a terrible prehistoric creature believed to be extinct. It was an aquatic animal that looked like a shark.

Ikonwo: This is monstrous specie of catfish

Akaka Obu: These are two giant crabs ( male and female) the Efik believed guarded the entrance to the Calabar River and protected old Calabar.


The Efiks believed in the harmony between the human soul and that of animals. They believed every individual had a soul in animal and could transfer their consciousness to their spirit animal and become the animal. The Efiks believed the persons personality were believed to be determined by the spirit aniamal. They also believed that whatever happened to one's animal could affect the individual. Plants, rocks and insect were never believed to share the same harmony with humans, although some species of fishes were regarded as potential spirit animals. Eka Abassi the goddess of childbirth was the one who chose the spirit animal and its influence. Animals such as Wall geckos, wild dogs, boa constrictors, other types of snakes, crocodiles, leopards and others.


The Ekpe society plays an important role in Efik society. Before the colonial era, Ekpe was the government of the Old Calabar. They operated through a grading system.

Although the Ekpe acted as custodians of law and order, they also carried out mystical rituals. Ekpe in Efik means "Leopard" and is believed to be a mysterious or spirit that lives in the forest. Various tales tell the legend of how the Ekpe society came about. One of the popular legends explains how an Efut woman named Ata Iroko observed a group of supernatural spirits playing in the forest. After their departure, she noticed they left behind the mboko (this is the instrument that produces the leopard sound, and the knowledge on how it works is on of the greatest secrets of the leopard society)which she took home. She showed it to her husband, who in turn showed it to the town chiefs. They were intrigued by the instrument and bribed the husband to kill Ata Iroko, which he did. The Efiks successively purchased the secrets of the leopard society from the Efut.

Abrass plate showing an Ekpe spirit


The Efiks believed in a realm known as Onosi where the spirit of the dead reside. Onosi is said to be located around the village of Usahadet and bordered by Obio Ndem (the realm of the Ndem - the water deities). Obio Ndem is described as being just like the human world except for the fact that it was under water.


Efik mythology is a rich ensemble of culture and power that encompasses various aspects of their lives. Their collection of myths gives enlightenment on creation stories, deities, mythical creatures, and an organised government that also carried out spiritual activities. Thereby providing invaluable knowledge into the beliefs and values of the Efik people. Their creation story is one of insecurity, defiance and punishment.

Atai's reason for introducing conflict and death to the earth was to control the human population in order to ease Abassi's insecurity on the potential of humans. Whatsoever their accomplishment might be and no matter how many humans lived on the earth, they would eventually die. Atai is seen as humanity's advocate and also called the mediator because in many versions of the story, she is attested to being the one who gave Abassi the idea to create the humans and allow them reside on the earth.


Goldie, Hugh (1862), Dictionary of the Efik Language, in two parts. I-Efik and English.

II-English and Efik, Glassgow: Dunn and Wright

Simmons, Donald C. (1958). Analysis of the Reflection of Culture in Efik folktales (PhD).

Yale University. es/a/origin-story-efik/ Photo Credits: Wikipedia and Getty Images

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