Ebira People are involved in a wide range of economic activities. However, they have made a name for themselves in most parts of Nigeria mainly in farming and clothes weaving. Until the advent of colonialism and the cash-based economy which they introduced lured people from farming, close to 100% of the male folk was engaged in farming.
Similarly, a near 100% of the women folk (Enyene Anebira) were actively engaged in cloth weaving. Even those who were Trading took weaving as a apart time job for themselves. But things gradually changed as people continue to drift from both farming and weaving into the retail business.
Farming as Ebira People’s Occupation:
Farming is the occupational heritage of Anebiras. The main crops grown include guinea-corn (Aku), beans(Eza), beniseed (Gorigo), cassava (Echuka), and maize (Apapa), the major crop grown by Anebiras is Yam (Enu). As one leading night masquerade aptly put it in a song, yam is the only crop the farmer gives a crown when it is planted (mulching) and offered a staff of office at a tender age (yam staking). The cultivation of these crops is on a subsistence basis using locally fabricated hoes and cutlasses (Edu and Okari).
Much of the work is done by the men with the women assisting mainly with the harvest. The Ebira society has no place for lazy people. They are very hard-working people who believe that the success of an individual in life lies in the industry of his hands which shapes his malleable destiny. In spite of being frontline farmers in Nigeria, nature has been very unkind to them.
The rocký nature of their environment constitutes a serious handicap to farming which is restricted to a few fertile spots. The bread-basket of Ebiraland includes such farm centers as Achoze, Árugu, Ovęrę, Iyassa, Apaniko, and so on. The growth in population led to a lot of pressure on these few fertile spots consequently rendered senile by continuous cropping and annual bush burning.
This has forced people to migrate in search of fertile farmlands in neighboring and even distant communities. This largely accounts for the presence of Ebira people ii pieces like Erebeka, Utosę, Omorongę, Age, Ado, Owo and so on.
At the onset of the rains which heralds the beginning of another farming season, cooperative farming called “Aarongwu” is often organized among age mates. This is aimed at preparing the land for cultivation or making ridges in readiness for planting. As many as forty people (and even more) may organize an “Aarongu”. All the forty members work on one another’s farm in rotation.
This system of farming is different from “idoza” which is group-farming organized once a year by a son-in-law to help his father-in-law on his farms.
It is an interesting experience to witness in “Aarongwu” a day previous to the meeting, participants boost to one another through the medium of a local trumpet called “opanyi” for “Aarongwu” is not just co-operative farming, it is also a forum for farming competition. Every participant aspires to be the best farmer of the “Aarongwu” and to proudly receive the best farmer’s award.
This is the aspect that has made “Aarongu” a popular and very interesting affair. On a set day, participants gather in the hut (UDI) of their member-host when the trumpet (Opanyi) issues the general call for assembly early in the morning. From there, they are led by the host to the area to be cultivated.
They all stand in a row facing the area to be cultivated and the cooperative/competitive farming begins in earnest. Drummers, flutists (onokokoro), and trumpeters (onopanyi) are in attendance to add color to the occasion. The rhythmic drumming, the shower of praises by both okokoro” and “opanyi”, as well as the competitive spirit all, combine to make light what could have been a tedious task for an individual.
At the end of the day’s work, the host signals to people to stop by removing his hoe from its stick and hitting it. The best farmer, chosen by the number of ridges made, is carried shoulder-high back to the hut while flutes and trumpets sing his praise to the outside world. The author is particularly proud that his late father, Pa Salami Ochu of Okiikiri lineage of the Aniiku (Odumi) clan of Adavi was once such a notable personality in farming.
He earned the praise name “IKUNGU” (Mighty) for his feat in farming. The group does justice to the lavish feast prepared in the host’s hut while the best farmer of the day is presented with a keg of “Winner’s Wine” and a hoe. A date is fixed to work on the farm of the next person before dispersal.
Weaving as Ebira People’s Occupation.
Weaving is the main occupation Ebira Women. The skill in weaving is acquired by a girl from her mother at a very tender age. In the past, thread for weaving was spun locally. Cotton is ginned with “ovorivo” and “oporipo” then blown with the aid of a bow (okita oyi che owu). The cotton is then spun on a spindle (oyibene) and then transferred to either “okaaku” or “upechi” (a stick about one meter long) where the thread is bobbed. It is this that is used in the weaving process. With the availability of machine-spun thread, very few people still carry on this laborious task.
Setting and Operating the Hand Loom
The loom on which the weaving is done is made up of two uprights called “oguntoro” and two cross-bars called “ohoro”.
