Esan people in Edo State,Nigeria
The people of Esan have a common language, custom and tradition. The homogencity characteristic of the Esan people has been aptly described by Okojie (1994): According to him:
"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 OBỌDỌIRIBHẸFE 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 (EGBABỌNẸLINMIN),
OLEKE, OHOGHO, etc. ASONO combines with 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 land is bordered to the south by Benin, to the south-east by Agbor, to the north and east by Etsako, to the west by River Niger. The land is about eighty kilometers North East of Benin City. By this factor of proximity and the fact that they share a basic cultural substratum, they are regarded as neighbours to the Bini (Bradbury, 1973: p. 48). From Ewu to Benin City, the State capital, is 100kms long. The people populate areas such as Uromi, Ewatto, Igueben, Iruekpen, Irrua, Ubiaja, Ebele, Ehor, Ekpoma, Egoro Eguare, Ewu, etc all in central Edo State, South-South Nigeria.
Historically, Esan traces their ancestry to the Bini (Edo) people of the powerful pre-colonial African kingdom of Benin in Nigeria. Esan grew initially as farming settlements, which were peopled from the Savannah north. These nuclear settlements expanded by internal growth and through recorded migrations from Benin about five centuries ago. Such migrations into the area were believed to have even occurred earlier and was led by banished princes or chiefs, criminals etc. who had deserted Benin City for the uninhabited forests lands “long before 1460, that is Ewuare’s time (Oba of Benin) either through the selfishness and atrocities of some of the Obas, or following the catastrophic civil wars over succession….” (Okojie, 1960: p.35). Recorded migrations out of Benin City took place during Oba Ewuare’s reign in the 15th century when the Oba lost his two sons and enacted some harsh laws including forbidding the citizens from cooking, washing or having sexual intercourse for three years. It was the resentment of people against the new life-style in Benin City that made people to migrate into the forest (Okojie, 1960: p.32). The Oba waged war against the culprits but failed. Oba Ewuare’s bellicose nature according to Jacob Egharevba (1968) led the Oba
into conquering 201 towns and villages, some of them in Esan. But for many of the scattered
settlements in the Esan forests, the Oba had to use diplomacy to bring them under Benin hegemony. He invited Esan leaders or their representatives to Benin for a truce. He dangled
attractively before them an attachment to Benin City. He was ready to recognize and honour his
visitors with the title of Onojie; meaning king.
There is no record of those who might have received the invitation but ignored it. They have
disappeared from history, for the future Esan rested on those who went to Benin and took the
title of Onojie. The decision among Esan leaders to go or not to go to Benin was not easily taken. Many of the leaders dreaded Oba Ewuare but did not want a fresh wave of military attacks of the area. Instead, Benin promised military support for the Onojie to enforce authority over insubordinate subjects (Eweka, 1992: pp. 83-84). Only three of the leaders actually went to Benin
in person. All three were apparently men who had nothing to fear from the Oba due to various
reasons. The first was Ekpereijie, the son of Oba Ohen’s daughter and a sister to Oba Ewuare. She
had been given to Amilele the leader of Irrua. Relations between Irrua and Benin must have been cordial. The second was Alan of Ewohimi, the son of Ikimi who had left Benin prior to the reign of Oba Ewuare and as such was not considered as one of those who fled the city by the Oba. The third was Ijiebomen who left Benin for Ekpoma after the Oba had granted him leave (Eweka, 1992: p.169, 174).
Sir Tom Ikimi, former Nigerian foreign minister and an illustrious son of Igueben, an Esan town in Edo State where he used his privileged position in the highest decision making body of the land as a minister to attract a lot of development to the land. Here is a cerebration of his 70th birthday.
In contrast to those mentioned above, the chief of Ohordua, Okhirare, “had especially offended the Oba and would not risk his neck, so he sent his heir Odua” to Benin (Eweka, 1992: p.272). His brother and leader of Emu also sent his son rather than risk his life. Three other Esan leaders dispatched brothers as their representatives to the meeting in Benin. Ede “felt he was only less than the Oba by degrees” and as such refused to honour the call. He then sent his junior brother to listen to what the Oba had to say. The leader of Ubgoha, also asked his junior brother to go on his behalf. The leader of Uromi sent his junior brother to find out what the Oba had to say.
Ewuare concealed his anger at the impertinent leaders in Esan. He was a smart diplomat. During
the meeting, he told the visitors how they had migrated from Benin. He enthroned the Benin
court traditions in Esan. The name ESANFUA, meaning those who fled from Benin City into the
jungle became a pejorative connotation from where the word Esan was derived. The Oba
bestowed the title of Onojie on those that were present at the meeting. Instantly, the Oba made
them rulers of their communities and subservient only to the Oba and above all, this noble title was
not transferable to father, brother or master, and once an Onojie, always an Onojie until death
(Okojie, 1960: p.37). Where Oba Ewuare had enthroned a proxy except in Ewohimi, Irrua and Ekpoma, strife and hatred followed as the new leaders began to assert authority and control over the elders. Thus the Oba wielded the numerous villages into large political entities that hitherto became known as chiefdoms ruled by the Onojie. R.E. Bradbury explains that “The Chiefdom might consist of one or several villages loosely knitted”(1973: p.48).
Esan are fun-loving people who have various festivities and ritualistic traditions.Their folktales and folklores serve as forms of learning and entertainment, like the famous Igbabonelimin. They have prominent traditional rulers who keep order and sanity in a complex society where beauty and manners are intertwined.
A handful of Esan families are known to possess Portuguese ancestry, resulting from links dating back to the 16th Century when Portuguese sailors and tradesman first entered the Bini Kingdom via the coast. British arrived Bini in the wake of the Portuguese numerous expeditions to, and intercourse with, Bini.
Esan people believe in community of people and "man" is very important to them. Man, in Esan ontology, is 'Oria '¹ or ‘Oria no ri wi usuagbon‘ or ‘Oria no ri wi agbelo‘- a communal being with-others; and he is created by the Supreme Being. In Esan ontology, he is considered as next to the Supreme Being since he is at the central point of everything in nature. Hence the Esan beliefs
that everything in the universe was created for him. For the Esan, man is very complex being and he is as mysterious as the universe in fact, for them, man is a ‘being-with’. For the Esan people, 'Oria ' refers to both male and female. But categorically, an Esan male, is called '0kpia' while a female is called "Okhuo". For the sake of relevance to Esan linguistic analysis, let us mention other few but delicate points about the Esan people such as; 'Owanle' which refers to elders.
Chief Anthony Akhakon Anenih, Esan man and Nigerian politician and former minister of Works and Housing
Esan people have a unique festival known as Esan Day which is celebrated at the Tafawa Balewa square, Lagos every December; there, names of all prominent Esan people are read to loud ovation. Esans believe in self help, thus assisting to reach villages and towns to achieve development. Prominent Esan are Ogbidi Okojie, Onojie (king) of Uromi (1857 - February 3, 1944) a great Nigerian Nationalist, freedom fighter and arguably the greatest ruler of the Esan people in what is now Edo State in Nigeria, Chief Anthony Enahoro, who raised the motion for the independence of Nigeria; Peter Enahoro, who wrote How to be a Nigerian, Anthony Anenih, a top Nigerian politician and former minister of Works and Housing. Other names include the late Prof. Ambrose Folorunsho Alli, Governor of Bendel State and the founder of Ambrose Alli University; Bishop Patrick Ekpu, Festus Iyayi, writer, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, late first lady Stella Obasanjo; musician Sonny Okosun and writer Aba Aburime I.
Augustus Aikhomu, Esan man and Admiral in the Nigerian Navy, who served as the de facto Vice President of Nigeria during the Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta
Also included are Chief Tom_Ikimi, former foreign minister, Fidelis Oyakhilome, former Lagos state police commissioner and formal governor of Cross river state; Augustus Aikhomu. Admiral in the Nigerian Navy, who served as the de facto Vice President of Nigeria during the Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta, Vincent Airebamen, former deputy commissioner of Lagos state, Wilfred Ehikametalor, Former Kogi State Commissioner and former Assistant Inspector General of Police, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, an international renowned evangelist and founding president of Believers' Love World Incorporated also known as "Christ Embassy", a Bible-based Christian ministry headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria.
Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, Esan man and an international renowned evangelist and founding president of Believers' Love World Incorporated also known as "Christ Embassy"
Origin of the Name Esan
It is believed by many historians that the name 'Esan' (originally, 'E san fia') owes its origin to Bini (meaning, 'they have fled' or 'they jumped away'). 'Ishan' is an Anglicized form of 'Esan', the result of colonial Britain's inability to properly pronounce the name of this ethnic group. It is believed that similar corruption has affected such Esan names as ubhẹkhẹ (now 'obeche' tree), uloko (now 'iroko' tree), Abhuluimẹn (now 'Aburime'), etc. Efforts have however been made to return to status quo ante.
Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, Esan man and grandson of Ogbidi Okojie, Onojie of Uromi and a retired Nigerian Cardinal Pries and formerly Archbishop of Lagos in the Roman Catholic Church
Esan is located at Longitude 60`5′ celcious and Latitude 60`5′ celcius. It has boundaries on the North West with Owan and Etsako on the North-East; on the South-West with Orhiomwon and Ika, while on the South and South-East with Aniocha and Oshimili, all areas that were controlled by ancient Benin especially from the 15th century (Patridge, 1967: p.9). The people populate areas such as Uromi, Ewohimi, Ewatto, Igueben, Irrua, Ubiaja, Ogwa, Ebele, Ekpoma, Ohordua and Ewu in central Edo State, South-South Nigeria. It has a flat landscape, lacking in rocks and mountains, and good for agricultural purpose.
Esanland lies between the fringes of the Savannah to the north and the forest (marginal forest) to the south. The plateau on the northern fringes had the forest vegetation, which thinned into the northward Savannah. It is made up of sandy topsoil that could be easily cleared and cultivated, relatively weed-free. The reason for the sandy nature of the topsoil has been partly due to “the widespread occurrence of sedimentary, granite and gneissic materials the downward elevation of clay; differential soil erosion due to the high kinetic energy of rainstorms tending to remove fine particles in run-off water; and the possible chemical destruction of kaolin in the topsoil” (Kowal and
Kassami, 1978, p. 116). The topsoil is also mixed with laterite, various clays and free metal oxides
often coat the quartz and clay particles, immobilized phosphate, and help to cement or compact the soil not only at the surface but also in the lower layers where clay accumulates to form a pan-like horizon (Kowal and Kassami, 1978, p. 26). This area according to Darling have been very fertile for agriculture(1984, p. 26).
The position of Esan land in a favourable climatic zone enhanced the initial agricultural development and the entire economic structure of the area. Climatic position determines the natural environment, within which an ecosystem affects agricultural and economic activities. The skill in which climatic elements were manipulated for production purposes enhanced the development of Esan agriculture. Esanland is influenced by seasonal winds. These are the Southwest and North-East winds. The former blows from the Atlantic Ocean. It is warm and humid. The wind prevails over the land and brings in its wake heavy rains that caused the wet seasons. Wet seasons were periods of much human activity when the planting of various crops by farmers was done. When rainfall stops by mid – October a period of dry season sets in following the Northeast winds. This usually lasted from November to March when there was virtually no rain in Esanland. The climate at this time is hot with a temperature of about 230 –250 centigrade at mid-day. From around mid –
December to January the weather became harsh and it was referred to as the harmattan or
okhuakhua. These seasonal variations according to Akinbode could have been from the “latitudinal
migration of the tropical convergence zone (ITCZ)” (Akinbode,1983, p. 3). Sometimes light rainfalls were recorded in the months of December and January. Also, strong winds and high air
temperatures could be recorded between the months of January and March while the lowest are usually recorded during the months of June and July. In general, the altitude of the Esan plateau modified the temperature to such a level of eliminating extreme weather conditions. It was therefore not surprising that the relatively flat tops of the plateau remained much cooler than other parts of the land throughout the year. This perhaps explains partly why the plateau land was the first to be settled in Esan.
