Esan People are a major ethnic group in Southwestern Nigeria
Esanland is situated just north of the Niger Delta and about sixty-five kilometers north-east of the state capital, Benin City. Esanland is also west of the Niger River.
It is believed by many historians that the name ‘Esan’ (originally, ‘E san fia’) owes its origin to Bini (meaning, ‘they have fled’ or ‘they jumped away’). ‘Ishan’ is an Anglicized form of ‘Esan’, the result of colonial Britain’s inability to properly pronounce the name of this ethnic group. It is believed that similar corruption has affected such Esan names as ubhẹkhẹ (now ‘obeche’ tree), uloko (now ‘iroko’ tree), Abhuluimẹn (now ‘Aburime’), etc. Efforts have however been made to return to status quo ante.
The Esan nation came to be during the 15th century, when citizens left the neighbouring Benin Empire and formed communities and kingdoms called eguares. These kingdoms were subjugated in the 20th century to the British Empire, only gaining independence in 1960 when Nigeria became independent. Although the Esans were ethnically homogeneous, there is no attitude for seccesion, save for a short-lived Republic of Benin instituted by Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War.
It is estimated that the Esan people who reside in Esanland number about one million to 1.5 million citizens in Nigeria, and Esan people in other parts of Nigeria, and there is a strong Esan diaspora; the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Ireland, Italy , and South Africa and other parts of Europe.
Esan land is bordered to the south by Benin City, to the south-east by Agbor, to the north and east by Etsako, to the west by River Niger. From Ewu to Benin City, the State capital, is 100 km long. No accurate demographic data of the people is available and the various local governments in Esan appear to lack reliable information in this direction. The people populate areas such as Uromi, Ewohimi, Ewatto, Igueben, Irrua, Ubiaja, Ogwa, Ebele, Ekpoma, Ohordua and Ewu in central Edo State, South-South Nigeria. It has a flat landscape, lacking in rocks and mountains, and good for agricultural purpose.
Geographically, Esanland is on a plateau, surrounded by slopes down to the lower Niger river, the valley and wetland towards Etsako, the Kukuruku Hills and the plain around Benin city the state capital. The tableland though reddish-brown in colour, is a fertile land for farming, which is the main occupation of the Esan people. There is a dense thick forest, nutritionally rich in economic crops and herbal plants. However, it is suffering from bush burning, and wood felling for timber and as a major source of fuel (which is in high demand) for the increasing population of the Esan people.
The Esan traditionally farm yams, palm-trees, meat, and vegetables, hunt, fish, trade cotton,and other materials, and serve in the army of the Benin Empire.
The Esans primarily speak the Esan language, an Edoid language related to the Urhobo, the Edo, and the Etsako.
Esan folktales and folklore, like the igbabonẹlimhin and akhuẹ, serve as forms of learning and entertainment. The Esan have prominent traditional rulers who keep order in a society where beauty and manners are intertwined. Despite the long-term impact of Christianity, the Esan are largely traditional and a large number practice traditional beliefs in the form of worship of ancestral spirits and other gods. A large percentage of Esan are Christians, mostly Catholic and recently of other denominations. Esan has various dialects all of which stem from Bini and there is still close affinity between the Esan and the Bini, which leads to the common saying “Esan ii gbi Ẹdo” meaning, Esan does not harm the Ẹdo (i.e. Bini).
Traditional Esan religion has many similarities to traditional Edo religion, due to the Esan migration to the northeast during the 15th century from the Benin Empire. There are many deities of the Esan religion:
Osanobua, the main Edo-Esan god. This name for God was brought over to Christianity and its missionaries, and thus the translation for God in Esanland is Osanobua.
Olokun Eshu, the Esan trickster god. This god is shared with Yoruba and Edo myth. The name Eshu was used as a translation for Satan by Christian missionaries.
Osun, the Esan god of medicine. This is where the surname Olokun, or son of medicine, originated from.
Notable Esan Heroes in Nigeria
Ambrose Folorunsho Alli, Governor of Bendel State and the founder of Ambrose Alli University
Anthony Anenih, a Nigerian politician and former minister of Works and Housing
Anthony Enahoro, who raised the motion for the independence of Nigeria in 1953 at the age of 30
Festus Iyayi, writer
Stella Obasanjo the First Lady of Nigeria from 1999 until her death
Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, the Archbishop of Lagos state
Sonny Okosun, musician
Chris Oyakhilome, an international renowned evangelist
Fidelis Oyakhilome, former Lagos state Police commissioner and formal governor of Cross river state
Wilfred Ehikametalor, Former Kogi State Commissioner and former Assistant Inspector General of Police
Lugard Ibhafidon Sadoh, Baptist Pastor and an academic in the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria