ESAN LAWS/CUSTOMS

By DR. CHRISTOPHER G. OKOJIE, OPR:

ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDIES OF THE ESAN PEOPLE:

NOMENCLATURE:

THE name ESAN - pronounced with E as in the A of Ape, S as in the S of Sand, A as in the A of Bank, N as in the N of Man - came from the Benin word ESAN meaning JUMP or FLEE. The name came to be applied to all the districts now forming what the British had corrupted to ISHAN, during the reign of OBA EWUARE the Selfish. By then many of the important districts in this territory were already in existence as important groups, e.g. URUWA (Irrua), URONMUN (Uromi), EKUNMA (Ekpoma), UBIAZA (Ubiaja) etc, but they were known by their individual names and there was no common name. They know they had a common stock and that was all.


The actual event that came to bring them together was EWUARE'S wooing of 1463. At Benin the leaders or EKAKULO met and were given similar titles to enable them rule their respective communities. Yearly they went personally or through accredited agents to pay homage to their
Overlord. Their re-union in the place of their origin with the common description of how they broke away resulted in the group name of ESAN.


2. Location:
ESAN was a division in the old Benin Province of Bendel State now broken into Edo and Delta States. It is bounded on the North and North-East by the old Kukuruku Division which became Afemai before that division was split into Owan, Etsako and Akoko-Edo Local Government Areas; on the South by the old Asaba Division now broken into Oshimili, Ika and Aniocha Local Government Areas; on the West by Owan, Orhiomwon, Ohumwode Local Government Areas, and the East, by River Alika and the lordly River Niger.

Until 1945 the Ora speaking people of Sabongidda were classed with ESAN people. The population of UJAGBE, AMA with many AWAIN districts and ERHA speak ESAN - but like Anegbete on the North-East of Ugboha and the Northern half of Ifeku (IHEKU) ISLAND are now classed with Etsako Local Government Area.

3. Physical Environment and Topography:
ESAN land which has a size of 1,162 square miles (about 2987.52 square km) used to be divided into ESAN A and ESAN B. ESAN A which is three-fifths of the area by population and only about a third in land mass (430 square miles) contains the water-less plateau with an average elevator of 1000feet. Ubiaja is about 900ft, Ewu about 1, 100ft while Irrua is 1,390ft and lvue - Uromi, the highest point in ESAN land is 1,490ft above sea level. The Plateau tilted in a southernly direction, consists mainly of the towns which were established early in Esan history, like Ekpoma, Irrua, Ewu and Uromi with Ubiaja and Igueben at the edge of the escarpment ESAN 'B is the area rich in water and forests with the hard-working, less sophisticated inhabitants living in the only areas of ESAN where hills and valleys exist. Ohordua, Okhuesan, Emu; Ewatto, Ewohimi which was the most heard of in this area, Ebelle, Ewossa and Amahor form the mail towns. The greater part of ESAN has no rocks, hills and valleys and at these features go with water, the waterless nature of the ESAN plateau call be understood.

Until both parts of ESAN heard of the 'OWNER'S CONCENT', aIl ESAN was heavily wooded, rich in Iroko, Mahogany, Obechie (Ubhekhe Ebony, Agba, Ekhinmin, Ekan etc. Most of ESAN (particularly ESAN A is rich in laterite, causing the red roads and vegetation’s seen along the road during the dry season. In ESAN B where there are several springs an, streams, the earth is white.

The climate throughout ESAN land is cool - almost temperate all through year round in Irrua and Uromi areas. The maximum temperatures is 90" and the average minimum is 70F. This climate is marked by two seasons the rainy season from mid-April to October, accounts for almost all the annual precipitation averaging 55 to 70 inches, the higher rainfall occurring in the southern part of the plateau. During the dry season (October to April) less than one inch per mouth is normally recorded. There is usually some two weeks break 'in August during the rainy season. The onset and end of this season are heralded by tornadoes and thunder-storms which are of milder nature than in the rest of Nigeria. Though the dry season sets in after the first week of November, the heat of the sun is much tempered by the harmattan which lasts from November to February, the hottest season being February to April.
 
4. Groupings:
Before the advent of the Europeans the ESAN territory consisted of loosely connected CHIEFDOMS, each group being built round an ONOJIE most of whom descended from the early EKAKULO or War leaders of migrating or fleeing bands. But for certain blood relationships amongst some of the Ekakulo it will be more correct to say that the units or districts, each headed now by an Onojie, were in every respect distinct e.g. the ancestors of the ruling houses of Irrua, Uromi and Ugboha were said to be brothers. Apart from vague qualms over going to war with each other – usually expressed colloquially as "not seeing each other's blood", Irma was as related to Uromi or Uromi to Ugboha as Switzerland is to Germany or France to Italy, each an autonomous state. Even though at that time MIGHT was RIGHT, no Onojie with his people was subservient to another: they all except the sectional ones that came later due to strong blood ties, owed allegiance to the Oba of Benin. Notwithstanding the creation of OKAUESAN TITLE by Oba Akenzua I on Ikhihibhojere of Irma early in the eighteenth century, the Enijie were lord supreme in their different districts and I have found no evidence that any Onojie wielded any political supremacy over any other Onojie; the Okaijesan title thus only meant the Onojie of Irrua took precedence when the ESAN Enijie were before the Oba or when they were rarely together in ESAN LAND. Such meetings were infrequent arid only occurred when they wanted to enact common ESAN laws e.g. affecting inheritance, adultery, murder and fixing of market days which tended to disrupt markets of neighbouring communities when they fell on the same day.


The important chiefdoms in early ESAN were:-

1.      Uruwa                                (Irrua)
2.      Uronmun                            (Uromi)
3.      Ekunma                             (Ekpoma) 
4.      Ubiaza                               (Ubiaja)
5.      OWoha                              (Ugboha)
6.      Orikhimi                            (Ewohimi)
7.      Eilu                                    (Ewu)
8.      Uzea
9.      Emulun                              (Emu)
10.  Okhuodua                           (Ohordua)
11.  Ebene                                 (Ebelle)
12.  Amaho                               (Amahor)
13.  Okalo
14.  Ezen                                  (now extinct)
15.  Udo
16.  Ugbegun                        
        
Igueben came much later in 1516 after the Idah War and was ruled by the Okaigun - later made an Onojie. Many people are stung when facts of history are given, forgetting that a humble beginning hundreds of years ago is no slur on the attainments of individual Onojie in modern times. The truth is that in ESAN 'A' the real fully established and distinct chiefdoms were Irrua, Ekpoma, Uromi, Ewu, Ubiaja, Udo and Ugboha: they were all vassals of the Oba to whom they paid tribute through the Ojirrua. Their channel was Uhomode that is through Ehor to Benin. Egoro. And Opoji which today have their own respected and accredited Enijie were then closely tied up by blood and custom with Ekpoma. Oria though on Ugboha land was closely administered from Uromi and Ubiaja. Okhuesan Was similarly tied up with Ubiaja.

