The Ebira (also spelt Igbira or Igbirra) are the outspoken and very hard working agrarian Nupoid-speaking ethno-linguistic group located in the Central Senatorial district of Kogi State (not far from the Niger-Benue confluence) in Nigeria.
Recent in depth research indicates that the Ebira have been part and parcel of what is now generally known as Central Nigeria since 4000 BC (Ohiare 1988). The Ebira zone is also prominent in the prehistoric civilization of the Iron Age generally characterised by the Central Nigeria as epitomised by Nok Culture. Even recently the iron-working site of Ife-Ijummu (Kogi State) has been dated to 260 B.C. Thus, it could be deduced that the Ebira as a group existed for a long time in locations within Central Nigeria not far from where they are located presently (Ohiare 1988, Willamson 1967, Beneth 1972).
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.
The word “Ebira” refers to the people themselves, their language and their geographical location. Using the name of the most popular town of the land, we may refer to them as Ebira Okene. The Ebira Okene occupy the hilly stretch of land southwest of the Niger-Benue confluence area and share boundaries with the Yoruba-speaking people of Akoko, Owe and Ijumu to the west; the various Akoko-Edo people to the south and south west; the Hausa, Nupe and Ebira groups at Lokoja to the north; and the River Niger to the east. Nigerian Nollywood stars Mercy Johnson and Halima Abubakar are from Ebira tribe.
Other Ebira groups are Ebira Igu in Kogi and Koton Karfi local government areas of Kogi state; Ebira Toto and Umaisha ofNassarawa (Toto) local government area of Nassarawa state; Ebira Mozum of Bassa local government area of Kogi state; and Ebira Etuno of Igarra District of Ako-Edo local government area of Edo state. Other Ebira are to be found in Abaji in the Federal Capital Territory and Agatu in Benue state.
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. 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.
A common physical feature of Ebiraland is the conspicuous presence of blocks of dissected hills and the metaphoric rocks enveloping the greater part of the land. The hills rise to a peak of 2000 ft and probably represent the remnants of an old post of Gondowana pedi-plain (Clayton 1957). The African laterite and plain which embraces the greater part of Ihima, Okengwe and Ageva are occupied by extensive undulating plains (1200-1400ft). They are studded with smooth rounded rocks of in selbergs. The laterite soils are derived from metaphoric rocks of greyish-buff (18 inches) and clayed pan which overlay vascular iron stone (Omorua 1959:1). The depth of the soil is however variable, ranging from two to three feet to about three inches where the ironstone approaches the surface, as in the Itakpe hills in Adavi district.There is also the Niger literic plain forming a lower terrace below the higher plains. This is conspicuous in Ajaokuta, Eganyi, Ebiya and part of Adavi in the north and north-east of Ebiraland. Another very important feature is the rim from the highland. This enscarpement which extends to Ihima, Eika and part of Ajaokuta widens into abroad zone of dissected hills. The soil formation of the rims are mostly skeletal, consisting of pale brown and orange brown sands and grits. The enscarpment contains quartz stones interspersed with pockets of deeper sand wash (Omorua 1959:1-2).The implications of these features to the past and contemporary history of the land are many. A few of them are as follows. The nature of the topography has affected the relief pattern of Ebiraland,which is marked out of the dissected peaks with knife-edged ridges,and steep V-shaped valleys. Valleys of this type occur in Okene,Okengwe and Eika towns. Apart from exerting much influence on the climate, the features in part provided security and protection for the ancient Ebira. Thus they resisted external incursions into their geo-polity as in the case of the Ajinomoh jihadist wars in the 1880s discussed elsewhere (Okene 1990:26-30). Furthermore, the features influenced the pattern of the people’s technical know-how as it relates to the production of crafts like pottery, dyeing and blacksmithing and of the people instruments of production or destruction such as hoes, cutlasses and spears and bows and arrows.The Ebira were famous in Central Nigeria for the production of these crafts (Barth 1990:510-515; Jones 1969:38). In contemporary times, these features serve as a reservoir of the iron-ore deposit now discovered in large quantity in some hills of the land. Itakpe hill inAdavi district alone has an iron-ore deposit estimated between 37 and 47 million tons, and of more than 60 per cent iron content (Okene 1995:37). This is meant to provide raw material for the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Industry set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria.Other minerals to be found in substantial commercial quantities in Ebira include marble, limestone, copper, chalk and mica.
