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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Old Calabar

an African kingdom, is situated in the Bight of Biafra, near the 6th deg. of north latitude. and between the 8th and 9th deg. of east longitude, and has a population of nearly 100,000, ruled by a king, who resides at Creek Town, the principal place in Old Calabar, and delegates the power of government to his head-man in each town. The population divided into two classes, freemen and slaves, the latter being the great majority is either employed on the provision grounds, which are at some distance from the towns, or in the operations of trade. The freemen are all engaged in trade, and are mainly dependent upon it for their support and influence. Even the king, who has no revenue from his subjects, carries on trade to a great extent, is of active business habits, keeps regular accounts, and owes all his power to the weight of his character, and the wealth which he has acquired from trading. The slaves are generally treated with kindness; and there seems to be a process of internal emancipation, the children of the third generation generally becoming free. Persons have ceased to be exported as slaves from this district for a considerable number of years. This suppression of the slave trade in the Bight of Biafra is to be ascribed to the beneficial influence of a growing trade, and to the treaties made with the chiefs by the British government. The trade carried on at Old Calabar is chiefly in palm-oil, which is brought from the interior, and is exchanged for British goods. The humanizing influence of legitimate commerce is becoming every year more obvious. Not only has it enlarged the views of the people, and to a certain degree improved their manners; enabled them to have comfortable houses, and to furnish them in many instances with costly articles of European manufacture; but it has taught them that it is for their interest to live at peace with their neighbors.

"The mode of government at Old Calabar is, in the case of freemen, by common consultation and agreement. They meet together in the palaver- house, talk over the matter, and no measure can become law that has not a majority of votes. The great difficulty which they feel is to keep in subjection their numerous slaves. This seems to be managed chiefly by the aid of superstition. They have a secret institution, called Eybo, much resembling the Oro of the Yorubas.

"Religion. The natives believe in the existence of God and of the devil. in a future state, and in the immortality of the soul; but their ideas on these subjects are dim and confused, and have, by the wickedness of the heart and the malignant teaching of Satan, been framed into a system of superstition dark, cruel, and sanguinary. They regard one day of the week as a Sabbath; they all practice circumcision; on festival days they sprinkle the blood of the Egbo goat, and they make a covenant of friendship between parties that were at variance, by putting on them the blood of a slain goat mixed with certain ingredients things which indicate the remains of the patriarchal religion. Their personal worship, so far as it has been ascertained, may be divided into two parts; that which is observed within the house, and that which takes place in the court-yard. The worship within the house consists in adoring a human skull stuck upon the top of a stick, around the handle of which a bunch of feathers is tied. This disgusting object their domestic idol is said to exist in every house in Old Calabar. The worship in the court-yard is of this kind: in the middle of the yard there is a basin of water placed at the foot of a small tree, which is planted for the purpose. This basin is never emptied of its contents, but is once a week filled with a fresh supply of water; and on the day when this is done, the second day of the week, called God's day, they offer a fowl, or some other small thing of that sort, which is tied by the foot to the tree,' and then they pray to Basi Ebum, the great God, but without confession of sin, and solely for temporal benefits.' Witchcraft exerts the same terrible influence here as in other parts of Western Africa.

"But the most desolating and sanguinary of all their customs is the practice of sacrificing human victims for the benefit of deceased persons of rank. This horrible custom arises from the belief that the future world corresponds to the present that the same wants are felt, the same relationships sustained, and the same pursuits followed; and, therefore, that the station and happiness of a person depend upon the number of followers and slaves who are killed and sent after him. The effect of this belief is that in proportion to the dignity of the departed, the rank and power of the survivors, and the warmth of affection which they cherish for the deceased, is the number of victims that are seized and immolated. Acquaintances also testify their respect for the dead and sympathy with the sorrowing relations by destroying a few of their slaves. The agents in this wholesale system of murder are the nearest relatives of the deceased, who evince their affection and their grief by exerting themselves to catch by force, by stratagem, and by all manner of ways, and to destroy as many of their fellow-creatures as they can. It is a season of terror. The slaves, from whose ranks the victims are usually taken, flee to the bush for shelter, the doors of the houses are fastened, and every one is afraid to go abroad. When it is borne in mind that the funeral ceremonies continue for four months, and that at the beginning, and especially at the close of this period, when the grand carnival, or make-devil, as they call it, takes place, great exertions are made to obtain victims, it will at once be obvious that this is a practice which spreads terror and mourning through every part of the community. It prevails in the greater part of Western Central Africa, and is drenching the land with blood" (Newcomb).

Missionary Labors. The work of converting the natives of Old Calabar to Christianity was begun in 1846 by the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and has continued under its control. The first mission stations were Creek Town; Duke Town, and Old Town. At the beginning of the mission-work provision was made for the education of the natives, and schools were opened in large numbers, and they were well patronized. The language of the country, which had never been systematized, was given a more permanent form, and soon a Bible in that tongue gave general circulation to the Christian's Gospel. At present there are six stations, and native workers are employed in large numbers in many places besides at these stations. See Grundemann, Missions-Atlas, No. 1; Aikman, Cyclop. of Christian Missions, p. 206, 207; Missionary Yearbook, 1:109.

Copyright Statement
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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Old Calabar'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/o/old-calabar.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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