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Esan (pronounced /aysan/) is one of the major ethnic groups in Edo State, South-south geopolitical zone of Nigeria. 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 stutus quo ante. For academic purpose, Esan refers to (1) the ethnic group that occupies central Edo State; (2) (plural unchanged) a person or the people collectively from this ethnic group; (3) the language of these people which, linguistically, is of the Kwa subdivision of the Niger-Congo language family; (4) something of, related to, or having Esan origin e.g. uro Esan (=Esan language), otọ Esan (=Esan land), ọghẹdẹ Esan (=Esan banana).

A total of thirty four kingdoms (large villages/townships ruled traditionally by monarchs) make up Esan and many of them seem to have their own oral versions of the origin of Esan as well as its own starting point in history. One of the most popular of these is the one advocated by the group much of which constitutes the now defunct Agbazilo, one of the two former local government administrative units in Esan.

According to the Agbazilo group, made up mainly of Uromi and Uzea, Esan came into being when one of the children of Bini’s Queen Oakha and Ojiso Owodo, Prince Uzia Asokpodudu (Ojiso Owodo’s crown prince and heir apparent) founded Uzea in about 1188 AD after they fled their father's (the Ojiso's) palace following the death sentence passed on their mother, Queen Oakha, who was alleged to have committed adultery with a Bini chief, Ovior. The duo of Ozogbo and Oigi, Asokpodudu's younger brothers, escaped along with him and the mother. It is believed that not only did Prince Asokpodudu (the founder of Uzea Kingdom) escape with the mother, Oakha, relations and some palace servants, he also left with his father’s (the king's) royal trident, ‘Uziziẹnghain’, the Ojiso’s heir loom.

The Uziziẹnghain used to be the royal regalia with which the Ojiso dynasty was founded. Ozogbo later left Asokpodudu in his base in what is today known as Uzea to found Ẹgbele in present-day Uromi while Oigi went and establish a settlement with his mother, Oakha, which is today known as Ẹkperi (outside Esan land). 'Ikhio' is an annual feast celebrated in Uzea in remembrance of Oakha. While Queen Oakha and her children fled northward of Bini, Chief Ovior, her alleged lover, fled eastward to a settlement he established, which is today known as Obior (probably a corruption of 'Ovior'), near Asaba, Delta State capital.(1)

This is believed by some to be the very beginning of Esan, though the Irrua group may not readily accede to this historical contention. The very name 'Esan' was not applied to this people until the arrival of other emigrants from Bini, who fled Oba Ewuare's brutal reign. The Oba (Bini monarch) had decreed: "No making of fire to cook; no cleaning of homes; no procreation; no washing of clothes." Unable to abide by these rules, many natives fled the Bini Kingdom. When the king sought to know where many of his subjects had gone, he was told, "Ele san fia" ("They have fled"), thus giving rise to 'E-san-fia' and later 'Esan'.(2)

In other words, the name Esan was never borne by the earlier group until the arrival of the later groups. Other groups, such as Ekpoma, left Bini later to establish bases where they occupy presently. Except some historical contention to the effect that Esan has always been where they are presently, or that Bini in fact migrated from Esan to its present abode, Esan in this sense is a group/tribe of 'fled/jumped away' people from Bini for various reasons and at different periods in history. Esan largely remains a migrants' settlement just like the New World. This position has made some historians to argue that the Agbazilo group, Uromi and Uzea, are a pre-Esan group which has decided to coexist under the same banner of Esan. It was within this same group, in Uzea, that Oba Ozolua met his waterloo and buried in Ugboha's Otokhimhin, originally called 'Oto-ukhimhin' (the land of Ukhimhin tree). This is the origin of the popular saying among Esan that "Oba ii de Esan, Ozolua ii ri Edo" meaning, "A Benin monarch does not visit Esan just as King Ozolua (of Benin) will not return to Benin."

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, Ewatto, Igueben, Irrua, Ubiaja, Ebele, Ehor, Ekpoma, Ewu, etc in central Edo State, South-South Nigeria. It has flat landscape, one lacking in rocks and mountains, and good for agricultural purpose. Rubber tree (used for the production of plastic products) and palm tree rank highest among Esan trees. The land's variety of fruits range from mango, orange, grape, pineapple, guava, cashew, banana, plantain, black pear, avocado pear, lime to walnut and even more. Cassava, yam, cocoa yam, sweet potato, pepper, okra and rice are some of its farm produce. It has numerous streams that are too small to afford fishing.