Ebira people speaks Ebira (Egbira), a Nupoid language belonging to the larger Niger-Congo language phylum. Ebira is spoken by about 2 million people in Nigeria especially in Kogi State.
According to Greenberg’s classification of African languages, Ebira belongs to the Kwa group of the Niger-Congo family, which also comprises the Nupe, Gbari and Gade (Greenberg, 1966). But Hoffman and Bendor-Samuel in their studies of Nigerian languages set up Ebira as a separate entity (Adive 1985:56-57).
There are two schools of thought about the Ebira origins. The written source (archeological) and the oral traditions. 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.
From the written source, Ohiare (1985) linguistically defined Ebira as those who speak the language or dialect called Ebira or those who recognize themselves as one but have lost touch of the ability to speak the language as a result of some historical development. Describing their location, Ozigi (2004) said that Ebira are predominantly in the Niger–Benue confluence area and scattered in locations as Okene, Okehi, Adavi and Ajaokuta. These are the Ebira Tao group of the central senatorial District of Kogi State.
There are also the Ebira kotos. They are found in Koton Karfe area of Kogi Local Government of Kogi State. There is the Ebira Mozum of Bassa Local Government area of Kogi State.
There are large Ebira settlement in other areas apart from Kogi State as found in Umaisha, Toto, Lafia District of Nassarawa State and Federal Capital Territory. There is also Ebira Agatu in Benue State, Ebira Etuno in Igarra area of Edo State.
The concern of this paper is the Ebira Tao group. Historically, the people belong to the Kwararafa or Apa group of the middle belt region. Among the other ethnic group in the Kwararafa region are the Jukun, the Igala, the Idoma, the Langtang, Kaje etc. The tradition of origin of the Ebira Tao first started in the Gongola Basin and ended with their migration to the lower Benue valley.
The Ebira took their name from the lower Benue valley. They described themselves as people from
Ebira. Tradition collected from among the Idoma say Ebira were already in the area of Abinse down
to the area of modern Agatu district when Idoma ancestors met them. This was about the 15th and
16th centuries as claimed by Ohiare (1985). This indicated that the Ebira presence around the Benue valley was about the 14th Century.
It was from here that the wave of migration dispersed the Ebira and other associated groups to the confluence area. From here also the people migrated to Ebira opete and the Okehi hills.
Several reasons were given for this migration. They were succession disputes, outbreak of epidemics, and flight from punishment which the people considered as unjustified and oppressive.
There is yet another period of Ebira historical development. This began with their migration across the Niger at Itobe to the right bank of the Niger around the present location of Ajoakuta. This place was known as Ebira opete.
The Ebira had to move further from the Igala territory for obvious reasons of succession. It was a common practice in the royal circle of Idah that the losing side in succession dispute was always obliged by tradition to move out of the capital enmasse to the inland and sometime beyond the boundaries of the Kingdom (in this case, the Ebira belonged to the losing side and so had to move).
According to Ozigi (2004) the dominant theme in the struggle of the Ebira opete settlers was to secure political independence of Attah in Idah. So, it was their desire to be rid of Idah’s political influence. This forced the people to begin gradual westward. Some settled in Okehi and Upai hills and others in Egarra (Etuno) area. From Opete the Ebira moved gradually in families, lineages and clans to the hills of Okehi, Upai and Eikaoku, a compact area chosen for security purposes.
Political organization of the people in their new area reflected the settlement patterns based on family lineage and clan group conducted its affairs as a semi autonomous entity. In each clan group, lineages often acted independently. The leaders of these clan groups never failed to strengthen their political authority through religious sanctions ordained by the ancestors. Institutions of ancestral cults featured spirits like “Eku oba”, “Eku echichi”, akatapa’, and “Eku irahu”, that gave political potency to their religious sanctions.
