Ekpeye is a language, a people, a culture and an ethnic kingdom in southeastern Nigeria. The Ekpeye are usually included as a subgroup of the Igbo people on linguistic and cultural grounds, however they are ethnically separate from the Igbo. They speak an Igboid language. Ekpeye people living in the Ahoada and Ogba-Egbema areas of Rivers State in Nigeria were a population of 80,000 (1991 census), that has increased 63% to approximately 130,000, according to the 2006 census estimates.
The Ekpeye have long lived in the land bounded by River Orashi in the West and River Sombreiro in the East; starting out at the northern end from about 3000 BC. Archaeological work showed a steady and very consistent southward movement, resulting in about AD 1000 in a large settlement mainly at the central geographically elevated area now called Akoh (Dry Land) and Egi. The rise and Expansion of the Benin Kingdom in the following centuries, forced Igbo-speaking but Benin culture-bearing populations down the Niger river into then Ekpeyeland. A socio-political crisis resulted.
A minority of the Ekpeye, who sided with the Benin cultured Igbo immigrants, moved away up north and founded what is now Ogba land, whose language plainly bears the inprints of the Ekpeye and Igbo languages. The commonest historical tale in Ogba and Ekpeye today, is that both are "the sons of one father born of different mothers". At about 1542 AD, during the reign of Oba Awuarre of Benin, when the Benin kingdom was at its most glorious and its culture at its most widespread, Ogba, which majority were Benin-cultured, created the theory that its Progeneitor was a Prince of Benin. They gave his name as ‘Akalaka’, which noticeably, does not match any personality mentioned in Benin Histories. The man known today as the father of Ekpeye and Ogba is now held by some historians to have left Benin kingdom due to infighting within the royal family; to have fled with his family, amidst rumors of his inevitable demise for his disloyalty to the Oba. That they moved southwards, following the River Niger, eventually settling along the Orashi River (in current day Ubie in Ekpeyeland, southeastern Nigeria).
All the time, the Ekpeye lived in towns setled by members of one, some or all the Seven original distinct families of Ekpeye - Imaji, Uchi, Agolo, Uzhi,Ishikoloko, Edyiwulu,and Akpa. They practiced full representative democracy.
But the challenges of the politics of colonial government forced in changes. First it was a pseudo kingdom established by one Nworisa Odu of Ogbele town who initially successfully challenged British entry into Ekpeye land via the River Sombreiro. He was pacified with recognition as King of Ekpeye. He was later lured away to Degema, a colonial administrative center,where he died later in about 1890.
Eze Ashirim, who became the first Eze Ekpeye Logbo, brought peace, publicity and pomp to the Ekpeye monarchy and with it came recognition by the Nigerian government and additional political influence in the region. Today (2006) the revered monarchy, is occupied by a retired Nigerian Air Force officer, His Royal Highness Eze Robinson O. Robinson, The Eze Ekpeye Logbo II of Ekpeye land.
Although many monarchs in the region are usually hereditary, The Ekpeye monarch is one of a few which relies upon a democratic process in the selection of a new King. Every Ekpeye son or daughter can vie for the throne when it becomes vacant.
The Ekpeye sided with the Igbo during the Biafra secession, and felt the subsequent repression of the predominatly non-Igbo government afterwards. Their traditional territory lies in an oil rich area, and the Ekpeye have complained about Nigerian policies that provide inadequate remuneration for the destruction of their environment. The oil business has also the disrupted traditional allocation of wealth. Recently the Movement for the Survival and Advancement of Ekpeye Ethnic Nationality has been formed to resist changes that threaten Ekpeye culture.
Ekpeye people are, perhaps, the most dynamic of southern Nigerian peoples. Its culture is a complex mix of Original Ekpeye, neighbouring Ijaw, and influential Igbo cultures. Ekpeye culture is most similar to Igbo culture because their interactions with the Igbo have been the earliest, the most intense, and the longest. Yet the differences are very plain. For example, among the mask traditions of the Ekpeye the Egbukele, which reached Ekpeye from Ijaw via Abua, is the major one, distinctive for the horizontal fish-shaped headdresses and other animal representations, which are quite distinct from Igbo representations. Contrastingly, the Aarungu and the Owu masks exhibit a wide range of forms and imagery, human and animal, many of which are also found in Igbo.
Ekpeye is an Igboid language. Its principal dialects are Ako, Upata, Ubie, and Igbuduya. Ekpeye derives from "eekpe" and "iiye", i.e., "One family" and "Unity".