Esan tribe (pronounced as ay-san), also called Ishan (the Anglicized version of Esan, as the Britons could not pronounce the name properly), is an ethnic group in Edo, Benin State in the Southern part of Nigeria.
They speak the Esan language, which is also taught in primary schools and broadcast on radio and television. Esan is bordered to the north and east by Etsako, to the south by Benin City, to the west by River Niger, and to the south-east by Agbor.
There are about 35 established kingdoms in Esan land, some of which are: Ebelle, Ohordua, Ewohimi, Ekpoma, Ubiaja, Uromi, Uzea, Igueben, Ewatto, Irrua, Opoji, Ugboha, Amahor, Ogwa, Emu, Idoa, and Ewossa. The Esan tribe keeps a homogeneous culture.
It is said that the name Esan originally E San fia owes its origin to Benin, meaning they fled. In 1460, Oba Ewuare passed laws which many of the inhabitants found highly restrictive. Hence, the people fled the kingdom to Esanland. Esan was subsequently colonized with the Benin Empire by the British in September 1897, gaining its independence 63 years later in 1960.
CULTURAL ENTERTAINMENT AND FESTIVAL
The Esan people are fun-loving group, cherishing the celebration of festivals, and giving themselves to traditional practices. They have a wide range of skill, including; poetry, writing, singing, carving, farming, storytelling (ulogho), and dancing. Their folktales are themed with rhythms from akpatu – one of the musical instruments common among the Esans – which makes them both educative and entertaining. The people are proud of their culture and ancestral heritage.
Esan dance is an acrobatic dance performed mostly by young male and dominated by the Igbabonelimi. Other dances include Agbenojie, Uleke, Ukinabojie, and Asongun.
The New Yam festival – known as Ihuan in Esan – is celebrated from September to November.
Also, an annual Esan Day celebration is held at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos every December, where prominent Esan indigenes are glamorously recognized.
Before the invasion of the colonial masters, the Esans practiced traditional religion, hlding beliefs in certain deities, namely Osanobua (the main Edo-Esan god), Esu (the Esan trickster god, translated as Satan by Christian missionaries), and Osun (the Esan god of medicine).
In contemporary times, however, majority of the Esans are Christians, having both Orthodox and Pentecostal Christian worship.
Esan land is said to be lacking in rocks and mountains. This topography, therefore, makes their land good for agricultural purposes. Palm tree and rubber tree are ranked as the highest grown trees in Esan. They also plant food crops such as cassava, yam, pepper, and okra, and fruits like pineapple, grape, cashew, banana, mango, etc.
The traditional dish of the Esans is pounded yam with ogbono soup garnished with bush meat. They also have a native black soup called Owho (oil palm).
Their traditional attire consists of Ukpesan – worn by the men, especially to weddings and important events, and Ashobi (a blouse, long skirt, and a headgear). Besides these special outing attires, they also have the traditional village garment.
TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE RITES
The Esans value their children, whether male or female, which reflects in the little amount charged as bride price – to say that they do not sell their daughters out in marriage.
Marriage ceremony varies among the Esan clans. In some cases, the parents seek out spouses for their children. Series of investigations are carried out by both families, to find out the prevailing mishaps that affect the families.
Terms of marriage are listed in families, during which, sometimes, the presence of some members of the extended family is required. Finally, a date is fixed for the marriage, which holds at the bride’s parent’s house.