Ebira language, as a language, is spoken by about one million people majorly found in Kogi State, Nigeria. Ebira people relates to an ethnolinguistic group of Nigeria that are basically and found in Kogi and parts of the neighboring North Central states like Kwara, Nasarawa, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. They are also in Edo State.
Ebira is one of the three main ethnic groups (Igala, Ebira and Okun) located at the central senatorial district of Kogi State (not far from the Niger-Benue confluence in Nigeria) which is why the state is popularly referred to as ‘the confluence state’. Though a rare Linguistic case, majority of the Ebira speakers are monolingual. They speak only one language.
By some level of affinity observed so far, the Ebira people are described in groups. The Ebira Tao of Kogi state is the largest of the several. Other groups include:
- The Ebira Ehi of Kwara State
- the Ebir Igu of Ebira Koto of Kogi state,
- the Ebira Agatu of Benue state,
- the Ebira Panda or Ebira Toto or Umasha of Nasarawa state,
- the Ebira Mozum of Bassa local government area of Kogi state very close to Okene,
- the Ebira Etuno of Igarra District of Akoko-Edo local government area, Edo state,
- Abaji in the federal capital territory
- and few others).
As it can be observed, Ebira people spread across five (5) Local Government Areas in Kogi state: Adavi, Okene, Okehi, Ajaokuta and Ogori-magongo. However, Okene is said to be the administrative centre of the Ebira speaking people in Kogi state. Thus, using the name of the most popular town of the land, we may refer to them as Ebira okene.
The Ebira Okene occupy the hilly stretch of land southwest of the Niger-Benue confluence area and share boundaries with the Yoruba-speaking people of Akoko, Owe and Ijumu to the west, the various Akoko Edo people to the south and south west, the Hausa, Nupe and Ebira groups at Lokoja to the North and the River Niger to the east.
Ebiras are also known as Igbira; Igbirra, Igbarra, Ibara, Egbira, Egbura, Katawa, Kotokori and Kwotto. Ebira language has dialects which includes Igara (Etuno), Koto (Bira, Biri, Egu, Igu, Ika ,Panda) and Okene (Himi Ihima). The term “Ebira” literally means “BEHAVIOUR with ETHICS and HOSPITALITY as compliment. Republican by nature, the paramount ruler of the people is called OHINOYI of Ebira land.
According to Ohiore (1988), recent in-depth research indicates that the Ebira have been part and parcel of what is now generally known as central Nigeria since 4000 BC. The Ebira zone is also prominent in the pre-historic civilization of The Iron Age generally characterized by the central Nigeria as epitomized by Nok culture.
Recently, the iron-working site of the Ife-Ijumu (kogi state) has been dated to 260 B.C. Thus, it could be deducted that the Ebira as a group existed for a long time in locations within central Nigeria not far from where they are located presently (Ohiore 1988,Williamson 1967 and Beneth 1972).
Historical Background of the Ebira
No nation or culture of the world exists without its history. There must be antecedents of events and happenings that precede whatever we have at the present. Thus, the Ebira people are called one because of their reference to collective history. Historically, there are two source as to how and where the Ebira people came from; the Oral and the Written.
The Ebira, through oral tradition, trace their descent to Wukari (in the present Taraba state) where they were a constituent part of Kwararafa confederation. In about 1680 AD, they (along with the Idoma and Igala) migrated out of Wukari a chieftaincy dispute. The Ebira later split into various groups and settled in different locations between 1680 and 1750 AD. The Ebira Tao first sojourned with the Igalas at Idah but later crossed the River-Niger and settled at Ebira Opete located at the vicinity of Upake in Ajaokuta local government area. The father of the Ebira Tao who led them to this premier settlement in the Ebiraland is “ITAAZI”. Itaazi had five sons who all later migrated from Ebira Opete and were the founders of the various districts in Ebiraland.
The children and the districts they founded are: Adaviruku/Ohizi (Adavi), Ododo (Okehi), Obaji (Eyika), Uga (Okengwe) and Ochuga/Onotu (Ihima). His daughter named Ohunene settled in Eganyi district. Members of the various clans in Ebiraland are descendants of the children of Itaazi.
Ohizi had five children who are progenitors of the five traditional Adavi clans named after them. These are: Upopo-uvete (Apasi), Uka,Idu (Aniku), Adeyika and Uhami.