Esan Local Government Areas in Edo State: The autonomous clans/kingdoms in Esan land are currently administratively arranged as follows under the current five local government areas:
(1) Esan North East LGA, Uromi: Uromi, Uzea
(2) Esan Central LGA, Irrua: Irrua, Ugbegun, Okpoji, Idoa, Ewu
(3) Esan West LGA, Ekpoma: Ekpoma, Urohi, Ukhun, Egoro
(4) Esan South East LGA, Ubiaja: Ubiaja, Ewohimhin, Emulu, Ohordua, Ẹbhoato, Okhuesan, Orowa, Ugboha, Oria, lllushi, Onogholo
(5) Igueben LGA, Igueben: Igueben, Ebele, Amaho, Ẹbhosa, Udo, Ekpon, Ujorgba, Ogwa, Ugun, Okalo
There are 35 clans each of which is headed by a traditional ruler called "Onojie".
1. Irrua 2. Ekpoma 3. Uromi 4. Ubiaja 5. Egoro 6. Ekpon 7. Ewohimi 8. Emu 9. Ewatto 10. Wossa 11. Amahor 12. Igueben 13. Idoa 14. Illushi 15. Ifeku 16. Iyenlen 17. Ohordua 18. Okhuesan 19. Oria 20. Onogholo 21. Orowa 22. Opoji 23. Ogwa 24. Okalo 25. Ebelle 26. Ewu 27. Ogboha 28. Uroh 29. Uzea 30. Udo 31. Urohi 32. Ujiogba 33. Ugun 34. Ugbegun 35. Ukhun
Health Facilities The Ambrose Alli University Teaching Hospital is at Ekpoma, along with various public health centers, private and public hospitals, clinics and maternity homes; The Irrua Specialist Hospital, the School of Nursing and Midwifery, as well as public primary health centers, public and private hospitals, clinics, and maternity homes; The General Hospital,Uromi; and The General Hospital, Igueben.
Educational Facilities In addition to the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, there are 48 primary schools and 12 secondary schools, including the Christ the King Nursery & Primary School, Ekpoma; Mousco International School, Ekpoma; Cosmopolitan Church Primary School; Christ Foundation Nursery/Primary School; and Christ Adam College; Needs more detail information on educational facilities in Irrua Uromi and Ubiaja; Famous secondary schools such Igueben College and Ewu Grammar School are located here, as well as Adult
Education Centers, which were set up to provide education for adults without formal education;
Tourist Centres/Attractions Commemorative Statue of Prof. Ambrose Alli, Ibiekuma River, and Oba's Palaces; Lake Obiemen, Obiemen Shrine, the Ogirrua's Palace, and the Ugbalo Spring; and The Okomu Udo National Game Reserve, and the Amahor waterfalls.
Esan speaks Esan, a tonal Edoid language which is a Kwa language that belongs to the larger Niger-Congo language phylum. Dictionaries and grammar texts of the Esan language are being produced, which may help the Esan appreciate their written language. There is a high level of illiteracy among the Esan, and a large number of dialects, including Ẹkpoma, Ewohimi, Ẹkpọn, and Ohordua. Most annual Esan Kings' Council meetings are largely conducted in English for this reason.
Festus Iyayi (born in Ugbegun in the year 1947 in Esanland, died 12 November 2013) was an Esan man and Nigerian writer known for his radical and sometimes tough stance on social and political issues.
Esan has various dialects all of which stem from Bini and there is still close affinity between the Esan and the Bini, which leads to the common saying 'Esan ii gbi Ẹdo' meaning, Esan does not harm the Ẹdo (i.e. Bini). Esan are great poets, writers, singers, carvers, farmers, scholars, storytellers, etc. The folklore and history of the Esan tribe is worth re-visiting and attempt should be made to research the various ways that the villages are related to the Ẹdos, and others who may have occupied Ifeku Island many years ago. The Esan heritage is unique despite the variation of dialects.
late first lady of Nigeria Stella Obasanjo, was an Esan woman
Linguistic finding has shown the word ‘gbe’ to have the highest number of usages in Esan, with up to 76 different meanings in a normal dictionary. Names starting with the prefixes Ọsẹ; Ẹhi, Ẹhiz or Ẹhis; and Okoh (for male), Ọmọn (for female) are the commonest in Esan: Ẹhizọkhae, Ẹhizojie, Ẹhinọmẹn, Ẹhimanre, Ẹhizẹle, Ẹhimẹn, Ẹhikhayimẹntor, Ẹhikhayimẹnle, Ẹhijantor,Ehicheoya etc.; Ọsẹmundiamẹn, Ọsẹmhẹngbe, etc.; Okosun, Okojie, Okodugha, Okoemu, Okouromi, Okougbo, Okoepkẹn, Okoror, Okouruwa, Oriaifo etc. To any Oko-, 'Ọm-' the suffix of the name can be added to arrive of the female version e.g. Ọmosun, Ọmuromi, etc.
BODIAYE How are you?
OFURE/ ODIAMENMEN It is well
EGBE DAEN? Are you ok?
BU WA KI LU What are you up to?
OKHIN BUE Good bye
OBO KHIAN Welcome
EA YE No
ME WA KHA I disagree
MUDIA FO Hold on!
KHAN MUN Go on!
DO O TUA Sit down!
KPA NO Get up!
NO WEH Sleep
Prof. Ambrose Folorunsho Alli, Esan man and Governor of Bendel State and the founder of Ambrose Alli University
The Esan people migrated from the Bini Kingdom in Nigeria. The word Esan is a Bini word meaning "they jumped away, or they have fled." The name became the accepted name of the group of people who escaped from the reign of Oba Ewuare of Benin in the middle of the 15th century. During the 15th century, the Oba Ewuare of Benin had two sons that both tragically died on the same day. Oba Ewuare then declared for mourning the death of his sons to the whole kingdom that there shall be no sexual intercourse in the kingdom; no washing, sweeping of the houses or compound, drumming or dancing; and making of fire in the land. Oba Ewuare insisted that these laws be strictly adhered to for a period of three years as a mark of respect for his dead sons.
According to Jacob Egharevba, author of A Short History of Benin, the Oba conquered 201 towns and villages but he had to use diplomacy for many of the other scattered towns and villages in the forest in order to bring them under Benin rule. Thus, Oba Ewuare invited Esan leaders or their representatives to Benin for a truce. He enticed them with the idea of having an attachment to Benin City and of their having the honour of being called "Onojie", which means king. The future of Esan rested on the Esan who went to Benin and took the title of Onojie. It was not an easy decision for the Esan leaders to decide whether or not to go. Many feared Oba Ewuare but also did not want more military attacks against them. To reduce their fears, Benin promised military support for the Onojie to enforce authority over insubordinate subjects (Eweka, 1992: pp. 83-84). Only three leaders actually went to Benin in person.
All three were apparently men who had nothing to fear from the Oba due to various reasons. The first was Ekpereijie, the son of Oba Ohen's daughter and a sister to Oba Ewuare. The sister had been given to the leader of Irrua. Ekperejie came without fear because relations must have been cordial between Irrua and Benin.
The second was Alan of Ewohimi, the son of Ikimi who had left Benin prior to the reign of Oba Ewuare and as such was not considered as one of those who fled the city by the Oba. The third was Ijiebomen who left Benin for Ekpoma after the Oba had granted him leave (Eweka, 1992: p.169, 174). In contrast to those mentioned above, chief Okhirare of Ohordua, , had especially offended the Oba and would not risk his neck, so he sent his heir Odua to Benin (Eweka, 1992: p. 272).
His brother and leader of Emu also sent his son rather than risk his life. Three other Esan leaders dispatched brothers as their representatives to the meeting in Benin. Ede felt he was only less than the Oba by degrees and as such refused to honor the call. He then sent his junior brother to listen to what the Oba had to say. The leader of Ubgoha also asked his junior brother to go on his behalf. The leader of Uromi sent his junior brother to find out what the Oba had to say. Ewuare concealed his anger at the impertinent leaders in Esan since he was a skilled diplomat.
During the meeting, he told the visitors how they had migrated from Benin. He enthroned the Benin court traditions in Esan. The Oba bestowed the title of Onojie on those that were present at the meeting. This historic moment happened in 1463. Instantly, the Oba made them rulers of their communities and subservient only to the Oba. Above all, this noble title was not transferable to father, brother, or master, and once an Onojie, always an Onojie until death (Okojie, 1960: p.37).
Where Oba Ewuare had enthroned a proxy as Onojie except in Ewohimi, Irrua and Ekpoma, strife and hatred followed as the new leaders began to assert authority and control over the elders. Thus, the Oba wielded the numerous villages into large political entities that hitherto became known as chiefdoms, loosely knitted villages, ruled by the Enijie.
Chief Anthony Enahoro, Esan man and great Nigerian nationalist who raised the motion for the independence of Nigeria, walking with Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana.
Esanland is on a plateau, surrounded by slopes down to the lower Niger river, the valley and wetland towards Etsako, the Kukuruku Hills and the plain around Benin city the state capital. The tableland though reddish-brown in colour, is a fertile land for farming, which is the main occupation of the Esan people. There is a dense thick forest, nutritionally rich in economic crops and herbal plants. However, it is suffering from bush burning, and wood felling for timber and as a major source of fuel (which is in high demand) for the increasing population of the Esan people.
By 1460, a viable agricultural economy was in existence in Esan with the development of indigenous crops native to the savannah – forest belt. The cultivation of the indigenous yam and
the utilization of the oil palm trees were complemented by the production of other crops including cotton, beans, pepper, melons and fluted pumpkin. The rearing of domestic animals was also practiced. These activities led to the expansion of communities in the area. An early agricultural development was crucial for the Esan people especially as it formed the basis for the future introduction of some American and Asian crops that diversified the agriculture of the people. Apart from providing food for the people, agriculture was an economic sector, which created gainful employment for all members of the society. Although in its foundation, agriculture was inward looking pre-occupied with the need to provide food for the people, for a long time families or individuals were able to produce more than was needed for home consumption and for manufacturing items of immediate utility. Being an agricultural area men, women, and children all members of the society were engaged in agricultural production. Enough food was produced to feed the population. Surplus production was traded away. Population grew. Turnover grew. Potentials increased. It was in this setting that cotton assumed the status of a significant crop in pre-colonial Esan.
For many centuries before 1900 when British agents colonized Esan, “Ishan cotton” an indigenous crop was used to manufacture Ukpon-Ododo the thick multi-coloured cloth. “Ishan cotton” (G. vitifolium) locally called olulu was of long, strong and coarse lint. By the 19th century it was
obvious that Esan had a long history of cultivation and use of cotton. However, Esan people did not export cotton to other areas, but instead exported large quantities of native cloths manufactured from indigenous cotton to many places including Benin and Agbor. Cloth weaving in Esan was an important pre-occupation by women in pre-colonial times. Esan cloth was an important commodity in the trade with neighbours.
Cotton products were exchanged for salt, iron tools, and beads. Apart from the lint, cottonseeds were edible. Women planted cotton in their husbands’ farm during the months of April and May. The dried wool was picked from the plants by January (Okojie, 1960, pp. 26-27). Women did the transformation of the wool into cloth. The varieties included ukpon-asiso specially woven as work cloth or sewn as the farmer’s bag, ukpon-agbo or the ordinary wrapper, ukpon-ododo or the multi-coloured cloth and ukpon-nogian – the scarlet cloth. While it is possible that the craft was
independently developed in view of the available raw materials in the forests, it is also possible that the knowledge came from people who migrated into the area long before the 15th century. In the process of weaving the native cloth, dried wool was picked from the plant and separated from the seeds with wooden tools known as Osomuro and ukpelomon. The wool was spun into threads after beating into some softness. The wool was thereafter drawn out and spun into threads that were later dyed with various colours of black, red and yellow. The vertical and horizontal handlooms locally called erindo were used to weave the threads into cloth. Both the ordinary (undyed) thread and the dyed ones were alternatively used to achieve specific artistry (Talbot, 1926, p. 94). Other sticks used as tools to process cotton included eben, aha, okidore and ikpifeme.
The most valued cloth for farm work was ukpon-asiso, thickly woven and coarse in texture.
The ukpon-agbo was woven with un-dyed threads. They were usually woven for womenwho tied them as wrappers before the advent of European textiles. The ukpon ododo or multicoloured
cloth was the popular Esan cloth, which attracted commercial status from European traders beginning with the Portuguese in Benin during the 15th century.
Esan people are communal in nature. This means that their hopes, aspirations and relationships
are perceived in communalistic terms. Following the above, land ownership in Esan has a
communal foundation. According to Okogie (1994), Land in Esanland was strictly communal and
held in trust by the Onogie (king) for his people. It could neither be sold nor bought. If there was a
dispute over a piece of land in the village, the Edion looked into it and effected a settlement. If
it was a dispute involving two villages, the onogie decided the matter.
