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Ethnic Groups In Nigeria: The Eloyi People


Background and History

The Eloyi are found scattered among the Benue and Plateau areas in central Nigeria. The principal geographic feature in the region is a fifteen mile range of steep rocky hills, in which most of the Eloyi lived until 1918. In 1918, a revolt occurred forcing most Eloyi people to leave their strongholds in the rocks and to settle in the plains at the foot of the range. Since then, some have moved back to the rocky hills, leaving them again isolated, even from their Eloyi brothers in the plains.

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In 1932, the British divided the Eloyi into ten village areas, each under a village head. However, the Eloyi preserved their attitude of independence and refused to recognize the village head, feeling that their customs, traditions, and religion were being threatened. Today, though many of their customs persist, large numbers of Eloyi are working for wages as they gradually become integrated into a larger commercial economy.

The Livelihood of the Eloyi People

In comparison to some other tribes in the Benue Valley, the Eloyi are more economically advanced. The Eloyi in the hills plant guinea corn, cotton, yams, and tobacco. They specialize in weaving and dyeing, since there is a high local demand for cloth. They travel far distances to trade their surplus goods. The Eloyi of the plains, however, are mostly farmers who trade only on a small scale. They obtain cash from the export of palm oil and dried fish. Eloyi men hunt, clear the land for agriculture, and do most of the fishing and large-scale trading. Women trade at the local level, often making more money than do their husbands. They also help in cultivation and perform most household responsibilities, such as caring for children and preparing meals. The Eloyi villages in the hills are made up of round huts with conical thatched roofs grouped around a central courtyard. In the plains the Eloyi are mostly farmers, selling dried fish and palm oil for cash. The plains Eloyi build large houses within compounds and fortify their villages.

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The Socio-Cultural Structure

The Eloyi live in compact villages or towns, some of them walled. The larger villages are divided into wards, which are sometimes separated into distinct hamlets. In the hills, round huts with conical thatched roofs serve as Eloyi houses. They are grouped in a compound around a central courtyard, which serves as a place for social gatherings and relaxation. The plains people fortify their villages and construct large houses, adopting the Hausa pattern of compounds.

To most Eloyi, the village community is everything and the tribe, nothing. No tribal organizations have been found among them. Each village has a stubborn independence of the next, causing frequent tension between the Eloyi tribe as a whole. Each village has a chief who is assisted by a council of elders. Together, they handle most village affairs and try cases. The Gado is the father of the community and the final authority on Eloyi custom. He orders the performance of village planting and harvest rites, which are carried out on the grave of their ancestors. He also decides questions of law.

The Beliefs of the Eloyi People

Although a small number of the Eloyi have become Muslims, the majority continue to practice their traditional beliefs. The Eloyi believe in the impersonal god, Owo. The cult of Owo is personal and not a group affair. Owo is symbolized by either a white silk cotton tree or a fig tree, depending on the location in which a particular Eloyi lives. Ancestor worship (the belief that the spirits of deceased ancestors are alive and need to be fed and cared for) is important in Eloyi life. Masked ancestor impersonation is central to their worship. Witchcraft, magic, and divination with strings, are also a part of Eloyi ethnic beliefs.



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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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