Dr Christopher. G. Okojie

As must have been noticed already, the Esan Community is based on kinship with closely knit unit acting like the fingers of a hand: one member's problem is everybody's concern. In health and in sickness this attitude pervades all behaviours. It is more pronounced in sickness whether the patient is able to take care of himself or not.

In every village there are men and women versed in the knowledge and use of herbs, bark and roots of trees. Such knowledge is usually passed from parents to their children and the secrets are jealously guarded. These people in Esan are known as OBO (pleural EBO) and the whitemen derided them with the appellation of witch doctor, native doctor, medicine men etc. Herbalists more correctly describe them. In addition, many of these healers are priests of local juju or gods and thus combine the art of healing with the art of divination which takes many forms. Some use the OGUEGA, consisting of four strings of Asesele or Ubegui seeds, Ikpe Igbaghon, Igho Ahanon (cowries) and Ewanlen Ew'i bone, this last being the thing the enquirer talks to, touching his mouth with it before giving it to the doctors. These four strings are held two in each hand and thrown on the ground, reading the position of the various items aloud in the language only a trained person would understand; he would ask more questions, throw the strings again and then start to tell the enquirer his findings. Others use a box studded with cowries and the top covered with leader; the cover which is concave, is also covered with leather or cloth, contains items like Ikpe Ise, Igho Ahanqn, Igue Elanmen (bones) and some smooth stones. The cover or Uvue Ihe is thrown on the leather top with some force with the doctor shouting incantations and demanding answers. He now uncovers the box, reads and interprets the positions of the contents in a language of these doctor-s. These men are known as EBO EWAWA (Doctors who divine with pots). There are others who use kolanuts which are first broken, then thrown on the ground, the positions of the nuts telling the doctor what to say; yet others use mirrors, leather fans etc. Because these people combine ability to 'see' with ability to treat, they are very much feared and respected in the community. If a person is sick, he normally goes to consult the doctor who with the Oguega or Ewawa, tells him the cause of his illness and what to do to get cured. This is known as, consulting the oracle. The doctor might tell the enquirer that he is ill because of some sins against his master (the head of the family) done a forbidden thing in the village or he is being pursued by enemies who might have thrown some bad medicines in his way or shot the illness at him this being known as  UTAGBA; he is told either to go and appease the spirits of the departed ancestors by slaughtering a goat at the ancestral shrine, go to serve Erele (enemies) at the IbianJoto (Ukhinmin tree in the compound), go to Uwa-ne-ebo (to throwaway some precious belongings like clothes, supervised by the doctor himself (who invariably carts away the offending materials), perform some Izobo (collection of named materials which may include a chick, tortoise, mud in the shape of a man with thorns piercing the heart (Amaze) or directed to go and worship at a particular shrine in or outside the village. During the days when the belief in juju and the fear of offending departed spirits were strong, guilty conscience played a leading role in morbidity and mortality, Consulting the oracle and strictly following the instructions therefrom had a wonderful psychological effect on the sick man. For one thing the WILL TO LIVE which is so vital in dealing with illness returns forcefully and the patient responds to treatment much better.

Now to actual treatments of specific diseases. It is an ignorant man that derides what he does not understand. In my forty-two years (1950-1992) practice of medicine amongst my people, I have worked closely and in admiration of these unlettered men and women who have come to know the best in nature's leaves, bark and roots. Just as we have in modern medicine quacks and ill-trained doctors so we have charlatans among herbalists. There is no doubt that some, particularly those who do not claim to “cure all", are specialists in their own right. While I must get a near correct description of the snake that bit a person for me to be able to select the correct antivenin, when a victim is rushed to a snake herbalist, he examines the patient, asks no questions and proceeds to treat the patient with herb potions, but makes a great fuss in "removing the teeth" of the snake. In the treatment of fractures these medicine men, in more than one way, are in advance of western medicine. While I would keep a patient with fractured femur (thigh bone) on his back for twelve weeks, the traditional bone setters would make carification all-round the broken bone area, rub in some burning herbs, weave a basket material round the fracture securely, take a fully grown cock, break its thigh bone and set it free. By the fourteenth day when the cock is able to walk about, the human patient is allowed to get up and bear weight on the broken leg; this means the traditional bone setters allow their patient to get on his legs in fourteen days for the same condition I would immobilize my patient for twelve good weeks. These men are all over Esan: Ewu, Ivue-Uromi, Awo-Uromi, Ogwa etc. Another area these men of herbs must be praised is in the field of mental illness. A patient is brought in, raving mad, tearing at anything in sight. Quietly the herbalist would go into the forest, collect his herbs with which he makes his potent decoction, administers them to the patient and within a few days, the patient is sedated, cooperative and responding willingly to further treatments. Many western researchers have tried to pry into these leaves, roots and barks with no success from these illiterate men of medicine: they are no fools and know their practice depends upon their cherished knowledge they had acquired from their parents.

