Agbado Market Ewohimi, Image: BenBlack
 By Dr Christopher G. Okojie


I. From time immemorial two types of marketing existed in Esan.

These were:


This went on practically in every village, and all along the streets, particularly in front of houses having a wide ready access, articles of trade like soap, coconuts, pepper, groundnut etc. were exposed for sale; they were divided up, each division being sold for OGBOLO (twenty cowries, the smallest denomination of money then). The seller might be miles away, working in her farm; all she did was to come in the evening to collect her money with the articles that had been unsold. In those days when people believed in the power of straight forward departed spirits, the justice of the Okoven and the sure destruction by jujus, the moral code was high. The woman exposing her articles for sale merely placed a piece of IDIGUN (god of iron) in the centre of the container and went her way knowing the respect for this juju would produce the same result as if she was sitting there to see there was no cheating. A buyer coming along knew according to sizes that each portion cost Ogbolo; so he or she took what he or she wanted and dropped the equivalent in cowries. It was easy and honest trade – sparing both the seller and the buyer the usual noisy harangue over even the smallest sale. With Esan not just losing beliefs in juju, but through dishonesty that grows with civilization, any seller today trying silent trade by which our grand-mothers prospered would get the Idigun itself being sold to scrap metal Dealers!


In those days of terrible inter-tribal wars when might was right, markets as they exist today were unknown. There was the EKIOLELE small markets in the village square. As to be expected only members of the village could attend such markets. It would be suicidal for a woman to leave her husband's village at Uromi, for instance, to attend a market at Irrua or Ubiaja. If she attempted it, she might, if lucky, be caught and made a wife of the captor, otherwise she would be sold to slave dealers. In many places therefore the markets were small, primitive and held under trees surrounded by bush to make escape easy in case of raiding slave traders.

2. Establishment of Markets:

Two villages, usually bound by Okoven, deciding to have a common market, would come together round about the Okoven, to clear a piece of ground; if they were not already bound by Okoven, they took the oath of friendship and faithfulness, and the market was established fixing a day for it and also fixing prices at ludicrously low rates to encourage people to attend.

With the gradual cessation of the destructive tribal wars, order crept into Esan life. Markets grew in each of the big districts and to prevent chaos, the leaders had to meet. Fixing of the various market days was one of the few reasons that brought the individualistic Enijie together in the olden days. It was easy to see that with two nearby towns putting their market on the same day neither would have sufficient attendance to grow or have good trade, hence the Enijie had to meet to so arrange the days that only towns that were so far apart that they could not attend each other’s market in any case, held their markets on the same day, e.g. Ekpoma and Ugboha on the same day while Irrua, Ebelle and Ubiaja had theirs on the same day. Neither of the combinations could draw the other. Sometimes, a migratory set of people continued to hold their market in their new home on the same day as was done in the original home. Examples of this are to be found in Ekpoma and Ekpon, Irrua and Opoji - (as close as they are)

3. Principal Market Days in Esan:

It will be seen that real thought over prevention of friction was given by our forefathers in arranging the market days in Esan.


Ekpoma, Ibore, Okhuesan, Ugboha, Igueben, Ekpon etc.

2ND DAY: Irrua, Opoji, (the nearness did cause trouble!), Ebelle, Ubiaja,
Ohordua etc.

3RD DAY: Uromi, Iruekpen, Ewohimi (Agbado, Ofuri), Emu, Ogwa, Amahor

4TH DAY: EDE IZELE OR EDE OWO OR EDE EKEN: Ewu, IlIushi' (Ojigolo): Igor, 'Ewatto, Ugbegun, Ewossa, Egoro, Amahor Waterside.

Each market from the above arrangements was held every four days, that is EVERY FIFFH DAY. 

Agbado market, Ewohimi, Image: BenBlack
Night markets have never been known in Esan. Even after the tribal wars, the distance between the towns were such that night markets could have been quite impracticable. All markets, as now, were held during the day. The large ones were attended as early as possible while markets in the smaller and poorer areas were attended later in the day; while Ekpoma and Uromi markets were already full by 11 a.m., Ugboha people start going to the market round about mid-day. But most markets began at about 10 a.m., becoming full by mid-day; by 2 p.m. people began to disperse for home and by 5 p.m. it was nearly over.


Trade by barter has never been known in Esan. From time immemorial the COWRIES had formed the currency all over the area and only disappeared from the markets in the thirties. Even after the introduction of British made coins in 1912, cowries continued to be a legal tender for quite a – long time since they were still in demand for some of the important ceremonies such as funerals, when they were sprayed out for the surging crowd to fight for; they were used at juju worships, for making certain medicines and up to today in 1994, is a MUST for making anti-abortion medicine Esan call EDAI.