A migrant group from Eganyi known as Ezi-Onogu clan is also found in Adavi. The sons of Ododo who are the ancestors of Okehi clans were Okohi Oviri and Enwgukonyai.Obaji the founder of Eika has ten children named Ohiaga, Iyewe, Avassa, Ehemi, Anchi, Epoto, Egiri, Ubobo, Ogu and Eyire. Uga of Okengwe had two sons whose children constitute the present Okovi and Agada group of clans. Due to a sizeable concentration of other Ebira clans in Okengwe district, they formed a socio-political coalition known as Ada-ehi.
Ochuga had six children and their descendants make up the six clans in Ihima. These are Emani, Oha/Idu, Ohueta, Ure, Ohongwa and Odunmi. The seventh clan is Akuta who migrated from Okengwe. Though, Itaazi’s daughter named ohunene was the founder of Eganyi, not all the clans there are descended from her. Eganyi clans are Ede, Esugu, Eheda, Ogu, Onoko, Idu, Anavapa and Ogodo. The Aningere who are skilled craftmen are found in all districts. They are however more concentrated in Okengwe and Adavi districts.
According to the Written source of the Ebira origin, the attempt to trace the actual origin of the people of Ebira has not been easy. The early works in this direction are full of conflicts and contradictions. What is however certain among the scholars is that the various ethnic groups race which collectively constitute the six linguistic groups of the Ebira race are said to have migrated at different times before the first world war (1914-1918) to their present settlement which are respectively located in Benue among the Igalla extraction of Itobe and Ajaokuta, Kwara and Kogi among the dominant Ebira Tao and Ebira Koto stocks of Okene, Ajaokouta, Adavi, Okehi, Kotonkarfe and Lokoja local government areas and Edo among the Igallas in the present day Edo state of Nigeria and also in places such as Nasarawa and Federal capital territory.
Records have it that the early history of Ebiras dated back to the sixteenth century (circa 1500) when the defunct Kwararafa kingdom was a flouring empire that engage in fierce wars of ethnic conquest with the Usman Dan fodio fame and the war moguls of the El Kanemi kingdom of the Borno empire. This war later proved to be decisive in shaping the present identities and destinies of the minorities pagan tribes that constitute the then Jukuns, Idoma, Tiv, Anagas, Ebira, Igala and Igala sub-ethnic stock that made up the then Kwararafa kingdom of these minority ethnic groups who were largely pagans before conversion by the muslim and Christian missionaries.
Resenting the central administrative authority of the Jukuns in the Wukari area of the Kwararafa kingdom, the Ebiras like the other disparate ethnic groups, migrated under their leader whose actual name remain unknown up till date, though one account has it that he was called EBIRA. They migrated frequently and at different times from one unsuitable spot to another as an expression of their resettlement against tyrannical rule, among other reasons, they did so in order to free themselves from the resented bondage and clutches of the Jukuns and headed southward before the end of the sixteenth century (16 C). In the course of this ethnic war of independence within and among the constituent natives of the Kwararafa kingdom, the six ethnic groups and their fellow travelers moved extensively in different directions south of the Sahara.
In the course of this migration in search of local rule and independence, as well as suitable farm land, the Ebiras shared common experience and agonies with their Igalla, Idoma, Tiv, Umasha, Ebira Panda, Angas and Igarra (Ebira Etuno) brothers and sisters of the kwararafa stock who fled for new founded land in north and south of the rivers Niger and Benue. Like war afflicted refugees, they collectively fled and moved southwards towards the fertile bank of River Niger and Benue and the wet savannah lands where pastures and aquatic life were rich and the topography identical to that which they left behind in their original Kwararafa empire. In this way, some of the migrants settled at different spot, first among the Tiv and Idomas of Benue State, then among the Angas and Nasarawa State. This early group of migrants was left behind by the Ebira Koto and the Ebira Tao people of Kogi state.
In the Edo state, the igarras were the Ebira extractions who fled to the Kwararafa kingdom and after crossing the River Niger together , left their kith and kins who were the Ebira Tao in Okene, Adavi, Ajaokuta, and Okehi Local Government areas of Kogi state. Thus, each of the six Ebira sub groups derives its language from a corruption of the same Ebira mother tongue with slight variation in accent, diction and etiology. Those of them not contented with the geography and traditional occupation of the new settlement migrated further south to Okene in the present day Kogi State and Igarra in Edo State.