In Esan land, there are places which are the exclusive preserve of the Onojie (chief or king). These places are strictly, commonly and “constitutionally” understood by everyone to belong to the Onogie in office. For instance, such places are the palace grounds and the market place. It is this understanding which warrants “main markets” in Esanland being named “after their Onogies”. For instance, there are markets prefixed after the Onogie such as Eki Ojieuronmun, Eki Ojieugbegun, Eki Ojieuobiaza, etc. Literarily translated, the above means the markets of Uronmun king, Ugbegun king and Ubiaza king respectively (Okogie, 1994).
Another important issue in land tenureship in Esanland is the question of the location of a building or house. The piece of land where a building is sited or located and the “cleaned” area around the building is a man’s possession. His children also have ownership claim to the building and the cleared portion around the house. What happened in a situation in which a man decides or relocates or live elsewhere outside his former abode? Strictly speaking, no one has the right to trespass the vacated piece of land and the building. The reason for this is that his former residence had become the man’s IJIE or ITEKEN or IJIOGBE (A man’s IJIE or ITEKEN or IJIOGBE, ITOLUWA or ICHUWA is where he lives and dies (it is his ancestral home). If the house had fallen down and the place had become bush, the old building site or ITOLUWA or ICHUWA was still his sacred possession (Okogie, 1994). On the other hand, if a man endorses or permits another person to build on his ITEKEN, he ceases to be the bonafide owner of the house and the land on which the house was built.
An important issue associated with ITEKEN is that it cannot be sold to a non-member of the
community or village. It would be considered adversarial or inimical to the community. This act
could put the sovereignty and integrity of the community in jeopardy. Admittedly, the implication
of a man’s inability to sell his ITEKEN to a stranger means the “ownership” of land was not absolute. Absolute ownership was vested in the elders of the community. In the case of Ijiogbe, the ancestral Ijie, the statutory owner was Ominijiogbe – the first surviving son of a deceased man.
The Ominjiogbe who is usually the first male child of a departed father is the automatic owner of the “ancestral Ijie” or Ijiogbe. The succession of inheritance or ownership of Ijie is authenticated
by the presence of a surviving first son of a dead man in a family. The first son of a man is the rightful owner of Ijiogbe after performing the necessary burial rites of his late father. In a situation in which a diseased man has no surviving son, his brother takes possession of the Ijiogbe.
Regarding the important issue of ownership of farm lands, Esan custom and tradition provided
adequate definition of the legal owner of such. In clearly defined terms, a farmland belongs to
whoever deforested and farmed on a piece of land. In this case, where a “hitherto”, “virgin” and unclaimed forest was cleared by a person, it becomes his possession. This law remains in force even in contemporary times. As Okogie (1994) has rightly noted:
The basic law over farmland was that HE
WHO FIRST FARMED A VIRGIN FOREST, A
LAND HITHERTO UNCLAIMED, OWNED IT.
That means that in Esan custom the first man to clear a forest, cut down the trees for the purpose
of farming, owned it OVER GENERATIONS. It is expressed as ONON GBE EGBO YAN EGBO (He who de-virgined a forest owned it).
Once this law has been established and recognized in Esan land, the piece of land “which now becomes a man’s property immediately becomes his family’s property. It passes from generation to another by virtue of the fact that every man passes it to his son”. When a man decides to become an absentee farmer or landlord over his acquired piece of land, no one can trespass or farm on the land left by the owner who remained domiciled elsewhere. If any man so desires to utilize the piece of land, permission must be sought from the authentic owner of the land. Once the permission is granted, the land must be vacated after the farming season by the borrower of the land. There is also an understanding that no permanent economic or commercial trees such as orange trees, palm trees, rubber trees etc, should be planted by a borrower of a farmland. This act or order mitigates against the ambitious, selfish and futuristic intention of the borrower possessing the land he borrowed.
Esan political structure is based on gerontocracy, which was a form of social organization in which a group of old men or a council of elders dominate decisions by exercising some form of control (Webster, 1990: p.514). In Esan, elders exercised a general control over the people. The laws that governed Esan communities were based on the customs and traditions of the people, which the elders were the main repositories of power (Okojie, 1960: p.76).
The belief and utmost confidence in the elder as the head was a natural inclination that began with
the family. The home Ukuwa was not an isolated unit but part of an extended family. Each home
consisted of a man, his wife/wives, children, junior brother, his yet unmarried sisters and any other persons within, either as a mother or servant provided he or she was within the circle. A combination of such homes represented the extended family. The head of the extended family unit was called Omijiogbe. As the junior brother’s own families and multiplied it so it was easy to see this man’s position as head of the family increase in importance (Okojie, 1960: p.50). Being the head he was the spokesman for the unit and was in charge of the ancestral shrine (David .O.
Umobuarie, 1976: p.45). The day-to-day administration of the family lay on the shoulders of the
head of family. He was in fact in a position to control not just the religious but the political activities of the family, thereby ensuring maximum security of all members. He was also regarded as the person at the helm of affairs and “the orbit around which all other things revolved” (Okojie, p.50). In the event of any disagreement in the family, he was seen as the arbiter and he reserved the right to punish any erring member. However, in the event of any conflict between members of the family a protective position for his family by soliciting for peace or asking for compensation was required. But in cases where it was difficult to arrive at a compromise with an out-going or out-group, the matter was then referred to the highest person in the gerontocratic ladder. This was the Odionwele or eldest of the elders.
The head of the family Omijiogbe also participated in the religious life of members of his lineage. For example, he was the go-between or the mediator through whom the members of the family appealed to their ancestors. Consequently it was his direct responsibility to control the family shrine, pray to the ancestors for peace and forgiveness of wrongdoing as well as for prosperity. It was to this end that the Esan people believe that the living descendants of the ancestors must as a matter of fact, pay due respect to the ancestors to prevent any form of disaster and attract to themselves some good fortunes or blessing (Ukhun, 1997: p.39).
Many lineages that were contiguous formed the Idumu or quarter. The leader of the eldest lineage was seen as the head or leader of the quarter. One important thing about this organisation was that members usually had a claim to common descent or blood relation hence inter-marriages were not allowed. Many Idumu or quarter usually came together to form the village. The most elderly of the elders by age was usually made to assume office as the Odionwele when the old Odionwele died.
The organisation of each village rested on the division of the male population into age sets namely Egbonughele (Sweepers) regarded as the youngest male members of the society. Igene (Scavengers) were the next in the age ladder while the Edion were made up of the eldest male in the society. Gerontocracy worked well in villages and not in the cities or urban centers with people of diverse interests or background. Usually the head of the village was the Odionwele who presided
over its affairs. The Odionwele was regarded as the pivot around whom all activities revolved. He
presided over all meetings and took decisions with his executives. The post of the Odionwele needs to be qualified because if a stranger settled in a village and became the eldest member he would still not be Odionwele. An Odionwele’s family members must have existed long enough in the village to lose all the identities of a stranger. The Odionwele with three most elderly Edion formed the most elderly four or the EDIONENE.
The Edion had messengers known as UKOEDION. It was the messenger’s sole responsibility to summon all the Edion in the village whenever there was an issue to be discussed. The choice of who became an UKO-EDION was essentially the prerogative of the Odionwele who considered
the quality, honesty, wisdom and out-spokenness of the individual. Usually, meetings which
concerned the well being of the community were held at the village square called, Okoughele. The
elders formed the village council that dealt with serious crimes of all sorts and they possessed
walking sticks called OKPO that were used for support whenever they walked from their homes.
Such walking sticks constituted the effigies that could be counted to have a glimpse of the number
of Odionwele that have lived Apart from the administrative function of the elders, they also arbitrated religious issues. For instance, the Odionwele was not the chief priest of the village but the custodian of the ancestral shrine. Every year before the new yam festival or at any other ceremony to the gods of the land he would pray to the ancestors on behalf of the village. The religious aspect of village life rested on both the chief priest and the Odionwele. In fact, he was the custodian of the village land which he held in trust for the living members of his village, the dead and the yet unborn. Before any new settler acquired land the Odionwele must give approval
Esan elder, Tom Ikimi
The Igene – grade was next to the Edion. They were usually not called for public duties unless such duties were beyond the competence of the lower grade. Like the elders, they held meetings form time to time to discuss issues of common importance. The military and physical defense of the village usually rested on the group. Its members headed such major works as house –building or roofing and were really the dare – devils of the village community. They were usually called upon when there was a serious matter like fire outbreak, burglary or theft. They also assisted in burying the dead and helped the junior age grades in the digging and clearing of ponds. The leader of the Igene age grade controlled the affairs of the Igene and effected discipline among its members. This was done through the imposition of fines Oko on any erring member of the group (Okojie, 1960: p.76).
Dr. Robert Okojie, Esan man and grandson of Ogbidi Okojie, the Onjoie of Uromi and the famous warrior Esan traditional ruler who resisted British rule. Dr Okojie who is one of "The Men Behind NASA Success Stories” is an Aerospace Technician in the sensors and Transducers area at Glenn, works with Fully Packaged Silicon Carbide Piezoresistive Pressure Transducer. These are used for pressure management in jet engines. Image Credit: NASA
The Egbonughele or street sweepers were the last in the age group. Their known jobs were mostly the sweeping of streets, clearing of marked places, farm paths, streams etc. The most common was the sweeping of the village square UGHELE that was usually done once in every 4 days. They were responsible for a major part of communal labour in the village and they only got help from the Igene when the task was too heavy for them alone. This was usually in a form of an appeal to the Edion who then requested the Igene for required assistance by the Egbonughele sweepers. The leader of the sweepers maintained discipline within the age grade and made sure all in the age-grade obeyed the rules and regulations of the group. As the head, he reserved the right to punish any member who violated the rules of the grade. Such offences included failure to participate in the sweeping of the village square on market days, fighting in the square, and failure date. Like the scavengers or age grade the punishment was usually in form of a fine that was either paid in cowries or by confiscating any possession of the offender in lieu of cash. Money or items so acquired was divided among members of grade in the order of seniority. The leader of the sweepers was expected to take the biggest share of any cash or any item collected at a time followed by the next three people in age known as Egbonughele - nene.
The expansion of Esan communities from villages into chiefdoms under Enijie did not negate the rule of the elders. The Odionwele continued to exercise his right to rule at the village level by virtue of him being the oldest member of the community. In the same way other male members of the community were potential successors to the stool of the Odionwele.The belief of the people about their elders being closer to the ancestors greatly aided the principles of gerontocracy to the extent that despite colonial rule it remained a pattern of governance at the village level even till today.
The belief in the ancestors enhanced the belief in the continuity of life after death and in the unbroken intercourse between the “living dead” and the living members of the family. As the living
father provides for and protects his children, so the departed father was expected to continue with
a greater spirit in the world beyond. This means that in reality; the survivors are never cut off from
protection and guidance of their deceased relations who have trodden the path of life which the living now tread. Ancestors have their feet planted in both the world of the living and that of the spirits. They therefore know more than the living and are consequently accorded great respect for that (Bolaji Idowu, 1973: p.179). Also, as the deceased possessed powers of omniscience, to influence, help or molest the living, ancestors represented an order of intermediaries who related prayers to God (Smith, 1950: p.10). Pronouncements by elders were regarded as law. The belief in the wrath of the ancestors, and the elders who follow them as the most senior members of the living enhanced the tenacity of gerontocracy in Esan. Elders were experienced through age and knowledge over time. This belief is strongly rooted in the popular saying that “what an old man sees while sitting down, a young man can not see even while standing”(Okoduwa, 2003).
Over time, the practice of gerontocracy remains tenable to the structure of a changing society. For example, with the development of a political super structure following the establishment of the rule of the Onojie over loosely knitted villages, the rule of elders remained as bedrock of administration in the villages. The Onojie as the ruler of the corporate entity derived his position by right of being the first son in the royal lineage. He enhanced or reduced his acceptance and popularity by his sensitivity of conscience, greed or avarice. On the other hand the Odionwele acquired his position by being the eldest male in his village.
Pa Peter Enahoro, Esan man
In the case of military organization in Esanland, there was no standing army; rather, it was an ad hoc arrangement. The emergence of an army was provoked by imminent challenges, which were responded to spontaneously. For us to appreciate this nature of military arraignment, we should first of all understand ancient Esan traditional political structure, which was (is still) patterned along several age groups (Otu), and three of them are the Edion, Igene, and Egbonughele .