Replete with different dialects, Esan language is quite unintelligible to even many native speakers. For instance, the Esan word for person (or, somebody) is variously called by the different kingdoms' dialects as ọria (by Uromi, etc), ọhia (by Uzea, etc), ọyia (by Unea, etc), ọhan (by Ugbọha, etc). This obvious difficulty associated with speaking others' dialects other than one's mother dialect has given rise to the widespread use of Pidgin English, which is the local patois, a mishmash of Portuguese, English and Nigeria's local languages.

During the era of the military,the Esan had between five to six high ranking military, naval, and police officers as governors (administrators) of various states around the country at different occasions, a feat that owed much to their learning, sociability and especially their loyalty. Chief Ikimi and Chief Anenih have been known to occupy the position of chairman of two national parties — NRC and SDP — respectively.

Esan Day is celebrated at the Tafawa Balewa square, Lagos every December. During the occasions names of prominent Esan figures are read to loud ovation. Esan believe in self help, thus assisting to reach villages and towns to achieve development. Some prominent Esan are Chief Anthony Enahoro, who raised the motion for the independence of Nigeria; Peter Enahoro, who wrote How to be a Nigerian, Saintmoses Eromosele, international poet and novelist who wrote his bluckbuster first novel, "THE WINDS OF LIFE" at the age of sixteen and while still in secondary school; Tony Anenih, a top Nigerian politician and former minister of Works and Housing. Others include the late Ambrose Alli, Governor of Bendel State; Bishop Ekpu; Engr. Joshua Iboaya; Anthony Cardinal Okogie; late first lady Stella Obasanjo; Sonny Okosun, a famous musician; writers Aba Aburime I and Odia Ofeimu; Chief Tom Ikimi, a politician and former foreign affairs minister (during the reign of Gen. Sani Abacha); former Lagos state police commissioner, Oyakhilomen; former vice president of Nigeria, Augustus Aikhonmu (retired Real Admiral); former deputy commissioner of Lagos state Vincent Airebamen; Rev. Chris Oyakhilomen; etc.

Esan are fun-loving people who have various festivities and ritualistic traditions. Their folktales and folklores serve as forms of learning and entertainment, like the famous igbabonẹlimhin and akhuẹ. They have prominent traditional rulers who keep order and sanity in a complex society where beauty and manners are intertwined. Despite the long-term impact of Christianity among Esan, the people are largely traditional in that a large number still practise 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).

Esan boasts of some renowned scholars, writers, singers, wood-carvers, storytellers, politicians, etc. The folklore and history of Esan are worth revisiting and attempt should be made to research on the various ways that the villages are related to Bini and other groups who may have occupied Ifeku Island many years ago. The Esan heritage is unique despite the variation of dialects. It has been contended that a handful of Esan families are known to possess Portuguese ancestry, resulting from links harking back to the 16th Century when Portuguese sailors, missionaries and tradesman first entered the Bini Kingdom via the coast. British arrived Bini in the wake of the Portuguese numerous expeditions to, and intercourse with, Bini.

There is a small Esan community currently residing in Upstate New York, more specifically in Rochester, New York. This small community is governed by Papa Bear, a prominent Esan elder. Like any other community there is the local town fool, the Esan named Jesse.

The 14th April 2007 gubernatorial election in Edo State saw the emergence of Prof. Oserheimen Aigberadion Osunbor from Ekpoma as the next governor of Nigeria's 22nd largest state. Before the State's creation on the 27th August, 1991, Prof. Ambrose Folorunso Alli had governed Bendel State (1979-1983), making it the second Esan to govern Edo State. Unlike the Prof. Ambrose Alli mandate/victory, Prof. Osunbor's is widely believed to be mired in controversy of widespread irregularities by the ruling party in the State. Litigation is however on and the new governor has since 29th May, 2007 been sworn in for a four-year term. On the 20th March 2008, the Edo State Election Tribunal declared the former labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole, governor of Edo State. Prof. Osunbor has however appealed the Tribunal's verdict.