A rope called “odooro’” connecting the two “ohoro” (A and B) helps to hold three slender shafts known as “ohasi” on which the warp threads are arranged before the weaving begins. The thread wound round on “Okaaku” is first passed over X and under Y and Z to pass over the “Ohoro” A again. The third round is exactly like the first. The fourth and last round is passed under X and over Y and Z. This sequence is repeated until the required width is attained. Different colored threads are used to make length-wise designs.
When the warp threads are set, “Aya”, which is one of the most intricate aspects of cloth weaving, follows. After the tagging by “aya”, the weft threads wound around a “upechi” is shuttled from left to right and from right to left while the thread is stuck in place with the aid of a Nat wooden piece called “okaha”. As the weaving progresses, repetitive designs are made on the cloth using various colored threads.
The early Okene cloth woven by the Ebira were sold in markets as far afield as Idah, Anowe (Kabba), Unori, (Ilorin), Uma, and far North. A large proportion of the woven cloth was for personal use. Today, Okene cloth is a common feature in all parts of Nigeria and even beyond. The old-type calico cloth (uba) has given wáy to better designed and better-woven cloth with modern finesse. In this connection, mention should be made of Ahmed Adoke, a creative designer and modeler who is the Manager of Duniya Agencies.
Through the work of his agency, he has tried to popularize the use of Okene cloth both among the youths and other tribes in Nigeria
Leisure Activities of The Ebira People
If the Ebira is very hardworking people, they also have equal capacity for leisure. They engage in such leisure activities as hunting, wrestling, singing, dancing, engaging in drinking sessions, playing local games, and festivals.
Hunting in Ebiraland
Hunting is a leisure activity for men and older boys, it is not just for the kill but for the fun as well, Hunting is common during the dry season when there is less work on the farms.
Hunting is often done with bows and arrows. The arrows are tipped with a poisonous preparation called “ęchipa”. The preparation of “ęchipa” is a ritual in itself that is better seen than described. Hunting is done either individually or in groups. Individual hunting, the hunter, armed with bow and arrows, stalks about in the bush in search of game. When he sights one, he moves towards it with the graduality of a mantis motion, reaches a convenient shooting range, takes aim, and lets go of the arrow. The poison in the arrow is so effective that the animal cannot go far before it drops dead.
Group hunting is much more exciting than individual hunting. In farms, certain areas of the bush are often set aside as a sort of game reserve. This is called “osa”. It is protected from the annual burning of the bush. As all the bushes in the vicinity get burnt down, the animals take refuge in the game reserve. On a set day, neighboring farmers converge on the hut of the owner of the “osa”. They then converge on the “Osa” and set it on fire all around while the hunters and their hunting dogs surround and are ready to give chase to any animal that might bolt out of the burning bush.
Wrestling in Ebiraland
Wrestling is a popular past-time in the farms. After a hard day’s work, children engage one another in wrestling. This is done particularly during a moonlit night. Victory in wresting is by falling an opponent lat on his back. It is a common belief that certain black magic like “ehuyere”, “esi”, and “ojente”, when used by a wrestler, renders him invincible. Competitions in wrestling are at times arranged between different farm settlements (udi). Wrestling begins with the youngest children from the two groups slugging it out. If the eldest of the two groups meet. Their own “battle’ determines which group is the winner of the competition.
Drinking sessions among the Ebira elders were well organized and a highly enjoyable social affair. Certain officials presided over such social functions.
These are the ‘Ozoku’ (elder), the Oga’ (leader), the Ohiodu’ (Wine Distributor), and Ohioze’ (Gateman). The Ozoku and Oga compare favorably with the chairman and the master of ceremony, respectively, of a modern social gathering. The palm-wine or corn-wine is served round in a calabash cup (Ipa) by the “Ohiodu who, by protocol, should take first. He then serves the Ozoku and others at the gathering in order of their ages.
The drinking session is a forum for settling outstanding misunderstandings. In the process of drinking too, stories of life experiences are related, advice is sought and given and a lot of jokes are bandied around. A drinking session that starts with just one keg or pot of wine may last from morning till night. This is because there are devices for ensuring a continuous flow of wine. Various offenses ranging from late coming and minor quarrels to the throwing away of the dreg of wine are subject to fines to be paid with kegs of wine.
Let us take an illustration.
Mr. ‘A’ has just finished the drink served him by the “Ohiodu’ and throws away the dreg on the ground. The following drama may ensue:
Ohiodu (throwing three cowries down): Honourable Ozoku, I want to sue Mr. ‘A’.
Ozoku: What has he done?
Ohiodo: Adayi, is the wine I am serving not good?
Gathering: Ah, it is a very good wine… It has no equal!
Ohiodu: Mr. ‘A’ does not consider it so. And instead of telling us, he has decided to deprive the rest of us From partaking in the wine by pouring the whole thing away.
(Everyone pretends to be annoyed).
Gathering: Kai, he must be fined! What an insult!