The Edion group is made up of men from their mid-fifties in age and experience, and the group constitutes both the executive, legislative and judicial arm of the community. The Igene is for adults between the ages of 25-50 years, and this group is in change of the village works department, maintenance of internal security and defense of the community from external aggression. The Egbonughele is for adolescent between 12 and 25 years saddled with the duty of maintaining environmental sanitation in the community.
Given our understanding of Esan political structure, it is therefore easy to identify that members of the military wing would be recruited from the Otu-Igene. Being a member of the Igene was not an automatic license to be invited into the ad hoc military in time of conflicts. Rather, amongst the Igene, the bravest among them called the Okulokhimioto were the fortunate ones to be enlisted into the army.13 This infantry was led in war time by the Okakulo or war commander after he had made sure that all necessary weapons of war were assembled at a specific meeting place.
The Okulokhimioto would be taking to a sacred forest in a chosen village to be properly drilled on military discipline and the art of warfare. The duration of training was determined by the urgency of war. But, in a situation when the military had to respond spontaneously to war challenges, members of the Igene would be hurriedly summoned to curtail or arrest the situation in the interim, pending when the Okulokhimioto would be ready. The Igene was able to hold brief, because of the Para-military training new entrance into the group was made to undergo.
Some of the weapons of war used in time past in Esanland were "poisoned arrows, metal weapons, akin to heavy machetes, cross-bows and cudgets.“ …and "the Okede-the twin talking drum of native doctors and medicine men, both of which many warriors were” in Esanland. Others, which were considered very important, even in contemporary Africa, was the traditional fortification against the effect of gun short, machete and poisoned arrows by way of "armlets, charms, and antidotes" given to the soldiers by the Edion. It is important to credit the Uneme ironsmiths who provided most of the weapons of war not only in Esanland, but the whole of the Edoied. Interestingly, some of these weapons of war in Esanland were not different from those used by soldiers in Medieval Europe, such as axes, pikes, lances, two-edged swords, arrows and mounted warriors.
ESAN PEOPLE TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE CEREMONY.
Two major types of marriage exist in Esan Land: Monogamy, A marriage of one man to one woman, and Polygamy, A marriage of one man to two or more wives. Traditional marriage is usually an arrangement between two families as opposed to an arrangement between two individuals. Accordingly, there is pressure on the bride and bridegroom to make the marriage work as any problem will usually affect both families and strain the otherwise cordial relationship between them. The man usually pays the dowry or bride-price and is thus considered the head of the family. Adultery is acceptable for men, but forbidden for women. Marriage ceremonies vary among Esan Clans.
Before Now, girls were generally regarded as ready for marriage between the ages of 15 through 18. Courtship can begin among the individuals during the trip to the river to fetch water or during the moonlight play.
Sometimes parents actually go looking for a wife or husband for their children. This led to the BETROTHAL SYSTEM where marriage were conducted with or without the consent of the individuals involved. Sometimes such betrothal, took place when a baby girl was born. Suitors would begin to approach the parents by sending a log of wood or bundle of yam to the parents of the child. You are likely to hear statements such as -" Imu' Ikerhan Vboto"-I have dropped a log of firewood. When a boy decides to get married and the parents have accepted the bride as a prospective daughter-in-law, messages go up and down between the two families.
Series of investigations are conducted by both families - about disease, scandals and crimes which may affect the families.
The term of the marriage which of course may include the DOWRY would be settled in some families. Gifts for mother of the bride and members of the extended family would be part of the settlement. Then a date would be set for the ceremony which would take place in the home of the woman's family. This was called IWANIEN OMO in the old days the go-between for the two families must be somebody well known by both families. There would of course be a lot of merriment on the day of marriage when the bride and the bridegroom are presented openly to the two families.
Kola nuts and wine are presented. The head of the woman's family would normally preside over the ceremony. Prayers are said and kola nuts broken at the family shrine. Rituals vary from family to family. The woman always sits on her father's lap before she is given away. Amidst prayers, laughter and sometimes tears, the woman would be carefully hoisted on the lap of the head of the bride's family.
Many years ago, the woman would be sent to the bridegroom house about thirteen days after IWANIEN OMO and gingerly hoisted either on her husband's lap or the head of his family. They are done immediately nowadays in the home of the bridegroom. The bride, now known as OVBIAHA would be led by her relatives to the husband's house with all her property, meanwhile the family and friends of the bridegroom are feasting, drinking, singing and dancing while waiting for the bride to arrive.
As the family and friends of the bridegroom awaits the OVBIAHA, messages will arrive suggesting that there are barriers on the road. The bridegroom has to remove the barriers by sending money to the party, bringing the wife to him or else the wife will not arrive. As they approach the house of the bridegroom, you can hear the echo of “Bride! Be proud/ the Bride is proud." Arrival at the bridegroom's house is immediately followed by the ceremony of IKPOBO-OVBIAHA-washing of the bride's hands. A bowl of water with money in it would be brought out. A woman in the groom's family, sometimes senior wife would bring out a new head tie, wash the hand of the Ovbiaha in the bowl and dries her hand with the head tie.
Both the new headtie and the money in the bowl belong to the bride.
A few days later, the bride would be taken to the family altar and prayers are said for her. She undergoes what is called the IGBIKHIAVBO ceremony-beating of OKRO on the flat mortar. This would be followed by a visit by the bride's mother-in-law and other female members of the family to the newlywed, if they are not living in the same house. She would demand the bed spread on which they both slept when they had their "first sexual relationship" after the wedding and if the bed-spread was stained with blood, the bride was regarded as a virgin and as such she would be given many presents including money. If it is proven that she was not a virgin, then the preparation for the ceremony of IVIHEN-OATH TAKING ceremony would be set in motion. First, she has to confess to the older women, the "other men" in her life before she got married. The husband would never be told any of her confessions, then, she would be summoned to the family shrine early in the morning , without warning to take an oath of FIDELITY, FAITHFULNESS, TRUSTWORTHINESS, HONESTY ETC, to her husband and family. This ceremony is the equivalent of the oath people take in the church, mosque or marriage registry.
Once the oath taking ceremony is over, she would be fully accepted back into the family and immediately becomes married not only to her husband but to the family and sometimes to the community.
Christianity, Islam and Westernization of today have weakened the ESAN traditional system of marriage. The traditional ceremony is sometimes done the same day with many of the rituals avoided in the name of Christianity or Islam and many women would rather die than take the oath we described above. It was the oath that kept ESAN women out of prostitution for many years; thus making the ESAN women in general to be regarded as very faithful, trustworthy, honest with strong fidelity to their husbands making neighboring tribes want them as wives. It also made divorce on the ground of adultery, less common in those days.
Esan Belief in supreme God is captured in these words "Iyayi" which means “I believe” or “faith in God”, (Iyayi Osenebra). It is often abbreviated as Ose. God is also described as "Ofuekenede" (merciful God), "Okakaludo" (stronger than stone), "Obonosuobo" (the great physician), etc
Osenebra is a supernatural source. As the Supreme Being, Osenebra is the ultimate controlling principle of the universe. Since the foundation of the world God has foreordained whatever will be. At birth the individual has his ehi (guardian angel) who guides him. He is teleguided by his ehi in accordance with his fashioned destiny by God.
Awolalu and Dopamu, when writing on the concept of destiny among the Edos hold that it is the ehi that chooses or declares man’s destiny, and that offering must be given to him from time to time to attract favour from him. They also hold that the ehi can apply to God to take its client so that the ehi can go back to his Maker. (Awolalu and Dopamu 165-166). These do not correctly depict the Esan account. It is not the ehi that chooses or declares destiny. The ehi does not even implement but only monitors what God (Osenobulua/Osenebra) legislates or decrees and takes feedback and petitions to God. If offering is given to the ehi to attract favour, it means therefore he has dissented from the role assigned him by God to taking bribe, which means therefore that even the angels can take bride. On the contrary, the ehis do only what is proper to their nature. The ehi is subordinative and will-less, uninfluenced and impartial, objective, and an observer and messenger. They do not need any material thing. And as such they are not deficient in any material thing. They are pure spirit. If offerings and sacrifices are made, they are not for the consumptions of ehis (angels) but for either malevolent spirits that can yield to or accept sacrifices in negotiation or to the gods/deities for appeal or appreciation. For the ehi to apply to God to take its client is to say it is not only willful but also in negotiation with God for self interest. This will make the ehi a malevolent being because he desires the termination of a life which is his prerogative to guide and defend.
Evil forces: This is also a supernatural source. Evil forces can efficaciously alter, swap or over-turn a favourable destiny through power from elimin ebe (devil). The implacable, sadistic agents can wrought their evil machination through witchcraft, magic, and other diabolic and malevolent channels. If a misfortune incessantly attends to an individual or people, the Esans often say ebalulu non, that is, it is what was done, hence the name ebalulu (what was done) among the Esans. To rescue an individual from these forces, appeal, dialogue and supplication are not very potent; confrontation is more efficacious. Confrontation is preferred because, it is believed among the people that evil forces hardly yield to other methods because they are inherently evil. One can thus commune with higher forces who, through confrontation with or by causing the death of the evil agents put an end to such evil powers and the attendant unfavourable destiny. For example, an individual that is rescued from a revolving circle of birth, premature death and rebirth is named Asiazobor. This means ‘let’s, leave him now’, a depiction of belief in destiny.
All Esan men and women possessed the loin cloth. For example an average Esan man had a loin cloth for ordinary wear and three pieces sewn together known as igbu or male coverlet. This would give a total of four pieces on the minimum of loin cloth needed by every male. The woman also needed at least two wrappers of two loin cloths sewn together as one. A European visitor James Welsh who visited the area in 1588 observed that wrappers were tied by women above their breasts
to cover them up to their knees (Hodgkin, 1960, p.144). Thus, the woman needed an average of
four pieces of loin cloth at any given period.
Esan man in traditional dress
'ORIA'-MAN IN ESAN ONTOLOGY
Valentine Ehichioya Obinyan, Ph.D
Faculty of Art, Department of philosophy, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka Nigeria.
Man is a very complex being and he is mysterious as the earth he lives in, he is created by God. Making reference to the definition of man as a: "Human nature, the human race, the mass of human beings collectively, man like, having the appearance of qualities of human being", there is no
distinction between male and female from the Esan perspective where 'Oria' is man and this refers directly to the generality of human species both 'man' and 'woman' but this would not mean they singularly lack a naming in Esan language. Man, in Esan ontology, is 'Oria '¹. For the Esan
people, 'Oria ' refers to both male and female. But categorically, an Esan male, is called '0kpia' while a female is called "Okhuo". For the sake of relevance to Esan linguistic analysis, let us mention other few but delicate points about the Esan people such as; 'Owanle' which refers to elders.
From the analysis of time and eschatology, it is crystalized that the Esan world-view like most other Africans such as the Akan, Ashanti, Edo, Igbo, Yoruba, Effic, Afemai, Urhobo e.t.c, encapsulates a broad and exhaustive idea of the concept of life and time and this has a great influence and effect on the people in their thought and behavioral patterns or approach to the fundamentals of reality². This forms the background for their dynamic and dual view of 'Oria'- man as a being belonging to two different worlds; the here and now- 'Enabiuwana ' and the hereafter- 'Enabiazebue'.
THE ORIGIN, NATURE AND COMPOSITE ELEMENTS OF 'ORIA' -MAN IN ESAN ONTOLOGY
According to Battista Mondin, (1991) man is a kind of prodigy that combines within himself apparent antithesis; he is a fallen or unrealizable divinity, an unsuccessful absolute value or empty absolutization, an infinite or unreachable possibility. For this reason, I think that it would not be wrong to define man as an impossible possibility.
Man in Esan ontology is ‘Oria no ri wi usuagbon‘ or ‘Oria no ri wi agbelo‘- a communal being with-others; and he is created by the Supreme Being. In Esan ontology, he is considered as next to the Supreme Being since he is at the central point of everything in nature. Hence the Esan beliefs that everything in the universe was created for him. For the Esan, man is very complex being and he is as mysterious as the universe in fact, for them, man is a ‘being-with’. However, from where, comes such a wholesome conviction? One may ask. But digesting the Esan accounts on the origin of man, answers to such question will not be farfetched.
