Edo people

Edo / Bini



Edo / Benin / Bini

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The Edo or Benin people is an ethnic group primarily found in Edo State, Nigeria. They speak the Edo language and are the descendants of the founders of the Benin Empire. They are closely related to other ethnic groups that speak Edoid languages, such as the Esan, the Afemai, the Isoko and the Urhobo.


EDO Masquerades

Edo people Map

The name "Benin" (and "Bini") is a Portuguese corruption, ultimately from the word "Ubinu", which came into use during the reign of Oba (ruler) Ewuare the Great, c. 1440. "Ubinu", a Yoruba word meaning vexation, was used to describe the royal administrative centre or city or capital proper of the kingdom, Edo. Ubinu was later corrupted to Bini by the mixed ethnicities living together at the centre; and further corrupted to Benin around 1485 when the Portuguese began trade relations with Oba Ewuare.

The term "Edo" is ubiquitous and can be unwieldy. It refers to place, dialect, language and people.
Benin-City is called 'Edo'. Individuals from the Benin Kingdom call themselves "Oviedo" or "Ovioba". The Benin Kingdom was redefined (by the British) after the restoration of the monarchy in 1914 - and limited (by the British) to the new Benin Division (composed of Binis). Its major sub-regions included Iyek-Ovia, Iyek-Orhionmwon, and Iyek-Ogba. However, traditional culture and religion as well as sentimental attachments continue to grant the Oba of Benin spiritual and temporal authority and recognition far beyond these British administrative borders.
The Benin empire extended westwards all the way to Wydah in Dahomey in its heyday - along with eastern influences along the Niger (western/ riverine

a. The Village settlement is the basic political unit. Higher levels of organization include village-groups, tribes, sub-chiefdoms, chiefdoms and the kingdom itself. Villages consist of wards and patrilineal family clusters.
b. The Male population is stratified into age-grades - youths, adults and elders.
c. Kinship and lineage is patrilineal and based on primogeniture.


a. Differential marriage payments among Etsako and some Ishans. (Full dowry confers all the children to the husband while partial payment allows the wife's father's family to own some children)
b. Double descent system among some North-West Edos (individuals belong to both their patrilineal heritage as well as a looser matrilineal network).
c. Three-tier age grades system among Urhobo/Isoko women.
d. Multiple-tier age grade system among some northern Ivbiosakon and North-West Edo.
e. Minor variations in political structure with different degrees of predominance of age-grades (Ivbiosakon/ North-West Edo), hereditary rulership (Bini/ Ishan) and fee-paying title associations (northern Edos and some Urhobos). Hereditary rule is also seen among some Urhobo, Isoko, Etsako, Onitsha and Aboh. Note that Benin-City in particular was exceptionally urbanized - hence the term "City".


The State has a land mass of 19,794 km square.
Edo State is low lying except towards the north axis where the Northern and Esan plateaus range from 183 metres of the Kukuruku Hills and 672 metres of the Somorika Hills.



It is so located that it forms the nucleus of the Niger Delta region. It is bordered by Kogi state to the North and Delta State to the East and South, Ekiti and Ondo States to the West.



Edo people speak Edo also called Bini (Benin). It is a Kwa Niger-Congo language spoken primarily in Edo State, Nigeria. It was and remains the primary language of the Edo people of Igodomigodo.
Edo is a core member of the group of genetically related languages called the Edoid group (Elugbe 1989). It is rated as one of the first few of the twenty-four languages, which make up the Edoid group in Nigeria. The language is currently spoken throughout most of the territories, which are coterminous with the old Benin province. This constitutes the permanent core of the pre-colonial Benin Kingdom and includes the following local government areas: Oredo, Ikpoba-Ikha, Orhionmwon, Uhunmwunode, Egor, Ovia, North East and Ovia South West. Edo is the main language spoken in these local government areas.

When the term "Edo" is used linguistically it refers to the Bini dialect of the language. But the term "Edo speaking" covers peoples of the old Benin, Delta and Ondo provinces as well as the Degema area of the old Rivers province. It applies to those who either speak Bini or closely related
dialects as a first language.
It includes:
1. Bini
2. Ishan (34 village groups)
3. Ivbiosakon (19 tribes)
4. Etsako (9 tribes)
5. North-West Edo (28 village groups)
6. Ineme (10 villages)
7. Urhobo (18 tribes/chiefdoms)
8. Isoko (17 tribes/ chiefdoms)
9. Engenni (Degema area of Rivers)


To varying degrees the Edo speaking people have influenced and have been influenced by Yorubas, Igaras, Igbirras, Nupes and Ibos.