Ozoku: Does that mean that you have nothing else to serve?
Ohiodu: Not at all. I said he poured away the whole wine. He must be made to pay for it or else the gathering would be forced to rise. (Everyone murmurs ‘no’ and complains that the day was still young). (At this point, the Ozoku asks the Oga to go to the place where Mr. A is sitting down and verify if the allegation is true. The Oga goes to the place and pretends to slip.
Everybody shouts: “Navo! Navo!)
Ozoku: Aa! What is that?
Oga: The ground is very slippery. The whole area there is flooded with wine.
(Everyone again pretends to be annoyed and Mr. ‘A’ starts pleading for mercy. An elderly man stands up, gets permission to go out.
He deliberately passes near Mr. A’s place where he intentionally staggers to the ground letting his cap fall off. People rush to his aid).
Gathering: A fine! A fine!! Mr. ‘A’ has not only poured away our wine, but he also wants to injure an elder.
Ozoku: (passing judgment) For pouring away our wine, and setting a trap for an elder, you are fined one keg of wine.
The fine! of one keg of wine lengthens the life of the gathering while people keep their eyes open to detect another offense that would bring the next keg.
Story Telling In Ebiraland
Story-telling is perhaps the most interesting leisure activity for both children and women. In the evening, under the moonlit night or around a log fire, the children often gather together to tell stories. The elders are persuaded to give stories which they are at times reluctant to do.
A storytelling session is a very interesting one. The children start it off by giving warm-up riddles which go like this:
Story Teller: Irita (or Titinkori)
Audience: Ane! (or Adumbere)
Story Teller: These are the sons of the gods who have a stool each. (Answer: Pepper)
The stories normally end on a moral note by stating clearly what moral the lesson is to be learned from the story told. The audience choruses their “welcome” to the storyteller who has vicariously traveled into the unreal world to bring to the audience the story narrated.
The tremendous advancement in science and technology in the Second half of the twentieth century has not only turned the world into a global village but has led to rapid changes in all facets of human endeavor. Territorial and cultural barriers were broken paving the way for innovations and development.
Ebira’s traditional system of entertainment underwent a significant revolution in post – independence era when the “Rambo Dancers” under the leadership of Mallam Otuoze stormed the entertainment scene introducing system, order, and elegance to Ebira dance. This was followed by Abdullahi Adabara’s modernized beat and song in an audio-cassette titled “Onoru o si zwo” which was a chartbuster by local standards. Later, the Umataga Theatre Group began the production of Ebira comedy audio – cassettes which recorded unprecedented patronage.
These three significant pioneer works paved the way for the modernization of the entertainment scene in Ebiraland. On the other hand, the spectacular gymnastic display on bicycles as a form of entertainment particularly during festivals initiated by Apelende (Alhaji Yakubu) was short-lived. By the beginning of the 21″ century, there abound several Ebira entertainment groups in theatre, dance, and “pop” music who are making waves locally and nationally.
Prominent theatre groups involved in the production of Ebira home video films include ATGO, Atilla, Idadumę,
Amedari, Irenuohine, Omeduta and Calabash, But Currently there are many others theatre groups. The zeal and sustained efforts of Mallam Atęjza Salihu Sule (Atilla), Mallam Mohammed Rufai (Atgo Group), and Mallam Abdulrahaman Ismaila Ovansa (Mr. Calabash) Which is the current SSA on Entertainment to the Kogi State Government (Kogi Central), account for the rapid growth of Ebira home video industry. On the other hand, there are several popular female dance groups that feature prominently in social occasions. These include Eche Ozokų (Madam Aminetu Owuda) and Ozomehe Group led by Madam Oremeyi. This is complemented by female singers who have made their mark in an area previously dominated by men.
Outstanding female singers include Umojiri, Ajoku, Onyijimoh Okengwe, Anima Ihima, Onyabara, Rafatu Ageyi, and Hajia Juwa Omadivi, Madam Idris Onyieche aka Okumatete, Okerevete, and many others. The rave of the youths is however Ebira “pop” Music initiated and Popularised by Edward Jatto, the current CEO of JATTO 102.7 FM OKENE, Dan Ozizi, Jim Adeiza, Percento, Fregene, Folly Kent, and Many more Others I can’t mention here. Mention Must also be made of the Indigenization of the celebration of mass by the Catholic church In Ebiraland which has captured the souls of the adherent of the Christians Faith, One cannot resist making particular mention of Rev. Fr George Ehusani for his vision and innovation spirit in this regard.
There are also budding Ebira Gospel Singers like Stephen Sadiq, Evangelist Emmanuel Rufus, Paul Maliki, and Emmanuel Josiah who have successfully blended and enriched delightful choruses with traditional kinds of music.