Calabar (or Old Calabar), a seaport of West Africa in the British protectorate of Southern Nigeria, on the left bank of the Calabar river in 4° 56′ N., 8° 18′ E., 5 m. above the point where the river falls into the Calabar estuary of the Gulf of Guinea. Pop. about 15,000. It is the capital of the eastern province of the protectorate, and is in regular steamship and telegraphic communication with Europe. From the beach, where are the business houses and customs office, rise cliffs of moderate elevation, and on the sides or summits of the hills are the principal buildings, such as Government House, the European hospital and the church of the Presbyterian mission. The valley between the hills is occupied by the native quarter, called Duke Town. Here are several fine houses in bungalow style, the residences of the chiefs or wealthy natives. Along the river front runs a tramway connecting Duke Town with Queen Beach, which is higher up and provided with excellent quay accommodation. Among the public institutions are government botanical gardens, primary schools and a high school. Palms, mangos and other trees grow luxuriantly in the gardens and open spaces, and give the town a picturesque setting.
Calabar was the name given by the Portuguese discoverers of the 15th century to the tribes on this part of the Guinea coast at the time of their arrival, when as yet the present inhabitants were unknown in the district. It was not till the early part of the 18th century that the Efik, owing to civil war with their kindred and the Ibibio, migrated from the neighbourhood of the Niger to the shores of the river Calabar, and established themselves at Ikoritungko or Creek Town, a spot 4 m. higher up the river. To get a better share in the European trade at the mouth of the river a body of colonists migrated further down and built Obutöng or Old Town, and shortly afterwards a rival colony established itself at Aqua Akpa or Duke Town, which thus formed the nucleus of the existing town. The native inhabitants are still mainly Efik. They are pure negroes. They have been for several generations the middle men between the white traders on the coast and the inland tribes of the Cross river and Calabar district. Christian missions have been at work among the Efiks since the middle of the 19th century. Many of the natives are well educated, profess Christianity and dress in European fashion.
A powerful bond of union among the Efik, and one that gives them considerable influence over other tribes, is the secret society known as the Egbo (q.v.). The chiefs of Duke Town and other places in the neighbourhood placed themselves in 1884 under British protection. From that date until 1906 Calabar was the headquarters of the European administration in the Niger delta. In 1906 the seat of government was removed to Lagos.
Until 1904 Calabar was generally, and officially, known as Old Calabar, to distinguish it from New Calabar, the name of a river and port about 100 m. to the east. Since the date mentioned the official style is Calabar simply. Calabar estuary is mainly formed by the Cross river (q.v.), but receives also the waters of the Calabar and other streams. The Rio del Rey creek at the eastern end of the estuary marks the boundary between (British) Nigeria and (German) Cameroon. The estuary is 10 to 12 m. broad at its mouth and maintains the same breadth for about 30 m.