Esan Local Government Areas in Edo State

The autonomous clans/kingdoms in Esan land are currently administratively arranged as follows under the current five local government areas:

(1) Esan-North-East LGA, Uromi: Uromi, Uzea

(2) Esan Central LGA, Irrua: Irrua, Ugbegun, Okpoji, Idoa, Ewu (3) Esan West LGA, Ekpoma: Ekpoma, Urohi, Ukhun, Egoro

(4) Esan South East LGA, Ubiaja: Ubiaja, Ewohimhin, Emulu, Ohordua, Ẹbhoato, Okhuesan, Orowa, Ugboha, Oria, lllushi, Onogholo

(5) Igueben LGA, Igueben: Igueben, Ebele, Amaho, Ẹbhosa, Udo, Ekpon, Ujorgba, Ogwa, Ugun, Okalo

Esan Proverbs

Esan, like many of the tribes south of the Sahara, is rich in proverbs. ‘Itan’ is the Esan word for proverb (plural: ‘itanh’). Being a polysemous word, ‘itan’ also means insinuation or innuendo. To differentiate which one is being employed in a speech, the verb that precedes the Esan noun would always be the deciding factor: “kpa itanh” means “speak in proverbs” while “fi itan” means “insinuate, make allusion.” This collection of Esan proverbs is by no means exhaustive, since the use of proverbs is a common feature among nearly all Esan. When placed beside any of the proverbs below, the acronym ‘LIT’ means Lost in Translation, which is to suggest that that particular proverb couldn’t be translated to be true to its original meaning. For instance, the proverb “Ojie kha la le ọ’ ki zi ọgbọn” is a short form of “Ojie kha la le ọ’ ki zi ọgbọn ọhle ojie Udakpa da yọ ni Aah khue alogbo rẹkhan ọle.” If translated, it would be “A king’s ascension to the throne is initially followed with fundamental changes, which was the reason the king of Udakpa ordered to be escorted with musical instruments.”). Besides being lengthy, the reader who has little knowledge of Udakpa in South-East Esan – and the many political changes that have transformed it – will fail to grasp the message in the proverb. When rendered in Esan language, however, the proverb offers some literary appeal and reminisces the distant past of that ancient community. Also, italicized phrases in the English translations are additional information which is meant to aid easy understanding, especially of non-Esan and those who aren’t so good at appreciating adages. Where a proverb has an English equivalent, it is given and preceded with the conjunction ‘Or’ and the abbreviation cf (compare).

Ose ii gba ni usẹnbhokhan. (A young man's beauty is never without defects.)

Aah ii ri ebi Aah nanọ bui awa re. (You don’t tempt a dog with something to lick, since dog is an avid licker.)

Aah gheghe yọ ni olimhin kha mhẹn bhi ẹlo, ọhle Aah da ri ukpọn bhọ. (Clothing a corpse is simply to beautify it.)

Aah ii fi ini bhi otọ kha khin oha-ọtan. (Do not go hunting for squirrel while you have an elephant as a catch.)

Aah ii di isira ọnọ khin eni khin ẹkpẹn. Or, Aah ii khin ẹkpẹn man ọnọ khin eni. (You don’t change to a tiger in the presence of one who can change to an elephant.)

Amẹn ni ọrhia la muọn ii gbera ọle a. (The water one would drink can never flow past one.)

Aah ii yi ọbhẹnbhẹn khui ọkhọh. (Do not ask a mad man to chase fowls away, since he would do it madly.)

Ene wwue bhi uwa kha yyọ ele mmin okpodu, ?bi ene wwuẹ bhi ole ki da ta yẹ. (What would they say who slept outside if those who slept inside complained of harassment?)

U’u ii ji Aah gui na. (Death is impervious to appeal.)

Ẹwa’ẹn Aah rẹ gbi efẹn nọ ribhi ẹkẹ akhe. (Killing a rat that is holed up inside an earthen pot requires wisdom.)

Ufẹmhẹn si obhokhan kha na, Aah ki yọ owualẹn kkani ọhle ni ọle. (When the arrow from a child’s bow travels far, an adult is suspected to be responsible.)

