The Ngbe is a major men's society among the Ejagham and Banyang people of the Cross River area of Nigeria and Cameroon. Its primary role is to regulate social behavior. After initiation into the most junior echelon of Ngbe (often in childhood or adolescence), a man proceeds to join some or all of the more advanced levels with in the larger association. Each level has its own degree of prestige with a distinctive body of lore and may also have emblems associated with it.
At the center of such an emblem, or nkpa, is a membrane drum (the membrane of our emblem is missing); drums symbolize the society's legislative authority. There is also a palm leaf mat with palm fiber fringe and attached items such as a ceremonial broom, used to sweep away hostile "medicine," loops of cordage that are signs barring entry to the sacred house, and a batonlike staff. The emblems are adorned with the skulls and horns of animals consumed at the feast organized at the society's founding.
The basic structure of this dense and compact emblem, or nkpa, consists of a palm leaf mat woven in the form of a grid, roughly a square, with a fringe of palm fiber, perpendicular to the edges and projecting about 9 in. Onto grid, various fiber, skeletal, and manufactured objects are attached. These include 14 skulls: most appear to be from apes or monkeys; two appear to be from birds of prey; one large one at top of center appears to be from an ox, cow, or horse. Below large skull is tube of wood with hide adhered to it; around it is nestlike ring of root(?) fibers. The smallest skull, which is fragmentary, is attached to two large claws that are wrapped with fiber borders. Also attached are 3 wood clubs: one is long, the height of the proper right side; one is short in proper left corner; one, which may be a tool, is short and at bottom central edge. Inserted at lower proper left corner is folded section of heavily plied and twisted cord. There is an iron knife with painted blade and carved wood handle. Two long bundles of reeds are tied to form an X; two thorned branches are tied to form an X. Condition: An inherently fragile piece that should not be considered for an outward loan. The center was occupied by a membrane drum, the head of which is missing. Paint on iron blade is flaking and powdery. Object always needs to be stored flat in a customized box. For display, a vitrined case with light levels not to exceed 10 footcandles is recommended to protect organic components. Previous owner attached piece to black painted board with cleat for hanging.