HISTORY OF EBELLE
By Gabriel Akhabue Iruobe
2014 Reviewed in 2018
Ebelle is a notable Esan Ethnic community and one of the most ancient kingdoms in the modem state of Edo that flourished economically and socially for several centuries. Also, she is endowed with an impressive historic-cultural heritage. The community had experienced a blossom of socio-economic activities for about six centuries, according to Ebelle Development Union (EDU) report (2012).
Available records and oral tradition support the historical account that by the middle of the 14th century A.D, one prince Agbabhoko of Uta-gbuno clan Kwale migrated from his community to what is now Ebelle town following some internal political squabbles within his place of origin. This incident which occurred during the reign of Oba Ogbeka of Benin as the paramount king in the 14th century, a period which coincided with the era of massive population movements and migration from Benin towards the North and North East, mainly to escape wars, and some, for the sake of adventure and search of convenient abodes elsewhere especially those endowed with freshwater and good soil. Tradition further has it that Prince Agbabhoko who was a strong and renowned magician and herbalist was able to very quickly establish himself as a ruler over the various other indigenous and settler communities he met at Ebele giving his reputation and his royal pedigree. News of his prowess soon got to the court of the Oba of Benin who summoned him to his court to appear before him. It is further recorded that his majesty was so impressed with the foreign prince that he accepted to place him under his royal protection and presented him with the Royal Sword (Eben) of rulership over the new kingdom of Ebelle.
The current population of Ebelle is predominantly composed of quisi-Edo speaking migrants who came to settle there beginning from the reign of Oba Ewuare of Benin Kingdom; and this explains the ethno-cultural affinity of Ebelle to Benin. This is easily seen in the language similarity, mode of traditional salutation, traditional guilds and crafts, cultural regalia and accoutrements.
(Source: Ebelle Development Union’s account at the Seminar on Traditional Institutions in Ebelle, 2012)
THE ORIGINAL NAME OF EBELLE
The original name of Ebelle is Ebene-amaka, as has been highlighted before. We have also established the fact that the name was later abbreviated to Ebene. Through transformation or language metamorphoses the name became Ebele. Ebene-amaka or Ebena-maka means ‘here is good enough for us’ in the Ika language from where the first princes, two of them, migrated from, after the initial escape from Benin Kingdom was completed, occasioned by wars and alleged ‘highhandedness of the Oba’ at the time, especially in the period following a decree that all subjects were not to have children for three years following the death of a notable prince of the Benin Kingdom. This necessitated rapid emigrations or self-exiles of some of the persons who considered themselves unable to observe the restriction, to hinterlands and in forests now known as Esan Land. The two brothers that escaped to Ika from Benin later migrated towards the place now known as Esan land until they both settled close to each other. Agbabhoko settled at IDIBHIGIE where administrative and spiritual matters were resolved. This is the place too that then had the attraction and central place to receive the primacy to anoint and install a community paramount leader otherwise known as the king. Thus the Eguare occupied the position of king making, within which the royal lineage developed. The brother of Agbabhoko, Ebor who was uninterested in political affairs settled at Idumhun-Ebor also referred to as IDUMHUN-ABUOR or “the second village” by those related in ancestry to them, as he gave support to his brother from time to time. The two princes are said to have the royal recognition for organizing the community. But the kingly stool became the office of the Agbabhoko’s linage. The Agbabhoko became more influential while Ebor was more reserved as he concentrated more on his farming activities. But the respect that the brothers had exists till date as Idumhun-Ebor malappropriately called “home of idols” as against idumhun of one Mr. Ebor even though, evidently, the ancestors were used to idol worship of Ogun, Inyanto, Ukhure, Ikhimhin, Azelhu etc as deities, until the advent of Christianity that led to the abandonment of these gods) become the central place for the initiation into the ODIONWELE hierarchy/status (Head of the clan which is determined by attaining certain age-bracket and a corresponding initiation or installation rites) rank, at Idumhun-ebour, Ologhe Ebelle. Whenever the vacuum of an Odionwele occurred in Eguare Ebelle, the tradition handed down was that the rites of initiation into the Odionwele rank was often seconded to Ologhe, and in particular, Idumhun-Ebor in respect for or submission to the authority and familial staff of the brother of Agbabhoko. This account is supported by oral tradition stories held by most elders in Ebelle community.
The emissaries that were sent to search for the whereabouts of the princes, when they found them, sought to convince them to return back to the Benin Kingdom but they declined with the statement, “Ebene-amaka” which is translated in Ika language as “here is good enough for us”, hence, the statement became a point of reference for the Benin monarch and paramount ruler, and a byword to ridicule their recalcitrance and unwillingness to return home (Benin Empire). Ebelle as a name or label evolved therefore from the lingual transformation of Ebene. Before the Colonial masters came to Africa and to Nigeria in particular, Ebene had already metamorphosed into Ebele. For literary use, emphasis and convenience by the colonial masters, Ebele became Ebelle. This same motive of convenience also led to a rephrasing of the names of several towns in Esan by the Colonial Masters. For instance, Ulhonmhin was renamed Uromi , Ubiaza as Ubiaja, Uruwa as Irrua, Ekponmhan as Ekpoma, Ebhosa as Ewossa; Ebho-ato as Ewatto, Ukpozi as Opoji, Ebho-Ikhimhin as Ewohimi etc. which are independent kingdoms of Esan land among others.