In ESAN 'B' which included Ewohimi (then Orikhimi), Ohordua, Emu, Ebelle, Okalo, Amahor, Ezen and the territory of Okaigun, Ewohimi was their headquarters, through which they rendered their tributes to the Oba. Their channel was through Igbanke and Agbor. Ewatto and Ewossa,

ESAN LAND was a massive jungle of Economic trees Iroko, Mahogany, Obeche, Okpekpe, Agba name it! But today only Palm Trees and Mango Trees are left!

Which were founded much later by princes from Ewohimi, of course were subservient to their 'father' the Onojie of Ewohimi, and were thus, at the beginning at least, sectional Enijie.

This is why from more recent times there appears to be a competitor between the Ojirrua and the Onojie of Ewohimi. Although amongst ESAN!' 'A' - Enijie, the Ojirrua's leadership after Akenzua 1 created him them.

Okaijesan, was not openly disputed until the ascension of Alhaji Momodu in 1972, the position will be better understood when one bears in mine that it was only between the last sixty to seventy years that Ewohimi really began to associate fully with the rest of ESAN. Even when the Ubiaja:
(ESAN LAND Headquarters) Native Court was set up with a lot of fanfare in April. 1920, Ewohimi did not feature. It was only when the all powerful Ishao Council was inaugurated on 25th April, 1920 that Ifebho (1900-1931) was appointed bringing him into frequent associations with ESAN Enijie. Particularly after Erediauwa (who had taken refuge at Ewohimi to escape death at the hands of his initially victorious brother, Ogbebor) in 1816 became Oba Osemwede, the tie between Ewohimi and Benin became much closer, and even till this day all the paraphernalia of office like the Idigba, the coral collar of Bini royalty was conferred upon Odia (1850 - 1870) the then Onojie of Ewohimi; the Palace Societies of Iwebo and Iweguae were introduced into the Ewohimi Royal Court.

Notwithstanding the above when the great Benin Empire was at its zenith, Irrua was the capital of the ESAN COLONY, just as Agbede was for Kukuruku, Agbor for Ika etc. When the ESAN Enijie met at the Oba's Palace, the Ojirrua took precedence. Communities grew and with the general decentralisation of power first to curb the acquisitive desire of the Oba of Benin and the more assertive Enijie like the Ojirrua - Momodu I (1921 - 1941), Okojie of Ugboha (1906 - 1931), Ogbidi of Uromi (1901 - 1944) etc. ESAN progressed, to modern territorial units, each autonomous and headed by its own ONOJIE.

These now are:-
1.      Irrua
2.      Uromi
3.      Ekpoma
4.      Ubiaja
5.      Ugboha
6.      Ewohimi
7.      Ewu
8.      Igueben
9.      Ohordua
10.  Ebelle
11.  Ugbegun
12.  Opoji
13.  Okhuesan
14.  Ekpon
15.  Ewossa
16.  Emu
17.  Amahor
18.  Ogwa
19.  Ugun
20.  Oria
21.  Ewatto
22.  Urohi
23.  Uzea
24.  Udo
25.  Ukhun
26.  Egoro
27.  Ujiogba
28.  Idoa

As already explained above, many of these communities grew as a result of the British Administration trying to clip the autocratic wings of the then known Enijie. Frankly within twenty years of tie coming of the British, there were not more than a dozen and as things stood in 1920 the all powerful Ishan Council, wielding executive and judicial cowers, subject only to the central Government, consisted of six Enijie, representing the six districts into which Esan was divided - Ubiaja, Irrua, Uromi, Ekpoma, Ewohimi and Ora.

Town                                  Enijie                                                 Representing
1.      IRRUA                       Eromosele (1876 – 1921)                              Irrua and Ewu

2.      UGBOHA              Okojie (1906 - 1931)                     Ugboha, Ubiaja, Emu, Igueben                                                                                    
                                                                                                       Iyenlen and Ebu.

3.      EWOHIMI             Ifebhor (1900 - 1931)                                     Ewohimi, Ewatto and Ewossa

4.      OPOJI                    Imadojemun (1909 - 1946)                             Ekpoma, Opoji and Egoro

5.      OHORDUA            Oribhabor (1909 - 1937)                                         Ohordua and Emu

6.      Ovbiato (ORA)        Agbebaku                                                  Ora territory then administered    
                                                                                                       as part of lshan.

These rulers were designated DISTRICT HEAD (D.H.) and they ruled the districts into which ESAN LAND was divided. Although Uwagbale (1944-1960) of Uromi was added later as he was acting for his exiled father Okojie (1901 - 1944) ruler of Uromi, he did not take kindly to Okojie of Ugboha who was overseeing both Uromi and the much troubled Ubiaja.

5. Population:
The ESAN Plateau is the more thickly populated portion of ESAN land and has the larger towns. It covers 430 square miles and although about a quarter of the size, its population is about three-fifths of the entire population. There are about 176 communities.

According to the 1953 census the population of ESAN land then was 194,891 of which 92,570 were male and 102,321 females. In an area where wealth was denoted by the number of wives a man had, one should have expected a higher percentage of women. Of this population 13,138 were literate in the sense that they were able to write in roman script. Actually only 9,588 persons had education of up to standard two or more. Some ten years later in 1963 the population had grown to 267,682 - really 300,000 as a result of villages missed out; the 15% literacy rate of 1953 had jumped to some 40% thanks to what came to be known as Awolowo Schools of the Action Group Government of the old Western Region.

It is indeed difficult at first to ascertain what factors attracted settlement on the waterless Esan Plateau; usually the greatest incentive to settlement is water; the plateau has no streams! The next thing is DEFENCE or safety; once a man has gained access to a point on the plateau it is smooth sailing from Ekpoma to Ubiaja, or from Irrua to Igueben - there are neither hills nor valleys difficult to negotiate by an invader. It has a very good climate, cool and almost temperate; it could get as low as 69°P in Irrua and Uromi but our forefathers were so hardened to deaths from illness all of which were blamed on wizards, that they could not have bothered to think of health in choosing a site for their settlement. What then brought them here? From the history of individual settlement and the fact that all ESAN is an agricultural districts the one deciding factor which must have induced our people to settle in such a waterless area is FERTILITY. Amilele is said to have refused to pass on to his destination because of the rich succulent Palm Nuts he saw at a place today called IRRUA: the great Warrior EBEN seeing yams thrown away a year before so much wondered what could have happened had the yams been actually planted and looked after. He sent word to the Oba that he would settle at the spot to farm and his cottage grew to become IGUEBEN.

6. Density:
With ESAN so scattered to form small cottages, villages and small towns it is not surprising that it has a density of about 165 per square mile! There are vast areas very sparsely populated. The most thickly populated portions are round Uromi, Ekpoma, Irrua and Ewohimi.  
Follows:-

6. The New Esan Dispensation:

On August 27, 1991, ESAN was split into Four Local Government Areas leading to a lot of jubilation as instead of the one and later two Lot Government Headquarters - gem towns of developments - there are D (four Local Governments Headquarters. The new Local Government Area are:-

Local Government                                        Population                               Headquarters
Areas
                                           Males            Female       Total
1.      Esan West                            45,537          46,211        91,748                      Ekpoma                
2.      Esan Central                        60,921           67,590        128,511                     Irrua
3.      Esan North-East                   43,476           44,882        89,358                     Uromi
4.      Esan South-East                   43,847          45,639         89,486                     Ubiaja

Garri, Fried Grated Cassava

7 FEATURES OF ECONOMY:

(a) Agriculture: ESAN is an agricultural country, everybody, man or woman, being simple farmers whose main food crops are yams, com or maize, cocoyam, cassava and beans of various types; pepper, groundnuts, melons, bananas with plantains as subsidiary crops usually planted by the woman in the husband's farm. In ESAN 'A' most women have separate cocoyam and groundnut farms. Esan people do not relish vegetables and leaves as the Yoruba’s or the Ibos.