The Edo Tribe

EDO, is what you can describe as the "generic name given to a group of people who have a common ancestor and have a common language, with some different variants, depending on the distance between the group and the " tap root, " resident in and around the present day Benin City. In short, the land, the political state, the people, tribe, language and the principal city -Benin City is called EDO. At a point in the history of these people, another name called BENIN came into use. These Edo-speaking people are divided into the following clans today:

a) " BINI " derived from the word Benin for people living in and around Benin City, in Edo State. People living in and around Benin City, are gradually accepting the word BINI, as descriptive of their clan. Otherwise, they prefer to be simply called EDO.

b) ESAN / Ishan for the immediate neighbor to the north are people living in around Irrua, Orhodua, Uromi, Ubiaja, Ewu, Ewatto, Igueben and the almighty Evbohimwin (Ewohimi)

c) The Afemais known as IVBIOSAKON by those living in and around Benin City to the north of Ishan/Esan clan.

d) Akoko-Edos based in Igarra, Ibillo and its environs to the north of Afemais.

e) The Owans-ORAS occupying Eme, Sabogida-Ora, Afuze, etc. Uhobe (SOBE) and Ifon in Ondo State.

f) Ekas to East of Benin. A sizeable chunk of the Edo speaking people flow across River Niger and ending at ONITSHA.

g) Isoko, Urhobo, Itsekiris and about 70% percent of western Izon (Ijaws) in Ndegeni and its environs

h) A sizeable chunk of the Edos is found in River States and Balyesa States e.g. Ogba land and Diobu, Port Harcourt.

i) A sizeable chunk has been " Yorubanised in Ondo, Ekiti, Lagos and Ogun States. The descendants of Edo soldiers stationed in Akure are referred to today as ADO-AKURE. There are many Edos in Ekiti land, Idoani, Idanre etc going through life in Nigeria with Yoruba names. Acculturation has taken place. You are either a Yoruba man or you go nowhere.

j) The ILAJE community at OKITIPUPA and its environs.

k) The Edos who conquered and settled far way land like Dahomey, Togo and Ghana.

Edo people Edo people

Religious beliefs

The Binis/Edo believe in many gods and life after death. Their religion grew up from many sources. Some gods and beliefs (or the guiding spirits) of every family were inherited from the first people who settled in Benin; Some were introduced by Obas, e.g. Ekoko, Awanuroho, etc, by Oba Ewuare, and Orumworia by Oba Ozolua; others were introduced by priests and religious thinkers, e.g. Osanughegbe by Okhionkpaimwonyi.
Those apart, the Binis also worship those phenomena they did not understand in nature e.g. too much rain, too much sun, thunder, the sky, etc. Altogether, they worship over 800 gods. These can be classified as follow:

The name of Edo supreme of chief God is OSANOBUA or OSA. He is god of god and above anything in the sky, on earth, in the sea or forest or in the air. He is also referred to as Oriole, Udazi, Akpama, Okodudu, Oghodua and Ohovba. He works with other deities known as ERINMWIN NOHUANREN.
The other deities (ERINMWIN NOHUANREN) include:

These are men or women, some of whom turned themselves into some natural features e.g rivers, ponds, hills, etc.
History holds them as mythical and semi-mythical figures of the past. The Edos have many of them which they worship with reverence.
These deities have their cults or shrines at their locations of origin, ususally village wide. Although several villages, in some cases worship one deity.

This is the ancestral or lineage shrine.
When a father or a mother dies in Benin, the children make an altar aro-erinmwin in his or her memory. It is here sacrifices are made. It is composed of Ukhure - Staves, Eroro - Bell, and objects.

These are also deities - in their special class.



One century ago, no male Bini citizen of the Kingdom without tattoos could exercise his prerogative of membership in the palace societies. Furthermore, the absence of tattoo in Bini society denoted that an individual was “alien” and “uncouth” for it seems that an unmarked body was considered polluted with a symbolic, clotted blood that could only be released through the tattooing ritual itself.

Among the Bini, any competent person – male of female – could tattoo, usually an osiwu (“one who sculpts tattoos”) that was called forth to operate. The profession was a hereditary position and some also specialized in autopsies and circumcisions. Like in other parts of Africa, long and fine tattoos were incised with a scalpel (abee) or knife-like instrument. Pigments were derived from charred asun (Randia coriacea) leaves that produced a dark blue-black color. As the wounds healed, their wounds were salved with medicinal substances like palm oil, soot, and the charred root of the elu (indigo) tree to suppress the formation of keloids that were regarded as unattractive.

It was said that in ancient times no Bini man would marry a woman without tattoos. This custom was verified in more recent times by the small number of men and women who continue to carry the designs of their ancestors. For example, one Bini woman reported that she received her tattoos at age thirteen, just after her first menses. Five years later her torso was tattooed prior to marriage. Her parents arranged for the “surgery,” but her future husband provided her with an “incision feast” to commemorate the event. Years later she had the tattoos redone because they were fading.