By mid 19th century, the Ebira had settled permanently in their present locations and lived in the district founded by the ancestors. Various settlements were founded by the Ebira children like Okovi, Agada, Eika, Adavi, Ihima and Eganyi. These settlements were named after them. The main clans and sub clans in Ebira settlements were as follows:
Okovi (Asuwe, Adobe, Ehebe, Omavi, Ure and Omoye as sub clans)
Agada (Akuta, Avi, Ogu, Esusu, and Ohimoroko as sub clans)
Eika (Ihiaga, Iyewe, Avasa, Eyire, Epoto, Anchi, Iheme, Agiri, Ubobo, Uhuodo and Ogu as sub clans)
Adavi (Aniku, Uhami, Uka, Upopo uvete as sub clans)
Ihima (Emani, Ure, Ohueta, Odumi, Ohionwa and oha as sub clans)
Eganyi (Eheda, Onoko, Esugu, Ogodo, Onogu, Ede and Ogu as sub clans)
These clans were very important in the socio–political life of the Ebira people. They were the basis of authority and social relations in Ebira traditional community.
By the mid 19th century, about the 1860’s the Jihadists invaded the Ebira settlement and distorted their socio–political organization. The Jihadists, under the leadership of Madaba from Bida, first incursed into the Okene area by way of raiding. For the first time, the Ebira were faced with formidable and a united force under a purposeful and dynamic leadership that could challenge these Jihadists. These leadership traits were found in Ohindase Ukpai and he did put very strong resistance in this direction.
In the second incursion, which came about the 1870’s, was a combined force of Bida, Ilorin and Ibadan under Nupe leadership. With a determined and united Ebira under the Leadership of Ohindase Avogude, the Ebira resisted once again. It is quite impressive to note that of these Jihadists’ incursions in Ebira was successful. It is also noteworthy that these incursions had set the people on the way to central Leadership.
Under colonial rule, the people of Ebira lost their sovereign right. The existing structures were
dismantled and replaced with new ones. There was imposition of colonial agents through whom the
colonialist communicated with the people. There was the imposition of poll tax (Ekehi irehi or house
money), there was forced labour to construct rail lines, road network, etc.
The people resisted patriotically colonial imposition in various ways. Ibrahim (1985) identified that there were military resistance against the colonialists in such places like Ikuehi, Kuroko and Okene.
These various oppositions to colonial imposition led to the Oyibo Arimo crisis of 1924 and 1926. It was these series of crisis that culminated into the formation of Igbira Tribal Union (ITU) that constituted a major political force in the post independent era.
When the British invaded and conquered Ebiraland at the beginning of the century. The people found a confederation of five-clan groups (they are Eika, Okehi, Adavi, Okengwe, and Ihima) each operating a devine form of government as established by Ododo of Okehi and Obaji of Eika (the two greatest heroes of Ebiraland).
Following a breakdown of traditional law and order as a result of wars, migration, famine etc the two heroes enthroned cult of eldership, resuscitated the masquerade cult and established iragba and the masquerade as the institution of government and instrument of discipline respectively. Ododo and Obaji also established a devine form of chieftaincy. The installation of the Chief priest was linked with the Iragba and the priest elect would pass through a ceremony of death and masquerades and was finally installed by the Ekuoba.
Each clan group in Ebiarland was politically autonomous with its clan’s chief priest rotating among the clans in order of seniority. This was the situation until the invasion of the Ajinomoh in the second half of the 19th century. As from 1900 the British took over Ebiraland, created Kabba Division and appointed Owudah Adidi as agent in 1902 Omadivi took refuge in the house of Owudah Adidi at Obangede. Omadivi was a widely traveled man. He appreciated the white man’s power and motive for invading Ebiraland. He quickly allied with them. Omadivi had wielded much power around himself and events worked in his favour when in 1904 he was installed the chief of Ebiraland after the Major Marsh expedition which sacked Okene.
In 1917, Omadivi died as the District Head of Ebiraland and the stage was set for the struggle for his position. Among the contenders for this position were Ohindase Arudi Adano, Ibrahim Chogudo Onoruoiza and Ozigizigi of Obehira.
Ibrahim Onoruoiza won the contest at the youthful age of 17 amidst bitter opposition. The credentials
that won him this position included high level of intelligence, brilliant and efficient performance as
white man’s tax assessment scribe and messenger. Ibrahim immediately commenced his activities to
open up roads to Ajaokuta and Lokoja for trading activities. Fascinated by the work of Ibrahim, the British Resident officer, Mr Byng-Hall created Ebira Division with the Attah as the Sole Native Authority.