Farm year ends about the second week of December, any time after, the New Year begins with clearing of bush for the main farms and by March, yams are planted with com immediately after the first heavy rain (Amen Ukpe) usually round the third week of the month. By May fresh corn is available and new yams - July or yearly August.

To a great extent most of the actual farm work is done by men but such crops as beans, melons, groundnuts and when ESAN made a name from the natural Khaki, ESAN COTTON - cotton, pepper etc. are definitely the woman own . Women are also responsible for the marketing of surplus farm produce and the making of palm oil.

 

Economic crops consist of cotton, and only in modem time Rubber, the useless para-rubber introduced in the early twenties having be phased out. Apart from the nature of the soil, it is near impossible 1 money-yielding cocoa to grow in the waterless plateau. The few trees that manage to survive in scattered areas are ruthlessly cut down by white-an Unfortunately the famous Khaki Esan cotton has practically disappear mostly because of the exhaustion of the soil and the wholesale abandoned of our weaving industry which followed the conspiratorial war waged Esan weavers by British traders who took a sample of our UKPONDO (multi-coloured Cloth) to Lancaster, mass-produced it bringing it back Esan, inferior in everything but colour; they sold it at modem value N1.25 a-piece, ruining the weavers and sellers of Ukpondodo.

Palm oil and kernels are produced by the women who buy the nuts from the men for local use and export all over Esan land. The meth used in extracting the oil is crude and arduous, but about 90% of this oil GRADE ONE. First the ripe fruits are picked out and boiled and then) in a large wooden trough; when cool the Woman jumps into it and mashed the soft fruits with her feet. Water is then poured into the trough mile thoroughly so that while the nuts and fibres sink, the oil comes to the 1 as a scum and is ladled into a pot. This is done several times until all the fibre has been removed. The nuts are saved and the fibres used for lighting, fire-making. The scum is now boiled over a fire in a large pot until all water has evaporated. The surface is skimmed off leaving impurities and
some oil which is delicious for roasted yam eating. The second pot is boiled until what is left is almost pure oil, red and transparent with minimum of deposit. Both the oil and Kernels come from Oil Palms which grow luxuriantly all over Esan Land as common property.

(b) Trade: Esan people are poor traders and but for Uromi won who are tireless traders one would have been correct to say that the trade in Esan until recently was limited to the sale and buying of local foodstuffs in the markets. This is understandable if one remembers that until advent of the white men, people hardly ventured beyond the confines of their settlement.

(c) Crafts: The only one of note is cloth weaving in which Uromi and Ohordua women with their UKPON-ODODO were adepts. The variety Hand Looms are used. In the olden days there were few blacksmiths which confined themselves to sharpening cutlasses and making crude hoes and knives. People around Ughoha and Illushi got most of the agricultural implements from Igbo-Akwa who not only make excellent cutlasses but nicely manufactured Dane guns. Pottery was made by women in isolated areas like Ibore of Irrua, Uzea, and Idegun in Ugboha etc. Most women of Esan A' however, get all their cooking pots from Iruekpen where experts of Ozalla and Obhiato come to sell their wares, often exchanging them for coconuts.


10 History of Origin:
All ESAN people came directly and indirectly from Benin as could bseen from the uniformity of their featureslanguage and custom. Yet it ivery important for the reader to remember all the time that the history of the Ruling Houses, that is the Enijieis quite different from that of the subjects or commoners.


The origin of Esan is closely connected with the pot-bellied OR EWUARE the Selfish who some call the Great. There is no doubt that he did quite a lot of great things in his over-all selfish lifetime: he built the Greater Benin, but in so doing, the primary incentive was consideration for his great self. As a prince he was called OGUN and had been banished from Benin with his younger brother UWAIFIOKUN. On the death of his father OROBIRU, Ogun sent his younger brother to the City to ascertain if the elders were in favour of his return. His brother, however tricked him be telling them that he had not seen his senior brother ever since they left the City and believed Ogun to be dead; Uwaifiokun the junior brother, was therefore installed Oba. Ogun, hearing of this, came down to the City armed, and instead of showing himself to the Kingmakers, way-laid his own brother and murdered him see what I mean")He was then made the Obabut before this for vengeance over his early banishment hlet hell loose on the City by setting fire to it resultinigreaconflagration which ravaged thCity for two days and two nights: and that was the City which had accepted him aOba despite the fact that hhad just murdered the last Obahis brotherHe murderethrichest woman around Benin and appropriated her treasureshe warred left right and centre, not necessarily because the rulers challenged his suzerainty but merely to take them captive and make their people pay extra tributes to himHe tricked the powerful and fearless Iken of Uselu by befriending him, sent him to war and replaced him with his own (Ewuare's) first son and becausthis young man waacting for the warrior lken, the Oba's first soaUselu was titled EDAIKEN!

Ewuare's greatest act of selfishness resulted in ESAN. At that time he had two sons. The first had usurped Iken’s Uselu as the Edaiken and his second son, EZUWARHA. Had been made the Onojie of IYOWA. The two Princes were very fond of each other and the Onojie who was a great farmer, every year went to pay tribute to his senior brother by sending him the best of yams and this so pleased his brother the Edaiken that to encourage him he sent the be-t agricultural implements in the land. The Onojie seeing these tools was so pleased himself that he called his wife to rejoice with him. Instead of rejoicing the Benin EVE said the words that drove our ancestors out of the great Benin City - "Oh! Poor fool, “she scorned, "you just cannot understand what your polished brother meant; while he is too princely to farm he has sent implements that would make.

You till more of the soil and make you a greater jungle man - and you rejoice!" Ezuwarha became very ashamed and hurt by his brother's ' unkind' treatment and swore that the Edaiken must die. He called in the most powerful medicine man in Benin who made some poisonous powder that
easily fumes for him. In a calabash he sent this unto his brother with instruction that he must be awake when he opened it. The unsuspecting Edaiken seeing a parcel from his beloved brother hurried into his room unware that he was followed by an over-zealous chamberlain.

In his excitement to see what his brother sent him, he held up the calabash close to his face, opened it and some of the powder and fumes went into his nose and throat. With a groan he fell and died outright. The chamberlain seeing what happened, with a full presence of the mind he quickly shut the calabash, locked the door and swore to avenge his master's treacherous death. He ran out and told the messengers from the Onojie of Iyowa to was for his master's message, ran into the harem and soon returned with the loveliest damsel in Uselu saying, "Tell the Onojie, the Edaiken is so please with the special present sent that he has rewarded him by sending him the precious gift in this calabash (the same that finished the Edaiken) with this smashing young woman as a bride. He must be alone with this young damsel when he opens the parcel". The unsuspecting messengers’ collector the parcel and left happily flanking the radiating girl. On reaching him and reporting, the Onojie could not wait to hear the end of the message - he was too anxious to be alone not really with the calabash but with this angel!

