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The Esan People of Nigeria

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The Esan are one of the major ethnic groups in Edo state in Southern Nigeria. The term Esan refers to; the Esan people in the central Edo state, the language of these people, an object of Esan origin for example ‘oghede Esan’ (Esan banana).

The Esan people are divided into thirty four kingdoms ruled by traditional monarchs known as ‘Onogie’. These kingdoms have their versions of Esan history and their kingdom’s origins. One of the most popular of these is the one advocated by the now defunct Agbazilo group.

The Esan are one of the major ethnic groups in Edo state in Southern Nigeria. The term Esan refers to; the Esan people in the central Edo state, the language of these people, an object of Esan origin for example ‘oghede Esan’ ( Esan banana).

The Esan people are divided into thirty four kingdoms ruled by traditional monarchs known as ‘Onogie’. These kingdoms have their versions of Esan history and their kingdom’s origins. One of the most popular of these is the one advocated by the now defunct Agbazilo group.

Origins Version 1: Queen Oakla

According to the Agbazilo group, made up mainly of the Uromi and the Uzea, Esan came into being when one of the children of Bini’s Queen Oakha and King Ojiso Owodo, Crown Prince Uzia Asokpodudu founded Uzea in about 1188 AD having fled King Owodo’s palace.

Prince Asokpodudu and Queen Oakha fled King Owodo palace following the Queen’s sentencing to death for having allegedly committed adultery with the Bini chief Ojiso.Along with this mother Prince Asokpodudu fled with; his two younger brothers Princes Ozogbo and Oigi, other relatives, palace servants and King’s ‘Uzizienghain’ or royal heirloom.

The younger prince Ozogbo later left Uzea to found Ẹgbele (present-day Uromi) the other Prince Oigi along with his mother Queen Oakha established a settlement which is today known as Ẹkperi (outside Esan land). The 'Ikhio' is an annual feast that continues to be celebrated in Uzea in remembrance of Queen Oakha.

Origins Version 2: They have fled (‘E-san-fia’)

Some groups like the Irrua do not agree with that the origins of the Esan begun with Queen Oakla’s story. They argue that the term Esan was not applied to these peoples until the arrival of other emigrants from the Bini.

Following the tragic death of his two sons on the same day, the Oba (Bini monarch) Ewuare of Benin declared that the kingdom would mourn his loss collectively putting in place draconian rules for all his subjects. For a period of three years, the people of Benin were not to ; cook, dance, procreate, wash clothes or clean their homes. Many were unable to abide by these rules and fled the Benin Kingdom. When the king realised his subjects had left his kingdom and asked those who remained where they were, they responded “E-san-fia”, (“They have fled”), they descendants of those who fled are referred to today as Esan.

Today Esanland is composed of 35 clans each led by a monarch 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, Ogboha, Uroh, and Ewu.

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