One of the largest ethnic groups in Edo State, Nigeria, is the Esan people. According to Historians, the term Esan has been used before contact with the Europeans. The name ‘Esan’ owes its origin to Bini, which is originally called ‘E san fia,’ meaning ‘they have fled’ or ‘they have jumped away.’ The British colonialists found it difficult to pronounce the same so it was anglicized to ‘Ishan.’ It is believed that the modern Esan people have been organized during the 15th century when citizens left the neighboring Benin Empire for the northeast. 

Esan people

35 kingdoms made up Esan land, they are as follows: Amahor, Ebelle, Egoro, Ewohimi, Ekekhenlen, Ekpoma, Emu, Ewatto, Ewosa, Idoa, Ifeku, Iguebeu, Ilushi, and Inyelen. Others are Irua, Ogwa, Ohordua, Okalo, Okhuesan, Onogholo, Opoji, Oria, Orowo, Uromi, Udo, Ugbegwu, Ugboha, Ubiaja, Urhohi, Ugun, Ujioba, Ukhun, and Uzea. All these kingdoms and communities are referred to as the ‘’Eguares.’’ In recent times, the clans/kingdom in Esan land is arranged under five local government areas in Edo state. They are Esan North-East, Esan Central, Esan West, Esan South-East, and Igueben local government areas. There are about 1.5 million people in Esan land.


The people speak Esan language, an Edoid language related to Edo, Urhobo, Owan, Isoko and Etsako languages. The language is considered a regionally important language in Nigeria. It is part of the curriculum in Primary schools. It is broadcasted on radio and TV stations. Esan language is recognized in the census of the United Kingdom. Names in Esan has been influenced by the colonial masters and is still being used till today e.g. Ubhekhe is now ‘obeche’ tree, Uloko now ‘iroko’ tree, Abhuilumen now ‘Aburime’ etc.


The people practice the Christian religion (mostly Catholics) as a result of the influence of the British colonialists in the region during the early days. Despite this, most of them still worship ancestral spirits and other gods. There are many deities of the Esan religion; they are Osanobua (the main Edo-Esan god which was later used by Christians as God), Olokun, Esu (satan), and Osun (the Esan of god of medicine).


The traditional agogo bell is an important instrument in Esan land. it is used to form the rhythm of various dances such as the Igbabonelimhin; an acrobatic dance performed mostly by young males. This form of dance involves spinning and somersaulting to a timed beat. It now serves as the unique symbol of the people anywhere in the world.


The people are predominantly farmers; they cultivate palm trees, cherry, bell pepper, kola nut, plantains and so on. There are also trado-medical practitioners among the people, as well as mercenary warriors and hunters.


The Esan people have contributed immensely to the growth of Nigeria. Notable among them are:

  • Anthony Enahoro (politician who raised the motion for the independence of Nigeria),
  • Ambrose Folorunsho Alli (Professor & former governor of the old Bendel state),
  • Anthony Anenih (politician),
  • Tom Ikimi (politician),
  • Festus Iyayi (writer),
  • Stella Obasanjo (ex-first lady of Nigeria),
  • Anthony Olubunmi Okogie (clergy),
  • Sunny Okosun (musician),
  • Chris Oyakhilome (clergy), and so on.


The biggest influence on Esan land came when Oba Ewuare of the old Benin Empire passed laws of mourning that prohibited sexual intercourse, bathing, drumming, dancing, and cooking. This led to the migration of the Benin citizens to the land they occupy now and also shaped their cultural identity.

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