There is a particular disease associated with a lot of fear and complication. It is Lobar Pneumonia; Esan people call EFEN IFENMEN ELINMIN - the chest with the devil's arrows! This disease, followed with very high fever with painful difficulty in breathing, is soon followed with delirium, an excited dreamy state in serious illness. Soon the patient becomes uncooperative and talkative. Names, events are mentioned as if he is playing dominoes with words but no one notices that if hearers ask him to repeat what he has just said, he would be unable to do so but clever and anxious relatives wanting to do anything to save their relative from imminent death, start to piece the names and events mentioned together. Should he call the name of a person recently dead in the village, then "he has confessed having something to do with the person's death". Soon news would go round the village that this very sick person is "confessing, he said he killed the dead man with witchcraft or he is responsible for the poor harvest of the year or made his brother or any male relative impotent", and though if he recovered he would deny such story, he would be a ruined man in that community. In cases of women it could be really pathetic; if her child or her husband was very ill, the oracle would ask her to confess her sins. Sometimes, desperate to do anything to have her loved one saved, she could fabricate a crime she never committed!

In the field of surgery traditional healers limit themselves to minor surgery like clitoridectomy in the female which consists of removal of the clitoris and adjoining labia; Esan believe the clitoris makes a woman easily excitable and so it is an undesirable organ in a woman who must never show her emotions. They really do not believe the usual reason given for female circumcision: an uncircumcised woman would have difficulty during labour. Delaying the circumcision to a few days before she is due to go to her husband's place helps to keep the girl virtuous. Male circumcision is done as soon as the parents. are able to face it. Most female circumcisions are done by female Owenan (surgeon) while male Owenan perform the male operation. Another area of surgery was the old abdominal tattoo, a hand down from our city of origin. Some of these abdominal marks are real work of art. Esan medicine men also realise anywhere there is pus it must be let out; so they are the people called upon where there is a boil, abscess or carbuncle.

Pregnancy and delivery are taken care of by traditional birth attendants who may be male or female. Once a woman has missed her period she must report to such an attendant - there is at least one in every community or village. He or she would prepare an anti-abortion string with a cowrie attached (EDAI): this she must wear round her waist and must never remove it at the pain of a miscarriage, until she is at term. Where the attendant who supervises the pregnancy is a male, delivery is usually done by his wives. It is believed that enemies could hold back or prevent normal labour. Thus, after a woman has consulted the oracle to know where she·must go to have her baby so that she and her unborn child would survive, she goes to such a place before onset of labour. Because of the fear of mates and enemies, as soon as she feels onset of labour, she must keep all signs to herself until when the pressure pains begin; she quietly goes to the back of the house, squats and delivers her baby; it is the cry of the baby. That brings the women of the compound. Every pregnant woman must carry in her hair a triangular knife with a straight end for scratching the hair; this is known as UCHE. Whether labour meets her in the farm or on the way to the market the mother-to-be is always ready to deal with the separation of the baby from the after-birth, using the uche. If the baby is born on the way to the market and the baby is a girl, it would be called Qdueki; if born in the farm and the baby is a boy, his name would be Okougbo. In Western practice, the cord is tied twice before it is cut, but Esan knead the cord with some herbs and one single dexterous stroke severes the baby forever from the mother; there is no tying of the cord and there is no bleeding as sometimes happens when the modern doctor is called back to see the baby bleeding!

On hearing the child crying, the women rush to the back to help. No child is ever picked up however cold, until it has cried, hence the Esan admonition to a naughty, child "Cry on, you would never have been picked up if you did not cryl" On separation of the baby which is wrapped up, a big piece of mud is torn from the wall, placed on a piece of broken pot on the fire and when it is red hot, the ground is swept clean and the mud is ground into a fine powder; this is used to remove every bit of the sticky substance on the child's body (Vernix caseosa). Esan believe that unless this is thoroughly removed this child would stink for the rest of its life. The baby is now ready for its first bath with warm water and a lot of soap; a pad with a handle made from cloth is prepared. A broken pot is put on the fire and into this is added oil made from palm kernel (uden); the pad is dipped into this hot oil and used to knead the cord and the abdomen to get rid of gas III the baby's abdomen which could make the baby irritable. It also helps to accelerate degeneration of the cord stump. This is done twice a day and by the third to the fifth day the cord falls off. (It takes about a week for this to occur in the hospital). After the baby's first bath, with pots, calabash and pans, the baby is 'drummed' into the house with much singing and merriment. The placenta is then ceremoniously buried. The mother is given’ special care by the women. She is given a really hot bath and made to sit in a fairly hot water twice a day to accelerate healing of the birth passages and organs. Breast feeding is compulsory and , immediate; with no milking of cows, sheep and goats in Esanland, the child is brought up as a human – on the mother's milk!

There are generally well known emergency treatments for such frequently occurring accidents in the farm, on the roads etc. A farmer injures his toe with the hoe or cutlass. If the wound is not deep, he just passes urine on the wound: it burns more severely than iodine! He then plucks certain leaves known as Ugbokhuele (wound healer), squeezes them and applies the crushed leaves to the wound. If the wound is big and deep with much bleeding, the patient would pass urine on the ground, make mud from it and allow this to cake on the wound. Any educated and 'softened' Esan trying this today would die of Tetanus!

  The statue of EMOTAN – who ought
to be the goddess of ESAN - for but
for her kindness, there would have been no


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