ANCIENT AND CONTEMPORARY EBELLE
Earlier, the lose geographical boundary and trado-political sphere or influence of Ancient Ebelle Kingdom extended to Egbiki-Igueben, Ugun, Amahor, Amahor- Waterside, Ujiogba, Ogwa, Idumhun Odin, Ugbegun, Idumhun-Oka (Now Okalo), long before the Colonial incursion, most of which still remain allies of Ebelle or just ‘brothers communities, and stand as autonomous and independent kingdoms in contemporary times exercising limited powers with the Nigerian republic and constitutional democracy.
There are now five quarters in Ebelle still loyal to the king and functioning together as one entity. The five quarters in contemporary Ebelle are Eguai or Eguare (the seat of the King), Okuta, Okpujie, Ologhe and Idumhun-owu (that a few of its elite wanted to rename as Okhai, to remove the sentiment of an association with idol worship ‘Owu’, but also swiftly resisted by the Ebelle Palace Chiefs and the Highness himself (HRH Aikpaogie I), in 2011, noting that it did not follow due process) The coming together of these semi-independent communities was part of the waves of migration subsequent to the founding of the town which was a mere strategy of consolidation against aggressors. Within the traditional institutional value system, high premium was placed on egalitarianism, as participation by proxy in governance was unacceptable hence all adult males (from Ekpolughes to Igeles and Edions) were expected to appear at the village square, usually in the compound of the Odionwele of the clans for both quasi-legislative, executive and judiciary actions of social solidarity, cooperation and cohesion. Therefore, the communities subsisted under freedom from coercion or the maligning dominance of any individual or any of its constituent parts by the other. In times of war, they all rallied round to defend the kingdom and allies.
Having learnt from the experience of the Benin kingdom and allegation of highhandedness of a particular Oba before the massive emigrations, the successive kings of Ebelle did not want to entertain any form of dictatorial tendencies especially when we consider the courteous, benevolent and open way they conducted themselves amongst the communities that regarded themselves as allies or loyalists of the Ebelle kingdom. The ancient kingdom served only as a collaboration and cooperation centres for communities, giving rise to the transformation of erstwhile affiliates into full-fledged independent Kingdoms rather than as satellites or colonies. Cooperation therefore was mutually beneficial to parties. The integrity of the Ebelle Kingdom made it possible for other communities to trust her for any form of assistance. Thus, Ebelle’s function for most of its neighbours were merely to give assistance or support in terms of ravaging wars or epidemic (in the case of Ogwa) involving such communities or occurring therein, if called upon. Therefore, Ebelle did not want to play the role of a meddlesome interloper with the affairs of these satellites communities nor made attempt to convert or force these communities into direct protectorates , which could have been possible because of its slight density, but merely those for whom economic or security assistance could be given at any point in time. Today, most of the indigenes of the communities that have remained politically independent and out of the administrative aprons of ancient Ebelle Kingdom. (the erstwhile quisi-protectorates) still refer to themselves as Ebelleans in cities or urban centres except when such identity conflict with their parochial interests, political independence, autonomy and integrity, or just mere crisis of identity. Ebelle, for most times, does not even think that their independent brother-communities lose such rights to self-expression, and if need be, self-determination. Whenever there is need for cooperative efforts, this is usually achieved without struggles or suspicion. Thus, the truce, unity, hospitality and support that have existed between the independent communities hitherto referred to as ‘Ebelle’ for centuries still exists today except for the minor rift Ebelle had with the Ogwa community, in 1978 on boundary issues, that geographically cannot be differentiated from Ebelle. Some Ebelle reputable individuals are offered chieftaincy titles elsewhere within such other brother-communities without reservation or other primordial considerations just like the Ebelle chieftaincy affairs also recognize dignified persons from these communities and also offer them chieftaincy title, showing the kind of cooperation and goodwill between these towns or sub-urban communities.
THE LOCATION OF EBELLE IN THE WORLD MAP
Contemporary Ebelle is bounded in the north by Igueben, north east by Okalo, South East by Ewohimi, South-South by Ewossa (or Ebhosa) South-West by Idumodin West -Central, by Amahor , Ugun, North-west by Ogwa.
Geographically, Ebelle community used to be part of Esan central of Edo state but now part of Igueben LGA of Edo State, Nigeria. Its geographical coordinates are 6o 30’ 0” North and 6o 13’0” East.
Location of Ebelle in the World Map
The Ebelle people speak the Esan language whose special brand have so much of concepts, ideas, names, intonation similar to that of the Benin Kingdom from which all Esan Kingdoms originate. But perhaps the closeness of the Ebelle-Esan language to the Benin prototype is for the fact that the migrants were late arrivals at Esan land, as has been speculated. Thus, they still retained much of the Benin ascents, semantics, linguistic configurations and colourations in their conversation or interactions. In fact, it is probable that other Esans like Uromi, Ubiaja, Irrua , Ekpoma, Ewu, Emu, Opoji which are more similar lingustically, may associate the language of Ebelle more with that of the Benin brand than of what some have claimed as core Esan. But the sociological fact is that between one town and another in Esan land, there is a marked difference in dialect and intonation. However, all Esans, for most times, understand one another despite the variations. Ebhosa (Renamed by the Colonial masters as Ewossa), Ebho-ato (remaned by the colonial masters as Ewatto, Ebho-Ikhimhin (Renamed by the Colonial master as Ewohimi), Ekpon, Igueben, Ugboha, Ogwa and Ebelle exhibit more similarity in their intonation and dialect, just like Ubiaja, Uromi, Ewu, Irrua, Ekpoma, Iruekpen ,Opoji and other communities contiguous to the mentioned exhibit more lingual similarity. The list here is by no mean an exhausted list of the Esan people. This is just to show that similarities and differences exist in Esan language. Where Ebelle comes in is in its semblance with the Benin language in particular. Ebelle people do not find it difficult understanding the Benin language or other Esans.