THE ORIGIN OF MAN IN ESAN ONTOLOGY
Many scholars have argued that the cosmological account of the universe among the Esan/Edo draws significantly from the Egyptian one⁵ given that the emphasis there in are closely related to the Egyptian version, which later formed the basis of Genesis in the Bible, is that the universe was created from chaos and primeval (or ancient) ocean. After a hill (called ta-tjenen} arose from the bottom of the ocean and a son-god (God's child or baby god) called Atom, (which is the Sun without which life on earth is impossible) appeared on the land created by the hill. This son-God or Atom further authored the creation of eight other gods, which together with himself made nine gods presumed by modem science to symbolize the nine major planets of the universe.
The Edo version is that, in the beginning, Osanobua (Oghene- Osa, Tu-SoS, the Supreme Being) decided to populate the world so He asked His four sons in "Erinmwin " (Heaven) to choose whatever gift of nature each fancied. The oldest chose wealth, the next in age chose wisdom, the third chose (spiritual energy) and as the youngest was about to announce his choice, "Owonwon " (the Toucan ) cried out to him to settle for a snail shell. This did not make sense to him but he settled for it all the same. The other brothers laughed at his choice as it seem stupid but for "Osanobua" this was a wise choice and that when they get to the middle of the water where He was sending them, the youngest son should turn his snail shell facing the water. This is made clear in the words of Osahon (2011) when he noted that:
There was no land only water everywhere and the
four sons were in a canoe, sailing, drifting, propelled
by the power of eziza (wind.) In the middle of the
water stood a tree on top of which lived (Owonwon)
the Toucan. The importance of the emergence of the
tree before man on earth is not lost on modern
science, which recognizes that without the tree
manufacturing oxygen,- life on earth would have
been impossible. Modern science has also confirmed
the Edo cosmology that birds, insects etc, preceded
man to earth. The Edo myth of creation was earth
based in scope."
On reaching the middle of the water, the youngest son turned his snail shell upside down and the result was an explosion from underneath the water which forced sporadic eruption of volumes and volumes of sand filling up the space around them for as far as their eyes could see. Worthy of note is that this eruption occasioned the four elements of creation, "amen" (water) "eziza" (air) "arhen" (fire) and "oto" (sand or land) which is popularly made reference to by the Ionian philosophers, influenced by their contact with Egyptian thought in the Delphic school of philosophy in Egypt.
Consequently, the water range was covered with Land but since the four sons had no knowledge of what this mystifying and unusual embodiment was, they scarcely conceived of stepping out of the canoe or on the land, so they sent the Chameleon to test this content, its quality and firmness. This is why in the Esan belief, the Chameleon walks with hesitation and this verification gave the four sons a conviction that the facet over the water was safe to trend on. But unfortunately, it was the youngest sons who alone had the capacity at this time to walk on the land. The reason for this is affirmed further by Osahon when he posited that:
"The youngest son of "Osanobua" was the only spirit
out of the four sons who could have the physical
human body attribute on stepping on the land,
because that was the advantage of the physical or
material choice he made. It was put in his hand from
heaven. The other sons were deities. The youngest
son, the ruler of the earth, represents innocence and
so is susceptible to the powers of the deities, his
brothers. These same weak and strong, good and evil,
hysical and spiritual, influences form the basic
elements of all modern religions, with man endowed
with the power to make choices."
From the aforementioned, it is purportable that all brothers took to different parts and according to their nature, posited themselves in the various elements of the earth. Hence the oldest brother chose to take his spirit gift and live in what was left of the water while the other two brothers accepted and deposited their spirit selves and gifts on the land. The youngest soon stepped on the land carefully at first, discovering its firmness, and uniqueness, he enthusiastically, stamped hard
repeatedly on it, and what followed dramatically, was running and rolling over it. Then with all sense of joy and satisfaction, he stopped, looked around and felt good and happy with his enormous gift. He called his land 'Agbon' (earth) and himself, 'Idu', meaning the first human on earth. He decided to walk around and explore the extent and nature of his gift. To his greatest surprise, there where trees, shrubs, birds, animals, insects, all over the land they all came out of water with the land, and the land spread out endlessly. After walking for a while pushing through shrubs; almost stepping on insects, ants and crawlers; talking to birds that appeared to be serenading him and animals that came close or ran from him, he was tired. He sat on the stump of a tree to rest, later lying on the ground, he fell into a deep asleep.
According to Osahon (2011), While asleep, 'Osanobua ' came down with a chain from heaven, looked around to ensure that everything was in place, including the Sun and the Moon that were to regulate day and night and the seasons. When 'Idu' woke up, he was excited to find himself in the presence of a huge, soothing illumination, surrounded by darkness. The earth was dark. He knew he was in the presence of the "Osanobua " and avoided any direct contact at the bright lightened figure. 'Idu' went down humbly and quickly on his knees to thank Him for the immense earth gift bestowed on him and ask his hunger could be satisfied. This he told 'Osanobua' humbly who then asked him to stretch his hand up above his head and the sky would respond by coming close to his hand so he could pluck whatever he needs from the sky but warned him not to pluck more than needed to satisfy his hunger at a time. Responding positively to this rule, 'Idu ' stretched his right hand as told and plucked a mouthful of food from the sky and munched away with deep sense of joy and satisfaction.
“What else do you need?”"Osanobua"askedIdu. Whoreplied, 'I -could do with a human companion’? He continued ‘I am lonely. My brothers are spirits and I can no longer relate with them’. But 'Osanobua'told him in reply, 'you are not flesh and blood alone. You are part spirit too. Your spirit brothers are not far away. Experience would teach-you how to harness wisdom, one of your spirit brothers, who would teach you how to combine your physical and spiritual energies to cultivate wealth and spiritual fulfillment, your other two spirit brothers.' This is why for the Esan people;
"'Osanobua' gave the oldest son control of the waters. The Edo calls this
son, 'Olokun' (meaning the god of the waters.) 'Olokun' represents aspects
of life such as good health, long life, good luck, prosperity and happiness,
to which man may appeal through ritual purity. The other
spirit sons were allowed the freedom to use their magical powers to balance
out the negative and positive forces of nature. To shorten the process of
acquiring spiritual wisdom, 'Osanobua' strengthened the Mystical energy
with three new forces:'Oguega', 'Ominigbon' and 'Iha',
to provide humans with spiritual guidance to differentiate rights from wrongs."
Base on the above request,'Osanobua'asked'Idu'to take sand with both palms from the ground and stretch them close together in front of him. Following this, 'Osanobua' pointed His staff in front
of 'Idu’ at once, a female person came forth. 'Idu’was filled with surprise and joy on beholding the beautiful female person in front of him. She smiled happily and fell prostrate in worship before 'Osanobua' and ‘Idu’ afterwards. 'Idu' held her hands in response and gave her a warm embrace. The woman 'Osanobua' called ‘Okhuo' (a woman) and ‘Idu’ He called'Okpia', (a man.). According to the Esan ontological analysis, they where placed at the center of the earth and together they multiplied in number, giving meaning to earth's resources from their point of view. As ‘Osanobua’ was about to leave, ‘Idu’ politely asked: ‘what if we have other problems and want to reach our
creator quickly?’ ‘Osanobua’ said, ‘you can individually live for up to five hundred years, but you can come to me at will through your individual spirit self, ‘ehi’,whose double, is permanently with
me in heaven. All you would need to do is climb the ‘Alubode’ hill and you are with ‘ehi’ in heaven, who would bring you to me’. As ‘Osanobua’ left to his abode where the earth, water, and the sky meet, darkness was lifted from the earth. According to Osahon (2011);
"Life was sweet and easy and before long, 'Idu' and his wife,
Eteghohi, were making babies. As the years rolled by,
generations of extended 'Idu's family began to spread out in
all directions, setting up communities, villages and towns.
The different communities farthest from base spoke
variations of 'Idu' language and knew that they came from
one common ancestor, Papa 'Idu', the ancestor of all
Everything went well for thousands of years until one day when Emose, a pregnant woman, out of greed, cut more food than she needed to eat at once, from the sky. There was an immediate explosion and the sky began receding from human reach. To this effect, direct interaction with 'Osanobua'- the Supreme Being from then on, became difficult as humans could no longer walk in and out of heaven at will. Emose's greed destroyed .the age of innocence and brought into humanity, two new spirits, 'Esun' and ' Idodo' who represented various obstacles humans must now overcome to reach heaven. 'Idodo' is the spirit who ensures that natural or divine laws are obeyed. 'Idodo' seeks to ensure we repent and atone for our offenses.
Esun' is the 'servant’ spirit or angel that takes genuine human pleas, performed in the purity of heart, before the throne of Osanobua'- Supreme Being. According to the Esan believe thus; "Emose's greed also brought a lot of suffering and pains
to humans. Forests were soon depleted of their natural
food supply, so humans began to toil hard
clearing forests, burning bushes, tilling the land,
planting, weeding, nurturing, threshing and
harvesting. It was not easy. Before long, the lazy
began to die like fowls in the desert. Farming activities
began to take their toll on the ecological balance of the
earth too, causing droughts, unpredictable seasons,
and environmental degradation. The soil began to
suffer and die from overuse, yielding less and less food
despite the use of excrement as manure, which in turn
caused its peculiar illness, pains and deaths."
Two new spiritual forces of nature were now evident and critical to human survival. They were ‘Uwu’ (death) the symbol of death, and 'Ogi'uwu' (the spirit of death) representing mourning, evil omen, and diseases. 'Ogi'uwu' owns the blood of all living things. 'Uwu' and Ogi'uwu were causing havoc among humans. Humans who could live for ‘ukpo iyisen-'iyisen vbiyisen'- five hundred years at a stretch, were now dying prematurely. Death was ready to take life at any time, and
Ogi-irwu was sending everyone who disobeyed 'Osanobua' (or nodiyi-Osa) to death, regardless of age.
To convince Idodo to prevail on 'Uwu' and 'Ogi’-uwu' to temper justice with mercy and get 'Esun' to take our pleas to 'Osanobua' to control the forces, required the services of our own individual spirit called 'ehi' personal angel or guardian angel. At the time of this weakness, 'Ehi' could no longer go directly to 'Osanobua ' because of 'Emose's sin, except at the point before our birth as I have discussed elsewhere. There are two aspects of man: One half is 'ehi ' which is the spirit essence, and the other half is the okpa, which is the physical person. Before birth, 'ehi’ (the spirit essence) of the individual humbly goes before 'Osanobua ' to request endorsement of the kind of life the individual would wish to live on earth (Agbon.). Hence for the Esan people as found in our discussions on Man as a ‘being-with’ in Esan ontology.
It is worthy of note that:
The request is obviously made with a baby's sense of
innocence about rights and wrongs, and the weight of
the karmic debt and credit baggage of the individual
from previous life cycles and styles. However, the
choice of the new life style is patently and entirely the
individual's, and could be any of one or a combination
of scenarios. The individual may want to be a powerful
spiritualist, a rich business man or farmer, a great
warrior or soldier, a happy or unhappy family, man, a
wimp or beggar, a revered medicine man, a famous
chief, politician, or popular king, and even a notorious
or very successful thief."
The request process is called 'hi' and leads to Osanobua stamping his sacred staff on the floor to seal the wish. The approved secret wish is only known to 'ehi ', who is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that his second half, 'okpa ', (the physical human self) keeps to the promises made before 'Osanobua '. 'Ehi ' is the spiritual counterpart of 'okpa' in heaven. Half of 'ehi ' comes with 'okpa ' to earth to ensure permanent link with 'ehi ' in heaven. That half is called 'orhion '. This is why for the Esan people, when okpa dies, orhion stays close to okpa until okpa is properly buried and all rites are completed. Orhion, cleansed of sins, returns to heaven to be one
with ‘Ehi’ and ‘Okpa’may come back seven times each, making a total of fourteen times in all. This in Esan eschatology is what is known as ‘Iroso’ –reincarnation. Each return that is, ‘Iroso’-
provides the opportunity to atone for the sins committed in previous life times. When cleansing is complete, ‘ehi’ takes its proper place in ‘Eguae Osanobua vbd rintnwin (heavenly paradise).