The nature of the physical environment influenced not only the land tenure system but also agriculture practices which in fact were the main determinant of the people’s economy. Agricultural production was geared towards both domestic consumption and exchange.Almost every household, which was the basic unit of production, wasinvolved in farming. Over time the people, through production efficiency, division of labour and specialization, took advantage of both internal and external economies of scale. By early 19th century,realising its potentialities, the Okengwe district specialised in the production of beniseed which it traded and exchanged with the groundnuts in the production of which Adavi clan-groups and communities in the immediate north of the land had also become specialised (Okene 1995:79-84). Apart from fishing and hunting, which complemented farming, the Ebira economy also to some extent depended on local industries and craft production like palm oil, animal husbandry, iron technology and blacksmithing, textiles dyeing, wood carving and basket, mat and raffia weaving. Because of its unique nature, the textiles industry requires a brief discussion. Cotton, the main raw material of the industry, is a crop of antiquity with the Ebira. The Ebira had migrated with the crop and with the knowledge of its production to their present location, the soil of which was fortunately very favourable for its commercial cultivation. An exclusively female preserve, the distinct technique employed by the Ebira textiles producers was vertically mounted single loom system, locally called Oguntoro.
According toBrown, Ralph Willis, Picton and Mack, (Brown 1970:60; Willis 1972:51; Picton & Mack 1979:17,77,80,82)the Ebira cloth weaving had undergone series of styles, patterning and specailization that made it excellent and one of the best in the Western Sudan before the advent of the British rule. In the same vein, Henry Barth noted in 1851 that Ebira Woven cloth favourably rivaled those of other areas in terms of pattern, colour, decoration and texture. Barth did observe the superiority of the Ebira Woven cloth compare to other regions in the Kurmi International Market, Kano when he visited the City during the same period (Barth 1990:511)
Generally speaking, the settlement pattern of the Ebira in their present location was largely determined by the topography of the area and their migrational groupings. They settled in highly knitted related families, kindreds, clans and clan-groups on several hills tops which include Eikoku Okengwe, Okehi, Ukpai and Okerekere. The socio-political institutions which became consolidated over time were primarily geared towards the maintenance of discipline, social harmony and peace which were essential ingredients for social relations and economic progress within and without Ebira ecological zone.
The basis of political organisations of the Ebira started from the family. As the smallest unit, the family consisted of the father, wives,children and grand children. The unit lives in a specially designed Ohuoje (compound), while the Ovovu (outer compound), was the exclusive use of other people under the custody of the family. These include the family slaves, war or famine refugees on asylum and family labourers. The oldest surviving male was the head of the family. He personified the cultural, clannish and economic heritages as the respresentative of the ancestors in the family.Several families who believed they were patrilineally related by blood formed the next political unit of lineage, abara. The head was the oldest surviving male of the lineage. Though, his decision was not final as he had to consult with the heads of the families that made up the lineage, the chief had prerogative power over the economic activities of the lineage. The lineage land and relics were vested on him and the sylvan produce of the lineage were gathered in his palace annually for distribution to the various member families based on the ancestral law of age grade. Several lineages have survived to the present. These include Etumi, Avi, Adovosi, Egiri and Ogagu.The clan was the next political unit of the Ebira of this study. Though third in the strata, the clan was the main and most sensitive of all the political units. Each clan had both a prefix in its name of either Ozi- (i.e. children of) or Ani- (i.e the people of) and a totemic symbol indicating either a sacred object or an animal attached to their clan name. For example, Eziehimozoko, a clan in Okengwe district had an additional eulogy of eziede, “ children of crayfish”, attached to their clan name. In the past, a clan name and a totemic eulogy served as identification marks for the various migrational groups or parties. The head of each of the clans, many of which have also survived to the present, was the oldest surviving male. His power was nominal, as he administered through consultation. Nevertheless, he was the representative of the ancestors in the clan. He therefore executed sanctions and controls over its members. These were thought to emanate from the ancestors who watched over the affairs of the people from the world of the ancestral spirits.
The largest socio-political unit among the Ebira was the clan-group locally called Ekura. About six of such clan-groups survive to the present. They are Okengwe, Okehi, Adavi, Eika, Ihima, and Eganyi. Though each was self autonomous, they however related on issues of common concern. The head of each was priest-chief, Ohinoyi-ete.
