List of Tribes and Languages in Cross River State

With over 30 tribes and about 70 languages, Cross River State certainly lives up to its reputation as a melting pot of cultures. Cross River is one of the Nigerian states most recognized for its unique blend of cultures. As a state in the southern part of Nigeria, it is named after the popular Cross River, which runs across the state, and its capital city is Calabar.

The state occupies an area of 20,156 km² and is home to one of the most diversified tribes and languages in Nigeria. As is to be expected, there is no exact number of languages that are unique to the southern states, but if you want to know more about the tribes and languages in Cross River State, here are the facts we’ve gathered.

A Holistic Look at the Tribes in Cross River State

In Cross River State, there are over 30 tribes, each with its unique cultural values, traditions, and language. These tribes share themselves in Local Government Areas complete with their own culture, language, and traditions.

Unlike some other states in Nigeria that speak one major language with various dialects, in Cross River, a very small subset of the people can choose to speak a language unique to them. It is interesting to note, however, that the LGA boundaries do not exactly correspond to ethnic groups in the state.

What are The Major Tribes in Cross River State?

  • Efik: The Efik is an ethnic group primarily located in southeastern Nigeria and in the southern part of Cross River state. The Efik people are indigenous to Cross River State. They are predominantly found in Calabar, Akpabuyo, and Odukpani Local Government Areas. The Efiks are culturally endowed with unique practices like the Ekpe masquerade, the Nnanga festival, and other traditional dances. 
  • Ejagham: The Ejagham people are predominantly found in the southern part of Cross River State, specifically in Etung and Obubra. They are famous for their rich cultural heritage and unique artistry.
  • Ekoi: The Ekoi people are found in Akpabuyo and parts of Odukpani Local Government Area. They are famous for their traditional dance and attire.
  • Bekwarra: The Bekwarra people are mainly found in Bekwarra Local government in Cross River State. They are known for their rich culture and tradition.
  • Yakurr: The Yakurr people are predominant in Ugep, in Yakurr Local Government Area of Cross River state. They are famous for their rich culture and agricultural prowess.
  • Etung: The Etung people are found in Etung Local Government Area of Cross River State. They are renowned for their unique cultural identity.

An Overview of Cross River’s Rich Linguistic Culture

For a state as culturally rich as Cross River, it isn’t surprising to learn that there are many subsets of language and tribes that exist within the major and most popularly known ones. You may not have known this prior, but the state itself is broadly divided into four primary branches: Central Delta, Ogoni, Upper Cross River, and Lower Cross River.

Each of these four geographical areas has languages that are peculiar to them. The Central Delta, for instance, has 8 languages, the most widely spoken of them being Ogbia. Ogoni is known for its 5 languages, which include the popular Khana language. Lower and Upper Cross River boast over 20 general languages, with Lokaa and Ibibio being the most commonly spoken ones.

Meanwhile, the languages of Cross River State are spoken in 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state. The boundaries of these local governments do not exactly correspond to ethnic groups, such that there are very few linguistically homogenous LGAs. The heterogeneous LGAs are Abi, Akamkpa, Biase, Ikom, Obanliku Calabar Municipality, Obudu, Odukpani, Ogoja, and Yakurr LGAs. The homogenous LGAs are Calabar South, Akpabuyo, Bakassi, Bekwarra, Boki, Etung, Obubra and Yala.

There are 37 languages with a network of dialects and language clusters. It is, therefore, a relatively complicated linguistic situation. All the languages spoken in Cross River State fall within the Benue-Congo sub-family of the Niger-Congo phylum. Because the rest of these languages have only about a hundred thousand speakers or less, despite the number of languages spoken in Cross River, they are all considered minority languages based on demographic factors.

Although a few of these languages, like Lokaa, Yala, and Mbembe, have been raised in status, there are still very few people who speak native Cross Riverian languages when compared with other tribes in Nigeria.

How Many Languages Do We Have in the Cross River State?

According to the National Population Commission, as of 2006, there were about 37 languages in Cross River all belonging to a network of dialects and language clusters. These languages were discovered to fall within the Benue-Congo sub-family of the Niger-Congo phylum, meaning that parts of Benue and Congo share language similarities with the people of Cross River State.

In recent times, more languages have been unearthed in the state, bumping the number of languages spoken to at least 70. In Cross Rivers State today, the most widely spoken languages are Efik, Ejagham, Yakurr, Boki, Kion-mumuye, and Bekwarra. Here is a short expose on each of these 6 major Cross River languages. 

1. Efik: Efik language is the most popular language in Cross River State with nearly 4 million speakers. The language is mostly spoken by seven out of the state’s 18 local governments, including the Calabar Municipality, Calabar South, Akpabuyo, Bakassi, Akampkpa, Biase, and Odukpani Local Government Area

Apart from Cross River State, Efik is also spoken in states like Akwa Ibom, Rivers, and the Southernmost parts of Abia States.