Rushing into his room with his eyes drinking in the radiant beauty of his bride, he had no time to look and see that it was his own dirty trickle that was going to recoil on him; he opened the calabash - and down when Oba Ewuare's only son alive! While Uselu was weeping blood over the death of the Edaiken, all Iyowa went into deep mourning. Of course there was no living person who could go and tell the Oba, and not just any Oba but Ewuare that his only two sons had died the same day. The fate of that informant would be as good as if he said to the Oba - "I have just liquidate your two sons".

All the elders and chiefs were terrified and could well imagine what the Oba would do on hearing - but what Ewuare did when he finally heard showed him up as the selfish man he was: he summoned all Binis in second and passed his inhuman, wicked and selfish LAWS ON MOURNING:-

(a)    Now Ewuare the greatest monarch in the great Benin Empire has no more sons: who else has any more right to get children! (It is irresistible not to quote the EASN PROVERB here - "Ukpe ne eberia biele Ole bhmien, elanmen Obhebhe igbo bie!" - the year the leopard lost its young, mother animal in the vast jungle can bring forth any off-spring"). Ewuare therefore decreed - Intercourse was forbidden in the whole of the City.

All living persons in the domain must join in the morning of his two sons: no more washing. Sweeping of the house or compound, not to talk of drumming or dancing in the land.

(c) As the most delicious foods are cooked ones, no more fire must be made within smoke sight of Benin.

(d) The only qualifications to these Ewuare-fair laws were that they affected everybody in Benin including the great Ewuare of course: the laws were clamped on for THREE YEARS!

That every Benin should from then on live a verminous life of filthy and degradation was easy enough: it was easy to live on ripe plantains, bananas, and other fruits for some weeks. Dancing - everyone could go for ten years without seeing a drum! But for each man to be living with twothree or ten wives in the same house and forget nature was far too much Ewuare or no Ewuare, let alone that it was a strict law laid down by the departed spirits who were certainly more powerful than Ewuare, that every man most perform his duty to his wife, loved or hated, on the first night following end of her menstruation. Unfortunately the white man had not come with his science and contraceptives, otherwise Oba Ewuare the Selfish lone could have obeyed this law. Chief Uwague was the unlucky man that day! His wife had just ended her menses and she was not the type that could be ignored. Of course he fell and as such things go, Mrs. Uwague missed that period! With unsophistication goes honesty. Poor Uwague was in a dilemma; he could not think of telling the aha that it all happened just a day before he made his memorable laws - not that it could have made any impression on Ewuare - so his wife had to go into hibernation and was in Uwague’s backyard for nine months until she delivered. History did not record that young Master Uwague's mouth was gagged from the hour of his birth, but no one ever heard a baby cry from Uwague's compound.

Meantime in the rest of the City, men had developed dysentery, and all sorts of unbearable stomach trouble from a year of eating over-ripe and unripe fruits and unable to continue obeying Ewuare any longer, fled to distant farms where they could cook their food without the smoke being seen by Oba Ewuare's agents or the irresistible smell of cooked or roasted meat tantalizing their nostrils. At first they trekked tens of miles to go and cook their food and returned to the City only to get home not just TIRED but HUNGRY. "Why return to the City at all?" So men in waves began to settle in the farms far away from the City. Others whose wives had become pregnant, to escape the sure and terrible retribution of Ewuare, fled the City. It needs no stretch of imagination to believe that many of the more loyal subjects died of filth and infection. The important things is that within a few months the Great City was almost empty. Honest Uwague then went to Ewuare and tried to change his hardened mind by his sincerity. If Ohara Omo." he said, "I have is obeyed you and I know I merit death - but my death will be better than our Great City becoming a mere shell. This boy is my son - the mother was pregnanted after you made the mourning laws. If you had forgotten the sad death of Kuoboyuwa, the Edaiken and Ezuwarha of Iyowa and begun afresh with your wives, by now you could have got sons perhaps the age of this boy - but what has followed the laws? THE CITY IS EMPTY. "What" exclaimed the great Ewuare - "You mean my subjects dare leave the City?" He sent his stalwarts to summon all the various quarters. On reaching each section of the City and demanding the whereabouts of the house owners, the few remaining answered - "ESAN FUA." (They have jumped away or they have fled).

A great number of these people who thus escaped these unjust and selfish laws formed our ancestors, particularly the founders of Irma, and to this day the Binis in derision still refer to us as ESAN NE SAN FUO-HA (the Esan people who fled into the jungle, and in its most abusive form, an irate Bini means BUSHMAN).

Ewuare at first tried to bring back the fleeing subjects by force and in many cases, his own men were humiliated by not only being trounced but the supposed fleeing people returned and plundered the City. He then dug the third moat right in the heart of the City to prevent the few remaining subjects from deserting. This was not enough. His fertile but selfish brain invented another method of arresting the fleeing subjects: he sent word round that at the pain of death or war, no one should give refuge to his deserting subjects who could now be readily identified by the IWU (Body Tatto) he began to inflict on the bodies of all Binis. He sent vassals round and, in some cases, actually went out himself and all those with marks were easily recognized as citizens of the Great Benin and were returned. Thus after Ewuare's time, as all those with these tattoos and tribal marks were easily identified as belonging to the EOO RACE - the then master race in West Africa, Esan people began to subject themselves to these painful ordeals, in foolish imitation, and thus came the tribal markings of abdomen and trunk with facial marks in Esan.

I have gone into some detail regarding the life and happening during Ewuare the shellfish’s reign. It would at first appear that Esan did not originate until after 1440 when Ewuare imposed his selfishness and wickedness on the great Benin stool. No. Even before this time, there were inhabitants scattered in the jungles now comprising Esan land, as evidenced by our own Esan folklore featuring OGISO - the common name for the Bini Rulers before the advent of the GREAT ORAMIYAN, just as in the same way we have many of our stories featuring Asijie (Oba Esigie) and AGUARAN (Aruan - ran) his warring giant brother. Long before 1460, that is Ewuare's reign, either through the selfishness and atrocities of some of the Obas, or following the catastrophic civil wars over succession, some people deserted the City for the jungle. Often an offending Chief, Warrior or Prince to escape a sure and fatal punishment, fled often, followed by a few of his servants and sympathizers. In such cases, they had to trek far in unhealthy jungle with nothing but fruits for food living under circumstances equal to the Oba taking them as dead, that is, they had to live in tiny repressed state, so that no one would know or suspect the existence of living people in the area. Such men being fugitives from a cruel and unforgiving foe were bound to lead extremely primitive and apprehensive lives. These were the types of people, banished princes or chiefs, criminals, fugitives etc, who inhabited the present Esan Country at the earliest time. For example, the aboriginal people of Esan are the people of UZEA and EGBELE –UROMI.

