Sunday, July 31, 2016

Esssien Ephraim Stephen - Annang Society (Nigeria) & The African Traditional Conception of Human Rights

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post features an excerpt from a 2005 online article about the Anaag that was written by Esssien Ephraim Stephen.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, cultural, and educational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Esssien Ephraim Stephen for this research and writing.

By Esssien Ephraim Stephen
Posted on the internet on May 27, 2005
Ibuanyidanda (Complementary Reflection), African Philosophy and General
Issues in Philosophy

2.5 African Traditional Conception of Human Rights
"There are no documents instruments of human rights in traditional Africa, but the African is aware that his society is sustained by laws transmitted by the elders and, say, the ancestors. With this in mind, the African is self-conscious of the rewards or punishments accruing from his disposition towards the law. This law is the community norms which regulate the lives of members of such community. For instance, in all African traditional society, respect for elders is a supreme virtue.

In the Annang society, each person is prohibited from being malicious against some groups of people, namely: one’s grandchildren, one’s grandparents and one’s inlaws. One is also bound to be hosptitable to the stranger. Although there are no clear formulations and recognition of rights in traditional African societies, we are left to link the African traditional conception of human rights with contemporary
formulation of human rights. The Africans have a deep sense of human rights. These are rights such as rights of inheritance and succession, right to work, right to found a domestic society (right to marriage), right to respect and reputation, freedom of thought, speech and beliefs, freedom of association, right to education, right to property, right to life, et cetera. Let us look at each of these rights in the context of the Annang Society. First, the Annang people and society.

The Annang Society is found within the North-West region of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. The Annang land is bounded in the north and west by the Igbos and the Ibibios make up their southern and eastern neighbours. The Khana people of River State are also their south-eastern neighbours. Abak, Ikot Ekpene, Ukanafun, Etim Ekpo, Essien Udim, Oruk Anam, Obot Akara, and Ika local government areas make up the Annang society.

In the Annang Society is immersed an economic system based principally on agricultural subsistence and exchange economy. The farm activities are a prestigious pursuit for both men and women. After the farm plots have been cleared by men for women, planting and care of crops devolve exclusively upon the shoulders of women. The only exception here is yam-care, which is a privileged responsibility of men. While the Abak zone is notable for its oil palm products, raffia goods are a profitable source of income for a good number of people in the Ikot Ekpene zone, the Raffia city. Much of these goods are mostly exhibited at the Obo market, the most central market for the whole of Annang.

Their highest political unit is the Afe Annang. It is a political unit where various clans representatives conglomerate as a forum to parley out issues concerning the welfare of the Annang nation. The Afe Annang (Annang forum) is presided by the “Itai” Annang (Annang Pillar). The Afe Annang is headquartered at Afaha Obong in Abak local government area of Akwa Ibom State.

The Annang person (owo) strongly believes that there is a Supreme Being, designated “Abasi Ibom”. “Ibom” calls his unlimitedness into the focus of distinction. “Ibom” means the whole limitless universe. Here accordingly, he is the lord of the whole boundless universe and everything within it. Due to his boundlessness, there is no temple nor shrine for him, since that cannot accommodate him (Enang,1979:5). However, Abasi Ibom is a withdrawn God, the so-called ‘deus-otiosus’. This is so believed because the Annangs believe they have close encounter with the spirits and ancestors than with the Supreme Being. The Annangs believe in a multitude of spirits who are believed to take charge of specific aspects of life. These deities are, thus, named after the areas of which they are believed to be in charge. The souls of the patrilineage ancestors have a strong place in the beliefs of the Annangs. They fall according to their social belongingness in clan, village, street and family. Sacrifices are offered frequently to them either to appease them or to request for their favours. Their classification and influence are indicative of their fundamental role in the society. Apart from being the historical origins of their different social units, they have the social and political functions of promoting the welfare of the people. The ancestors (Mme EtteEtte) share both in the good and bad in the life of the social units (Ennang, 1979:26). Invisibly operating, too, is a force called “odudu”, which the Annangs believe to pervade nature. It is not identifiable, has no permanent abode and can, therefore, be conveyed in everything and sent to any place to do either good or harm. It is impersonal, non-physical, and is diffused as the melannesian force, called “mana” (Codrington, 1891:118ff). Workers of evil magic are believed to possess the ability to use “odudu” in bringing about the destruction or death of man, while good magic workers are believed to invoke “odudu” for the benefit of those who approach them. As soon as “odudu” finds itself invoked into application, it assumes the dimension of a personal force.

