Population & Ecosystem
340.000 Eggon live in the fertile plains of the Benoue Valley (Nigeria).
A few still live in mountains villages. The name Eggon refers to the hill where they settled before coming down to the plains.
The word means "a good sense of hearing or perception ability".
They call themselves Eggon but are known by the Hausa as Madan Dutse.
Eggon people are different from the Mada of the Andaha area. However, they share similarities in spoken language, cultural beliefs, and moral code, as they do with the Rindire and Buh of Akwanga LGA.
The Eggon are divided into three major clans namely: Anzo, Eholo and Eggon Ero.
- The Anzo clan are mostly found around Alogani Gale, Ezeng, Waama, Okgba, Gunyi, Angbaku, Ogbagi, Ugba and Wogna
- The Eholo clan are in villages like Wana, Wangibi, Ika, Alushi, Ginda, Wulko, Wuwen, Endeho, Gaji, Ungwashuru, Warizo, and Lizin Keffi.
- The Eggon Ero are mostly around Ume, Alizaga, Bakyono, and Arigbadu Sako. However today, these clans have spread and inter-woven with each other in the quest for fertile farm land among other tribes such as the Alago and Migili.
These clans have different tribal marks. The Anzo and Eholo have fifteen lines on each cheek running from the temple. The Eggon Ero have nine marks on the face. This group is also called Mada Tara (nine marks).
They both have patterns of lizards and birds on the neck, while some choose to draw drums or arms and other objects. Marks are also cut on other parts of the body like the belly, sometimes even the legs, and women's backs. Both men and women in Eggon land traditionally pierced their ears, but only women pierce one nostril. All these marks were for decoration and to prove how brave those who had them were, to have endured the pain of making them.
Nowadays most of these marks are not seen on young ones, only on the elderly people. Girls have adapted different types of marks due to the influence of outsiders. The type depends on the individual. These days however, modern cosmetics are replacing these traditional marks which are becoming extinct.
Many years ago they dressed in animal skins, before the use of a hand-woven piece of white cloth (Akile) which was used to cover their unclothedness, both men and women. Apart from weaving, Eggon women mould 3 pots of different shapes and designs, which are used for various purposes e.g. for ceremonial or religious purposes.
During festivals in Eggon land, some decorations are used for dressing in honour of the occasion. Such decorative items include; beads, bangles, anklets and baboon skin (very hairy) used in making a man's cap.
However, there are also decorative items for the masquerade (dodo) which are meant to be kept sacred by the chief priest. In addition, women wear traditional skirts during festivals. Their traditional weapons of war include the shield (umbili) which is made out of wild ox skin. Other weapons include spears, axes and swords, bows and arrows.
In years past, due to misunderstandings over land, the Eggon fought wars among themselves and with neighbouring tribes. Being agriculturists, the Eggon people cherish farm land. They grow crops like maize, guinea corn, yam and millet. Conflicts also came about over wives snatched by one clan from another.
Oral tradition has it that the Eggon came to their present land through Ngazargamu in the present Borno State of Nigeria. From there, they moved away, and were part of the Kwararafa kingdom.
It was when Kwararafa was scattered that they crossed the river Benue at Ibi. They camped in many places before finally settling on the Eggon hill. They were on this hill before the coming of the white man. Today many Eggon people have come down to the plains but there are still some living up the hills. They claim to have come with the Nungu (Rindire) tribe from the east.
In the beginning the Eggon were ruled by the chief priest Adanashim . The people were governed by religious laws. On complex issues seers were consulted to know the cause, and the cure. In each village or ward there is a ruling clan known as Tsagbeju.
Today, there is an organised political chiefdom in Eggon land. The chieftaincy title is called Aren Eggon, which is a first class chieftaincy. This political seat is only open to bonafide Eggon men, especially those in the three clans of Eggon (Anzo, Eholo, and Eggon Ero). The kingmakers (Malase Aren) are twelve village heads, carefully selected from these three clans. The elected chief is then presented to the Local Government Council. In Eggon land the chief rules through the District Head, who discharges information and duties to the Village Heads who are over the Ward Heads. These leaders settle disputes and conflicts within their power.
Tougher complaints or disputes are taken to higher authorities.
During labour, men are not allowed to be present. Elderly women who have mid-wife experience are called upon to assist. In cases where the woman finds it very difficult to deliver and the efforts of the midwives have failed, a special man experienced with herbs used to help in labour is called. The seer is also consulted to look into the situation. The woman is asked if she had any sexual relationship with anyone other than her husband. If so, she must confess with pleading, after which, she is expected to deliver the baby safely. But if she refuses to confess, she will die in labour. This is because adultery was seen as an abominable act.