2. Ejagham: Ejagham language is predominantly spoken in Cross River State, and it has different dialects. It is also spoken in other states in Nigeria, such as Akwa Ibom, Rivers, and Cameroon.

3. Yakurr: Yakurr language is spoken in Cross River State, with its dialects such as Ugep, Nko, and Ehrne.

4. Boki: Boki language is spoken in Cross River State. Some well-known Boki dialects are Nkum, Boje, and Nsadop.

5. Bekwarra: Bekwarra language is spoken predominantly in Bekwarra Local Government Area, Cross River State, and in parts of Benue State. Katchuan, Nkarasi, and Ufia are some well-known Bekwarra dialects.

6. Kion-mumuye: Kion-mumuye is another common Cross River language. It is predominantly spoken in Bwadna, Osokom, and Daddi towns in Obubra Local Government Area. Some of the most popular Kion-mumuye dialects include Mojit, Lasbe, and Kunna.

Other Languages Spoken in Cross River State include:

  • Leggbo
  • Bahumono
  • Ejagham
  • Korop
  • Ukwa
  • Ito
  • Derop
  • Afrike
  • Nn Mehu
  • Ubaghara
  • Umon
  • Isanginyoinyo
  • Iyoniyong
  • Boky
  • Efut
  • Olulumo
  • Ikom
  • Bakor
  • Mbembe
  • Yala Nkum
  • Obanliku
  • Bendi
  • Bette,
  • Alege
  • Utugwang
  • Ukpe
  • Ubang
  • Okworotung
  • Mgbenege
  • Odot
  • Ishibori
  • Ekajuk
  • Mbube
  • Lokaa
  • Nko
  •  Leggbo
  •  Yala
  •  Yache
  • Kukelle
  •  Boki
  •  Bekwarra
  • Kelu,
  •  Abanyom
  •  Kion-mumuye

What is the Major Language of Cross River?

The major language spoken in Cross River State is the Efik language, which is spoken by the majority of the people in the state. Efik is, therefore, one of the richest tribes and languages in Cross River state.

Due to the extensive trading activities of the Efik people, the language became the lingua franca of the Cross River region. However, not everyone in Cross River State speaks the Efik language. Other languages like Ejagham, Yakurr, Boki, and Bekwarra are also widely spoken, especially in their respective Local Government Areas.

Local Governments in Cross River State And the Languages They Speak

Here is a more comprehensive list of the known languages spoken in the various local governments of Cross River State:

1. Abi – Leggbo, Bahumono
2. Akamkpa  –  Efik, Ejagham, Korop, Ukwa, Ito, Derop
3. Akpabuyo –  Efik
4. Bakassi –  Efik
5. Bekwarra –  Bekwarra, Afrike
6. Biase – Nne, Mehu, Ubaghara, Umon, Isanginyoinyo, Iyoniyong
7. Boki  – Bokyi
8. Calabar municipality – Efik, Ejagham
9. Calabar South – Efut, Efik
10. Etung – Ejagham
11. Ikom – Olulumo, Ikom, Ejagham, Bakor, Mbembe, Yala Nkum
12. Obanliku  – Obanliku, Bendi
13. Obubra –  Mbembe
14. Obudu  –  Bette, Alege, Utugwang, Ukpe, Ubang, Okworotung, Mgbenege
15. Odukpani – Ejagham, Efik, Odot, Kiong
16. Ogoja – Ishibori, Ekajuk, Mbube
17. Yakurr  – Lokaa, Nko, Leggbo
18. Yala  – Yala, Yache, Kukelle

What is Cross River State Known for?

  • Cross River State is best known for its rich cultural heritage, beautiful landscape, and tourism. When you hear of Cross River, you immediately think of festive carnivals, masquerades, and cultural dances. Some of Cross Rivers’ cultural festivals happen to be some of the most highly anticipated and celebrated festivals in Africa. A major example is the Calabar Carnival, which is the biggest street carnival in Africa, drawing thousands of tourists from different parts of the world.
  • The state is also known for its tropical rainforest, where many endangered species of plants and animals reside. Cross River State is home to some of Nigeria’s major tourist destinations. The Obudu Cattle Ranch is one such place where tourists go to hike, ride horses, and do many other fun activities.
  • Another known aspect of the state is that it produces some of the tastiest meals in the nation. When it comes to mouth-watering cuisines, very few ethnic groups in the country could compete with the Efik and  Ibibio of Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. Some of the well-known Cross River delicacies areAbak Atama, Ukang Ukom, Afia Efere Soup, and Ekpang Nkukwo
  • With an average of 65 persons per square kilometer, Cross River State is about the most spacely settled state in Southern Nigeria. Finally, Cross River State is renowned for its hospitality, as the people are warm and welcoming to visitors. 


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