It is one of the oldest trading practices, which many thought has been phased out with the introduction of modern currencies. But in Cross River State, a section of the people are still stuck in trade by barter as a means of transaction. CLEMENT JAMES, in Calabar, reports on the unusual business model in the 21st century
Cross River State has been known for cuisines that have attracted lovers of good food to the state over the years. Beside attraction of food, the state is generally known to have delectable young women whose cheerfulness, brilliance, luster and glowing disposition have created a traffic for men who, in great numbers and from everywhere around the world, have come to marry in the state.
Till date, the late Mamman Vatsa’s house still stands in the city of Calabar, an example of how the high and low had invaded the state for suitors over the years. The yearly carnival float in the state has since re-introduced her to the outside world, with various countries bringing their cultural evolution to the state and helping to sell her image and identity to other climes, thus engendering close relationship between the state and other countries and other states of the federation. In fact, there is no denying the fact that Cross River in general and Calabar in particular had the opportunity of being one of the first states in the country to receive early Missionaries, and this contact with the “White men” has remained a cherished souvenir to the people.
Incidentally, Akpabuyo Local Government is one of the Efik towns whose indigenes benefited from the visit of these Missionaries and also benefited from the civilisation that emanated from their visit. In recognition of this relationship with the white, Calabar was made the Capital of Southern Protectorate before the amalgamation of northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. Ordinarily, the state should not be identified with activities that occurred centuries ago. Trade by barter is an ancient practice, a practice which later gave way to the use of cowries and other forms of exchange. These cowries, according to history, later gave way to metal objects “which were introduced as money around 5000 B.C.” Over time too, the use of currency note were introduced which exists till date.
The Esuk Mba market in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State has recently come into focus for sustaining trade by barter for the past sixty three years. Said to have been established in 1956, the practice has continued till date despite the fact that modern civilisation has overshadowed it. A visit to Esuk Mba is about 40 minutes drive and a visitor who expects to witness trade going on in the market has to schedule his visit for Saturday. Arriving at the market around 7am will give the visitor an idea of what the activities at the market will look like, as trading will begin by that time and end by 12pm. Esuk Mba is an agrarian community but has educated indigenes who continue to patronise the market without money, but with some commodities to exchange for their daily needs.
Youth leader of the community, Asuquo Effiong was excited that the community has in recent time received visitors from various parts of the country, hoping that the visits will translate into the development of the area, “because we want to keep this market as a memorial for our ancestors.”
Effiong, who has the same answer for anybody who asks him about the existence of the market said: “We grew up to meet this market. We hold it so much in high esteem and we want to sustain it. We use it to remember our fore-fathers and to sustain our culture. As you can see, they are varieties of food items on this section for exchange. In this market, you can bring your palm oil and exchange it for garri, yam, fish or plantain as the case may be. “The market is close to the river side and our people here are predominantly fishermen. The community is not comfortable with the size of this market; there have been no expansion of the market since inception.” Margaret Bassey, told New Telegraph that she was at the market to “buy” what she needed. “I am here to buy what I actually need since this is Saturday and this market was established for us in this community to exchange what we do not need for what we need.
“I have coco-yam and that is what I have brought to this market to get plantain. I want to do plantain potage but I can’t use coco-yam. Definitely, somebody must be in need of the coco-yam because in this community, many people like Ekpang Nkukwo (a local food made of coco-yam),” Margaret said. Asked if she knew how the market came about she said: “Our elders told us that the market has been there during the period of our forefathers. They operated it and handed it to us. We inherited it and nobody living today will say that he started the market.” Asked if the community will end the practice someday, she said: “No, because the market is historical and that his history is important for us. Apart from that there are so many people in this community who do not have money but they have something to give out. You don’t expect such people to die of hunger because they don’t have money. So long as they have something to exchange, they will go home with something to eat.”
For Ikwo Nsa, there is no way the market will be abolished because the ancestors will be angry with the people. She said rather than nurse any thought of abolishing the practice, government should develop it and make it a tourist area. “We are happy to have the market because we have proved that history cannot be wished away in human activities. Nobody will think of abolishing this trade by barter her because of its historical relevance to our community. Whether you are educated or not, you must appreciate the history in your community and this market, first and foremost, is the history of our community,” Nsa said. Another trader, Edem Edem who went with his palm wine said he was in the market to get herbal leaves for treatment. According to him, the community is a local one and a major signature activity there is drinking of palm wine. “I have children who have been sick since last week. But yesterday (Friday), one of them became serious and I don’t have any money this weekend. I had to go and tap my palm wine this morning to come and see if I can get some herbal leaves to go and treat them,” he said.
When asked if he wished the market should continue, Edem answered in the affirmative, saying: “This market has helped our people in very critical moments. It is not every day that you will have money, so if you have something to give and collect what you want, then you have solved your problem for that day. I can’t see any government trying to stop this trade by barter we will resist it.”
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