Women’s tattoos were “blade-like” and positioned in various configurations on the body. Women who acquired their tattoos by royal command owned seven of the “blades” that indicated that they were suitable to join the harem of the King. Women could choose the number of vertical forehead tattoos that also appeared on their cheeks and chin.

It is said that the practice of tattooing originated in the 16th century. The King at that time married the daughter of a neighboring Yoruba ruler. However, she refused to consummate the marriage because the Bini King did not have tribal markings. The enraged ruler abused her and word of his actions reached the daughter’s father. Soon afterwards, the King and his wife visited the father-in-law at his palace. The woman’s father immediately attacked the abusive husband with a cutlass and the King’s body thereafter bore the scars of the assault. So as not to embarrass their King, his subjects imitated them on their bodies with pigment.

Edo people Edo people Edo people



The Benin Kingdom is well known for its brass and ivory sculpture, which is found in museums throughout the world. These objects were produced for the king and the nobility by members of craft guilds in Benin City.
Among the most famous Benin works of art are the brass (often mislabeled "bronze") commemorative heads topped by elaboratly carved ivory tusks that are placed on the royal ancestral altars and the rectangular brass plaques depicting court ceremonies and war exploits that used to decorate the pillars of the palace. In the villages, devotees of local deified culture heroes perform rituals employing a variety of different kinds of masks some of wood, others of cloth or red parrot feathers, to honor these deities and appeal for health and well-being.
The brass heads honored the deceased person they represented, they refer to the special role of the head in directing not only the persons body but also a person's success in life.
Most Benin castings were made of brass, which ia an alloy of copper and zinc with varying amounts of other elements. A few castings, especially in the early period, were made in bronze the copper and tin. It is believed that the cast brass heads were introduced for royal ancestors in the late fourteenth century under the reign of Oba Oguola, the fifth king or Oba.



The Edo distinguish between common and serious illnesses. The former can be treated at home or by Western-trained doctors; the latter must be treated by specialists in traditional medicine, whether priests or diviner/healers. Serious illnesses (childhood convulsions, smallpox, etc.) are believed to be caused by witches or by deities angered over the violation of a taboo. Traditional medical practice centers around belief in osun, the power inherent in leaves and herbs that grow in the bush. Most adults have a basic knowledge of herbalism, which helps them to care for their immediate families, but there are also specialists, both priests and diviner/herbalists, who treat a variety of illnesses. Edo today distinguish between "White man's medicine," for the treatment of diseases such as measles, and "Edo medicine," which is still used for problems such as barrenness or illness created by witches.


Death and afterlife beliefs

A generalised account of the burial ceremonies may be given. The first act is to wash the body and place it, usually wrapped in white cloth, upon the bed. A goat or a fowl is sacrificed close to this bed to the feet of the dead body, and the reason given for this sacrifice is that it makes the dead person strong to go to heaven. The grave is dug either by relatives of the deceased or, in the villages, by the Igele.During the burial rites traditional burial songs are sung. The burial is attended sometimes by the family of the deceased only, sometimes by the wives also. After the grave is filled in a sacrifice is sometimes offered upon it, and  the gravediggers purify themselves with water or with a chicken. Sacrifices go on night and morning for a varying number of days, and where the awaigbe is used, the final act is to purify with afo.
On the last night of the burial ceremonies,which are of course prolonged for some time after the body has been put in the grave, and may, if the family is a poor one, be postponed for years after the actual burial, a member of the family dresses up to represent the dead man, whose seat he occupies. An important point to be noted in connection with the burial ceremonies is that the sons-in-law of the dead man have to bring contributions of cloth, yams, cocoanuts, and other objects, together with one goat.



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The basis of the economy is farming, with the main food crops being yams, cassava, plantains, and cocoyams, as well as beans, rice, okra, peppers, and gourds. Oil palms are cultivated for wine production and kola trees for nuts for hospitality rites. Farming is not an exclusively rural occupation, as many city dwellers own farms on the outskirts of the capital and commute regularly to work on them. Domestic animals include cattle, goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens. Most villages have markets, and there are also several large regional markets supplying Benin City and the other towns. In the precolonial period trade was in foodstuffs and locally manufactured products, but in the colonial period cash crops were introduced; by World War I Benin had begun to prosper from the commercial growing of timber and rubber trees. Whereas shifting cultivation used to prevail, with the introduction of cash crops it has begun to disappear in favor of crop rotation. Today all farmers grow food crops for their own consumption as well as cash crops. Rubber processing and the preparation of tropical hardwoods are major industries in the state. As Makinwa notes (1981, 31), Benin City's unique position as the state capital, coupled with the discovery of oil and a tremendous increase in its production in the late 1960s and early 1970s, drew financial resources and industries to Benin.
Main carbohydrate staple(s): “They subsist primarily on yams, supplemented by corn (maize), plantains, cassava, and other vegetables.”
Main protein-lipid sources: “Livestock includes goats, sheep, dogs, and fowl”
The urban economy is dominated by government in the formal sector and trade in the informal one. Because Benin is the capital of Edo State, the government and its agencies are the main employers for the wage-earning portion of the population. At least half of the urban work force is in clerical and, especially, sales-and-service professions. Men are typically involved in tailoring, carpentry, or electrical and mechanical repairs, and women tend to be hairdressers, dressmakers, and petty traders. Women dominate in the street and local markets in the city. Youth unemployment has become a growing problem as the influx of migrants from the villages and other parts of Nigeria steadily increases.