THE NATURE OF MAN-'ORIA' IN ESAN ONTOLOGY
From the above analysis, we can deduce that the question of the human person is no doubt a predominant problem for the Esan just as it is for other traditions in Africa and the world. Being challenged by the confronting realities of its nature, the Esan have also like other philosophems asked; the 'why', the 'where', the 'how' and the 'what' of his existence. What is the origin of man? What is he made of? What is his destiny? And how does he attain his immediate aspirations? But the communal sharing inherent in the Esan community life, which agrees with the views of other scholars on man especially in Western and Africa philosophy, namely that he is a communal being, has fundamentally form the nexus of their ontological analysis of the human person as 'Oria no ri
wi usuagbon ' or 'Oria no ri wi agbelo’ i.e, ‘a being-with- others’; a community structured being.
To reminiscence our earlier point for the sake of emphasis, 'Oria' as a 'being-with' in Esan ontology, is not a substance that is rational and abstractly cut off from human and communal links, isolated and alone in an island of his own world according to Ireogbu. (2000a), ‘kpim’ of personality:
Treatise on the human person, Respect, Solidarity, Liberty’, and in his 'Metaphysics: 'Kpim' of Philosophy’ (1995). But 'Oria' is the human being born into a human community from which he derives not only existence, but also value and identity, goals and capacities to realize himself in communion withothers. 'Oria' is a 'being-with-others' who are also human beings as he is, even though unique in colour, religion, culture, blood or tongue. He is the concrete existing being with other humans but with the single and primary project of communal flourishing in respect, solidarity and liberty¹⁴. Man in Esan ontology, possess a nature of unlimited complexity; he is a composite being of both the physical and spiritual realities as we can deduce from the philosophical chronicle of his origin in the above. This no doubt accounts for the wholesome conviction of the Esan people that 'Oria' is a 'being-with'. These composite realities affirms his position as the mediator between the 'Agbon si ebiwedaghe bi Agbon si ebiwewadaghe'- ‘the world of the seen and the world of the unseen’ or better put the world of the living and the dead. Let us examine closely the composite elements of 'Oria'-man in Esan ontology.
THE COMPOSITE ELEMENTS OF 'ORIA'-MAN IN ESAN ONTOLOGY
With an Esan ontological periscope, let us investigate into, these constituent elements forming 'Oria'- Man in Esan Ontology so as to penetrate and concretely present in exact manner, the truth of the concept of man in Esan ontology and the reason behind their concept of man as a 'being-with'. The essential and holistic fact forming the concept of the human person in the Esan thought as presented in this part of our study, is the composite constituent elements, and the interactive
nature of this physical and spiritual elements that is, body and soul, or, the external and the internal elements. By external interaction, we mean the communication between the individual and some external realities, man inclusive which in the long run determines and defines his or her person. While internal interaction refers to that communication which can .rather be between the constitutive elements within the individual or interaction between the individual and some invisible being.
For the sake of emphasis, man in Esan ontology is composed of both physical and spiritual elements. The physical parts is tangible, it has form and can be measured. The immaterial and
spiritual part is intangible and cannot be measured. The Esan word 'Oria' means ‘human person’ or ‘man’ which embraces both the spiritual and the physical parts. The physical is called 'Egbe'- Body while the spiritual is called 'Orion'- Soul. According to John Onimahwo's (2000) notion of ‘Oya’ (man) in his; ‘The Etsanko Traditional Concept of Man’, ‘Oria’¹⁵ takes on another connotation when used to refer or signify a ‘man of good character’, a ‘hero’ and a ‘man of balance moral and emotional personality’.
THE PHYSICAL ELEMENTS OF 'ORIA' -MAN ('EGBE'-THE BODY)
As already indicated, the body in Esan language, is called ‘Egbe’. This is made up of tangible parts comprising of: The head-‘Uhonmbon’, the Eyes-'Elolo', Nose- ‘Ibue’, Ear-‘Eho’ Tongue- ‘Olamben’ and Skin- ‘Efun Egbe’, enable the individual to communicate with the external world. Among the body also are: the Heart-‘Udu’, Blood-‘Aralen or Esagien’, Stomach- ‘Ekae’, Interstine –‘Ibie’, Hand-'Obo', andFeet- ‘oe’ e.t.c. The head- ‘Uhonmbon’ generally, is believed to be the most vital part of the Body-‘Egbe’ because on it depend the existence of the other physical parts. The head is the center of co-ordination and the place from where the functioning of the body ‘Egbe’ is controlled. Peter Ali (2011) puts this point better when he says that:
It symbolizes the personality of man [Oria]. It is in the
head ['Egbe'] we have the brain alled 'Erhere', which
controls the man, then the Eyes- 'Elolo'. We [the Esan]
believe that without the brain and the eyes, one
becomes a beast. The special gift of man will no longer
be there. It is the brain that really makes man what he
According to the Esan people, the interplay between these elements is responsible for the physical fitness and practical activities of the individual, the brain (Arere) is the compartment where all experience both within the individual and those external to him are controlled and interpreted. The
Esan people attribute the ability of the brain (Arere) to the psychic power. The psychic power like the physical power or energy is not the product of free interplay between, the various organs and systems of the body anatomy. By this description the psychic energy amongst the Esan people is the metaphysical postulation brought in to explain the behaviors and experience of the entire human person as a complex being. In fact, his personality. Consequently therefore, from, all indication, the head is an integral part of what makes up the essence of the being of man-‘Oria’. It forms the quiddity of one's personality. This we shall throw more light in our analysis of the spiritual
components of ‘Oria’- man and immortality. But let us note that this explains why the Esan people at birth, holds the head in high esteem. Hence at the delivery of a child in Esan believe, the first to come out is the head. We believe it implies a bad omen should the feet come out first. But at any rate, should this happen the child is named 'Idemudia' which means “fall standing”.
The heart- ‘Udu’, is another vital part amongst the physical elements of 'Oria'. Among the Esan people, the heart is sacrosanctly protected. The Esan also see the heart as the citadel of life, infact it "is the seat of the vital force of man". Hence for them "Udu etin fia, Uu Vae" meaning: 'when the heart is gone, death comes'.The blood- 'Aralen' or 'Esagien' for the Esan people is the vital element that keeps life. The Esan believe that the blood is sacred this is why it is always sad for all when blood is spilled either through war or accident. Thus to say ‘Aralen fua’, raises fear as it symbolizes a bad event or a dangerous state of another man as his vital force is threatened. This is the reason
Ali's (2011) notion of the Esan concept of blood is of great significance when he postulated that:
Blood is the source through which the manifestation of
the essence of being, life, is transmitted to every part
of the organism. Once the vital force ceases to
vibrate in man, the functioning of the blood will come
to a standstill and man's life will terminate."
To a large extent, reflecting on the nature of'Esagien' or 'Aralen'-blood, the Esan asks certain questions such as; from where does blood come to the heart, from where does it flow to the heart to pump for beings continuity? Where does the blood go when the body lies lifeless? The result of such reflection is the Esan believe that blood is sacred. The Esan believe that in the blood lies a mysterious power. They believe it is life. This belief springs from their observation that there is a bounding, a truly mysterious relationship between God and the blood of man. In fact, from all reasonable doubt, the Esan believe that the physical body outlines a unity and all its components are
equally important because they play different essential roles in the coordination of the body in the living process of man. J. O. Awolalu's (1972) expression is true of a reason the Esan attaché importance to these bodily parts when he posited that:
Africans attach importance to other appurtenances or
even certain matters which come off the body.
Therefore clipping of a pulled off hair, pairing of
nails spittle, umbilical cord, excetera, and urine are not
left carelessly about. The same is true of anything that
has been in intimate contact with the body. Washing
water, chewing stick, sleeping mats, shoes, foot print."
The reason behind such attachment to certain items as succinctly expressed by John Onimhawo (2000), is no doubt also true of the Esan. For him, meticulous attention must be given to these items due to the singular fact that:
...even one's clothes are zealously guarded because the
piece of one's cloth can use to cause harm to the
owner of the cloth. It is interesting to note too that
even at death, the water with which a person was
bathed has to be properly disposed of so that
magician and sorcerers might not have access to it and
use it for evil purposes. It is claimed also that piece of
cloth used in tying the mouth of the corpse could be
use by charm makers for evil ends if not properly
THE SPIRITUAL ELEMENTS OF ‘ORIA'- MAN 'ORION' ('AHU'- THE SOUL) AND ('OKHOE' -THE SPIRIT)
‘Oria’ for the Esan people, mean more than flesh and blood. Our point of departure in this Esan analysis of 'Oria' is on the spiritual elements and its interaction (interaction between individual and some invisible being). Thus we can describe the soul- 'Orion' within the context of the Esan conception, as the invisible manifestation of the individual, which both the individual in question and those around him attempt to interpret with their unitary mind set in form of selfconsciousness
and identification. In the following we shall discuss these basic spiritual elements accordingly.
It is appropriate to recall at this juncture that the linguistic difference that are observable among the various communities also come to bear on the name given to the soul as it is called 'Orion' or 'Ahu' respectively. 'Orion' the soul, is the act that actualizes the potency of 'Egbe '-the body. In this light, the Esan people attribute greater power and superiority to 'Orion'-the soul over 'Egbe'- the body. The superlative description of ‘Orion’ -the soul by the Esan people is not only because of its complex function but because it is also an immaterial, invisible and abstract element that cannot be comprehended by the human mind. Although the Esan people acknowledge the complementarity of ‘Orion bi Egbe’ (body and soul), there is more on the primacy of ‘0rion’-the soul which is believed
among the Esan people to have existed before inhabiting 'Egbe no oria '-the human body. As such, 'Orion'-the soul is described as the essence of 'Oria' since it precedes its existence. The primacy of the soul is also viewed from the perspective that it continues to exist even when separated from the body at death. It is on these characteristics of 'Orion' that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul as discussed above in Esan eschatological beliefs is built.
In Esan language the word 'Okhoe'-spirit has various connotations. Thus, the human transcendental capacity which enable man to recall past-events, conceive of activities which are not immediate to his sense organs and which also enables him to introspect into the future is described as spirit (Okhoe). However, the present usage of the word ‘Okhoe’ spirit refers to that metaphysical underpinning which determines 'Oria'-the ‘individuals' personality. This can also be explained over a continuous and a consistent observation of individuals' behavioral pattern. From the foregoing, ‘Okhoe’- the spirit can be described as the active force which enables 'Oria'-the human person to participate in the universal principle of 'Agbon'-life. The manner or mode that any individual spirit adopts in this participation goes a long way to determine the nature of 'Oria'- the human person.
According to Idowu, (1962) the spirit is "that which gives life to the whole being and thus can be described through its causal functions its presence in or absence from the body is known only by the fact that a person is alive or dead”²¹. According to the above 'Okhoe'-the spirit is recognized as
the basic vital force and soul. Supporting this fact is that 'Okhoe' resides in the Lungs and chest and is man's vital force; it gives him life and makes him work. Upon this universal truth of the human person, our analysis of 'Oria'- Man in Esan ontology as a composite of certain elements, evolves from the dialectics of 'Egbe' (the body), 'Ahu '/'Orion ' (the soul) and 'Okhoe' (the spirit) which forms the thrust upon which the 'Oria'-human person or Man in Esan Ontology is seen as an absolute value possessing the qualities of Life, image and good name, truth and authenticity, forthrightness, self mastery, commitment and vocation, co-operation, family and love, culture, nature rootedness, teleology and finality.
A recapitulation of the above analysis gives us the evidence that in Esan ontology like other African ontologies, the human person is a special being endowed with qualities of value, dignity and meaning hence should not be commonize or treated as an object; in materialistic terms. From all
reasonable doubt, and from our own concrete existential experience as well as the origin of man in Esan ontology, it is factual that man is the central focus of everything that 'is' in nature as shown in the Esan wold-view- ‘irio ma re khagbon’. Hence they say "Oria nya agbon" Man is best understood, in his relationship with the creator (God) 'Osanobua'-the Supreme Being, with other beings; visible and invisible, with the living, dead and with nature. This understanding brings us to the fact that ‘Oria’ -man is a holistic creature compoe of both material and spiritual substances and his duty is to utilize and maximize nature for the singular purpose of maintaining a universal harmony among everything that exist within. This interrelativity, affirms the fact that man in Esan perpective is a ‘being-with others’-‘Oria’ no ri wi usuagbon'. Thus, man in Esan ontology, is a 'being-with' others in the community of beings, where he finds his definition and identity; gain and expressed his autonomy, express and affirm his dignity, value and meaning and fulfills his final destiny.
