The Ebira or Egbira people are an ethno-linguistic group of 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 headquarter. Ebira Koto are found inKogi and KotonKarfe LGA in Kogi and Abaji LGA in the Federal Capital Territory. Another, the Eganyi are found in Ajaokuta LGA.
Origin of the Ebiras
Ebira Tao is the largest of the several Ebira groups found in about 8 states of Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The other sister groups are Ebira Koto and Ebira Mozum (Kogi state), Ebira Panda, Ebira Oje/Toto (Nassarawa state), Ebira Etuno (Edo state), Ebira Agatu (Benue state) Ebira Oloko (Ondo/Oyo/Osun states). Written records about the origin of the Ebira people were those compiled from palace sources by the British colonial administrators in early 20th century. 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.
Location and size of the Ebira community
Ebiraland, the home of Ebira Tao, is located in the central senatorial District of Kogi state. It has a landmass of 3,426 km2. The 1991 national census puts the population of the area 722,032. Another national head count was undertaken in 2006. The provisional figure of 884,396 released by the National Population Commission (NPC) is being disputed. It is distributed as follows: Okene LGA (320,260), Adavi LGA (202,194), Okehi LGA (199,999), Ajaokuta LGA (122,321) and Ogori Magongo LGA (39,622).
Cultural Festivals (Eche-Ozi Ete)
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.