The similarity in language between the communities making up the quisi-ancient Ebelle indicates the close ties that existed between them for centuries as well as the cultural affinity and interaction. Persons from other communities are not likely to distinguish between the special dialects spoken or the characteristic way of talking with its special variety of intonations, in a class of its own, of these proximate communities. But within the communities themselves, the differences could be spotted and thus, they remain glaring. For instance, an Ogwa man will know that he interacts with an Ebelle man, the difference that an Uromi or Ubiaja man may never spot. But whether they are able to understand the intonations or not does not remove the fact that they do understand the language or the content of discussions. In the past, Ebelle market was a centre of attraction for all Esans , especially of the affiliate communities of Ekpon, Ewatto, Ewossa, Ewohimi, Imumhondin, Ugboha, Ujiebhudu, Ujiogba, Ogwa, Egbiki, Igueben, Opoji, where trading or exchanges was done in one’s dialet without being misrepresented. But a Benin man is more likely to understand Ebelle man than they would for Uromi or Ekpoma due to similarities in intonations. Despite these differences in intonations, the concepts are very often the same or very similar as most names you find in Benin kingdom are replicated in Esan land. Also the popular saying that the Esans don’t harm the Edos (Esiangbedo) shows that the brotherhood existing between the Benin man and the Esan man cannot be taken for granted. In fact, all Esan, having migrate from Benin kingdom regard themselves as Binis or Edos. Thus, critically, there is a difference between Bini and Benin. Benin is Benin-city while Bini is Edo Multi-kingdoms or mega-kingdoms. In the Edo geo-political environment, after Benin (Edo South) is Esan (Edo Central) in terms of population and land mass. But the Afemais (Edo North) are also regarded is brothers to the Esans and perhaps migrated as early as the Esans. There is a saying that in Benin city, one out of every two Benin person you find is an Esan man. It is a case of emigrants retuned home. But a typical Benin man would prefer transactions based on Ebelle language than that done in other Esan or Afemai.
EBELLE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Although with a slightly varied dialect, the customs and traditions remain the same. Also, stories told in Esan kingdoms feature as the same stories you have of Benin kingdom. Stories of Ogie-iso, Ogie-amen, Oba, Ekhaimhon, Ogie, Arualan (GIANT) Oboh, Azen, Osoh, etc is pervasive in all the towns of Esan land and in present day Benin kingdom. This tells of their common ancestry or historical antecedents or heritage. The names and concepts remain similar just like the greetings, food, dressing especially with the use of beads of royalty in decorating, chieftains or celebrants on special occasions like marriages and coronations, the use of white chalk to symbolize purity or consecrations etc. Censor and edit Benin stories from Esan stories, Esans would have no history at all; because it is the same story to a point of mass exit from Benin. Thus, there is really no difference between the Benin ancestors and the Esan ancestors since the Esan are merely those who ‘jumped’ ‘san’ out of Benin kingdom when it became too hot in terms of wars they had to fight, sometimes in confrontation with the ‘talking pipes’ or guns of the white men that needed slaves for suger plantations or the mines in Europe. The respect the Esan people still have of the Oba of Benin tells a huge story of continued loyalty to the ancestral authority. These days the successive Obas still visit the Esan Enogies (or Onojies) in solidarity with the communities. Where they cannot personally visit, the Oba representatives like his prime ministers often visit Esan communities of interest.
KINGS AND KEY ACTORS IN EBELLE
In a report by Ebelle Development Union (EDU , 2012) from the reign of Agbabhoko the very first Enogie there have been nineteen crowned Royal Enigie (Kings) who have reigned over Ebelle kingdom. The present ruler is HRH Zaiki Aikpaogie I (JP), formerly, a prince of Ebelle by name Prince Joseph Igbinije, who ascended the throne of his forefathers in 1999 taking over the mantle of leadership from his late father HRH Imhanduogiemu (or Imadejemu). In his later years as a king, he looked quite frail, yet he remained very strong and vibrant. But he was a man of few words. His brother, Samson Igbinigie was often on hand to assist him in literary matters with strangers and government officials.