When a woman gives birth in Eggon land she is expected to remain in the room together with the child for about seven days. When she comes out, a certain rite is performed by the family elder. A bow and arrow is given to a baby boy to show that he will be a brave warrior or hunter. In some cases a hoe is also given to the baby showing that he will be a farmer to feed his family. On the other hand, a broom, or some traditional cooking utensil is given to a baby girl showing that she will keep the home clean and cook food to feed her husband. These symbolic items are given to the baby after some good pronouncements about the future and prayer on behalf of the baby. It is after this rite that the elder pronounces the name of the child. Most names 4 are of respected ancestors or names that have meanings related to the events or circumstances that surrounded the birth of the child.
On the day of the naming ceremony, the neighbours, close relations and friends are invited. Food and drink are prepared for the ceremony, which takes place in the morning.
Nowadays, boys are often circumcised soon after birth, before the naming ceremony. But traditionally, boys of about ten years are gathered in one place for circumcision every three years. After the circumcision the boys are cared for by their parents. When the circumcision wounds are healed, a feast is organised in honour of the boys. There is not much ceremony attached to circumcision.
In Eggon tradition, boys of about fifteen, are gathered and taken to the shrine for initiation into the religion known as Ashim. However, not every boy is invited to this ceremony, only those recommended by the elders, as disciplined boys. The initiates pay a goat or chicken and beer provided by their parents, to the priest. This is used for sacrifices to appease the Gods. The boys are taken to the shrine, where the Gods are believed to be. They are introduced to the secret behind the fetish cult (Ashim). Other gods of the land are shown to the boys in order to remove fear and doubt from their minds.
The exercise is performed within a day but the feast, especially drinking of local beer, continues for about a week. During the initiation process the boys are warned to avoid women and never to disclose the secrets of the gods which women are not allowed to know nor see. Also at this time, the boys are disciplined severely in different aspects of life, in order to make them responsible men in the society. Stubborn boys are beaten severely to make them respectful. It is after the initiation exercise that boys are considered as responsible men in the society and are free to marry. The chief priest of the Ashim religion is known as Adanhashim.
When a girl is born, she is betrothed to a man immediately, usually to a boy recommended by the midwife.
This is why it is said that not every woman is allowed to touch the blood of a woman in labour. Only those that have a cordial relationship with the woman in labour are welcomed. The midwife claims a femaly baby as a wife for a boy in her clan or family, and a boy baby as a friend of a boy in her family.
If the baby is a girl, the request for betrothal is followed up immediately with a bunch of firewood, given to the mother of the child to boil water, and keep the baby warm. The agreement is concretised when firewood and a special kind of grass, called gamba, is used as a lamp, is provided by the suitor.
If the girl's parents agree to the arrangement, they accept these gifts. Other gifts that follow include twentyfive tubers of yam, many sheaves of guinea corn, maize, measures of acha and other food items as the need may be. The food items are given to the girl's parents every year until the girl is old enough for marriage.
Also each year the suitor and his age mates or close friends cultivate, plant, or harvest crops for her family.
At least on the year of the wedding, the suitor must mobilise at least twenty-five young men to cultivate the girl's father's farm. The suitor makes sure he keeps the relationship cordial by showing complete respect in his attitude and behaviour towards the girl's people.
The food items and the services rendered serve as the bride price. It is only in recent years that a recognised amount of money has been set or service rendered before the bride is taken to the groom's home. Before, it was when the bride price had reached the satisfaction of the parents that the bride was given in marriage. The bride was captured by surprise and carried off to the groom's house. When the parents did not see their daughter they knew she had gone to her husband's house.
When the bride is brought to her new home, there is an outbreak of joy. The marriage ceremony is marked by many styles of dances, with special songs sung in honour of the groom, the bride and the moment. Feasting and merry making from both clans marks the occasion.
Polygamy is common amongst the Eggon people. It is practised for many reasons, sometimes for women to help in farm work and for some domestic responsibilities, and to breed many children which is a pride in Eggon society. It is believed by the Eggon that the more wives one has the wealthier one becomes.
Divorce is practised. Women divorce their husbands when they no longer get along with them or lack respect for the husband's people, or a stubborn and unsubmissive woman can be sent away by her husband any time. The bride price of the woman is paid by the new husband especially in the case where the woman did not give birth to a child.
Adultery was highly prohibited because it was believed that it was an abominable act, which could bring a curse on the family or clan or cause an epidemic. Therefore offenders were punished without delay and had to pay a fine or be considered as outcasts from the family. The fine was used to appease the Gods. However, today it is not so. Men, women, and young people are not ashamed to be engaged in such immoral acts. This is common amongst the Eggon found in the city and towns like Lafia, Akwanga, and Nassarawa Eggon. This has given to the revival of the Azhilli religion recently.