Ọnọ gbi ọnọdeọde ọhle ọnọdeọde viẹ bhi itolimhin. (In a funeral each mourner mourns the fate that befalls him, not the deceased’s.)

Ọmọn nọ yyu ọle mhọn ose nẹ. (It is the deceased child that is always the prettiest.)

Ohu bha lẹn ebialẹn si ọhle. (Fury does not know its owner’s strength otherwise a weakling’s rage would be tempered with restraint.)

Agbọn khi ese. (It is human beings that do disguise as supernatural forces.)

Ọnọ ii ribhi eni, ọle Aah ri enyan si ọle tọn bhi egbi era’ẹn. (It is the absent one whose yam would always be kept beside the fire.)

Eto kha rẹ re, Aah yẹ lẹn eji ukẹhae nae. (No matter how hairy the head becomes, the forehead remains distinct.)

Aah kha yọ ni Aah sikoko, Aah bha yyọ ni Aah simama. (A call to gather together is not an invitation to muddle together.)

Aah kha khin ẹkpẹn fo, ebi Aah khiẹn ki fo. (After changing to a tiger, you simply have no other thing to change to.)

Aah kuẹ ri ikhilẹn khin ẹgua’e ọba, ọba kuẹ nyẹn uge. (The king need not tiptoe in order to peep at a dance coming to be staged at his palace.)

Ọni Aah bbhobholo ii bhobhi ọrhia. (The one who is carried on one’s back cannot back someone else.)

Oẹ ọkpọkpa Aah zẹ bhi okọ-ẹdin. (In a palm oil dish, you take one step at a time.)

Irẹlobhegbe zzẹ ni ọkhọ bha da lli afiamhẹnh. (But for forbearance, the chicken would have taken into eating birds.)

Ose ba ni emiamhẹn. (Beauty is more painful than infirmity.)

Ọnabhughe ọ’ min olimhin ni Aah ri izagan mun. (It is the truant that comes in contact with a corpse wrapped in basket.)

Aah ii ri ẹbhe ni oruan ọrhia rẹmhọn. (To ensure a lasting relationship, do not offer a goat to your in-law for safe-keeping.)

Aah kha kha gbi ugan bhi evele, Aah ki ri ukpọn bhọ re. (If it is being debated, a man should undress to counter claims that he is suffering from penile bloat.)

Ebi Aah bha mmin Eboh, Aah bha rruẹn ebeh-ọghẹdẹ. (Prior to the arrival of Europeans, no one wore banana leaves, but clothes.)

Ẹnyẹn ni otuan ọkpa miẹn ọhle khi ubhiọ. (It is the serpent seen by a single person that is called a lizard.)

Uhọmhọn na ji ikọ ọ’ ii gbi ikọ. (An envoy isn’t punished for the message he conveys.)

Ọkhin ẹkpẹn ii khin eni. (He does not change to a tiger one who changes to an elephant. Or, Everyone has an area where he is talented.)

Aah kha rui ẹlo, Aah ki kha ri ẹwua’ẹn khian. (Blindness demands caution. Or, When one is blind, one learns to walk with care.)

Afiabhẹn ni Aah ri igẹnh si ọhle lui emhin, ẹjẹje Aah min ọhle ele. (The bird whose feathers are treasured must walk circumspectly.)

Ebe bha ji ọrhia rẹ lẹn egbe, ọhle ọrhia da tẹ. (Disgrace is sure to come from that over which one cannot exercise self-control.)

Ebe yi okhuo zẹ bhi ileghe re, akun ọ’ ye. (That which compels a woman to reduce her waist beads lies in her waist.)

Ọ’ ii yi ọta ni ekhẹnh ta yi ẹki, ọ’ ii yi ọhle ele ta vae. (Traders’ subject of discussion to the market differs from their homeward discussion.)

Ọ’ ii yi ẹdẹ ni Aah muin ure ọ’ ii yi ẹdẹni Aah ri ọhle zọ ese. (It is not the same day a snail is found that it is offered as sacrifice to an idol.)