Under the reign of Madojemu, as was gathered, the kingdom was very cohesive and made significant progress. He maintained the primal place of the famous Ebelle market, the operational Maternity Centre, Postal Agency, Court, Water reservoirs that provided pipe-borne water to the Ebelle residents, flourishing primary schools, and the installation of the Community Secondary School and the Police Station before his demise. Although he was not too literate, he was able to work with his lieutenants or the literate in society that advised him on current trends in traditional administration. Persons like the late Chief John Omigie, Chief (SAN) Christopher Ihensekhien, Chief Samson Igbinijie, Chief Paul Odia and other enlightened individuals, were always on hand to assist in external relations of Ebelle Kingdom at an epoch and in internal people’s management. Others that were there as sons of the soil where Late Commissioner of Police (CP) Otabor of Okpujie, Late Maj Stephen Iruobe (rtd) of Ologhe, who were rolemodels to many and whose influence provided opportunity for some Ebelle sons to be recruited into the forces as part of empowerment of the Ebelle youths. Others that have also made some mark are Rt. Rev. (Brig) R. A. Uhumuavbi (rtd) whose influence in the Nigerian Military and religious world placed Ebelle on a high social pedestal. The resilience of persons like Maj Festus Oviawe (rtd) an Assistant Director of Music in the Nigerian Army and the the son of Chief Nathaniel Oviawe, who made a mark in the military through his Classical musical prowls as well as the doggedness in the efforts towards Ebelle people’s regrouping in the cities, also comes to mind. Today Ebelle sons and daughters have risen to positions of influence and affluence with some able to affect the lives of the youths and others still very adamant to changes in the epochal clock. Some of the persons whose praises are in the lips of most Ebelleans are Commissionser of Police (CP) Ebhuoma (Rtd), Dr. Alex Izunyon (SAN, OON), Mr. Francis.Osayi. Akhimien (JP), Engr. Osakue, Rev. Sir Omozogie (JP), a.k.a ‘Omon Stores’, Prof. Simeon Osazuwa , Fredrick Oreye, Chief Alex Adoghe, Sir Albert Ebhoma, David Ejiade, Chief Eddy Eriamiator, Chief Engr Agwinede, Chief M.O. Iria (JP) Chief Joshua Eriamienatoe Iriogbe, Hon. Bar. Kenneth O. Ihensekhien, David Omigie, Iyere Augustine Ogbewi Bar. Oreye Udo Livingstone, Mr Matthew Atoe, Ifada Ehoida, Robert Eboigbe, Francis Dickson Oreye etc.
THE EBELLE ECONOMY AND INFRASTRUCTURE
Ebelle is famous for its popular market, its unique and unadulterated palmwine, its hospitality and its farming prowess in pre-colonial Africa and now. Since the red clay soil of its heritage is so good for the production of yellow yam (Ikpen), the attraction to go to Ebelle to obtain goods at cheaper prices is both instructive and expected. This forms the bulk of her revenue and earnings and encouraged agrarian production beyond subsistence levels. This was to allow surpluses that could be sold to other communities. Indeed, the market used to attract patronage from traders from the Eastern, Western and Northern part of Nigeria even as far as Ekwen (Present day Akure) Bakassi in the now western Cameron. This economic patronage have not subsided and explain the status of Ebelle as a key centre of commerce in the whole of Esan land and Edo State (EDU Report, 2012). Indigenous famers however complain of being made to sell at lower prices by bourgeois marketers only interested in expropriation or exploitation. These days, various socio-political circumstances appears to have been stunted, and thus, have strained the market inlets and made Ebelle market somewhat a shadow of its enviable past. Some persons have attributed the diminished market potential as politically driven since Ebelle had been unsuccessful in playing it politicking in such a manner that knits it with the ruling party at any point in time. From records, it has been shown that Ebelle has always pitched tent with the opposition party in Nigeria that has not paid-off for the kingdom except for some brief periods. Thus, successive governments neglect it in basic infrastructure provision. Even the ones that existed in times past have become dilapidated and others irredeemably ruined. As a neglected town, no government institutions or parastatals exists therein beyond that of teaching, customary court services, and primary health care activities. These absorbs only an insignificant amount of the population, hence a lot of the populace are condemned to non-mechanized and peasant agriculture in addition to not having improved variety of crops, or fertilizers or irrigation facilities. The rest are artisans, semi-skilled labourers, few drivers and bike riders. Worthy of note also is that there is often a clear difference between those who are opportune to work outside of Ebelle and those who chose to maintain their economic activities within it. Farming that is the mainstay of the Ebelle economy has not been able to transform the lives of those who engage in it nor have any meaningful impact on infrastructure. Most of the roads are still untarred except that of Eguare and a small portion of Okpujie often retouched by politicians for electoral campaign purposes. By the end of 2015, a larger part of Okpujie, the whole of Idumowu streets, the whole of Okuta streets, the whole of Ologhe streets remain untarred. But because there is often less traffic on the muddy roads, some remained motorable as the local government performs some grading of some of the roads. But in terms of solid road, only Eguare enjoy a stretch of it while still, other roads in Eguare wear the ancient looks. Thus only part of Okpujie and Eguare enjoy a short stretch of road that is designed to link the palace to the highway. As the people are left with primitive tools like hoe and cutlasses to open up the place, in some places, the roads are often very narrow, rough and wobbly.
- The Colonial Era: Infrastructural developments during the colonial and post-colonial era included the Customary Court, building of primary schools, Maternity, Dispensary, Post Office, and the provision of pipe-borne water available in some parts of Ebelle, namely, Idumowu and Eguare. Later, portable water project was extended to Okpujie, Ologhe and Okuta replacing the ground and muddy wells of the past. However, due to management deficiencies or challenges of the water board, the infrastructure lay waste. No water runs from the taps anymore, not now that underground tanks have become the substitute for pipe-borne water. Essentially, the Customary Court at Ebelle flourished for decades to give Ebelle semblance of government presence; whose jurisdiction extended to Ebelle allies and proximate communities or towns. Matters that could not be resolved at the Customary Court at Ebelle was only to be seconded or adjourned to Ubiaja as the next superior court or a competent court of higher jurisdiction. A residential quarter was built by the colonial masters for the presiding officer of the court.