During the latter part of Oba Egbeka's reign, one of his wives called OAKHA, was accused of adultery. For Egbeka who loved no one and had no friend’s accusation was as good as the proof: despite the fact that Oakha was blessed with three grown-up sons, Egbeka demanded unfortunate Oakha's head. The sons were ASUKPODUDU, IGBELE known to some as OHONSI and to others as OMONE, and OGHOMERE in that order of seniority. They took their father's unkind demand as a challenge and set to work to save their mother from an untimely death. They succeeded in
extricating the condemned woman from the impregnable harem and fled the City heading north-east: They were less concerned with where they went all that mattered was to put a long distance between the avenging and unforgiving hand of merciless Egbeka, their father , and the life of their loving mother. After months of wondering, the second son Egbele, to whom locomotion was a real torture because of his deformities, urged his brothers to let them stay where they had got to, but the others insisted on putting more distance between themselves and their father since they realized by their action they were as guilty as the mother whose life they were trying to save. As Egbele physically could not continue, the others helped him build a shelter at the spot later known as OTO-EGBELE which is today a quarter in Egbele, Uromi. Asukpodudu, bent on saving his mother, went on with Oghomere. At a spot in the jungle, he built his own hut - but Oghomere decided to choose a spot of his own, to the poor mother's sorrow. She had already left poor Egbele all by himself in the jungle and now, Oghomere the most junior and most loved son, wanted to continue to face the odds alone. She decided to follow the young man. Where Asukpodudu built his hut became UZOZOGHAINGHAIN in IDINEGBON - UZEA, which is thus, second in age to Oto-Egbele, The word Uzea was a later name that had origin from the fact that Asukpodudu's descendants could neither be alarmed nor impressed by anything.

The settlements of the third son become EKWELE – OGHOMERE near Ugbekpen in Ekwele Ikhanoba. There, their mother later died and a village, Oakha was named after her.

The ancient non-aggression pact between Uzea and Uromi on the one hand and Uzea and Ekwele (now corrupted to EKPERI) on the other, can be understood. Some mistakenly say Uzea and the whole of Uromi or), Uzea and the Ruling Family are related. Uzea's blood affinity is only with Egbele and not all Uromi or the Ruling Family, which did not leave Benin until 1460.

Even if the impregnable jungle area they had placed between Benin and themselves was not sufficient defence weapon against the wrath of the Oba, common sense dictated that these fugitives should lead a quiet and much isolated life for fear of someone detecting and identifying them and reporting their whereabouts to the Oba. There is no doubt that the only life possible then was a simple, primitive and timid one.

On the contrary, the people who fled the City after 1460 were in many cases a strong and disciplined lot often in large waves, able in many cases not only to resist the hardened forces of Oba Ewuare, but conquer them. Some researchers express doubts about these victories forgetting two forces were in operation. First the fleeing bands were fighting for their lives and secondly the Binis Ewuare was using knew they were fighting their brothers and many, but for loyalty to the Oba, would have loved to join those fleeing out of the City. Thus these waves got to the jungles not as tiptoeing fugitives, but as superiors imposing themselves as rulers on the cowardly lot they met and ultimately displacing them further into the hinterland or eliminating them entirely. Added to this is the sorrowful trait still noticeable in present day ESAN: their preferential treatment for the stranger no man is good amongst the Esan people unless he is a stranger. Thus in many instances fleeing Binis reaching an Esan settlement were acclaimed war leaders or in some cases OJIE (King). A particularly good single example of this trait is given by Ughulu, who was fleeing from the Oba when he reached Ewu with his two younger brothers Uamen and Ekpebua. One of these fugitives was selected to rule Ewu people. This preferential treatment of strangers - always reserving their post of honour for strangers (since they themselves are all equals.) is also exemplified by the arrival of Omin and his junior brothers Okhale and Okogun in Uromi. They were murderers of their monarch at Ewohimi and were fugitives intending to seek shelter in faraway Ighanlan. They were stopped at Uromi: every one of these criminals became heads of the places they fled to. Omin became the great cultural leader in Uromi, and Amedeokhian got named after him. The second brother Okhale was honoured with the title of Oniha - inferior only to that of the Onojie. The most junior fugitive was made Isodele the big Okhaemon (Chief) of Utako.

Practically all the Ruling Houses of Esan came directly from Benin to rule the people they found who were already firmly established. There is no argument that many Esan units existed as inconsequential, primitive hideouts, but the proud and self-reliant Esan people can be dated from the large exodus following Ewuare the shellfish’s reign.

It is interesting to cite the case of Irrua proper. When they got to the present Eguare they had found some settlers, the type I already alluded to, that is, settlers before the great exodus. They imposed their authority on these simple people and ultimately drove them to Opoji - the remainder are the founding fathers of IDUNMUNEKHAKPOZI, wedged in between Oyomon Irrua, Idumebo and Uesnu, today.

One of the stories I have been told and confirmed at Irrua, Uromi and Ugboha is that the ancestors of the Ruling Houses of the three places were brothers who probably left Benin during the Ewuare period. One of the brothers settled at Ivue, while that of Irrua moved on to Eguare Irrua, with the one of Ugboha, deceived by his brother that he was stopping at Uromi because of stomach trouble, moving on alone in search of water. I have been unable to confirm this story from my research. But it will be wise for the enquirer to be forewarned against interpretation of BROTHER as indiscriminately used by us Africans. To a people whose mode of life is based on kinship, it can mean a townsman, a trusted acquaintance or a man from a totally different village but under oath with the speaker. Thus, when an elder swears that the founders of the Ruling Houses of Irrua, Uromi and Ugboha and then Udo, Ugboba, Ubiaja and Emu were brothers, he does not necessarily mean that they had the same father or same mother. For instance while the founder of Ubiaja hailed from Udo in Benin territory, the founder of Ugboha came from Idumu-Igun in Benin City itself. Though it is true that the founder of Ohordua, Erakpe, was a brother to Oriomon of Emu, yet Emu is no relation to Irrua who is said to be a brother of Ubiaja. Divorce which made unusual relationship possible was unknown in ancient ESAN.

Regardless of what the truth may be the important thing to bear in mind is that before Ewuare died in 1473, the important Esan towns like Uruwa, Uronmun, Ekunman Emunlun, Owoha, Ubiaza etc. had become well organised under self-asserting Ekakulo or war leaders.

At long last Ewuare saw the futility of continued hostilities with his recalcitrant subjects who had now organized themselves into more or less well run powerful groups. His confusion was beyond description when everybody, including those who had deserted Benin for one reason or another as far back as the Ojiso dynasty, began tattooing their bodies and marking their faces, each district later with its own distinctive facial marks - but all really being an uppish imitation of the Binis - the superior race. Ewuare reverted to one of the many ways in which he was so adroit: conquest by appeasement. He then invited all the leading Ekakulo to Benin in 1463. Some were suspicious of this wicked and selfish war lord, while others genuinely through old age or sickness could not make the three to six months journey to Benin and so sent their younger brothers. In four districts of ESAN, this resulted in a sad occurrence. On reaching Benin, Ewuare the diplomat, invested all the representatives with the title of ONOJIE (plural, Enijie), silencing those who faithfully pleaded that they were junior brothers or chamberlains, and sending them back to rule their people dutifully on behalf of himself, the Oba. Thus, he recaptured the control he had lost by his harshness and callousness. Under Uromi, Ugboha, Emu and Ubiaja the reader will appreciate how this act changed the history of the people.

