Calabar, nicknamed Canaan City for its laid-back ambience , is located on Nigeria’s southeast, at the end of an estuary that opens onto the Atlantic Ocean at the crook of the Gulf of Guinea. It grew out of ethnic Efik and Ekoi (Ejegham) communities and came into prominence as an urban centre with the advent of colonial rule. (Possibly named as an European misnomer for the nearby Kalabari clan of the Ijaw ethnic group). Calabar, currently the capital of Cross River State, was for a brief period the capital of Nigeria in the colonial era.
With the coming of the Trans-Atlantic Slave in the 15th century, Calabar quickly became a major slave port for the next four hundred years. The trade became the basis of an alliance forged by the coastal Efik and Ekoi (Ejagham) with the interior Igbo people, specifically the Arochukwu Confederacy, which built a trade network that stretched from the coast to areas in present-day northern Nigeria. Part of the lasting cultural impact of this trade relationship manifested in the adoption of the Ekpe initiation tradition of the Efik and the Nsibidi writings script of the Ejegham by many eastern Igbo communities from the Arochukwu-Ohafia axis to Umuahia and environs.
Calabar slave merchants in turns sold to the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the British, depending on which was the dominant power of the moment. As European interest moved from merely trading by the coasts toward conquest and colonial domination, Calabar became the first capital of Britain’s Southern Nigeria Protectorate before it was moved to Lagos in 1906.
Other firsts attained by the city include having the country’s oldest secondary school (Hope Wadell Institute (attended by later nationalist leaders Nnamdi Azikiwe and Akanu Ibiam) in 1896 and staging the first competitive games of soccer, cricket and hockey.
The city’s current metropolitan area includes Duke Town, Henshaw Town, Ikot Ansa, Akim, Kasuk, Ikot Ishie, Ikot Omin, Biase and Akamkpa.
Topography and Climate
Calabar is located between rivers, at the northern end of the estuary formed the Calabar and Cross rivers in a region surrounded by tropical rainforests. It has rainfall almost all year round, with the harmattan dry winds having very limited impact on the city. Temperature ranges from about 24 degrees celsius to about 29 degrees during the hottest periods, with little difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures.
As the trade in slaves declined in the 19th century, Calabar’s economy transitioned to one based on the “legitimate” export of palm oil and kernels, timber, cocoa and rubber to factories in Europe. Locals traded in fish, plantain, bananas, cassava and a variety of other produce. Road links to Arochukwu in the west and Ikom in the east, crossing into Mamfe in Cameroon expanded the reach of products traded in the city. There’s a thriving local boat-building industry in the city, providing vessels for a sea-borne trade with reaches as far as Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Calabar’s potentials as a seaport became stunted as crude oil took the centrestage of Nigeria’s economy and other aspects suffered neglect.
However, in recent years, a new economy has emerged that is largely built around tourism, with the city branding itself as the tourism centre of Nigeria. Calabar has become a staging post for people seeking to visit some of Nigeria’s remaining pristine forests or who wish to go to the spectacular Obudu Plateau. It has also instituted festivals and carnivals showcasing local culture, that has grown increasingly popular with local and international visitors.
Places of interest:
Among the major places of interest in the city is the Old Residency Building, sometimes referred to as Nigeria’s first state house, which was built by the British colonialists. It currently serves as a museum housing more than four hundred years of history, starting from the slave trade, through the emergence of the trade in palm oil, to the making of colonial footprints in the area.
To help improve on the city’s combination of tourism and trade, the Tinapa Resort and Free Trade Zone was built about a decade ago, which aims to service leisure and business with excellent facilities. Visitors to the Obudu Ranch, the Cross River National Park and the Kwa waterfalls also use Calabar as a base for their trips. Every year in December the city holds the Calabar Carnival, which has in recent years become the signature tourism event in Calabar. It features live music performance, street parades of colourful shows and traditional performances of the Ekpe festivals, boat regattas and dances.