The Ebira or Egbira people are an ethno-linguistic group of central Nigeria. Many Ebira people are from Kogi State , Kwara State ,Nasarawa State and Edo State . Okene was said to be the administrative centre of the Ebira-speaking people in Kogi state before kogi was formed from Kwara, not far from the Niger-Benue confluence. Since the formation of the state, the Ebira Ta’o people are found in four local governments namely: Adavi , Ajaokuta ,
Okehi and Okene each with their administration headquarters. Ebira Koto are found in Kogi and KotonKarfe LGA Bassa LGA, Lokoja in Kogi and Abaji LGA in the Federal Capital Territory, and Nasarawa in Toto LGA. Another, the Eganyi are found in Ajaokuta LGA. And the Etuno can be found in Igarra town of Akoko-Edo LGA, Edo state.
In recent history, Ebira people inhabit a territory south-west of the confluence of the Niger and Benue Rivers though some Ebira communities also reside north-east of the confluence, the territory surrounding the confluence is an ethnically diverse area with diffused cultural symbols. Ebiraland is north of Etsako , east of Kabba and west of Igalaland, it is dominated by deciduous woodland and rocky hills of an open savannah vegetation.
The major local government areas are Adavi, Ajaokuta , Koton-Karfi, Okehi and Okene. Since the advent of colonialism, many Ebiras have moved southwards due to search for arable farming spaces and working as migrant farmers.
Early population movements
The migration of Ebira people to the present region is mostly surmised by oral history. However, most versions trace the migration from the Jukuns of the Kwararafa state, north of the Benue River and in present-day Taraba State . One of the relics of their trace from Kwararafa is the Apete stool, their symbol of authority and identity as a group within the kingdom, brought along and kept in a place in Opete (deriving its name from the stool), in present-day Ajaokuta. The Apete is presently the title instrument of Ozumi of Okene. After migration from Kwararafa, they originally settled with the Igalas and both groups lived together for about 300 years.
A dispute between the two groups led to a parting of ways, and the Ebiras moved southwest of the River Niger to their ancestral home called Ebira Opete an area around Ajaokuta . Other groups later moved south to found Okengwe, Uboro and Okehi. Historically, these Ebiras communities were autonomous units without a central king or recognized royal families but were managed by leaders of lineages in a type of gerontocracy .
Pre-colonial and colonial period
During the conquest of Hausaland by Jihadists , Ebiras came under a state of conflict with Fulani warlords to the north and west. In the middle of the nineteenth century, two major communities, Igu and Panda were overrun. Between 1865 and 1880, they battled, under the leadership of a warlord, Achigidi Okino, with jihadists called Ajinomoh who were from Bida and Ilorin . However, the Ebiras were not conquered by the Fulanis helped in part by security provided by their hilly environment.British interest in Ebira started with the location of a Royal Niger Company post in Lokoja .
In 1898, the British annexed Ilorin and Nupeland under the pretext of controlling free flow of trade, they set up a military post in Kabba west of Ebiraland and the Ebiras soon were a target for annexation. In 1903, after much resistance, Ebira territory fell under British control. To manage the various autonomous villages, a central figure was appointed by the British to represent Ebiras. The first of such figures was Ouda Adidi of Eika, who ruled until 1903, he was succeeded by Omadivi, a favorite of the British. Omadivi was a clan head who had earlier fought against Jihadists but supported trade with the British. During his reign, his authority over the other clans was minimal. When Omadivi died, Adano was appointed but had a short reign. In 1917, a new ruler, Ibrahim was chosen, Ibrahim was also called Attah Ibrahim or Attah of Ebiraland, he was a maternal grandson of Omadivi.
It was during his reign that the British colonists introduced indirect rule, a significant political development that increased the authority of Attah. Ibrahim used his position as head of the Ebira Native Authority to bring together the autonomous communities under his political leadership, a process that was opposed by some members of those communities. He gained the confidence of the British who entrusted territories northwards of Ebiraland such as Lokoja to him. Ibrahim was a Muslim convert and helped spread Islam in the region. However, Ibrahim was exiled in 1954, a consequence of political intrigues. The first primary school in the community was located in his palace and many of his children were educated and some ended up holding prominent positions in the regional and federal governments. Ibrahim was succeeded by Sani Omolori who held the title of Ohinoyi of Ebiraland.
Before the advent of Islam, Ebira people practiced a form of African traditional religion with a central focus on a god called Ohomorihi , the rain-maker who lives in the sky. Rites are performed to appease the god whose attributes include punishing evil doers and rewarding good people. Other religious figures below the Ohomorihi are ori (deities) and spirits. In Ebira tradition, there is a belief in a spirit world where dead ancestors live.
Family life and social system
In early history of Ebira people, the family was headed by the father or the oldest male who acted as the provider, religious leader and the protector of the nuclear family ( Ireh ). Other important social systems are compounds( Ohuoje ) which are composed of related or kindred patrilineal families, Ovovu , the outer compounds and then lineages( Abara ), composed of several related compounds.The Clan ( Iresu ) which is a community of kindred lineages in Ebiraland is led by the Otaru. Clan identities are distinguished by symbols mostly animals such as leopard, crocodile, python or buffalo. The affairs of the community were managed by a group of elder male members each representing related lineages.
The principal occupation of Ebiras is Agriculture, they cultivate maize, yams, cassava and vegetables.
In the nineteenth century some communities cultivated and traded beni seeds Ebiras are also known for their weaving and crafts. Contemporary Ebira social life has seen changes over the years, though farming is still a dominant occupation, many Ebiras are influenced by Western and contemporary Nigerian culture and live in urban settlements. Behaviors such as polygamy and a close relationship with a related lineage are fading and the Attah or Ohinoyi is no longer the dominant political authority within the land. Another new tradition embraced by the Ohinoyi was handing out of chieftaincy titles to individuals like it is found in many other Nigerian cultures.Ebira territory such as Ajaokuta is cosmopolitan as a result of the construction of a steel mill in the town.
Ekuechi festival is the most widely celebrated traditional festival in Ebira communities, it is held annually starting in late November and ending in late December or January. The duration of the festival is long because different clans choose their own dates to mark the festival. “Eku” in Ebira represents an ancestral masquerade while “Chi” means descend. In traditional Ebira culture there exists a belief in the existence of a land of the living and another for the dead and a veneration of the land of the dead by those from the land of the living. Ekuechi thus can be interpreted as ancestral spirit descending back to earth. The masquerades performing in the festival are believed to have access to the spirit world where dead relatives abide noting the behaviors of the living and during the festival these masquerades deliver messages of good tidings and admonishment from the spirit world.
The festival also marks the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. A major performance during the festival is a masked performance by Eku’rahu that is centered on singing, drumming, and chanting.