The Esan people history from the Bini Kingdom in Nigeria

The Esan people history 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.

Many natives fled the Bini Kingdom unable to abide by these rules to join previous groups that had already migrated out of the kingdom years before (notably, the groups that had earlier formed Irrua, Uromi, and Ekpoma). Soon after, the Oba summoned a meeting of his subjects from various quarters and to his amazement, noticed that they had greatly diminished in numbers. When the Oba asked where his subjects had went to, he was told, “Ele san-fia” (“They have fled”). This later turned into E-san-fia and then Esan. When Oba Ewuare saw that his kingdom was quickly becoming depopulated, he revoked his laws but the migrations continued. Oba Ewuare tried to wage war against the migrants but this failed.

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. Esan (pronounced /aysan/) is one of the major ethnic groups in Edo State, Nigeria. The name ‘Esan’ owes its origin to Bini and was once corrupted to ‘Ishan’ by colonial Britain. Esanland 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. From Ewu to Benin City, the State capital, is 100kms long. The people populate areas such as Uromi, Ewatto, Igueben, Irrua, Ubiaja, Ebele, Ehor, Ekpoma, Ewu, Ugboha etc. in central Edo State, in southern Nigeria. It has flat landscape, one lacking in rocks and mountains, and good for agricultural purpose. Rubber tree (used for the production of plastic products) and palm tree rank highest among Esan trees. The land’s variety of fruits range from mango, orange, grape, pineapple, guava, cashew, banana, plantain, black pear, avocado pear, lime to walnut and even more. Cassava, yam, cocoa yam, sweet potato, pepper, okra and rice are some of its farm produce. It has numerous streams. The Esan people in Esanland occupation is mainly farming, hunting and trading. These are their sources of livelihood.

There are now 35 clans in Esanland, each of which is headed by a king called an Onojie. The clans include: Ekpoma, Uromi, Ekpon, Emu, Ewollimi, Ewatto, Irrua, Ubiaja, Egoro, Wossa, Ukhun, Ugbegun, Igueben, Idoa, Ohordua, Okhuesan, Oria, Ogwa, Okalo, Ebelle, Uzea, Onogholo, Orowa, Urohi, Ugun, Udo, Ujiogba, Iyenlen, Ifeku, Iliushi, Amahor, Opoji, Ugboha, Uroh, and Ewu. Today Esan land is divided into five Local Government Areas namely: Esan West L.G.A., with its headquarter in Ekpoma Esan Central L.G.A., with its headquarter in Irrua Esan North East L.G.A., with its headquarter in Uromi Esan South East L.G.A., with its headquarter in Ubiaja Igueben L.G.A. with its headquarter in Igueben. Sources: This history was not written by us but was compiled from multiple sources including: Egharevba, J.U. 1968. A Short History of Benin. Ibadan: I.U.P. Eweka, E.B. 1992. Evolution of Benin Chieftaincy Title. Benin City: Uniben. Press. Okoduwa, Anthony. 2006. ?Tenacity of Gerontocracy in Nigeria: An Example of the Esan People in Edo State.? Okojie, C.G. 1960. Ishan Native Laws and Customs. Lagos-Nigeria: John Okwessa Publishers. Omokhodian, J.O. 1998, The Sociology of the Esans. Tropical Publication Ltd. Ojeremen, Stephen. 2007. ? Esan Youth Rebirth Movement.