One could see that through his constant care for his person, Oba Ewuare did quite a lot to alter the history of the Edos with particular reference to ESAN. He is thus the first Oba to create Enijie. After this smart dealing with the hitherto hostile and recalcitrant subjects, he was able to live in comparative peace as much as Benin history would allow and to be able to devote more time to another great interest of his: Magic and medicine. He travelled to Irrua where he got the famous medicine man Ogan, now deified in Ekhuae in Benin City. In his selfishness he wanted all that was best for himself; he snatched medicine men from areas around and similarly enticed all great warriors to Benin such as the Great Enowe 0f Ugboha.

Silhouetted against the modern road is the present Priest, Iyorah. The spot is now surrounded by a jungle.

11. Language:
The common language is ESAN which is a dialect of Bini. Even among present day generation speaking Bini may be difficult, but it is unnecessary for an Esan person to learn it before understanding it. It is easier for an Esan person to understand Bini - the original tongue, than Ora or Etsako language either of which suffered further inflexion.

Even though we all speak Esan, there are slight variations in different clans of the Esan land but the most blended or less pronounced is the Irrua dialect. It is quite easy to recognize the Ugboh a man or a man from Ubiaja, Uromi, Ekpoma, and Ewohimi from his speech. When an Irrua man speaks, to another Esan person, one thing is certain: the speaker is certainly not Uromi not Ubiaja, not Ekpoma nor Ewohimi but there is no doubt that he is speaking Esan. Ugbegun and Opoji like Egoro speak Ekopma dialect; Igueben the youngest of the important Esan districts till this day still speak Bini. Ekpon is bilingual - speaking Esan and Ika. Despite these observations, the different varieties of Esan are highly mutually intelligible, such that successful communication between speakers is not affected. Such differences, which are mostly lexical and some-times tonal, are not enough to blur mutual intelligibility (Ejele 1982).

It is a matter of great satisfaction that Esan that had hitherto been only a spoken language, is now one of the twenty-five federally approved languages in the country - thanks to ' the patriotic efforts of the Esan Orthography Committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Christopher Okojie, OFR - an achievement that could have been impossible but for the financial support from Esan leaders and business men and women.

ETHNIC CHARACTERISTIC:

Two types of settlers have been described: the early criminal fugitives, who took every arrival from Benin as an avenging hand of the Oba's retributive justice and were only too willing to yield place for the new-comer or put themselves at their mercy , were quickly displaced by the larger wave of victorious and unrepentant rebels against Oba Ewuare the selfish. These latter settlers were the real progenitors of present day Esan people. Any wonder then that the Esan people, as a race are proud even up to the point of being arrogant, self-confident, and vindictive and despite their warlike origins on the whole, Esan people are pacifists. They are fatalistic, which gives them ready explanation for their failure: "I failed in this project not because I had not done my best or known how to do it: must be that is how God wanted it". Given a chance, they are intelligent, forthright and easily assert leadership in any community. I used to be immensely impressed looking at Esan people who are in business, reached higher echelons of government service, in the military etc - practically every one of them got to where they are by dint of self-effort, with no one to pull wires for them.

As already observed the Esan people do not believe another Esan person is better than himself and hence you cannot lead an Esan. Convince him that movement is necessary for his progress then let him make a move and you exploit the momentum.

The key to a people’s character or personality can be found in their music, dances and folklore. Take a look at two typically Esan dances AGBEGA and OBODOIRIBHEFE and you will see what a proud race ESAN people are. Their vivaciousness and the fact that they descended from warlike ancestors can be seen in the commonest Esan Dance - Juju dance
(EGBABONELINMIN), OLEKE, OHOGHO, etc. ASONO combines both the proud movements and agile figures of a warrior. Unuwazi's AYELE in addition teaches individualism and self-reliance. No two dancers can be seen doing the same steps. 

 Esan Laws and Custom

Whether it is an inheritance from the first inferiority complexes settlers or from the arrogance of the second set, one amazing trait in the Esan people stands out clearly. It is their preferential treatment for strangers and their hero worshipping. There is nothing grossly wrong with this but what is sorrowful is that the Esan people do not believe there can be a hero from amongst themselves. Their argument as it were even to this day is." if that man is a hero - then he cannot be an ESAN'.

This is to be expected from the descendants of a people who in those days were not only able to resist the mighty Oba Ewuare, but to beat him at his own game and later came to think that they are all equally good and equally great. The true picture is external arrogance with inferiority complex underneath. A few examples?

(a) In Esan custom every child is given a name, and each name has a meaning, which may give a short insight into the fathers, mothers or family history. But in modern Esan, people, Christians and pagans alike, prefer foreign names whose meaning they do not know. For example, take a man whose name is Ehikioya, he later takes a white man's name, "John" (0 Ie ovan) and refers to himself as John Ehikioya. His son's name is Isiramen, who on growing up selects another white man's name for himself, e.g. James. Actually this boy's name before the white man came would have been Isiramen Ehikioya - but if today one were to ask him for his name, he would with alacrity say 'James John' on the contrary the Ibos or the Yoruba’s prefer their native names to the foreign ones they get at baptism or later in life.

(b) On several occasions I have met Esan families in Lagos or Hausa land, who took pride in telling me their children do not understand Esan. At home they would rather speak Yoruba or Hausa to their children than use their native tongue of which they appear to be ashamed. Some even go so far as to give Yoruba or Ibo names to their children and in some cases, the result is pathetic. What of such names as Aburo, Anti (Yoruba way of calling Aunt) or Idio (D.O.), Emusi (Master of ceremonies) etc.

(c) It would be a gross injustice to Esan to say they had no form of dress before the advent of the white man (which is chronicled in Esan proverb - "Be eje Oibo bha se vae, man bha ruen eboghede,” - (before the Whiteman came we were not wearing banana leaves). Despite the impact of civilization, the Yoruba’s have preserved their traditional way of dressing. Ours was discarded not because of its primitiveness, but because of the Esan trait of preferring anything foreign. Looking at people in Esan Street, in the Church, in the market etc, they would pass for Yoruba’s or Hausas, judging by dress alone.

(d) In 1932 the study of Esan was introduced into schools and I very well remember the hue and cry of parents protesting against paying hard cash for their children to go and learn Esan. But today the Ibo or Yoruba, child can offer Yoruba or Ibo as one of the subjects in school Certificate Examination, and with pride too.

(e) The argument I overheard sometimes ago is illustrative; two young men were arguing over which of the tailors they should give their nickers to build. I will use A and B to avoid embarrassment the stronger voiced boy preferred tailor B to A. 4fter a prolonged argument , the quieter  boy said, "How do you think B could be better than A? Don’t you know I is Esan?” What struck me in the argument was not the quieter boy's reason for preferring A who was Ibo, but the apparent conviction the revelation brought to the stronger boy, for on hearing that his favourite was after all Esan, he succumbed with, "0! Ho!".