- Contemporary Times: Some people have managed to build underground cement-tanks that can retain water in rainy seasons through proper channeling with zink sheets and/or pipes, but dries out in dry seasons to expect another rainy season. An insignificant few amongst the well-to-do indigenes are able to sink private boreholes coupled with the efforts of the Christian missions that now makes hygienic and portable water available to a few families contiguous to such locations. It is often market boom regularly in droughts for water tanker merchants who fetch water directly from nearby rivers and streams like the Ujiogba river, for domestic use. Others simply rely on ‘pure-water’ business where sachets of water are marketed; whether or not their hygienic levels are scrutinized, certified or guaranteed. Due to the topography of Ebelle and the entire Esanland, it takes an average of 200 to 500 feet deep to reach the water-bed thus making it difficult for an average farmer to take-up borehole drilling as a personal project no matter the quest for safe drinking water. The local government have also not been able to do so themselves, perhaps because of the fund required or corruption by those who are out to satisfy themselves before the public. Even the successive state governments are not motivated to undertake such a venture, perhaps due to Ebelle’s almost permanent opposition status. Where attempts have been made, the contractors soon get weary of drilling for too far into the earth crust. The local government headquarter situated at a nearby town of Igueben has a few of modern amenities but are largely inaccessible to the Ebelle people for distance and cost. But there were some additions to the primary schools by the Adams Oshiomhonle’s led administration and the incumbent successor, Governor Godwin Obaseki is yet to make his mark in Ebelle. The public secondary school witnessed a marked improvement on its building. Very little however is known about the equipping of the classes and the laboratories. Rural electrification scheme in Ebelle become one of the major landmark developmental infrastructure provided for Ebelle which first began with Eguare, Okpujie and Idumowu in 1989. Later, Ologhe and Okuta became incorporated largely through self help. Significantly, through the efforts of Dr. Eromosele Idahosa as Chairman of Esan Central LGA, Ebelle can boast of electricity, even though the required industrial takeoff is yet to be achieved. Apart from the low voltage often given by the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) or the new supplier (BEDC), a larger part of the population still are underserved in terms of electrical gadgets usage, hence power consumption is very low compared with other towns. Thus, for most persons in Ebelle, power is essentially for light and powering of TV sets or charging of handsets. Because it is a town where most of its youths migrate to city centers after secondary school education, the dominant population are elders and children and an insignificant migrants engaging in petty trading, like the Hausas and Ibos. Yorubas are not significantly represented with just a handful of them working at the Samuel Adegboyega University at Ogwa who prefer to have their residents at Ebelle, very contiguous to the University. Other ethnic groups are almost non-existent except those married to indigenes of Ebelle or those engaging in petty businesses around the Ebelle Business District of Okpujie/Ogwa junction. This is the place where the motor park and Motor-bike Park and Police station are located.
- Economic Viability: The vast land of Ebelle extending to the boarders of Igueben, Ewohimi, Ebhosa, Ugun, Idumhun-Odin, Ogwa, Ugbegun, and Amahor is a point of attraction for Agro-business men even though there appears to be no serious attention at acquiring such for developmental purpose such as for schools or modern and mechanized farming. Even in faming, the indigenes have to rely on local farm implements. Apart from mechanization of agriculture that is absent, the use of fertilizers in farming is also not common or supported by many largely due to financial incapacitation, inaccessibility of materials for political disadvantages and the myths or superstition surrounding the use of synthetics to alter natural and consumable farm produce (improved varieties). Thus, most farmers rely on the ‘grace’ of the rich and fertile soil for their farm yields. Other forms of farming is rare and irrigation is non-existent. In short, most of the agrarian activities revolve around the raining seasons only. Food supply however is not totally in bad shape except that cash flow remains slim and inadequate for this rural population owing their loses to the marketer who buy from them cheaply only to resell them in cities at cutthroat prices and poor harvest for failure to apply fertilizers in farming or the use of improved variety of crops.
EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS IN EBELLE
The highest educational institution in Ebelle as at 2014 is the Ebelle Secondary/Commercial school and a few other private secondary schools even though there is a university at Ogwa (Samuel Adegboyega University) contiguous to it as well as a college of Education at Igueben. We cannot affirm that the largely illiterate Ebelle population see the proximity to these higher institutions of any serious consequence to development or advancement for now. If they do consider its worth at all, the facilities appear largely unharnessed. It appears also that the social awakening initiatives often embarked upon by the Ebelle Development Union (EDU) may need to be strengthened, if the Ebelle people will reap the true dividend of nearness to a citadel of intellectualism. The situation is that the educable youths and school leavers still throng around an Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma; or Univeristy of Benin, Benin-city ; the Benson Idahosa Univeristy , Benin-city, much distant from the locality and other higher institutions around the nation. But largely, those that appears to have made a mark in their educational pursuits are those who were not bread in Ebelle soil. This tells of the value reposed on education and the reading culture which by our reckoning appears weak for now. But in the very near future, it is expected that this statistic will be greatly affected and reversed since education is gradually becoming every family’s franchise. To this end, there are only few families today that cannot boast of a graduate, even though the employment rate is still a huge challenge. Thus, a significant few have acquired academic training but the ratio of the employed graduates to the unemployed is still a far cry from the desirable. This sometimes have been blamed on the fact that the few Ebelle elites are overwhelmed with the number such that the little they do to assist their brothers and sisters to hook-up with jobs becomes insignificant, and hence, inconsequential, in the long run. Although these elites wish to help their brothers secure some formal jobs, the chances remain very slim due to the overwhelming rate of unemployment and the competition amongst various interest groups in Nigeria generally. A few others think that the elites are selfish and do not care about the plight of their unemployed brothers. Whilst it is not comfortable or reasonable for most of the youths to remain in Ebelle as a rural area, (especially that there are no government jobs there nor are there private investors big enough to require the services of graduates) most youths migrate to the cities for the golden fleece, in the spirit of hope against hope. Whereas this often places Ebelle at a disadvantage in elections or in population censuses, there is no sign that a government institution may emerge there soon to discourage this mass drift out of it. Perhaps, spirited individual may be interested in making it their center for investments. The viability of agro-industries in Ebelle appears high, while investment in educational institutions remain laudable provided they are within the reach of peasant farmers and artisans. In the quest for this turnaround, the king of Ebelle, HRH Aikpaogie 1 (JP) promised at Ebelle Conference 2011, any entrepreneurs free acres of land provided they would be used for higher educational institutions, or free land for renting for a period for the sake of mechanized farming but raises eyebrows against cattle colonies in Ebelle land.