Eji Aah tan sẹ, ọhle Aah da ji uhọmhọn. (A person’s head must grow where his height stops.) nearly LIT

Ure kha lo bhi ẹbọ, ọ’ ki khin ẹbọ. (When a snail inhabits a shrine, it becomes an idol.)

Ọsakọn Aah lẹlẹ, Aah ii lẹli ọmeto. (It is the dentist that can be tricked, not the hairdresser.)

Odin ii talọ, ọta ri ọle bhi unu. (Although speechless, the mute has something to say.)

Ojie ii gbo yọ ni Aah ri ojie tọ bhi itikun. (A king never asks a king to be buried in a refuse site.)

Okhuẹlẹn nẹko kpe. (A grass-cutter’s plumpness is achieved in hiding.)

Ẹmhọn ri ọdan ba bhi egbe, ọhle rri ikpea do bhi omin. (LIT)

Ọbo ii bọ bhi ebi ọle lẹ’ẹn. (A native doctor doesn’t consult his oracle concerning that which he knows.)

‘Nine’ bha jji Ebo llu. (Despite his ingenuity, the white man could not create the number nine.) nearly LIT

Elamhẹn n’ọ ii mhọn akọn, ọhle ki odalo bhi ishi oyi. (It is the toothless beast that is always the first arrival at the orchard.)

Usẹn bi usẹn ko yi egbe ‘halo’. (It is age mates that greet each other with ‘hello’.)

Ẹdebe ọhle Aah rẹ ye ọkha’e re. (A hero is often remembered on a bad day.)

Ọ’ ii yi ọnọ ka kha khọmhọn ka yu. (The first person to fall sick is not always the one to die first.)

Ọbo kha wuo ni ọbo, ọ’ ki ri ọbo khuọn ẹkpa. (LIT)

Ogun bi ogun kha min egbe, ughamhan ele rẹ tui egbe. (When blacksmiths meet, both salute each other with iron.)

Aah kha kha viẹ, Aah yẹ daghe. (Even in tears, it is not impossible to see.)

Ẹghe ni Aah bha rẹ llẹn ẹlo ikpakpa, ọhle ikpakpa ki rẹ ggbi ọrhia. (Men only died of toxin beans when they lacked knowledge of the food.)

Okhuo ii yi okhuo biẹre khi ọmọn fui ọlle bhọ. (A woman doesn’t ask a fellow woman to put to bed that she herself is childless.)

Ẹruẹ ii yi ẹruẹ ọyabhihue. (English version: ‘A kettle does not call a kettle black.’)

Ebi Aah miẹn ofẹn ii muin uki, ?bi ọhle ii da bha ọsi adamhẹn. (If not for fear, why doesn’t the moon shine in the daytime?)

Ẹlo ọriọbhe bhia’e, ọle ii rẹ daghe. (Although he has good eyesight, a stranger doesn’t see with his eyes.)

Ọnọ rẹre, ọle Aah da ọle obọ. (It is the generous person that would always be approached for assistance.)

Ọriọbhe giẹrẹn lumhin eman, ọle bha lẹn eji Aah ri ubhokọ gọ. (Although a stranger pounds pounded yam well, he lacks knowledge of where to keep the pestle.)

Aah ii ri emhin ni ọkhian re mhọ’ẹn. (You don’t give something to a traveller to keep.)

Ẹdẹ ni okhuo rẹ nyin eman ebe, ẹdẹni ọlle rẹ le nẹ. (It is on the day a woman cooks a bad meal that she eats best.)

Elamhẹn ọbhebhe ii ni isọn emẹdin ebeiyi uriẹi. (Except porcupine, no other animal has palm waste in its excreta.)

U’u bha gbi iban, ọhle di khin ẹdin. (The flower of a palm tree will eventually become palm nuts if death spares it.)

Oghian ọrhia zẹ ni u’u da ba bhi egbe. (It is one’s enemy that makes death hurtful.)

Obhokhan kha ni isọn ebe, Aah ki ri ebe ugbolimhosaka gbo ọle uwedin a. (If a child defecates repulsive excreta, the leaf of a spiky plant will be used to wipe his buttocks.)

Aah kha kha gbi ugba, ọtẹtẹh rie. (At the repeated shaking of the calabash, insects find their way out.)