Industrial Arts

According to oral traditions, craft guilds have existed since the Ogiso period. Members of these guilds (carpenters, carvers, brass casters, leatherworkers, blacksmiths, and weavers) live in special wards of Benin City and produce ritual, prestige, and household objects for the king and court. In the villages, there were also smiths, carvers, potters, weavers, and basket makers who created ritual paraphernalia like masks, cloth, and utensils. In the twentieth century local production of cloth, baskets, and other useful items has almost died out because of competition with European products.
The changing social and economic situation has adversely affected the patronage of many of the traditional crafts, although some guild members, especially the carvers and casters, have made a successful transition to production for tourists and the Nigerian elite.


Land Tenure

The king is considered "the owner" of all the land in the kingdom. Although this prerogative has mainly symbolic significance, the king could actually revoke rights to land in cases of insurrection or treason. Today he plays a role in the allocation of building sites in Benin City and the use of land and resources by strangers in the Edo region.
The actual landholding unit is the village; its elders act as the custodians. Approval must be sought from the elders and chief for the right to use certain plots. Land is abundant, and new settlements are still being founded in the reserves of wooded land. Patterns of land use are changing, however, and, especially in the city, individual purchase is increasingly common.



Descent is reckoned patrilineally in Edo society. Descent groups are called egbee, a term that refers both to the immediate lineage and to the dispersed clan of which it is part. There are about thirty-five clans, which are distinguished by exogamy, the possession of special morning salutations, and the adherence to particular avoidances of foods or activities.
 Unlike those of the neighboring Yoruba, Edo lineages are not landholding, nor do they have political significance, except for that of the king and a very few hereditary chieftaincy titles. The royal lineage is particularly set apart by virtue of its descent from the Yoruba culture hero Oranmiyan (called "Aranmiyan" in Edo), who founded the second Benin dynasty, which has reigned continuously since about the twelfth or thirteenth century.


Family. Domestic Unit

The basic unit is the household, which varies in size from a single man (least common) to an extended family (most common). This family can consist of a man with his wife or wives and their children and, in some cases, married sons and their wives and children and even younger married brothers. Widowed or divorced mothers, daughters, and sisters can live there as well. If the marriage is polygamous, the wives and their children all live in separate apartments within the larger compound. Women past childbearing age often move to their own houses.
In precolonial times the family groupings in the city were much larger, since the chiefs had more wives and children and numerous slaves and servants. Thus the households of high-ranking chiefs might have included several hundred people. Today in Benin City the average size is seven to ten per household, and the number of nuclear families is increasing (Sada 1984, 119).



The system of primogeniture prevails among the Edo: the eldest son receives the rights to property, hereditary titles, and ritual duties. The eldest son performs the funeral ceremonies for his deceased father and inherits his father's house and lands. Although the bulk of the estate goes to the senior son, the eldest sons by the other wives of his father receive shares as well, in order of their seniority. When no sons are left, the property sometimes passes to the father's brother or sister, or sometimes to a daughter. A woman's property is inherited by her children. Royal traditions indicate that primogeniture may not always have been the rule of succession to the kingship, but it clearly has been in place since the early eighteenth century.



In Benin the extended family is the unit of socialization within which the individual learns the necessary social and occupational skills. Babies are cared for by their mothers, grandmothers, and elder sisters. Weaning takes place when they are 2 or 3 years old, unless the mother bears another child in the meantime. Boys and girls play together until the age of 6 or 7, but then they begin to take on gender-related activities: boys accompany their fathers to the farm or, if they are artisans, to the workshop.
Girls go with their mothers to the farm and learn how to sell things in the market. Formerly, the circumcision of boys and clitoridectomy of girls took place in infancy or early childhood but, in the latter case, is becoming less common. Since the early part of the twentieth century, but especially after World War II, urban crafts and small industries have adapted Western apprenticeship systems for the training of workers. Western-based education also offers avenues for the acquisition of skills. Since 1955, primary-school education in both the urban and rural areas has been free and compulsory. Secondary schools are primarily in the towns, and only the initial stages are free. Edo State has two institutions of higher education: the University of Benin, in Benin City, and Edo State University, in Ekpoma.