EBELLE CULTURE AND SOCIALS
Culturally, the Ebelle people are known for various dances similar to other Esan people of the larger Edo cultural group, otherwise referred to as the Binis. The Edo speaking people are known for their once powerful and famous kingdom and empire of Benin occupying the territory immediately east of Yorubaland. (Udo Reuben K. 1980:17) The dominant cultural dance of the Ebelle people and of the entire Esan is Egbabonelimhin that involves energetic display of skills and masculinity and incorporates Acrobatics (‘Akhiri-Iyeke’ ‘Akhiri-Odalho’, ‘Aruhumhun-legen’) , Drunk Dance (‘Asolo’ or ‘Obaynon’) and Tumbling, rolls, summersaults and spinning in masks (‘Ebodo’), masquerades of multicolor costumes (‘Okpodu’) or of palm-fronts (‘Okpodu-Ijiome’) , the school-age dances for boys (Ekialikia), young girls gymnastics (‘Kpe-gbe-gbe’ or ‘Igieleghe’) etc. The New year (‘Ukpe’) celebration was taken seriously where the blessings of the year were ‘predetermined’ by the gods. These days, it is replaced by the Christian blessings of ‘cross-over’ into a new year. But the celebration remains intact where families are expected to dine and feast together. It is also a forum to exchange gifts of any kind especially seed-yams for the emerging planting season, kola-nuts, black-beans, dried bush-meats, soup-melon etc; and perform some rites like paying of homage to the Odionwele, respectable Chiefs and the king (‘Izoton’), with yam-tuber, palmwine and sometimes cash, and to in-laws. The in-law homage remains sacrosanct and very compulsory as the parents or the eldest son of a wife’s family enjoy a yearly dividend of benevolence called “ikhun” for giving out their daughter/sister in marriage to the now obligated man/family. It is often time to service or renew the relationship.
The families in Ebelle are very united and the ritual of coming together at “Ukpe” abound with which affinities are strengthened. In the same vein, marriage in Ebelle was in old times not elaborate. In fact, when a young man was interested in any lady, all he did was organize some friends from the age-grade “Ekpolughe” to kidnap or catch her on her way to the market. Market going was like very compulsory for all marriageable girls or ladies as it provided a social forum for selection of suitors or a place to woo ladies of choice or have longer and uninterrupted discussion with persons of opposite sex. Thus people pretended to be buying things when in actual fact they are merely engaging in familiarization with the opposite sex. Since it was an eyesore to have persons of opposite sex (not related) having romantic discussions on the street, the best place to carry out such activities was the market square where such pretenses were not looked at with disdain as the society had zero-tolerance for unchastity. And once the prospective wife is captured, the gun-shot to the air goes to announce the change of the status of the groom and the bride automatically. Little protests from the brothers or parents may result, but these are often not taken seriously especially if the young man had indicated interest in the lady before by offering wine to the parents that were accepted. This means the ‘wedding day’ or ‘union day’ is often unannounced. However, in contemporary times, modernization has entered. Almost every one favours white-wedding now. Even when traditional wedding takes place, it is often followed by pumps and pageantry of the elite world in the cities as the natives take the back seat, except in the irreducible compulsories in which the suitor must provide as Bride Price. Therefore, ordinarily, contracting marriage with an Ebelle person is as cheap as paying nothing. Most times, the bride price often paid ‘on a lady’s head’ is only symbolic and often does not amount to anything per se. The bulk of the expenses of marriage exists in the gifts required for sharing that would go round the members of the family, in order to have them partake in the marriage. This serve as bond or insurance and ensures that all the members of the family work together for the success of the marriage.