The route followed by the different Ebira migrant groups probably commenced from Wukari, Ibi and Lunga in Gongola state and then proceeded through Lafia to Nasarawa and Toto. They took off again from Nasarawa and Toto and proceeded to the banks of River Niger and Konton Karfe, Lokoja, Itobe and Ajaokuta from where it branched off the Ebira-Okene (Tao) dialectical groups while it terminated at igarra in Edo State for the Igarra speaking group whose mother tongues is a corruption of the original Ebira Kwararafa race.
These distinctive settlement patterns are found among the Jukuns of the Gongola, the Ebira Pandas among the Idomas of Benue State and the Ebira Koto of Kontokarfe in Lokoja as well as the Ebira Tao in Okene, Adavi, Eika and Okehi Local Government of Kogi State and the Ebira-Igarra of Edo State.
The Ebira people in general were known to have had a peculiar way of life towards traditional religion. Ebira acknowledge the existence of God with utmost reverence. The innate belief of the people places Him, “Ohomorihi” (supreme being), first before any other thing. This claim clearly manifest in various attributes accorded supreme God by the people. Ohomorihi means creator of rain. In Ebira culture, the essence of living and life is tied to water. Earthly fetility is predicated on water and also their conception and delivery is also located in watery substances.
Thus, Ebira people believe that all sources of life can be traced to water. Therefore, they believe that Ohomorihi is the source and controller of this water from which all these beings are sourced because Orihi is rain and is produced from the divine centre(Ohomo). This belief establish the absolute supremacy of God Almighty over all living and non-living beings, materials and spiritual matters. one can then understand why God is the first point of reference in all matters: secular, spiritual and ritual.
Ebira people believe that when man sins, his prayers cannot reach God (Ohomorihi) directly, so they pray through Ete (mother Earth), deities or lesser gods known as Ori and Ohiku (ancestors). Ete (mother Earth) occupies a vital position in Ebira cosmology. It is a force of balance considered next to God (Ohomorihi) because whatever goes up must come down to earth. It is on earth that human’s life is both sustained and buried, “a spiritual entity from which all life derives” (Aniako 1980 p. 35-36).
Thus, when a child at play eats sand, as it is often the case in African traditional settings, it is seen as the ritual process of reconnecting back to earth, first initiated through the burial of placenta of the child at birth, man surviving through the cultivation of food crops and exploitation of crust of ornamental riches buried within the earth. It also serves as man’s final resting place at death.
Thus, the overriding importance of Ete as the centre of universe is physically expressed at the centre of every traditional Ebira home as Eteohuje (centre of the compound). It is at this centre that ancestral sacrifice and rituals are held. Ori (spirit being or nature spirit) is a god the Ebira people believe to have been created by God as the intercessor between man and Himself. Ori is actually worshipped and celebrated in two towns: Ihima and Eganyi in Ebiraland probably because of its intervention to avert serious calamities in these two towns according to Ebira mythology.
They believe that Ori came to cleanse the two towns of serious epidemic. As such, it assumes prominence with shrines created for it with its attendant devotees echeori annual festival instituted in memory of this ritual cleansing.
Echeori is celebrated as new yam festival for seasonal renewal. Okino (2004, p.9) claims that the “pioneer” religion of the ancestors of Ebira people is “ori” probably because of its intercessory nature between the people and the higher order. The other spirit that Ebira people relates to is the Ancestral spirit (Eku), an embodiment of dead ancestors, Ohiku. Ebira pay homage and respect to the dead and those yet to be born.
In Ebiraland, aside the traditional religion which is the predominant, there is also the existence of the two religions: Islam and Christianity. Earlier in Ebiraland, it was recorded that muslims dominated the land unlike the present where Christians are dominating the land.
Ebira Cultural Festival
The Ebiras have several annual cultural festivals. Three of the most prominent ones are “Eche-ane”, Eche-ori” and “Eku-echi”. Others include: Ebe, Okehi, Ireba- Eku and Otu festivals.
Eche-Ane (Women Festival)
This is an annual masquerade festival celebrated in rotation from one district to the other in Ebiraland between April and June. In the past, it was only during the period of the festival that betrothed girls were given away in marriage to their suitors. That is why the festival is called Eche-ane (women festival). Masquerades, though carried long canes came out primarily to entertain people and received gifts in return.