The proud and Assertive Type: An Esan Okhaemon in the old traditional dress consisting of a big handwoven cloth. Round the neck is an expensive neck/ace of Ivie (coral beads), and on the shoulder is the Izakpa (fly swatter). He is wearing a replica of the soft cloth cap which also served as a storage place for kolanuts, tobacco and snuff.

(f) Ask most Esan men in Lagos where they come from and they would automatically say "Benin", not because they feel the enquirer would not know where Esan is but because they do not want to appear as men from the BUSH! An Asaba man in Lagos would never say, he came from Benin - at least he understands, what the enquirer wants is fact and not history of origin.

One could go on ad nauseam giving examples to show that Esan people, while worshipping heroes, believe that all Esan are created equal and so more readily acknowledge heroism in the foreigner. So much for the whole ethnic group except to say that as a whole, Esan people despite their origin are pacifists - sincerely averse to force, riots and strikes.

Individually they make interesting study. Sweet or bitter, the truth should be spoken. The Uromi people have a strong force of, unity, deeply political, keen traders and though at one time a few bad people I tried to besmear their good name by persistent stealing, the people sociable, hardworking, healthy competitors and today Uromi has become the trade centre around which a thick population is growing in Esan much so that Uromi is practically one single unit with a local government of its own.

Ekpoma people are shy, cunning, deep thinking and non-committal. You could not know an Ekpoma man so well as to know what exactly might be thinking. They are the proudest Esan, Ebhoakhuala, a district Ekpoma, typifies the first trait.

You see an Ebhoakhuala man obviously on his way to the farm and you ask him, "Are you going to the farm?" the answer you would get is, "Eh exactly, but it might turn out that I touch the farm before evening". No, you could not accuse him of lying if an hour after you were to find I sweating in his farm; at the same time he had not owned up to you that WAS GOING to his farm! Oh! How many trusting visitors or Administrative officers had been caught with the non-committal answer a: a long speech asking them to do something. "We hear; we shall discuss matter you have raised with OUR PEOPLE and let you have an answer and before the visitors might be all the OUR PEOPLE.

The second Ekpoma trait of pride is typified by the people of lIleh a village wedged in between Ewu, Irrua and Ukhun. In lIleh all men born equal: "Yi-aaah] Does he feed me in my house? No? Then he can tell me that! And that means before God and man he is equal to the man is referring to. That man might be the very Onojie of Ekpoma!

The Irrua people are the open-hearted, pleasure-seeking litigants: They have a high sense of humour, are fluent, quick-witted and an Esan expression, if they tell you what you are seeking for is buried in ground - please search for it on the ceiling! Unlike the more serious people of Ekpoma and Uromi who easily divide into warring camps, an Irrua is the perfect ambivalent fence sitter. You never could tell to which side belongs! Reliability? Yes! But at your own risk! They can take an oath the most terrible juju and still get away with it. A story is told of the time when all Esan Enijie went to see the Oba who gave them a boxful of coral beads. On their return they all made a night at the Ojirrua's and in the morning on demand, the Ojirrua brought the box half-full with coral beads: he had secretly buried the other half in the spot where the beads were to be shared. The suspecting Enijie were furious - so much so that they were prepared to break one of Esan customs. If you - Ojirrua - deny this was not all the beads the Oba gave us yesterday, swear on a given juju (it is Esan custom -an Onojie NEVER swears). Despite, the Ojirrua was too willing to exonerate himself by swearing - Onojie or no Onojie. All the smoking, quick-killing jujus were hastily assembled and the great Ojirrua went down on his royal knees and took the oath: "If I took any of these beads – except these here in the ground of course - may all these flaming jujus born me alive!" And he got up with every Onojie apologising for accusing him falsely. They shared what was left of the beads and he got a lion's share even of that too!

The Ubiaja people are the music and dance loving care-free people of Esan, with an abiding affection for the keg of palm wine. The Ugboha people are artistic, beautiful singers, very sympathetic, fear-to-offend type. Listen to them speak, all their sentences are characterized by ending in a plaintive question. For example, you gave an Ugboha woman fifty-kolanuts to keep and for the past five days you had ben going to her for ten a day if you went there on the sixth day for more, most Esan people would have received your latest and apparently irresponsible demand with - "Hell! How many kolanuts did you give me? - The Ugboha woman would quietly ask, "O man ye bho foo - la?" (Aren't they finished, - or?). On the other hand the Ugboha people are uniformly very superstitious and clouded with the fear of witches and wizards. There is no natural death in Ugboha. You will find many zinc houses, built at considerable personal sacrifice, deserted with their owners living in huts nearby because the houses have been bewitched.

The majority of Esan 'B' are simple, sincere hard-working people, who until recent times, the rest of Esan thought they could continue to exploit forever. They have come on their own. The Ewohimi people are bold and cunning and are strict believers in medicines. Their native doctors are famous and respected all over the Edo speaking districts. They will sincerely serve anybody until they find him dishonest or unworthy. Deep Esan 'B' is typified by Ohordua. To Ohordua people the stranger is a liar, a thief, a murderer and in fact, might be Lucifer personified. But once they come to know the man, their mistrust is replaced with an almost servile attitude. Lead - to hell or heaven, they will ask no further questions – they will follow.

The Igueben people are compassionate and slow to anger. If an Igueben greets you while you are on sick bed you will "take up thy bed and walk." Or if you give him something and he thanks you, the voice pronouncing the Ebilu-u-u will sound so sincerely thankful that you will give him what you have left in your hands. The humblest and most honest
people of Esan land are to be found in Ewu.

The reader will surely miss the boat if he takes up an individual person in his mind to check these individual clannish traits here described. With rapid changes brought about by increased education and modernization, many of the traits have been submerged; so one is advised that these characteristics refer to traditional Esan culture.


12. Distinguishing Features:

(a) Clothes: Esan men had two forms of dress. One consisted of a large native cloth of three pieces sewn together, which was thrown across the body over the left shoulder, like a toga. Underneath and round the waist was a smaller piece of cloth tied tightly at the back. The more elderly ones wore a soft cloth cap, and on the left shoulder, was an IZAKPA, usually made from teased leather or from a Cow's tail. Round the neck the Onojie or Okhaemon or a well-to-do man, wore a long necklace of coral beads (the circular coral bead necklace strung together with wire is alien to Esan). The second and simpler type of dress consisted of yards of cloth round the waist, leaving the chest bare. This was the UBUNUKU which long ago went out of fashion like the woman's one piece dress consisting of a cloth tied round the breasts and extending to just above the ankles (a woman's wrapper is two-piece while a man's consists of three pieces). Ever since Esan people have never felt restrained or culture-bound by fashion -, they have always imitated any dress of any visitor or of any ethnic group that they liked. Young girls and boys up to the age of puberty wore nothing (those who are pure at heart have nothing to hide and as men admire beautiful flowers, often plucking them to bring home, so these young beautiful damsels, attracted all lovers of beauty). Girls had many strings of highly inflammable beads called Okpono round their waists.

