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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Abang Dancers

For Somewhere Saturday today we will visit Calabar where I lived for a few years. Calabar is in southeastern Nigeria, on the eastern bank of the Cross River, about 5 degrees north of the equator. When I lived there about twenty-five years ago it was a sleepy city with more of a history than a future. Calabar, early developed as a slave port, became a major export location for the trade from the “oil rivers” when slavery declined in the mid-nineteenth century. In those days, the oil referred to was not from offshore wells but was the palm oil derived from the abundant natural growths of oil palms in this area and the vast Niger delta just to the north. This oil was a hot commodity during the industrial revolution and is still widely used in many industrial processes.

The climate in Calabar is hot and humid. The average air temperature is slightly less than body temperature (around 85 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is often as close to 100% as it is possible to get without actually being under water. Calabar averages 116 inches of rain per year. By comparison, Seattle, in the rainy northwestern USA gets about 38 inches per year. If you sit perfectly still in Calabar, large beads of perspiration will form on your skin and roll down until they drip off you. People install electric lights in closets, not for their light but for their heat, to keep the clothes a little dry. Without such bulbs, clothes hanging in closets become moldy within a few days.

There is a brief period each year around Christmas, euphemistically termed “the dry season,” when it rains less than normal and the temperature is marginally cooler. The local people don woolen sweaters, wrap scarfs tightly around their throats and complain of the cold when the temperature drops below 75 degrees F. However, these “cold” days are few and far between.

This season is also an intense period for traditional activities of the Efik people of Calabar when many secret societies display their dances and songs to the public by walking in their groups from compound to compound. When they arrive they are invited in and will usually perform for fifteen minutes or longer depending on the amount of encouragement they get. It is traditional to offer them a donation and some refreshments. The photographs above and below were taken in my compound in early January 1989. These beautiful young girls are members of the Abang Society, a traditional association of women and young girls. Traditionally the girls dancing would be trying to attract marriage partners. Much of the dance consists of the girls miming the performance of various women's tasks such as preparing food in a mortar and pestle or hoeing in a field.

1 comment:

JoJo said...

The kids don't look like they are sweating at all. I can't imagine being used to that kind of oppressive heat. I wonder where they all are today?