Finally ‘Oria’ –man therefore is not only a unique, distinctive and rational individual but a communal being who dependes on 'Osanobua '-God and other beings in nature for his well being. With his uniqueness, he is singled out, with his distinctiveness, he is special and with his rationality, he must think and act necessarily moral so as to maintain a harmonious relationship with other forces in nature, for the very sake of his well being. From this Esan ontological analysis of man, the concept of the human person therefore, is the community holding the most profound bound of incarnate existents living in common; a community of the ‘I’ and of ‘others’. Making recourse to the epochal definitions of man as: Substance, self-conscious and communicable being, it is a
truism that these are indications of semantic diffusion.
Therefore for an wholesome definition of man, the ontological, psychological and dialogical qualities must not be considered complete without the quality of self-transcendence as shown
in the above analysis as it express the sense, meaning and purpose of the human person. 'Oria'- man in Esan ontology is not only an existent in the universe, a co-existent 'with-others' nor a subsistent, but he is a transcendent being towards 'Osanobua no ri ukhun'; a project towards the infinite, penetrating the realms of the absolute and the eternal. Clearly from the above, it is an indisputable fact that Esan ontology or metaphysics has to some extent served a very important function of creating a condusive atmosphere for the realization of very important psychological and moral needs of the individual and community at large. It is a metaphysics that is instrumental in tackling fundamental problems of ethics and society and, as such, has been instrumental to questions of cohesion, social control, and law and order within Esan communities²³. The fact that the Esan people live in harmony with their environment and the world is rooted in a metaphysics that sees this as a necessary offshoot of the individual's relationship with the forces that control these spheres of reality. It is necessary, therefore, to ponder on where such a conception of reality, of Being, evolved and where it can be properly located.
An ample understanding of the proceeding succinctly implies the fact that there are certain characteristics, dimension, implication and problems associated with the concept of man as a 'being-with' in Esan ontology. Meanwhile it is also a fact that this research critically examined the Esan world-view, its nature and characteristics; as it permeate the Esan people and their origin. This is not for the sake of history in itself, but with criticality and objectivity as it's the interest of every
philosophy of history. In this regard as I mentioned elsewhere, it is to point at the fact that although wrapped with some controversy, the fact of migration from Benin kingdom is not to say they do not have an inside culture and tradition, original and identical to them. It is upon this fact therefore,
that the discussion on 'Oria'-man as a 'being with' in Esan ontology is justified. We can therefore draw from the above an understanding of the Esan World-view-‘Irio ma re khagbon’ or ‘irio mah kha agbonre’, its nature and characteristics as it constitutes the metaphysical, cosmological and eschatological belief of the Esan people making clear the position of man in the scheme of things²⁵. But tracing this point further, it examined intently the African religious concept showing that Africans are naturally religious and their religion and philosophy are considered holistically, subsuming as one the physical and the spiritual, man inclusive. It also explains why the Esan world-view like those of Akan, Ashanti, Afemai, Effic, Igbo, Yoruba etc., constitutes a broad ideological reality of their concept of life forming the background for their dynamic and holistic view of man.
Hermeneuticically considered, the concept 'Oria' means man or the human person and everything in universe is considered in relation to him who is at the center of the universe giving them their bearing and significance from its position, meaning and end. Following from this, is the analysis of the origin, nature and existence of man forming his nature as 'Oria’ no de baewo'-a being-with others' or 'Oria no ri wi agbelo' or 'Oria no ri wi usuagbon'-a being in the community. Moreso, 'Egbe '-body, 'Ahu/Orion'-soul and ‘Okohen’-spirit, where examined as the internal and external interactive elements constituting the nature of man followed by the basic stages of ‘Oria’ -man's
existence, i.e. the pre-earthly stage, the earthly and death. This work emphasized the recognition of the humancentric heritage and qualities of ‘Oria’- the human person as an absolute value in the eyes of the Esan people such as; Life, image and good name, truth and authenticity, forthrightness, self mastery, commitment and vocation, co-operation, family and love, culture, nature rootedness, teleology and finality. It also examined 'Osanobua'-God in Esan ontology. This is informed to bring to limelight the reality of ‘Osanobua’- the Supreme Being in the Esan world-view and its participation in the daily activities of the people and their attitude and believe towards him. The analysis in this study is the philosophical energy behind the fact that the Esan and the African people have a deep sense of consciousness and a wealth of value for ''Oria no m usuagbon '- man as a 'being-vith-others' in the community and indeed the globe.
Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, pictured above greeting guests at the Vatican
Some Esan Proverbs
Esan, like many of the tribes south of the Sahara, is rich in proverbs. ‘Itan’ is the Esan word for proverb (plural: ‘itanh’). Being a polysemous word, ‘itan’ also means insinuation or innuendo. To differentiate which one is being employed in a speech, the verb that precedes the Esan noun would always be the deciding factor: “kpa itanh” means “speak in proverbs”while “fi itan” means “insinuate, make allusion.” This collection of Esan proverbs is by no means exhaustive, since the use of proverbs is a common feature among nearly all Esan. When placed beside any of the proverbs below, the acronym ‘LIT’ means Lost in Translation, which is to suggest that that particular proverb couldn’t be translated to be true to its original meaning. For instance, the proverb “Ojie kha la le ọ’ ki zi ọgbọn” is a short form of“Ojie kha la le ọ’ ki zi ọgbọn ọhle ojie Udakpa da yọ ni Aah khue alogbo rẹkhanọle.” If translated, it would be “A king’s ascension to the throne is initially followed with fundamental changes, which was the reason the king of Udakpa ordered to be escorted with musical instruments.”). Besides being lengthy, the reader who has little knowledge of Udakpa in South-East Esan – and the many political changes that have transformed it – will fail to grasp the message in the proverb. When rendered in Esan language, however, the proverb offers some literary appeal and reminisces the distant past of that ancient community. Also, italicized phrases in the English translations are additional information which is meant to aid easy understanding, especially of non-Esan and those who aren’t so good at appreciating adages. Where a proverb has an English equivalent, it is given and preceded with the conjunction ‘Or’ and the abbreviation cf (compare).
Ose ii gba ni usẹnbhokhan. ( A young man's beauty is never without defects.)
Eji Aah nyẹlẹn ọhle Aah khọ. (People resemble where they live.)
Udo ni Aah daghe ọ' vade ii degbi ọrhia bhi ẹlo. (A missile that one sees coming does not blind one.)
Eji ọboh da gui otọ ọhle ọle da horiẹ. (A native doctor disappears only where he is used to.)
Aah ii ri ebi Aah nanọ bui awa re. (You don’t tempt a dog with something to lick, since dog is an avid licker.)
Aah gheghe yọ ni olimhin kha mhẹn bhi ẹlo, ọhle Aah da ri ukpọn bhọ. (Clothing a corpse is simply to beautify it.)
Aah ii fi ini bhi otọ kha khin oha-ọtan. (Do not go hunting for squirrel while you have an elephant as a catch.)
Aah ii di isira ọnọ khin eni khin ẹkpẹn. Or, Aah ii khin ẹkpẹn man ọnọ khin eni. (You don’t change to a tiger in the presence of one who can change to an elephant.)
Amẹn ni ọrhia la muọn ii gbera ọle a. (The water one would drink can never flow past one.)
Aah ii yi ọbhẹnbhẹn khui ọkhọh. (Do not ask a mad man to chase fowls away, since he would do it madly.)
Ene wwue bhi uwa kha yyọ ele mmin okpodu, ?bi ene wwuẹ bhi ole ki da ta yẹ. (What would they say who slept outside if those who slept inside complained of harassment?)
U’u ii ji Aah gui na. (Death is impervious to appeal.)
Ẹwa’ẹn Aah rẹ gbi efẹn nọ ribhi ẹkẹ akhe. (Killing a rat that is holed up inside an earthen pot requires wisdom.)
Ufẹmhẹn si obhokhan kha na, Aah ki yọ owualẹn kkaniọhle ni ọle. (When the arrow from a child’s bow travels far, an adult is suspected to be responsible.)
Ọnọ gbi ọnọdeọde ọhle ọnọdeọde viẹ bhi itolimhin. (In a funeral each mourner mourns the fate that befalls him, not the deceased’s.)
Ọmọn nọ yyu ọle mhọn ose nẹ. (It is the deceased child that is always the prettiest.)
Ohu bha lẹn ebialẹn si ọhle. (Fury does not know its owner’s strength otherwise a weakling’s rage would be tempered with restraint.)
Agbọn khi ese. (It is human beings that do disguise as supernatural forces.)
Ọnọ ii ribhi eni, ọle Aah ri enyan si ọle tọn bhi egbi era’ẹn. (It is the absent one whose yam would always be kept beside the fire.)
Eto kha rẹ re, Aah yẹ lẹn eji ukẹhae nae. (No matter how hairy the head becomes, the forehead remains distinct.)
Aah kha yọ ni Aah sikoko, Aah bha yyọ ni Aah simama. (A call to gather together is not an invitation to muddle together.)
Aah kha khin ẹkpẹn fo, ebi Aah khiẹn ki fo. (After changing to a tiger, you simply have no other thing to change to.)
Aah kuẹ ri ikhilẹn khin ẹgua’e ọba, ọba kuẹ nyẹn uge. (The king need not tiptoe in order to peep at a dance coming to be staged at his palace.)
Ọni Aah bbhobholo ii bhobhi ọrhia. (The one who is carried on one’s back cannot back someone else.)
Oẹ ọkpọkpa Aah zẹ bhi okọ-ẹdin. (In a palm oil dish, you take one step at a time.)
Irẹlobhegbe zzẹ ni ọkhọ bha da lli afiamhẹnh. (But for forbearance, the chicken would have taken into eating birds.)
Ose ba ni emiamhẹn. (Beauty is more painful than infirmity.)
Ọnabhughe ọ’ min olimhin ni Aah ri izagan mun. (It is the truant that comes in contact with a corpse wrapped in basket.)
Aah ii ri ẹbhe ni oruan ọrhia rẹmhọn. (To ensure a lasting relationship, do not offer a goat to your in-law for safe-keeping.)
Aah kha kha gbi ugan bhi evele, Aah ki ri ukpọn bhọre. (If it is being debated, a man should undress to counter claims that he is suffering from penile bloat.)
Ebi Aah bha mmin Eboh, Aah bha rruẹn ebeh-ọghẹdẹ. (Prior to the arrival of Europeans, no one wore banana leaves, but clothes.)
Ẹnyẹn ni otuan ọkpa miẹn ọhle khi ubhiọ. (It is the serpent seen by a single person that is called a lizard.)
Uhọmhọn na ji ikọ ọ’ ii gbi ikọ. (An envoy isn’t punished for the message he conveys.)
Ọkhin ẹkpẹn ii khin eni. (He does not change to a tiger one who changes to an elephant. Or, Everyone has an area where he is talented.)
Aah kha rui ẹlo, Aah ki kha ri ẹwua’ẹn khian. (Blindness demands caution. Or, When one is blind, one learns to walk with care.)
Afiabhẹn ni Aah ri igẹnh si ọhle lui emhin, ẹjẹje Aah min ọhle ele. (The bird whose feathers are treasured must walk circumspectly.)
Ebe bha ji ọrhia rẹ lẹn egbe, ọhle ọrhia da tẹ. (Disgrace is sure to come from that over which one cannot exercise self-control.)
Ebe yi okhuo zẹ bhi ileghe re, akun ọ’ ye. (That which compels a woman to reduce her waist beads lies in her waist.)
Ọ’ ii yi ọta ni ekhẹnh ta yi ẹki, ọ’ ii yi ọhle ele ta vae. (Traders’ subject of discussion to the market differs from their homeward discussion.)
Ọ’ ii yi ẹdẹ ni Aah muin ure ọ’ ii yi ẹdẹni Aah riọhle zọ ese. (It is not the same day a snail is found that it is offered as sacrifice to an idol.)
Eji Aah tan sẹ, ọhle Aah da ji uhọmhọn. (A person’s head must grow where his height stops.) nearly LIT
Ure kha lo bhi ẹbọ, ọ’ ki khin ẹbọ. (When a snail inhabits a shrine, it becomes an idol.)
Ọsakọn Aah lẹlẹ, Aah ii lẹli ọmeto. (It is the dentist that can be tricked, not the hairdresser.)
Odin ii talọ, ọta ri ọle bhi unu. (Although speechless, the mute has something to say.)
Ojie ii gbo yọ ni Aah ri ojie tọ bhi itikun. (A king never asks a king to be buried in a refuse site.)
Okhuẹlẹn nẹko kpe. (A grass-cutter’s plumpness is achieved in hiding.)