Eche-Ori (Yam Festival)
Eche-ori is a new yam festival celebrated only in two districts in Ebiraland. These are Ihima and Eganyi. During the festival, traditional worshippers make sacrifices in the secret groove of “ORI” (deity) high up in the mountain to show gratitude for its protection and provision of bounteous harvest. The worshippers carry long canes with which they whip one another in turns without anyone exhibiting any sign of pain. This is a mark of strength. Another important attraction of the festival is the delightful “Eche-ori” music in which female singers feature prominently. Only after this service can one eat or sell new yams in the market as it is a taboo to do so before the festival in Ihima and Eganyi.
Eku-Eche (Traditional Masquerade)
This is a night masquerade festival which marks the end of the Ebira calendar year and the beginning of a new one. Ododo is popularly acclaimed to be the initiator of this masquerade festival. The “Akatapa” masquerade in heralding the beginning of the festival often say “Irayi Ododo osi gu, irayi akatapa osi gu yeeeh!” which means “The year of Ododo has ended; the year of Akatapa has ended; Here is another year”. The festival begins with a festival eve in which folk singers (omo ikede) perform to the delight of both men and women. The following day, the real festival in which masquerades sing and dance to entertain people from dusk to dawn takes place.
Thus, this festival is restricted to men only so all women stay indoors throughout the duration of the festival. Also, during this festival, Ebira people believe that all dead relatives return to the earth on the night of the festival. Therefore, women prepare delicious “Apapa” (beans) and he-goat meat for the visitors. The women also at times leave monetary gifts with the men for the visiting dead relatives. Trust men, the meals and gifts are properly and neatly delivered to the beneficiaries who only the men have the privilege of seeing and interacting with that night.
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Traditional Marriage in Ebira
Ebira custom on marriage has undergone many changes as a result of the existence of Islam and Christianity. Despite the changes, the general trend remains virtually unaltered. Strictly speaking, it is against the socio norms for a man and a woman to have sexual intercourse before marriage; this is totally forbidden. Thus, courtship before marriage in Ebiraland was taken very seriously and every caution is taken to preserve it. In addition to this, it is against the tradition of the land for a man to hold or touch a woman who is neither his wife nor the wife of relation. Thus, when a man sees a lady he intends marrying, he discusses his intentions with her who if she is interested, tells him to bring his people to express his intentions to her parent.
In respect to the Ebira tradition, the man does not walk to the parent or elders, mostly the women do this by going to the lady’s parent to introduce themselves and also to inform them of their reason for coming to the house. After this is done, the parent of the lady then conduct a thorough investigations on the upbringing, background, family history and so on of the intending groom to unravel any history of madness, terminal diseases or criminality in the man’s family. This is with a view to deciding whether or not to give their daughter’s hand in marriage to a family with a tainted reputation in the society. After the research, if their findings are appreciable, an approval is given to the man to visit the bride-to- be from time to time to further get to know themselves properly.
A date is later picked for the formal introduction of both families and this is called “ISE EWERE” which literally means what has been in secret is now in the open. During the celebration, there is usually the presentation of gift items made by the family of the groom to the family of the bride. On the day of introduction, it is not necessary that the man attends the occasion as his family members to do the necessary things on his behalf. The bride’s family in turn entertains the groom with food and drinks. The families interact with one another and formally introduce every member of both families.
After this is done, the date for traditional marriage is then fixed. The tubers of yam and other items brought are distributed to neighbors and members of the extended family no matter how small. Much significance is given to this to ask for their prayers for a happy marriage as well as to ensure the acknowledgement of the community that the lady now has someone she intends to get married to. The amount to be collected as bride price is also agreed upon by the parents of the bride and it depends to a large extent on the financial strength of the man. Apart from the bride price, there are other things like “ozemeiyi” meaning “I am attracted to her” in which a certain amount of money is attached to and “otanuvogei” meaning” joining hands together”. There is also “idoza” meaning “farming price” paid to the bride’s family because Ebira people are predominantly farmers.
On the day of traditional marriage, women in the man’s family are seen singing and dancing carrying tubers of yam on their heads to the bride’s house. The singing and dancing continues at their arrival at the bride’s house where the ceremony kicks off. Other items to be taken are cans of palm oil, groundnut oil, dried fish, some clothing materials in some boxes, jewelries and other things for adornment of the bride. The ceremony is usually colorful with display of dances by maiden groups mostly the bride’s friend and by women groups. A religious leader and the parents of the couple offer prayers for them to bless their marriage and a certificate is thereafter given to the couple by the religious leader to acknowledge their marriage. The lady is thereafter accompanied by her friends and other women to her husband’s house with her belongings.
