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Ethnic & Cultural Groups: Edo People


The Edo people are the ancient Kwa language Bini-speaking ethnic groups who occupy South/Mid-Western Nigeria now called  Edo State. The land now known as Edo state with Benin City as its capital has a long history of civilization, and is a well organized, unified community. Historians and researchers trace its existence to as far back as prehistoric times.

The Oba of Benin, or Omo N’Oba, is the traditional ruler of the Edo people and head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Great Benin Empire. Today, the Oba’s palace is regarded as one of the greatest museums in the world because it still holds a large collection of royal court arts, scriptural prices of past Obas in bronze and ivory and ancestral shrines. In 1999, UNESCO listed the Oba’s palace as a cultural heritage site.

The Edo/Bini-speaking ethnic groups include the Esan, the Afemai, the Isoko, the Urhobo among others. They are the descendants of the people who founded the ancient and mighty Benin Empire. The term “Edo,” therefore, refers to these peoples who have shared historical origin as well as political and cultural similarities.

In traditional Benin, before the invasion by the British in 1897, the Oba controlled the production and distribution of brass and bronze art work with no person having right to the production process except from orders given by the Oba. Today, people are free to witness bronze castings and purchase any price of their choice. This is probably one of the most patronized tourist attractions in Edo today.

The village is the basis of Edo political life. In each village the males are divided into three age-sets. Boys in their early teens perform communal tasks, such as clearing paths and caring for public buildings. The middle grade of adult males do more difficult tasks, such as roofing houses, and perform executive functions for the village council, which consists of the oldest age grade. The council decides on matters related to tax collection, collective tasks, religious festivals, relations with central authorities, and other community concerns.

The Edo language is part of the Kwa-Niger group of languages according to Linguist. These people have lived where they are now for Thousands of years. The monarchy centered in Benin City is about 6000 years old. All the clans had various functions, which they perform at the palace. For example, the Ishans/Esans were principally the medicine men and warriors of the ancient empire; they were the medical practitioners. The Ivbiosakon (Afemais) were the dental surgeons of the palace.

The Owan/Ora people were the propitiators of the physical earth for the Oba of Benin. It was their responsibility to prevent things like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes and anything associated with geological disturbance to occur in Benin. In short, they were the geologists and weathermen of their day, forecasting and preventing physical calamities. The people referred to as Binis today, were the traditional bureaucratic administrators and military generals. The Izons (Ijaws) were the “Ozigue” (sailors). The Ekas were farmers. They were in charge of the royal farms.

There are three prominent religions practiced in Edo state; Christianity, Islam, and traditional religion.

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