The Culture and Religion
The exogamous belief within the clans that members of a clan had a common descent
through one ancestor, prevented inter-marriages between members of the clan. Inter-clan
and inter-state marriage was encouraged.
There was inter-dependence between the Atyap which was demonstrated in the complimentary
functions performed by each state and by each of the Atyap clans. The Shokwa for
example, were in charge of rites associated with rain making and control of floods.
During dry spells in the rainy season, the Shokwa clan leader, the chief priest
and Rainmaker had to perform rites for rain making. When rainfall was too high resulting
in floods and destruction of houses and crops, the same officers of the clan were
called up to perform rites related to control rain. The Agba’ad clan, especially
the Jei sub-clan, was considered the best warriors both in Cavalry and archery warfare.
Agba’ad clan leader therefore became the commander-in-chief of the Atyap army. The
post of Atu-Taliyen, a military public relations officer who announced the commencement
and termination of each war, was held by a member of the Agba’ad clan. The Aku clans
were the custodians of the paraphernalia of the Abwoi and led in the rites and ceremonies.
They performed initiation rites for all new initiates. To prepare adherents for
initiations, their bodies were smeared with mahogany oil (Amia’akoh) and were forced
to take exhaustive exercise before they were ushered into the shrine. They had to
swear to keep all secretes related to the Abwoi. Abwoi communicated to the people
using a dry shell of bamboo having two open ends. One end was covered with spiders
web while t he other end was blown. It produced a mysterious sound interpreted to
the people as the voice of a deceased ancestor. This human manipulation enabled
the male elders of the society to control the behaviour and conscience of society.
Abwoi leaves (Nansham) a species of shea butter, were placed on farms and housetops
to scare away thieves since the Abwoi were believed to be omnipresent and omniscient.
Abwoi was thus, a unifying religious belief among the Atyap that wedded immense
powers in a society whose secrets were kept through a web of spies and informants
who reports the activities of saboteurs. Any revelation of Abwoi secrets could be
meted with capital punishment. Women were also implored to keep society secrets,
particularly, those related to way. To ensure that war secrets did not leak to the
opponents, women were made to wear tswa ayuan (woven raffia ropes) for 6 months
in a year. During this period, they were to refrain from gossips, “foreign” travel
and late cooking. At the end of the period, it was marked by song-Ayet, celebrated
in April, when women were free to wear fashionable dresses. These fashionable dresses
included the Atayep made of strips of leader and decorated with cowry shells. The
Ayiyep, another version of this, had dyed ropes of raffia sewn together into loin
cloth. Women also wore the Gyep yuan (lumber ornament) for the song-Ayet ceremony.
It was woven from palm fibre into a thick mad in the shape of a truncated cone or
mushroom. It was tied round the waist using a projection from a cord. For men, the
muzurwa was the major dress, which was made of tanned leather and properly oiled.
The rich in society had the edges of this dress adorned with beads and cowries.
They dress was tied round the waist with the aid of gindi (leather strap). By the
late 18th century, a short knicker called Dinari, made of cloth, became part of
the men’s attire. Men also had their hair plaited and at times decorated with cowrie’s
shells. They wore raffia caps (Katah) decorated with dyed wool and ostrich feathers.
Their bodies were painted with white chalk (Abwan) and red ochre (tsuo).