(b) Hair Styles: Esan hair styles depend upon the age, the sex and occasions. Up to the first-half of the 19th century, the men particularly of noble births plaited their hair. The OHijN (Juju Priests) left their hair in long coils (Qgbihiagha), while those above middle age shaved all the scalp except a small island left on the occipital area which was plaited and an EKAN bead tied to it. The women of course, had as many hair styles as there were occasions.


 (i) IKPODODO: Girls from the age of five to puberty usually dyed their hair orange after curling with Ikpododo; the curls hung over the forehead to be brushed aside to cover the face. This protected her from the gaze of admirers until she came of age.

(ii) ETUKE (ETO UKE): Usually after circumcision and reaching the husband's home, the girl stopped using Ikpododo and did her hair like full grown women. The commonest style was that of ETUKE which consisted of five pieces in all: three heaps longitudinally and one on each temporal area (see figure). Adding height to women, it was the favourite
hairstyle of women of rank such as the Onojie's wives.

(iii) OJIETO: (The King of hairs): This was the ceremonial post circumcision. Hair-do for virtuous girls. It is only seen now in Uzea area. It is a complicated affair of beauty making use of beads and old silver coins. Those who did not have hairs long enough made use of artificial hair from dyed fibres,

(iv) ETO OMON: This was the traditional hair-do for mothers from the fourteenth day of delivery to five days before the ceremonial Hair Washing (IHOETO) and Naming Ceremony. That meant that it was worn tor about three months. It' consisted of five pieces woven like native tobacco coils. These were covered with EKASA (yellow soap) before the decorative imprints. In modern time only in Uromi district is the Eto-Omon still of significance. It is now made a day before Uromi market, soaped the next morning and the woman goes to show-off at the market. Her relatives and friends follow shouting her praise and praising God for her safe delivery; while some give her monetary presents, others demand money from her for joining in praising her. This Eto-Omon with the Ekasa was the necessity to the Hair Washing on the day of the Naming Ceremony. Sometimes the mother herself did not make the hair - her mother or guardian wore the hair-style on her behalf.

Practically every Esan law, custom or prescription has a raison dieter or an end to serve. Eto Omon is not worn just for its aesthetic beauty but ensures the newly delivered has an easy rest pregnancy and labour demands. With this stately hair-do, such a newly delivered mother finds it impossible to carry any load on her head - only the very senior wives in the Onojie's harem adorned constantly with Eto Uke (Etgke) rarely carry small load on their shoulders since they must have maids to bear any burden Since it is not Esan custom to carry loads on their shoulders like the Gwaris, this woman cannot carry yams or firewood from the farm and perforce has to refrain from such stressful exercise hence a newly .delivered was no candidate for strenuous farm work and associated labour until after the hair washing ceremony of the fourth month.

(v) ETO-OKUKU: This was the hair-style of unmarried women of rank like daughters of an Onojie, Ekhaemon and rich men. Today all that it signifies is that it is the hair-do of the younger wives of a wealthy and aged man, on his death. It is only made now at burial ceremonies.


On the fourth day of the burial ceremony, that is EDIZELE~ or EDEOWO, if the ceremony began on the first day of the farming week, the women of the deceased man and the wives of the children assembled in the evening and in the midst of dancing, had their hair done in ETO-OKUKU, which consisted of one long piece tied together at the top with 'a parrot's red feather. It denoted the longevity of the dead man, and his wealth, for the more wives that took part at this ceremony, the wealthier he was taken' Only women whose first babies survived were entitled to plait this hair for another - another incentive for women of a compound to do all they can ensure survival of their first born. The Chief Celebrant or heir to the dead man gave each of the women taking part a white head-tie with which the Eto-Okuku was tied. For the next seven days, they received special am preferential treatments - no sleeping in dirty and un-rubbed house, no eating of soup without meat, no load carrying, no servile work, and in fact for them, it was seven days of dignified life. On the seventh day, the hair was undone by the presentation of a basket of seven yams to each of the women by the heir.

(vi) HAIR-DO OF A WIDOW: This was simple, humiliating and sorrowful: she must shave off all the hair of her scalp. Thus it is strictly forbidden for a married woman to shave her scalp otherwise (expressed in Esan proverb - 'Aba non yulu ze inenen non rie etoa!' - it is the death of the father that made the mother shave her hair!):

(c) TRIBAL MARKS: There were two types: Facial and Body Tattoo Tribal facial marks consisted of the CROW'S FOOT at the outer angle 0f each eye, called ABELAMLEN and three longitudinal marks on the cheek below each eye.

The body tattoo known as ISEKELE, was also fairly uniform. Easy identification which made Oba Ewuare the Selfish introduce tribal marks about 1462, led Esan people to mark their faces. At war, in slavery and on the road people from same area easily recognized themselves and were thus able to assist themselves or prevent fatal mistakes. The body tattoo was at first an imitation of the Binis - because after Ewuare's time, anyone who had not the tattoo could not gain an entrance to the Oba's Palace, since he could not have been a Benin man. Everyone then wanted to be mistaken for a member of the Master Race and so many Esan people began to tattoo their abdomen and trunks. But later it became associated with noble birth in the males and in women, it showed 'Coming of Age'. It was considered as rape to seduce a girl who had not yet had these marks. The tattooing were
ceremoniously done, by age set in the males and just before marriage in the females.

Each ethnic group had its own form of initiation into manhood and marks of distinction. Manhood is not just associated with height and girth, but with dignity and ability to bear pain and suffering without any outward signs. To Esan people nothing can be more undignifying than tears flowing from the eyes of a man, come what may. Thus, a man wishing to be taken as having become fully of age, must have to undergo the pain of tattooing.

On this day, which for the man was a day of inward torture, but for the family, one of rejoicing, there was dancing and singing while the surgeon (OWENAN) performed the tattoo consisting officially of parallel and longitudinal marks, each about half an inch wide. In the male, there were five: one from each shoulder down across the breast to the waist; a central piece ran from the top of the breast done over the navel to the lower part of the abdomen. At the back, a similar mark ran from behind each shoulder to the waist line. In the female, there were ten: a pair ran from the front of each shoulder down the side of the chest to the waist line; one mark ran from the root of the neck across each breast to the waistline. At the back, a pair of marks ran from behind each shoulder to the waist. After the multiple incisions which were skin deep, a black colouring stuff was rubbed into them and the burning which followed could not be imagined by one who had not undergone the ordeal: yet the man, wanting to prove how much he deserved to be considered a brave man, led in the singing. If he showed more than a flinch of the eye-brows with each stroke of the triangular knife (UCHE), not to talk of people having to hold him, he was not yet a man. The braver he behaved the prouder the family, the louder the singing and the bigger the feasting that followed.

In the olden days these marks on a man showed that:-

·         He was of a noble birth
·         He had attained proud manhood and could be trusted
·         He was not a slave and therefore,
·         He was a fit and proper person to enter any palace including that of the Oba!

Male members of the Royal Family and from the family of titled men, had the full marks which every Edo had - that is, the five marks. For the rest of free Esan people, the marks were three: one on each side in front with the central diamond.

 


@WPP Jr
Editor/Publisher
ESANLAND