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The Ebira (also spelt Igbira or Igbirra)These days Ebira is no more pronounced or spelt “Igbira or Igbirra” because it is considered to be insultive to most of the Ebiras but then, Ebira people are an ethno-linguistic group of Nigeria. Many Ebira people are from Kogi State, Kwara State, Nasarawa State, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and Edo State. Okene is said to be the administrative centre of the Ebira-speaking people in Kogi state, not far from the Niger-Benue confluence.
Origin of the Ebiras
An elder beats the Agidibo to salute the spirits (Photo by EbiraView) Ebira Tao is the largest of the several Ebira groups found in about 8 states of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The other sister groups are Ebira Koto and Ebira Mozum (Kogi state), Ebira Panda, Ebira Oje/Toto (Nassarawa state), Ebira Etuno (Edo state), Ebira Agatu (Benue state) Ebira Oloko (Ondo/Oyo/Osun states). Written records about the origin of the Ebira people were those compiled from palace sources by the British colonial administrators in early 20th century. The Ebira, through oral tradition, trace their descent to Wukari (in the present Taraba state) where they were a constituent part of the 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 the vicinity of Upake in Ajaokuta LGA. The ‘father’ of the Ebira Tao who led them to this premier settlement in Ebiraland was Itaazi. Itaazi had five (5) 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 Uhwami. 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 Okovi Oviri and Enwgukonyai. Obaji the founder of Eika had 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 Odumi. 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 craftsmen are found in all districts. They are, however, more concentrated in Okengwe and Adavi districts.
Location and size of the Ebira community
Ebiraland, the home of Ebira Tao, is located in the central senatorial District of Kogi state. It has a landmass of 3,426 km2. The 1991 national census puts the population of the area 722,032. Another national head count was undertaken in 2006. The provisional figure of 884,396 released by the National Population Commission (NPC) is being disputed. It is distributed as follows: Okene LGA (320,260), Adavi LGA (202,194), Okehi LGA (199,999), Ajaokuta LGA (122,321) and Ogori Magongo LGA (39,622).
The Ebira people are republican by nature, outspoken and very hard working. Farming and cloth-weaving are occupations for which the Ebiras are well known. They are presently spread in five Local Government Areas of Kogi state namely: Adavi, Okene, Okehi, Ajaokuta and Ogori-magongo. A sizeable number is also found in Lokoja Local Government Area and Oyo states. The paramount ruler of the people is called Ohinoyi of Ebiraland. The Ebira cherish their traditional festivals in spite of the infiltration of some negative tendencies.
Cultural Festivals (Eche-Ozi Ete)
The Ebiras have several annual cultural festivals. Three of the most prominent ones are ‘Echane’, ‘Eche Ori’ and ‘Ekuechi’.
This is an annual masquerade festival celebrated in rotation from one district to the other in Ebiraland (between April–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. It is regrettable that this very popular and interesting festival has been bastardized and now a source of constant breach of peace.
‘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 worshipers carry long canes with which they whip one another in turns without anyone exhibiting any sign of pain. This is a mark of strength or manhood. Another important attraction of the festival is the delightful ‘Echori’ music in which female singers feature prominently. Only after this festival 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.
Ekuechi (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 eeeh! Osa yeeeh!” which means “the year of the Ododo has ended; the year of Akatapa has ended. Here is another year”. The festival begins with a festival eve in which folk singers (ome 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. It is restricted to men only so all women stay indoors throughout the duration of the festival. All dead relatives are believed to return to an earth on a visit this night, so, women prepare delicious ‘Apapa’ (bean read) 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.
Traditional Marriage in Ebira(Igbirra) Land
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Ebira people, mostly living along the River Benue plain down and beyond the River Niger, are a tribe found in Kogi state in Okene, Okehi, Adavi and Ajaokuta local government areas and in some parts of Nassarawa and Edo states.
The word Ebira means behaviour when translated literally with ethics and hospitality as compliments. The unique features of the Ebira culture with its ethnic aestheticism, are appreciated most in the event of traditional marriages.
Victoria Mayaki sheds more light on this. When a man sees a lady he intends to marry, he discusses his intentions with her, who, if interested, tells him to bring his people to express his intentions to her parents.
In respect to the Ebira tradition, the man does not walk to the parents of the woman to disclose his intentions; his parents or elders mostly the women do this by going to the lady’s parents to introduce themselves and also to inform them of their reason for coming to the house.
After this is done, the parents of the lady then conduct a thorough investigation 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.
The gift items usually include; about 42 tubers of yam, dried fish or bush meat, 10 liters of palm oil, a bag of salt, assorted wines and kola nut. The groom may also decide to present two wrappers to his would-be bride but this is optional.
On the day of introduction, it is not necessary that the man attends the occasion as his family members do the necessary things on his behalf. The bride’s family in turn, entertains the groom’s 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 neighbours 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” that is “I am attracted to her” which a certain amount of money is attached to, and “otanuvogei” that is “joining hands together”. There is also “idoza” that is “farming price” paid to the bride’s family because Ebira people are predominantly farmers. In the olden days when every young man had to farm, the groom and his friends appoint a day to farm for the father of the bride but these days because most young men don’t farm any longer, they pay money instead.
On the day of the traditional marriage, women in the man’s family are seen singing and dancing carrying tubers of yams on their heads to the lady’s house. The singing and dancing continues at their arrival at the lady’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 lady.
The ceremony is usually colorful with display of dances by maiden groups mostly the bride’s friends 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, escorted by her friends and other women to her husband’s house with her belongings.
There are several people who made tremendous impact on Ebira nation in ancient times. These were:
- Itaazi – ‘FATHER’ or progenitor of Ebira Tao people
- Ohizi (Adaviruku) – Son of Itaazi and founder of Adavi district
- Ododo – Son of Itaazi and founder of Okehi district
- Obaji – Son of Itaazi and founder of Eika district
- Uga – Son of Itaazi and founder of Okengwe district
- Ochuga – Youngest son of Itaazi and founder of Ihima district
- Ohunene – Daughter of Itaazi and founder of Eganyi district
- Obege Ikaturu – Greatest herbalist in Ebira history
- Otase – Greatest marksman in Ebira history
- Atta Omadivi Abonika – Ebira war commander during the 1885 Ajinimo war (Nupe invasion of Ebiraland in which Ebira defeated the Nupe)
- Ovanesi – War commander during the Ebira/Bassa war where the Bassa were defeated (1890).
- Zainab Ejinovo Iyebe – Princess and later ‘Queen mother’ of immense influence
- Atta Ibrahim Onoruoyiza – Leader with great vision and father of modern Ebira
- Onono Idogido – Great social crusader and leader of 1951 women revolt against taxation.
- Raji Abdallah – nationalist who fought for Nigeria’s independence along with Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo. He was imprisoned by the British colonialists.
- Oyikete Ebira, by S.S. Salami(edited by Isaac H. Jimoh). http://ebiraview.blogspot.com/2011/01/sketch-history-of-ebira-itopa-ebira.html
Ethnic groups in Nigeria