The greatest draw back to the use of cowries as money was their weight and bulk - about 100 cowries weighed, when fresh and of full size, a pound (045 kg), and this in modern money was equivalent to ½k. The smallest unit in the present coinage being ½k it was found that even this was too high for the low cost of living of the people and so the ONINI which was one – tenth of a penny of old, almost one – tenth of a kobo, but equivalent to the smallest Esan money – Ogbolo in the cowries system, was introduced. The Onini and Ogbolo disappeared together.


A currency that depended upon its bulk for value was really difficult if not cumbersome to reckon and within ten years of its getting out of circulation only the old men could correctly give the correct computations and their values. According to numbers, cowries formed well known units with definite numbers:-

Twenty cowries made OGBOLO which was equivalent to an ONINI or one – tenth of a penny or 0.08k.

20 Cowries                =    1 Ogbolo

3 Ogbolo                  =    Iyeha or 0.24K

7 Ogbolo                  =    140 Cowries or Ikiokho (Okho) or0.56K

10 Ogbolo                 =    200 Cowries or Uligho or 0.8K

13 Ikiokho                 =   Okhigbelea or 1820 Cowries or7.58K
20Ikiokho                 =   Elanmen Ea or 2800 Cowries or11.6K

Therefore Elanmen Ea    =  Okhuje or 2800 Cowries or 11.6K

Therefore 1 Elanmen     =   Cowries or 3.86K3

UE or UIE                       =   20 ELANMEN = EBO
                                          =    2.800 x 20 Cowries 3
                                         =   18,666.67 Cowries
                                         =   77.77K

EBO ISEN                     =    2.800 x 20 x 5 or 93,333.3Cowries

                                      =    388.88K
                                     =    3.89

Other well known denominations in the Cowry System were:-

OGBAN which          =     30 ELANMEN
                                    =     1½ EBO

                                   =     50 Elanmen
                                  =    2,800x 20 + 2.80020 + 2.800 x 10
                                             3                    3                        3

                                =       46,666.5 Cowries
                                =       194.4K
                              =       1.9


Now that we know how to reckon money in Cowries we are in a position to know how hard life was in ancient Esan.

(A) IGHISEN or 5 Cowries was the cost of the smallest piece of native soap, Uden (palm kernel oil), Ekaka (Fried corn meal) etc.

(b) A wife, if fully grown, 'cost' between Ebo ea and Ebo Isen (3 – 5 Ebos or 55,999.9 to 93,330 Cowries) which is equivalent to 2.33 to ₦3.9.

People of Ewu area particularly Eko Ojemen were notorious for fleecing their prospective sons – in-law, demanding anything up to Ebon Ihinlon (7 ebos). The ‘cost' of a wife, in 

(c) A cow cost anything up to Ebo ea or 2.3

(d) The heaviest fine the Council of elders could inflict was ODEWE bii ELANMEN EA, that is a She-goat and 2,800 cowries. Often money in cowries was substituted for the she-goat and on the whole, the whole fine was not more than 5.12 .

Though a wife cost about 3.9 which a man now could tuck away in his hip pocket and no father – in-law would be any wiser, a suitor going to pay the BRIDE PRICE of EBO ISEN on his wife, had to hire some 5 to 7 carriers for as we have seen Ebo Isen (5 Ebos) = 2,800 x 20 x 5 or 93,330 Cowries

and since about 100 fresh cowries weigh 1 lb. or 0.45kg.
                              =   93,330 lbs.

                              =     933 Ibs.
                              =     8Ys cwt
                              =     424 kg.

No father – in – law (Ewu or not) would fail to be impressed by a suitor followed by seven hefty men bent double by the weight of cowries – the colour and feel of which was as good as Dollars to an American (in October 1992, one dollar exchanged for 23.00!,- ₦38.20 in the parallel market)


Cowries ceased to have any monetary value in the early thirties. After that they were used mainly at burial ceremonies, for the making of Edai, for sacrificial ceremonies etc. Now that they have become museum pieces, rarity has added to their value. Though they are not much in demand the few who have to use them for these things (and of course an irate husband who has had enough of a Jezebel looking for the customary Ogbolo!), find the supply so short that they are prepared to pay something like black market prices for them. By the fifties it had become 10 cowries for one penny which was 20 times their old value when they were the money current in Esan. In bulk, a kerosene – tinful sold then at 2.20 now equivalent to 440, 1993 Naira

It will be necessary to warn the reader not to laugh too readily when he reads that a wife in the days gone by cost about 3 .9. There is hardly any equivalent between modern values of cowries and the hard currency they were before the advent of the white man. This 3 .9 as has been seen was for a load of 93,333 cowries. It took some people a life time to put together – another reason why Esan men had to look after their wives!