Within this Annang weltanschaaung, the Annang people and society believe in the spirituality or sacredness of life and consider it as a primary value. However, some activities which were in vogue in uncivilized Annang society could contradict that life is primary in Annang society. Such activities were the killing of twins, which Mary Slessor fought to stop. Like in most African traditional societies lives were sacrificed at the burial of village or clans dignatories. There was also present the practice of cannibalism before the advent of Christianity. Most of the victims were captives at inter-tribal vendettas. Such vendettas were mostly between those living at the boundaries. Vendettas between the Ngwa people of Abia State of Nigeria and the boundary villages of the Annang society, such as Ikot Umoessien, Usaka Annang, Ika etc. With these in mind, would one be justified to say that life was held sacred in African traditional society and the Annang society in particular? Let us go on with their conception of human rights.

The Right to Life
Apart from the cannibalistic, fetish and barbarous Annang of pre-Christian Africa, the authentic Annang society believes in the primacy of life. This is attested to in the adage: ”Uwem edi imo” (life is wealth); “itong ama odu uwem okongo nkwa” (when the neck lives it shall wear beads), and so on. The Annangs go extra mile to preserve the sanctity of life. They believe that we live our lives in trust. Thus a suicide is not given any befitting burial in Annang land since he or she is believed to infringe the sacredness of life. Such is thrown into the forest. Even when they lose any member (except a suicide) the Annangs exert much time and energy to give befitting burial, since they believe in reincarnation and the spirit-world.

Their belief in reincarnation and also in the land of the spirit, the spirit-world, manifest a tri-partite structure of human personality in Annang world view. The human person is composed of body, soul and spirit. At the death of the body, the soul enters into the process of reincarnation while spirit goes to the land of the spirits, designated “obio-ekpo”. The spirit lives in the spirit-world depending on whether the person was virtuous. If he or she was not virtuous, his or her spirit is believed to roam the world. Thus, that is why they are believed to appear as ghosts. This tri-partite conception of human nature in Annang society vitiates psychosomaticism ( a belief that the human person is composed of body and soul) and establishes a psychosomapneumaticism ) the idea that soul, body and spirit make up the human person.. The Annang child is taught that it is wrong to kill.

Right of Inheritance and Succession
The right of inheritance of property at the death of a man devolves on his sons. Among others, the eldest son benefits more than other sons. He inherits, by traditional belief, the father’s buildings or houses, and he is heir apparent to the throne if his father were a village head. In terms of his portions of land, these are usually divided among the male children, beginning from the eldest to the youngest. Women or female children do not enjoy this right in the Annang society.

Right to Work
The Annang society believes that success depends upon hardwork. Everyone within this society has right to work and to the fruits of his or her work. This right is correlative of the duty to work. There is a duty to communal work, such as the duty of keeping the village square and path ways clean.

Right to found a domestic Society
Without being told the Annang man or woman considers the right to found a domestic community a natural right. Thus he or she presumes his freedom to marry and establish a home. There is no place for celibacy in the Annang society. The successful Annang man or woman is measured in his or her ability to found a stable home.

Freedom of Association
In traditional African societies there is a right to associate freely with one’s own kin within an
extended family, a right to associate with people outside the extended family, a right also to inter-tribal
association as in marriages. This right is limited in certain communities in Igboland. There is the practice
of a caste system, the “Osu” caste system. The Osu are believed to attend to certain idols and thus were
seen and treated as holy sect, and due to their closeness and consequent “sacredness”, they are not related with normally (Igwe, 2002:41). These group of people are treated as inferior to other human beings, and as such there is no deliberate intermarriage with them. In traditional Annang society, only male initiates have the right to belong to the “Ekpo” masquerade cult. Those who have not been initiated, some males and all women are not altogether free to move about in the society during the “Ekpo” masquerade festival. At the climax of this festival women are not free at all to be seen outside their homes. This is usually the
last week of the tenth month of the year, October. This restricts their freedom of movement.

Right to Respect, Reputation and Freedom of Speech
In view of the right to respect, the Annangs give a special place to the elders and elderly. The elders, because of their experience in life, are believed to be wise. Through their mouths oral history, folklore and myths are transmitted to others. In the gathering of the people, the elder makes recourse to the wisdom of the ancients. In his awakening speech he begins with “our fathers used to say,” and when rendering a folkfore, his point of departure is “once upon a time”. The wise one while rendering oral history, folklore and myths makes the “once upon a time”, “in those days” or “our fathers used to say” become “now”. Recourse to wise sayings serve didactic purposes. Such ideal elders are cultically venerated after their death because they are believed to belong to the spiritual community of ancestors. Besides these elders, every elderly person has a right to be respected by the younger one. There is duty to respect one’s parents and elders.
The Annang man or woman believes he or she has a right to a good name. This is attested to by the fact that, if he or she is blackmailed, he or she seeks redress by reporting such a case to the council of elders, be it at the family level or village level.

Freedom of speech and expression is conditioned by the principle of respect. One is bound to respect one’s parents and elders in the Annang society, despite your interior conviction that you are free to speak and express your views.

There are, in summary, derogations from human rights. Much emphasis is placed on collective
rights than on individual rights, and duty seem to overwhelm rights in most African societies.
Italics were added by me to enhance the readability of this excerpt.

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