Yakö - Orientation

Identification. The Yakö numbered 38,204 people at the last published census ( 1953) that listed their settlements separately. They have for the most part been administered from Obubra Town, but have variously been included in Ogoja Province (under British and early Nigerian administration), in Cross River State (in the 1970s) and, in Akwa Ibom State of southeastern Nigeria, West Africa.

Location. The territory of the Yakö, just over 150 square kilometers in area, centers on 5°50′ N and 8°15′ E and lies south and west of the middle Cross River. By road, the area is about 110 kilometers north of Calabar. The valleys are prone to flooding in the wet season; movement along the ridges is easier. The wet season begins with moderate rain in April and May, and heavier rains commence in June. In July there may be a break in the rains, but by August heavy rains return and normally continue until November, when there is a sharp drop in precipitation, followed by a drought that lasts from December to March. The drought of the dry season is exaggerated by the geology. As the population is concentrated into five very large settlements, the problem of obtaining a good water supply in the dry season has long been of concern to the people.

The natural vegetation of the area is that of dense tropical forest, transitional between the evergreen equatorial forest and the mixed deciduous forest of the area farther north. Much of this forest remains, or did until the latter half of the twentieth century, in the wettest, low-lying areas that present the greatest problem both for farming and for timber extraction. The drier, upland areas have, however, been farmed to the extent that few trees of any size remain. In consequence of this deforestation and because of the activities of hunters, few large mammals remain: elephants were extinct by the beginning of the twentieth century; buffalo were disappearing by the 1960s; leopards have long been rare; hippopotamuses, which were not uncommon on the Cross River while the "Dane gun" was the usual weapon of the hunter, have diminished in numbers owing to the increase in sophisticated weaponry since the Biafran war. Bush pigs, antelope, monkeys, lemurs, civets, porcupines, and pangolins, all formerly common animals, are now suffering severely, both from direct attack by humans and, more indirectly, from the loss of habitat.

Demography. The population of the Yakö has increased markedly throughout the twentieth century. By the mid1930s, the population was reported to have increased "rapidly" over the previous two generations. That this increase has certainly continued may be judged from the fact that a careful estimate of the population of the main town, Ugep, in 1935 placed it at 11,000, but that in 1953 this figure had risen to 17,567, despite the absence of any significant immigration.

Linguistic Affiliation. The main language, Kö, is of the Eastern Subgroup of the Delta-Cross Division (Cook 1969) of the Cross River Subbranch (Greenberg 1963) of the Benue-Congo Language Division. Its links are thus to languages to the south and east of Nigeria. Among four of the five main Yakö towns, only minor dialectal differences exist; the language of the town of Ekuri, in which no social research has been done but which is claimed to be Yakö, is classified by linguists as a markedly different dialect.

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