The True Story Behind the Name “Akwa Ibom”


Akwa Ibom State is located in the coastal southern part of Nigeria. It shares boundaries with Cross River State, by the east, Rivers State and Abia State, on the west, and on the south it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. The state which was created in 1987, from Cross River State, is currently the highest oil and gas-producing state in the country and has a population of over 5 million people and more than 10 million people in diaspora.

Akwa Ibom State has two major seaports on the Atlantic Ocean with a proposed construction of a world-class seaport, Ibaka Seaport at Oron. It also has a 30,000-seater ultramodern sports complex. Aside English language and general Nigerian Pidgin, the main spoken languages in Akwa Ibom are Ibibio, Annang, Eket and Oron language. However, just like most states, the name “Akwa Ibom” has a root which is not known my most Nigerians, including some of the indigenous people of the state. This article explains the meaning of Akwa Ibom.

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Akwa Ibom is named after a river, the Qua Iboe (or Kwa Iboe) River. Not forgetting that river also means aqua (water), in Latin and was borrowed in English language. The same spelling (by virtue of its pronunciation) was adopted by the early European missionaries for the Efik or Ibibio word for “big” or “large.” This is where the similarity ends. When Efik became a written language, the sound spelling “akwa” was eventually adopted and is still used. However, proper names with the old spelling remained, for example, Qua Iboe or Iquo. “Akwa” represents the actual phonetic rendition of the word for “big/large” in Efik or Ibibio.

There is therefore no semantic connection between “aqua” (Latin/English) and “aqua” (old spelling) or “akwa” (later spelling of the word). A synonym for “akwa” in Efik or Ibibio is “akamba.” The generic word for water is “mmong” (Efik) or “mmoong” (Ibibio). An expanse of water such as the sea is called “akpa.” To indicate its largeness/wideness, the word “akwa” is added, hence “akwa akpa”. The ocean, by virtue of its largeness, may also be referred to as “akwa akpa”. “Inyang” is also another word for a body of water larger than a stream.

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The state chose to relate her name to a cultural root and spelling and not the English version. 20 miles to the entrance of this river is the popular Qua Iboe Offshore Oil Terminal and the Qua Iboe Onshore Oil Field (Oil Mining Lease, OML, 13). Translating Qua Iboe itself was not an easy task. Some records indicate that the river emptied itself around a settlement in Ibeno called Aqua Obio (meaning ‘Big Town’), however, early European explorers adulterated the name to become Qua Iboe.

Today, Aqua Obio includes Mkpanak and its neighboring settlements. The river itself originates from the Umuahia Hills in Abia State and travels for about 150 km before it flows Nouth-South and then empties into the Atlantic Ocean through Eket, Ibeno LGA of Akwa Ibom State, with a maximum depth of about 10 metres. Qua Iboe was also the site of Qua Iboe Mission, the third Protestant Church to arrive Nigeria in 1887, as founded by a British missionary, Samuel Alexander Bill, a British missionary who was devoted to preaching to the Efik and Annang speaking people of the area. He is buried at Ibeno on the bank of the Qua Iboe River beside his wife, Gracie and his very first convert, David Ekong.

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