Those days also, it was not compulsory that the young man have a separate apartment or accommodation. The new wife “obiaha” lives and sleeps with the mother-in-law and steals out to see the husband for copulation purpose at night. Therefore, ipso facto, the lady marries, not just the husband but the entire family, but may chose to monopolize him at nights or other quiet moments of the day. In fact, there is no exclusivity to the man she marries at any time and others within the family cannot be regarded as intruders even when they break into their quiet romantic moments. And since polygyny is still very respected among the Ebelle people and indeed the entire Esan ethnic group, no lady lays claim to an exclusive right to a man she has married. Husband to her or not, she must maintain her position in the family where she ‘enjoys’ all the fun and protection within the extended family setup as the husbands ‘decides’ to stick to her or chose to express his libido or sexual urge elsewhere. Although not encouraged, no serious sanctions exit for men who chose to admit mistresses or go after them. But it is a serious crime for a married woman (Amhen-Egbe) to keep male-friends or boy-friends. In fact, it is not the woman who suffers from the affliction of the ancestors but the man who may pay the ultimate price for the unchastity or infidelity of the wife. It could also involve the deaths of children of the woman, before the gods or ancestors (Elimhin) takes the woman also by death. Thus, it is not a child’s play for a woman to be found with another man that is not her husband. They could discuss business but not love. This is also the reason married woman in Ebelle as well as other Esan populations dress differently from the husbandless (or yet to be married) ones. Although modernity has affected the culture adversely and eroded its critical postures of the past, married people don’t get into excessive exposure of their vital parts so as not to tempt the men to commit lust. A man who merely sees a naked married woman , and it is confirmed to have done so deliberately, is often considered guilty of a vital marriage custom. He pays for it by offering some sacrifices where the village head or Odionwele presides. It is often declared to him: “umien-amhen-egbe”, literally speaking “you have seen the wife of the community”. Ordinary looking at the thighs of a married woman is tantamount to having defiled ‘the wife of the Egbe’ as the status of the woman now reads, let alone engage in any act of romance with her or huge her romantically. Official hugs between opposite sex is not even seen as decent, let alone give a kiss, however brief and in whichever part of the face, cheeks or lips. The Ebelle people or its ancestors hate adultery, not of the man, but of the woman. Thus there is no gender parity in the assessment of the rule of chastity in Ebelle land.
RELIGION IN EBELLE
Ebelle people are also very religious. Christianity is the dominant religion. Hardly would you find a mosque except praying sport by Hausa/Fulani migrants who come there once in a while to do petty trading inclusive of suya sales, beaf market operations and rams sales. The Christian population in Ebelle include the Catholics, the Protestants, Evangelicals and the Pentecostals. But the first Church in Ebelle soil was St. Mark’s Anglican Church situated at Ologhe Ebelle, through the instrumentality of the Oviawes as earlier converts to the new religion from the erstwhile traditional religions. The Roman Catholic followed springing up at Eguare and championed by one of the Irusotas (according to Matthew Atoe, 2013, in an interview). Others, like Apostolic Church, Jehovah Witness came on board later.
But before the advent of the church, the land had traditional religious worshippers some having shrines in their compounds others in the farms paths and across junctions in the wild, under big tree or significantly spiritual shrubs. Others simply had portions of ancestrally-active plants, ‘Ukhure’ and ‘Ikhimin’, as contact points with the gods or ancestors around their homesteads. Some others had Azelhu, Owegbe, Ogun, Eboh and Olokun as protective deities. In an interview with Ebhonu M.C.I in 2013, an indigene of Ebelle and a respectable elder and former president of the Customary Court in Ebelle, there was an insistence that “our forefathers did not worship idols” noting that “they only had some objects (eg Ogun and Ukhure) as mediums of worship just like the Christians have the Cross as a symbol of Christ’s worship”. For him, “it will be unreasonable for anyone to claim that Christians worship the cross just like it will be foolhardy for any to claim that traditional people worshipped those symbols.”
Despite the dominance of Christianity in Ebelle, some hidden shrines still exists even though there are no more open admirers or worshippers. Rt. Rev. (Brig Gen. rtd) R. A. Uhumuavbi and Anglican priest, revivalist and an elder of substantial recognition believes that although Ebelle feature very prominently in the community of the Christianized, it cannot be said to be total yet until the kingship and his household truly embrace the gospel of Christ which he believes will be a major turnaround for Ebelle. But marks of Pentecostalism show that denominationalism and sectarianism has increased in the land with varied levels of devotion and fanaticism. Ebelle for now has never witnessed any act of religious extremism that forces people to adhere to certain religious codes. In other words, in Ebelle, there is still freedom of worship.
MEDICAL PRACTICE IN EBELLE
The health of the people of Ebelle is still very dependent on traditional health practitioners. The emerging health centers or clinics privately owned appear not to be patronized as expected, perhaps for cost that they cannot meet or for a sheer resort to fate in times of medical crisis. In recent times private clinics, often ill-equipped, have sprung up but have also folded up with time. When in serious medical situation most often travel out of town with their patients to Igueben, Uromi or Irrua, a fairly distant town. Sometimes before the patients get to the place of help, they give up. Thus, most deaths that are preventable end up as inevitable.
EBELLE WITHIN THE NATIONAL POLITICAL TERRAIN
Politically, Ebelle is seen by many as an unfortunate community. This purportedly had contributed to the underdevelopment and neglect over the decades of the Nigerian experiment with democracy. Despite its considerable population size, this has not transformed into formidable force that compel the political elite to recognize it. Right from the time the colonial masters gave way to new breeds of politicians Ebelle had remained largely undermined due to their opposition ill-luck or choice. The two main political elites or political juggernauts in Ebelle in the seventies were Chief Omigie and Chief Barr C.O Ihensiekhien (SAN). In their times, Ebelle were divided along these lines. At the end, Ebelle got split in votes and lost chances to smaller groups. The only time Ebelle came together was when one Dr. Idahosa an indigene of Ebelle vied for chairmanship position of a local government. and won election as Chairman of the local government at the exit of these political gladiators. Ever since, new generation of politicians appear to be individualistic in their political pursuits like the actors of the past.
COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA IN EBELLE
The town had a very functional postal agency later developed into a full-fledged Post Office. This was a viable tool in the colonial era as the new reading elite scrambled over the postal agency to use its facilities. With the transformation of the status of the postal agency into a full fleged post office, the challenges were enormous. Most people wanted post office boxes. But for a long time, the Post Office never took off operations in the true sense of it. In fact, the building that have spanned years had remained uncompleted, dilapidated and a place of abode for reptiles. Just now that the advent of modern communication system or ICT has come on board (the internet and handset text messages and social network ), it is unimaginable that the facility would receive any attention. Perhaps Ebelle people can think of any other project such a building can be utilized for at completion, if ever it happens.
In the past, newspaper vendors roam the length and breadth of the land marketing their paper. These days, these seem to have disappeared as the reading generation appears to have exited or migrated to urban centers and thus thwarted and emasculated the reading culture. As education becomes unattractive by the number of graduates without employment, parents are rather apt to advise their wards on other ways of living that caters for their survival needs first. Thus, newspaper do not only attract less attention but also serve as symbol of an oppressive state and hence are often winked at or given to those who need it to wrap their bean-cake or ‘akara’. At least this is the functional way to put newspaper to use in Ebelle currently and not to belabor one’s self reading it amid bottled anger against what is perceived as neglect and oppression of the elite.
Social activities in Ebelle in the past was overly exciting and full of fun. Eguare primary school was a place to watch some movies for free. At other times, the Ogdegbe hotel was a vintage point of attraction with numerous activites especially in the cool of the day. The Omigie’s compound was also a point of delight to many as picnic or recreational centre. Where no electric lighting was found anywhere else, there was light all over the Omigie residence from the sixties. Music and dances also connected people to these places of pomp and pageantry especially at nights. Later the famous Effosa Hotel at Okpujie was given birth to with its spectacle and attraction. People came all the way from one part of the town such as Okuta and Ologhe, some on foot and others on bicycles, quite distant from Okpujie where the hotel was located, to catch some fun; either to hear live music from renown musician such as that of Victor Uwaifo and his famous Dwarf dancer, “Uze”. There, a lot of night-girls thronged, more or less like a palace or resort centre, and Ebelle was being transformed into an urban centre. It should also be noted that the most developed part of Ebelle remain the Eguare where the market, the court, the health centre, the post office , the library, civic centre, schools, churches and other attraction centers were located.
In the past, houses were built through a collective effort in which the mature adult who showed interest for a shelter only provided the food and drink for those that would help to design and construct the building. The efforts of the community or clan involved the mashing of the red clay to be used for the proposed building. Next, the foundation was laid and construction began. But there were also months of the year one could not build due to the sensitive nature of building mud house or mud hut. The mud was allowed to dry up before new ones were laid on the previous. At the completion, thatched roofs were installed. The rest improvement task was to be carried out by the owner of the hut himself with member of his family or extended family. This involved the type of door or window, the decorative accessories like the native white chalk or cowries. This brought a lot of respect for the community and loyalty.
But as cement buildings emerged and interest in it continued to grow, the reluctance to engage in community mud houses receded or declined. Hence communal house buildings went out of fashion giving way to a new look of houses and designs. Like you would find in other Esan communities, Ebelle houses started to wear a new look especially houses owned by those who engaged in businesses or were mere traders trading within and outside of Ebelle. But peasant farmers still retained their mud houses while the younger generation molded brick for some modern house often partially plastered and never painted.
However, with the advent of a new crop of elites who have gone out to city centers and have seen the beauty of what can be done with cementing and corrugated iron sheets and lately, aluminum roofing sheets, Ebelle houses are become more attractive. But the motivation to truly put finishing touches to building designs and construction remains weak since the homogenous population do not care so much about such considered as extravagance. Only a few consider the aesthetics of building very important. Or perhaps it is right to say that only those who can afford the luxury of ‘good finishes’ attempt to do so. Therefore not many would erect some fences, plaster it, paint and put a gate and some lightings. At the earlier times Ebelle building aesthetics involved moulded mud-bricks later plastered with cement until this gave way to fully cement buildings. Several traditional cement bungalows were constructed. Some even dared to construct storey building with mud, as delicate as it was. Some still exists till date. But some building in Ebelle are still traditional mud building covered with cement. As new elites came on board who apparently did not make their monies in Ebelle land, cement became a household necessity for building.
In the early days the quest for cement buildings became, spiced by Omon House “Appai House” with a storey detached duplex at Okpujie transforming Ebelle from the old mud-storey buildings of the Oreyes in Eguare, Osazuwa in Ologhe, and others. Today a lot of magnificent building have emerged in Ebelle to give it a semi-urban look.
Udo R. K. (1980:17) Environments and Peoples of Nigeria, A geographical Introduction to the History of Nigeria, Heinemann Educational Books (Nig) Ltd, published for the Historical Society of Nigeria in Groundwork of Nigerian History, edited by Obaro Ikime.
Ebelle Development Union Report, (2012) of the Conference on Traditional Institutions in Ebelle, where their guest, the Prime Minister of Benin kingdom, High Chief Sam Igbe was present to address Ebelleians on the need to strengthen the traditional institutions in contemporary times, edited by Gabriel Akhabue Iruobe.