The story of the Lantern in the Old Eastern Region and south-west Cameroon region – Philip Nosa-Adam

The story of the Lantern in the Old Eastern Region and south-west Cameroon region – Philip Nosa-Adam

Utuenikang which translates to the hurricane Lantern is a very small but significant item with a long history in the Old Eastern region and some divisions in Cameroon. The Hurricane Lantern or the Kerosene Lantern was an article of trade during the years of the transatlantic trade. It is unclear when the item may have been introduced. Although it may have been introduced during the Era of Efik-Dutch relations in the 17th century. Modern and more popular designs of the lantern were constructed later by polish inventor Ignacy Lukasiewicz in 1853.

The Lantern has similar names among several Ethnicities of the Old eastern region. Some of which include

Ohafia – UtrikangAbriba – OterikangOro – UtrikangIbibio – UtuenikangUwet – UtuenikangObanliku – ItenikangEtung – Okurikang 

Among the Igbo, the lantern has three different names depending on the dialect. Central igbo use the word Mkpanaka for Lantern. Cross River Igbo use the word Utuenikang or its equivalent while some Igbo particularly those in present-day Oji River Local government area use the word Utukpe.

Interestingly, the word Utukpe has its origin in the Efik Language and is a corruption of Utue Ekpe (argiope aurantia), a large yellow striped bush spider native to the lower Cross River.

Thus, the shadow images produced when the hurricane lantern is lighted must have been likened to the colours on the spider. Within south-west cameroon, the following communities use the word “Utuenikang”Balondo (Ndian Division)Balue (Ndian Division)Ngolo (Ndian Division)Ekombe (Ndian Division)Bima (Ndian Division)Korup (Ndian Division)Batanga (Ndian Division)Bakoko (Ndian Division)Mbonge (Meme division)Bakundu (Meme division) 

It is fascinating that the same word is used across several communities with a few pronunciation differences. There exists a reason for the common use of the word and it’s variations.

The hurricane lantern would likely have been obtained by a coastal community and sold to the communities in the interior. Thus, the community which first obtained the lantern would have given it an indigenous name and its name would have been adopted by nearby communities. The communities closest to the atlantic in the Old Eastern Region and the Cameroon axis include the Obolo communities (i.e Ibeno, Oron and Idua), Efik, Douala, Ijaw, Balondo etc.

The Efik being by far one of the most widely travelled West African trader in the Old Eastern Region during the years of the triangular trade would be a top contender for the origin of the name. This is further confirmed when the word “Utuenikang” is studied from an etymological perspective. In the Efik Language, Utuenikang is a conjunction of two words. “Utuene” and “Ikang”.

The latter translates to fire and the former comes from the verb “Tuene”. The verb “Tuene” first translates to, to light or to be lighted and secondly, to twinkle. Examples of sentences with the verb include:- 
Tuene ikañ mi, nọ mi nkut usuñ – Show the light here for me to see my way. 
Ntantaọffiọñ etuene – The stars twinkle 
Like the Greek mythical figure Prometheus who is regarded as the bringer of fire, the Efik are responsible for the use of the name Utuenikañ in several Communities. It is our hope that the Efik will continue to be the importer and an inventor of more useful artefacts in the future.

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