Naming Ceremony in Ebira Land
The celebration that commemorates birth in Ebira land is the “Naming Ceremony”. The child is presented to the community and the designated elder is given the child to present to God in prayers. After the prayer, one significant assignment of the presenter is the first breathe of instruction. The presenter raises the baby up and blows a breath into the child’s right ear saying “isa Adawu okawuyu, wawu” meaning “work with or obey whatever your father tells you. He does the same thing on the other ear enjoining the baby to obey his or her mother. Hence, it is during this ceremony that names are administered to the child. Here, the parents represent the elders that make up the community. The child grows up respecting and appreciating the parents and elders who take the responsibility of bringing him/her up.
In Ebira land, the names given to a child always have philosophical, spiritual, historical, social and even genealogical connotation. These are what the child will be known by for the rest of his or her life. This explains why a child called “Oyiz” meaning “goodness”, for example will hardly behave contrary to her name. In this same category are Unoyiza, Isoyiza, Ayuoyiza, Ize, Onize, Eneze, Ometere, e.tc. for females while similar names for males include Adeiza, Onoruoyiza etc all depicting the essence of “GOODNESS”.
The philosophy of the values of the person as God’s divine creation is reflected in names such as Ozavize, Ozohu, Ozovehe, Adavize, Oziohu, Enehu, Ozavinoyi, Enesi, Anazuo, etc. while names like Asipita, Aasimi, Aaze, Anusoze, Ootuhuo, etc are given to children born after previous losses due to infant mortality. Anataku, Onimisi, Enehu, Asuku, etc are expressions of love, and importance of the child to the parents and the community while names like Adeku, Onyeku, Onyeche, Itopa, Onyinoyi, Adinoyi, etc. reflect the historical circumstances of birth. Thus, every name given to a child has a philosophical, psychological and also social meaning.
The Ebira people are predominantly farmers. They produce a lot of crops such as yam, cassava, melon, maize and groundnut but their major cash product is yam. Almost every household is involved in farming. Ebira people are also involved in fishing and hunting. Apart from these which complemented farming, the Ebira people also depend on local industries and craft production such as palm oil, animal husbandry, iron technology and blacksmithing, textiles dying, wood carving and basket weaving, mat and raffia weaving. Also, cotton which is very important and in fact the main raw material of the industry, is a crop of antiquity with the Ebira.
The Ebira had migrated with the crop and with the knowledge of its production to their present location, the soil of which was fortunately very favourable for its commercial cultivation. According to Brown, Ralph, Willis, Picton and Mack (Brown 1970:60, Willis 1972:51, Picton & Mack 1979: 17, 77, 80, 82) the Ebira cloth weaving has undergone series of styles, patterning and specialization that made it excellent and one of the best in the western Sudan before the advent of the British rule.
Henry Barth noted in 1851 that Ebira woven cloth favourably rivaled those of other areas in terms of pattern, colour, decoration and texture. Barth did observe the superiority of the Ebira woven cloth compare to other regions in the Kurmi international market, Kano when he visited the city during the same period (Barth 1990:511). Thus, the women of Ebira are known for this business (cloth weaving), unlike the men who are majorly farmers.
The food Ebira people eat is just like every other African cultural dishes. Ebira people have a lot of foods but there are specific foods Ebira people love eating. They are:
- Pounded yam and Egusi soup
- Apapa (made with beans)
- Elibo ”piece of dried cassava” or Arahun ”yam flour” (both meaning the same thing)
Ebira people most especially out of the above mentioned foods, love eating pounded yam and Egusi soup or Egg plant soup (ebatu). The preparation of this meal is quite simple and straight forward.
Ebira Hair Style
Women of Ebira have specific way of making their hair that make them to be recognized anywhere they go. This aside from making them being recognized, makes them look beautiful and unique. Below are names of the few hairstyles Ebira women make:
- Suku: This when the hair is made to meet at one point at the centre of the head.
- Edage: This is when the hair is made vertically to meet each oth•er in order to form a clap.
- Obairema: This is when the hair is made all to the back.
- Otunrosa: This is when the hair is made from bigger to smaller portion following each other one by one.
Collated by Ola-lawal M.D.