Ẹmhọn ri ọdan ba bhi egbe, ọhle rri ikpea do bhi omin. (LIT)
Ọbo ii bọ bhi ebi ọle lẹ’ẹn. (A native doctor doesn’t consult his oracle concerning that which he knows.)
‘Nine’ bha jji Ebo llu. (Despite his ingenuity, the white man could not create the number nine.) nearly LIT
Elamhẹn n’ọ ii mhọn akọn, ọhle ki odalo bhi ishi oyi. (It is the toothless beast that is always the first arrival at the orchard.)
Usẹn bi usẹn ko yi egbe ‘halo’. (It is age mates that greet each other with ‘hello’.)
Ẹdebe ọhle Aah rẹ ye ọkha’e re. (A hero is often remembered on a bad day.)
Ọ’ ii yi ọnọ ka kha khọmhọn ka yu. (The first person to fall sick is not always the one to die first.)
Ọbo kha wuo ni ọbo, ọ’ ki ri ọbo khuọn ẹkpa. (LIT)
Ogun bi ogun kha min egbe, ughamhan ele rẹ tui egbe. (When blacksmiths meet, both salute each other with iron.)
Aah kha kha viẹ, Aah yẹ daghe. (Even in tears, it is not impossible to see.)
Ẹghe ni Aah bha rẹ llẹn ẹlo ikpakpa, ọhle ikpakpa ki rẹ ggbi ọrhia. (Men only died of toxin beans when they lacked knowledge of the food.)
Okhuo ii yi okhuo biẹre khi ọmọn fui ọlle bhọ. (A woman doesn’t ask a fellow woman to put to bed that she herself is childless.)
Ẹruẹ ii yi ẹruẹ ọyabhihue. (English version: ‘A kettle does not call a kettle black.’)
Ebi Aah miẹn ofẹn ii muin uki, ?bi ọhle ii da bha ọsi adamhẹn. (If not for fear, why doesn’t the moon shine in the daytime?)
Ẹlo ọriọbhe bhia’e, ọle ii rẹ daghe. (Although he has good eyesight, a stranger doesn’t see with his eyes.)
Ọnọ rẹre, ọle Aah da ọle obọ. (It is the generous person that would always be approached for assistance.)
Ọriọbhe giẹrẹn lumhin eman, ọle bha lẹn eji Aah ri ubhokọ gọ. (Although a stranger pounds pounded yam well, he lacks knowledge of where to keep the pestle.)
Aah ii ri emhin ni ọkhian re mhọ’ẹn. (You don’t give something to a traveller to keep.)
Ẹdẹ ni okhuo rẹ nyin eman ebe, ẹdẹni ọlle rẹ le nẹ. (It is on the day a woman cooks a bad meal that she eats best.)
Elamhẹn ọbhebhe ii ni isọn emẹdin ebeiyi uriẹi. (Except porcupine, no other animal has palm waste in its excreta.)
U’u bha gbi iban, ọhle di khin ẹdin. (The flower of a palm tree will eventually become palm nuts if death spares it.)
Oghian ọrhia zẹ ni u’u da ba bhi egbe. (It is one’s enemy that makes death hurtful.)
Obhokhan kha ni isọn ebe, Aah ki ri ebe ugbolimhosaka gbo ọle uwedin a. (If a child defecates repulsive excreta, the leaf of a spiky plant will be used to wipe his buttocks.)
Aah kha kha gbi ugba, ọtẹtẹh rie. (At the repeated shaking of the calabash, insects find their way out.)
Aah bha min ebi Aah khin ọkhọmhọn yẹ, Aah ki zaghiọle era’ẹn a. (If because of his illness you can’t hurt a sick person, you can at least extinguish the fire that keeps him warm.)
Aah bha min ebi Aah khin ojie yẹ, Aah ki si ọle bhiẹbho re. (If because of his power you can’t challenge a king, you should quit his kingdom. Or, cf. ‘If you live in Rome, do not strive with the Pope.’)
Ẹghe ni Aah rẹ llui ẹmhọn, Aah rria ọhle a. (The time spent on lawsuit is time wasted.)
Aah kha ri egbe yi isi ojie, ọshọ folo. (When people take themselves to the king’s palace for lawsuit, they cease to be friends.)
?Ji uzo ki ri aho ọ ni ọhle da rẹ bi iweva. (From where has antelope got the strength to give birth to twins?)
Ukpokpo ni Aah rẹ ggbi ẹwobi, Aah bha refia, Aah ki rẹ gbi ọbhata. (The whip that was used on a stupid person, if it is not disposed of, will be used on an innocent.)
Aah ii min ebe khi ọkhọ ebeiyi akhokholẹ. (Nothing resembles a chicken as does a bush fowl.)
Ese kha la zi emhin, ẹkẹn-ọkhọ ki va udo a. (When supernatural forces are at work, it is not impossible for a hen’s egg to crack a stone.)
Ebe ka llui ọkhọ di yẹ lui ẹbhe. (A goat will by no means escape the fate of a chicken as long as feasts last.)
Ọkpọkpa Aah gbe ni okhọ’ẹn da lọ. (A war is sustained till the end by gradual killing rather than by outright annihilation. Or, cf. English version: ‘Rome was not built in a day’ or ‘One thing at a time.’)
Aah ii dunu bhi igbanaka. (LIT)
?Ji ehọ ni Aah la rẹ họn, ọhle Aah nẹ emhin na. (The very fact that certain things are offensive to the ear is the reason they are considered taboos.)
Ojie kha la le, ọ’ ki zi ọgbọn re. (A king’s ascension to the throne is initially followed with fundamental changes.)
?Bi Aah la le ẹlẹna, ?bi Aah la le akha, ọhle ukhumhun rẹ fo. (The question of today’s meal and tomorrow’s provision is how a famine abates.)
Aah ii ri afe nani umhẹn. (You don’t start licking salt simply because you are wealthy.)
Aah ii nọ ọnọ mhọn igho bi ọle la dẹ. (You don’t ask the moneyed man what he will buy with his money.)
Ẹsọn ka ggbi enefe. (The rich once suffered hardship.)
Ẹbọ kha kha to, ọhle mhọn ohẹn si ọhle. (No matter how austere an idol is, it has its priest who pacifies it.)
Ọkaleteh ii kpọ. (Heroes are hard to find.)
Ughe ughulu da ho ukhuọ ọhle ni Aah kha yọ ghe khiẹkẹ ọhle mun ni ọhle. (That hawk makes love to its wife in the open sky is to debunk rumours that it impregnated her out of wedlock.)
Aah ii ri ugbele si Akogho loli ugbele. (LIT)
Uhẹn-ẹlẹ zẹ ni Aah ii da nẹ bhi ẹki. (Don’t defecate in a marketplace because it will be there for you to see on the next market day. Or, cf. English version: ‘The evil that men do lives after them.’)
Ẹwa’ẹn Aah rẹ gbi udia nọ timan bhi ikpẹkẹn. (Killing a tsetse fly that perches on one’s scrotum demands wisdom.)
Uhọmhọn ni Aah bha ji obhokhan ele, ọhle kha gbi ache bi uwawa bhọ, ọhle ki ha osa. (A child must pay for the destruction of items that results from carrying out a task that was never assigned to him.)
Uzehia kha zẹ bhi eji obọ ii sẹ, Aah ki yi ọhle lala a. (If one has boil in a part of the skin beyond reach, the boil is advised to rot.)
Esan man, Cardinal Okogie
Aah ii gẹn ọmọn bhi isira ọle. (Don’t sing praise of a child in his presence.)
Emhinh erebhe ne ribhi omhọn ti egbele itata. (Every ingredient in soup likes to be seen as meat.)
Ọ’ ii yi ẹlo ni Aah rẹ lie man, ọ’ ii yi ọhle Aah rẹkha elamhẹn. (The attitude with which food is eaten differs from that with which meat is shared amongst the eaters.)
Ese kha la zi emhin, omhọn ni inodẹ ki oto obọ a. (It becomes possible today for yesterday’s soup to burn one’s hand once supernatural forces are at work.)
Ọ’ ii yi ẹlo ivin ivin rẹ ni udẹn. (A palm kernel would never produce palm ointment unless under the searing heat of the pot.)
Aah ii ni ọnọ wuẹle gbi ugan si ebhohiẹ. (You don’t argue about a dream with its dreamer.)
Ọbhẹbhẹn yyọ ghe khi ena ọle rri era’ẹn fiọ, ghe ọnọto khian ni ọle bha lẹn ẹlo bhọ. (A mad man only knows of the spot where he dropped fire but cannot account for the offshoot ravaging the forest.)
Aah kha rẹkhan ẹkpẹn khian, Aah ki li elamhẹn; Aah kha rẹkhan ẹbhe khian, Aah ki li ebeh. (A companion of tiger will feed on meat but a companion of goat will eat leaves.)
Ebale kha sike ebgi unu gbe, ọ’ ii ji Aah le. (Food that is too close to the mouth is difficult to eat.)
Ọba ii de Esan, Ọzọloa ii ri Ẹdo. (No Benin monarch visits Esan land, just as Ọba Ọzọloa who was slain in Esan will never return to Benin.)
Ọgbihiagha bhi uhọmhọn nain ọka yyọ ghe ọhle lẹn otu si ọhle. (The dreadlocked maize insists it knows its age mates.)
Evẹkpẹn kha vi ẹkpẹn fo, Ibhioba ki bi ebeh. (The people of Ibhioba clear the leaves after the butchers of tiger are done.) nearly LIT
Eni ediọn kha le, enai ẹlimhin ki khọn. (When the elders eat, the spirits are full.)
Ọnọ ii mhọn ọmọn ii mhọn oruan. (The one who has no child cannot have an in-law.)
Ọnọ ri ebeh bin uwa kha dia khẹ efi. (He who builds a house with leaves should expect the storm.)
Aah gbudu yi ọba ‘họ’ọ’! (Even the king can be reprimanded.)
Ebi Aah gbe bha yu, Aah ii mun bhi ẹkpa. (Until the animal you are killing is dead you don’t put it in a sack.)
Ebi Aah ko ta, ọhle khi ẹmhọn ni inẹdeso. (What was discussed earlier is what can be cited as a previous discussion.)
Aah ii tti egbe emhin, ọhle enele da tto uwa a. (That the house was gutted by palm waste was due to disregard for something.)
Ẹdẹ ii tughu ọ’ bha sẹn. (A river must become crystal-clear after being upset.)
Ijan ọkpa ọmọle feọ n’ọ da hu. (If a man’s urine must foam, he must urinate on one spot. Or, cf. English version: ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss.’)
Aah bha min ebe re n’ọ ii fo. (There’s nothing without an end. Or, Whatever is in vogue ultimately expires.)
Ukpọn ni ahoho sabọ, ọhle ọ’ re bhi ifi. (The wind only picks the dress that it can take off the rope.)
Ebe ii yi emhin ọhle ho alo. (It is the insignificant thing that struggles over the forefront.)
Ọnọ mhọn ivie bhi uru bha lẹn si ọ’ ghanmhin. (He who has a gold necklace round his neck does not know its worth.)
Etin kha di oya, Aah ki ri abọ eveva fi ọhle. (When a blow becomes a challenge, the two hands will be used to apply the blow.)
Osẹ ko eran ni ọnọ ii mhọn uze. (It is God who provides firewood for the one who has no axe.)
Ebe ba bhi egbe ii ni ara’ẹn re. (A painful experience does not necessarily bring out blood.)
Ohuẹ ii tie bi ọle miẹn bhi ikhẹeran. (A hunter never discloses the happenings in his hunting expedition.)
Omhọn n’ọ mhẹn bhi unu ii si eman. (Delicious soup is often inadequate for a meal.)
Ẹbho ni Aah ii da min ahiẹlẹkpẹnh ọhle ọkhọh da lui mama. (It is in the land where there are no hawks that chickens have leverage.)
Aah ii tọni egbe bi eji egbe rẹ tọnọ. (Do not scratch your skin just the way it itches you.)
Unẹ bha sẹ khin unẹ ọhle okhuo da ri obọ muin inyẹ’ẹnh mhọ’ẹn. (A woman holds tight to her breasts only when a race has not assumed seriousness.)
Aah ii walan si u’u bhọ. (Man is senseless before death.)
Ese ii muin ẹdẹ. (No amount of trouble can prevent daybreak.)