There is a general burial format for all men but the burial of a chief priest is different, because it is considered more sacred. Whichever case, the grave structure is the same. The grave is dug by a group trained for it, called the Makpngibi. They dig the grave as a round shaft with a horizontal tunnel leading off it at four feet deep. The corpse is laid inside the tunnel.
Before burial, the corpse is washed and adorned with good cloth but when the corpse is taken to the grave the piece of cloth is removed. A stone is used to cover the grave mouth.
When a chief priest or an old man who was prominent in the society or took a lead in benefiting society dies, the corpse is treated with sacred honour. Only a few individuals may see the corpse, and only responsible men may touch it before burial. The burial procedure is believed to be ordered by the fetish (dodo).
In any burial, when the grave is ready the corpse is buried prostrate facing the east where men are believed to have come from. A man's right hand serves as a pillow on the ground while a woman's left hand is used.
After burial the deceased's relations shave half of their heads. This symbolises that they are in mourning and prevents the deceased's ghost from attacking them. The sympathizers mourn throughout the ourning period, that is twelve days. After the last mourning feast, they all disperse to their homes.
The deceased's estate, including his wife (if any) is inheritable by the children or his brothers. They believe in life after death. There is a saying in Eggon land that if one continues to do evil, one will become a stone (gbin) in the life after death. In other words, the victim will be useless in the ancestral world. But a good person is believed to still live or come back to be reincarnated in the family. This is known as inkyiya or
There is the general belief in the Supreme Being, who is found beyond the sky. He is called Ahogben. He owns everything, knows everything and is everywhere and does anything. He is the Creator and is very far from man. Therefore man communicates with him through Ashim or other objects kept by the people.
The Eggon people differentiate the name of the sun (onomo) from Ahogben. They also believe that since Ahogben is everywhere, he will judge and punish all wicked people after death through Angbashim (see below). In other words, he is the rewarder of all good people.
They attach more importance to the God found under the ground because he blesses their land, and gives them good harvest. Also it is this God, people who die see and not the high god. Therefore this cult is consulted or appeased before planting season, harvest season and before festivals commence. This God is known as Angbashim. When consulting this God libation is poured on the ground seven times with some confessions by the elder or the priest and some prayers are made to this God.
The Ashim cult is believed to ward off wicked or evil spirits from the land. The cult is physically represented by leaves of the tree called mijikadenya in Hausa. These leaves are kept on a farm to ward off thieves. The victims of this cult are afflicted with a severe sickness until they confess. No one has the right to play with Ashim and if one eats Ashim's food unworthily one is afflicted by Ashim in such a way that ones stomach will become swollen. Women are not allowed to go near nor see Ashim.
However, women past menopause may be introduced to the cult. They are warned strictly never to disclose the secrets to younger ones and such old women are not allowed to eat Ashim's food.
Apart from Ashim, there are other religious societies kept by individuals, families or clans. Among such cults are: Akuk, Gango, Yamba and Arikya. These religious societies are represented by objects like pots, stones, sticks or cowries. They
are believed to function in various ways, that is, to make the soil fertile for good harvest, to protect the family or clan from any misfortune or evil, to bless the wombs of women so that they might give birth, and to ward off sicknesses and diseases of all sorts. That is why sacrifices of chicken, goat, and beer are made to these gods in order to appease them, and to maintain a good relationship with the Gods of the land. A related society known as Yambu is found in the Tashan-Mada area. In January to April, offerings are made to the Gods before the planting season during which people plead for sufficient rainfall and blessings on their farms. In September, they again appease these Gods and give sacrifices in thanksgiving. The religious shrines are kept sacred, and away from people. Only the priest and those involved are allowed to go there.
In honour of these Gods, important festivals are celebrated. An example is the Ashimu festival celebrated in March/April annually. During the ceremony only men who have been initiated into the Ashim cult can participate in the feast. The ceremony lasts for about a week. This period is marked by much beer drinking and feasting. The Arashim dance is done during the ceremony.
Witchcraft is greatly feared in Eggon land. Many people spend money seeking for protection against witchcraft. Witches discovered or suspected are forced to confess or be killed. Witch doctors in Eggon make a lot of money. An example is Mrs. Maryamu, whose fame has reached all over Eggon land. This woman is believed to have power to see and catch witches, especially those who kill people. She is also believed by the Eggon to have herbs that can disengage one from witchcraft. This woman is not just consulted; she is worshipped. In fact, her influence is so strong that even church leaders consulted her at a time. In essence, there is a great fear of witches amongst the Eggon.