Each group was made up of several clans believed they had distant patrilineal blood tie. For instance, the Okengwe group comprised of Akuta, Ehimozoko, Avi, Esusu, Ogu, Asuwe, Omoye, Omavi, Eire and Adobe. The chief-priest consulted the heads of the clans on any serious matter affecting the group. In addition, he administered justice in conjunction with his deputy, Ohireba, and the council of elders of the group.Despite the obvious limitation to his authority, the priest-chief was the highest spiritual and socio-political head of the clan-group. He was believed to have a daily communication with the ancestors. He ministered to, and indeed mustered the earth shrine to solicit for fertility, adequate rainfall and good harvest. He exercised sanctions and ensure control, discipline, and compliance with the societal norms and rules. He was vested with the interpretation of the ancient ancestral laws through divination, sacrifices and indeed long experience. Through these, the six priest-chiefs in close cooperation,consultation and communion with one another were able to administer justice and maintain the society of Ebira in relative social harmony up till the eve of the British invasion in 1903.
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.
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.
Ebira acknowledge the existence of God with utmost reverence. The innate belief of the people places Him, "Ohomorihi" (Supreme Being), first before any other thing. These claim clearly manifest in the various attributes accorded Supreme God by the people. Ohomorihi means creator of rain. In most cultures and even sciences, the essence of living and life is tied to water. Earthly fertility is predicated on water, human conception and delivery is also located in watery substances. All source of life can be traced to water.
In Ebira religious belief, Ohomorihi is the source and controller of this water from which all these beings are sourced because Orihi is rain and is produced from the divine center (Ohomo). This belief establish the absolute supremacy of God Almighty over all living and non-living beings, materials and spiritual matters.
Other names and attributes of Ohomorihi includes "adayi ebeba anayin abayi" (Our father above who owns us all), "Ikoko koi koi" (The powerful, the Omnipotent), "Ovaraka dosi" (of limitless size, the magnificent with unimaginable magnitude, the Omnipresent), "Ochiji mokariye" (the silent arbiter, unpredictable dispenser of justice), "Ovaraka huduma" (whose stair roars like thunder), "Oku`za ohuru, Oku`za atito" (adorns one with gunpowder and soil with ashes), "Ogodo godo onuva`za eme tu" (so far removed from physical touch), "Odu ajini osi ihuo teyi" (inflict pains today and inject gains tomorrow, create sorrow today and restore joy tomorrow); oda yoza ri odoza here (feeds you and drains you). from these names one can understand why He is the first point of reference in all matters- secular, spiritual or ritual.
Ebira people know that man sins and therefore cannot reach God (Ohomorihi) direct so they play through Ete (Mother Earth). deities or lesser gods known as Ori and Ohiku (ancestors).
Ete occupies a vital position in Ebira cosmology. It is a force of balance considered next to God (Ohomorihi) because whatever goes up must come down to earth. It is on earth that human`s life is both sustained and buried, "a spiritual entity from which all life derives," (Aniako 1980, p. 35-36), Thus, when a child at play eats sand, as it is often the case in African traditional settings, it is seen as the ritual process of reconnecting back to earth, first initiated through the burial of the placenta of the child at birth. man lives through cultivation of food crops and exploitation of crust of ornamental riches buried in within the earth. It also serves as man`s final resting place at death. Ete thus has dual essence of fortune and misfortune commission and reversion. Ete is also a force of equipoise between man and Ebira cosmology which is concretized by the balance between mother Earth and patriarchal dominance of man even in ancestral world. Women (Mother earth) are alternative force that checks the excesses of man evil tendencies. The overriding importance of Ete as the centre of universe is physically expressed at the centre of every traditional Ebira home as Eteohuje (centre of the compound). It is at this centre the that ancestral sacrifice and rituals are held.
God created Ori ( spirit being or nature spirit) as the intercessor between man and Himself. Ori is actually worshipped and celebrated in two towns of Ihima and Eganyi in Ebiraland probably because of its intervention to avert serious calamities in these two towns according to Ebira mythology. It came to cleanse these two towns of serious epidermic. As such, it assumes prominence with shrines created for it with its attendant devotees echeori annual festival instituted inmemory of this ritual cleansing. Echeori is celebrated as a New Yam Festival for seasonal renewal. Okino (2004, p 9) claims that the "pioneer religion of the ancestors of Ebira people is Ori" probably because of its intercessory nature between the people and the higher order.
The other spirit that Ebira people relates to is the Ancestral Spirit (Eku), an embodiment of dead ancestors, ohiku.
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.