African History

A Brief History of Esan Tribe of Edo State

History Of The Esan Tribe Of The Edo StateHistory Of The Esan Tribe Of The Edo State (image credit: facebook.com)

The Esan tribe is an ancient ethnic group of people that dominated Edo State, the South-South region in Nigeria.

The Esan Tribe are widely known for fishing and farming. They have their native language – the Esan Language. They are said to industrious, educated, and creative.

The present Esan Tribe is said to have started back in the 15th century when some group of individuals decided to emigrate from the Benin Empire and settled on land along with other groups they met there to form a homogenous kingdom.

The Esanland has a total of 35 clans with each clan having their head chief they call “The Onojie”;

Ukhun. Ujiogba. Ugun. Ugbegun. Urohi.
Udo. Uzea. Uroh. Ebelle. Ewu. Ogboha.
Okalo. Ogwa. Opoji. Oria. Onogholo. Orowa.
Okhuesan. Ohordua. Iyenlen. Ifeku. Illushi. Idoa.
Wossa. Amahor. Igueben. Ewatto. Emu. Ewohimi.
Ekpon. Egoro. Ubiaja. Uromi. Ekpoma. Irrua.

The word ‘Esan’ is originally a Bini language which means ‘They have fled’. It was told that the Esan people were among those that fled after the then Oba of Benin declared a 3 years mourning of his sons, he lost on the same day. They couldn’t live by the rule that prohibited sweeping, washing, sexual intercourse and was told ‘Ele San-fia’ which was later shortened to ‘E-san-fia’ which means ‘They Fled’. The Oba lifted the declaration, called them back but people were still leaving, He waged war against them, conquered, and lost some. He invited the Esan leaders, and offered that they should be part of the Benin kingdom plus assisting military support to them, he promised to establish an Onojie that will rule their people.

The Esan Tribe remained under the Bini Empire till the British conquered Benin and they became free. They were later attacked by the British invaders, they lost and became subjects to the British rulers in 1906 after fierce resistance from different clans of the Esanland.


The Esan Tribe are famous also by their unique Igbabonelimhin acrobatic dance that the player summersaults and spin to a particular beat. Mostly played by the youths during the new year period.

In Esanland, a man is allowed to marry as many as he wishes and is permitted to partake in adultery but it is forbidden for the women to marry more than one man nor engage in extramarital affairs.

In the ancient tradition of the Esan people, an Esan lady is said to be due for marriage once she reaches 15, her parents would go out seeking for a husband for their daughter, or a father of a young man would get her betrothed to his son and courtship would begin – both families would go asking questions about the family background; if there was any curse, crime, a disease in the family if none was found, messages would be passed through both families of the union between the both. The young man and woman to get married also go together to the stream or river to fetch water, they fetch firewood together and attend moonlight stories together.

The Traditional Attire of Esan People
The Traditional Attire of Esan People (image credit: google)

After the courtship, a date would be set for the marriage ‘Iwanien Omo’ and the event which is usually the woman’s home.

During the marriage ceremony, the bride and the groom would be presented by their families, wine and kolanut would be presented, with the lady sitting on her father’s lap, prayers are being made and the kolanuts broken at the family shrine.

13 days after the marriage rite, the bride who is now Ovabiaha will be accompanied to the groom’s house by her relatives while there’s a welcoming celebration in the groom’s house awaiting the Ovabiaha.

Source: Paulinus Okpere [Facebook] 


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