Tribal Series: The Ebira People

The Ebira people are an ethnolinguistic group of Nigeria. Many Ebira people are from Kogi State, Kwara State, Nasarawa State, Edo State, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Okene is said to be the administrative center of the Ebira speaking people in Kogi State, not far from the Niger-Benue confluence. Ebira people have the total significant populations of 1.4 million and their language is the Ebira language.

An Ebira masquerade..Photo/docilepen.blogspot
An Ebira masquerader. Photo/Docilepen.blogspot.com

Their religious practices include Christianity, Islam, or paganism. 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 (Nasarawa state), Ebira Fulani (Kogi State), Ebira Etuno (Edo State), Ebira Agatu (Benue State), and 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 the 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 because of a chieftaincy dispute. The Ebira later split into various groups and settled in different locations between 1680 and 1750 AD. The Ebiras have several annual cultural festivals. Three of the most prominent ones are Eche-ane, Eche Ori, and Ekuechi.

Ebira women in traditional atire....Photo/Ebiraview.WordPress
Ebira women in traditional attire. Photo/Ebiraview.wordpress.com

Eche-ane

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’s festival). Masqueraders at the festival usually carry long canes primarily to entertain people and receive gifts in return. It is regrettable that this very popular and interesting festival has been bastardized and is now a source of constant breach of peace.

Eche-ori

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 the 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.

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 masqueraders 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 dish) and he-goat meat for visitors. Women also, at times, leave monetary gifts with the men for visiting dead relatives, 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.

Local ebira women..Photo/Ebiraview.blogspot
Local Ebira women. Photo/Ebiraview.blogspot.com