Aah bha min ebi Aah khin ọkhọmhọn yẹ, Aah ki zaghi ọle era’ẹn a. (If because of his illness you can’t hurt a sick person, you can at least extinguish the fire that keeps him warm.)

Aah bha min ebi Aah khin ojie yẹ, Aah ki si ọle bhi ẹbho re. (If because of his power you can’t challenge a king, you should quit his kingdom. Or, cf. ‘If you live in Rome, do not strive with the Pope.’)

Ẹghe ni Aah rẹ llui ẹmhọn, Aah rria ọhle a. (The time spent on lawsuit is time wasted.)

Aah kha ri egbe yi isi ojie, ọshọ folo. (When people take themselves to the king’s palace for lawsuit, they cease to be friends.)

?Ji uzo ki ri aho ọ ni ọhle da rẹ bi iweva. (From where has antelope got the strength to give birth to twins?)

Ukpokpo ni Aah rẹ ggbi ẹwobi, Aah bha refia, Aah ki rẹ gbi ọbhata. (The whip that was used on a stupid person, if it is not disposed of, will be used on an innocent.)

Aah ii min ebe khi ọkhọ ebeiyi akhokholẹ. (Nothing resembles a chicken as does a bush fowl.)

Ese kha la zi emhin, ẹkẹn-ọkhọ ki va udo a. (When supernatural forces are at work, it is not impossible for a hen’s egg to crack a stone.)

Ebe ka llui ọkhọ di yẹ lui ẹbhe. (A goat will by no means escape the fate of a chicken as long as feasts last.)

Ọkpọkpa Aah gbe ni okhọ’ẹn da lọ. (A war is sustained till the end by gradual killing rather than by outright annihilation. Or, cf. English version: ‘Rome was not built in a day’ or ‘One thing at a time.’)

Aah ii dunu bhi igbanaka. (LIT)

?Ji ehọ ni Aah la rẹ họn, ọhle Aah nẹ emhin na. (The very fact that certain things are offensive to the ear is the reason they are considered taboos.)

Ojie kha la le, ọ’ ki zi ọgbọn re. (A king’s ascension to the throne is initially followed with fundamental changes.)

?Bi Aah la le ẹlẹna, ?bi Aah la le akha, ọhle ukhumhun rẹ fo. (The question of today’s meal and tomorrow’s provision is how a famine abates.)

Aah ii ri afe nani umhẹn. (You don’t start licking salt simply because you are wealthy.)

Aah ii nọ ọnọ mhọn igho bi ọle la dẹ. (You don’t ask the moneyed man what he will buy with his money.)

Ẹsọn ka ggbi enefe. (The rich once suffered hardship.)

Ẹbọ kha kha to, ọhle mhọn ohẹn si ọhle. (No matter how austere an idol is, it has its priest who pacifies it.)

Ọkaleteh ii kpọ. (Heroes are hard to find.)

Ughe ughulu da ho ukhuọ ọhle ni Aah kha yọ ghe khi ẹkẹ ọhle mun ni ọhle. (That hawk makes love to its wife in the open sky is to debunk rumours that it impregnated her out of wedlock.)

Aah ii ri ugbele si Akogho loli ugbele. (LIT)

Uhẹn-ẹlẹ zẹ ni Aah ii da nẹ bhi ẹki. (Don’t defecate in a marketplace because it will be there for you to see on the next market day. Or, cf. English version: ‘The evil that men do lives after them.’)

Ẹwa’ẹn Aah rẹ gbi udia nọ timan bhi ikpẹkẹn. (Killing a tsetse fly that perches on one’s scrotum demands wisdom.)

Uhọmhọn ni Aah bha ji obhokhan ele, ọhle kha gbi ache bi uwawa bhọ, ọhle ki ha osa. (A child must pay for the destruction of items that results from carrying a task that was never assigned to him.)

Uzehia kha zẹ bhi eji obọ ii sẹ, Aah ki yi ọhle lala a. (If one has boil in a part of the skin beyond reach, the boil is advised to rot.)

Aah ii gẹn ọmọn bhi isira ọle. (Don’t sing praise of a child in his presence.)

Emhinh erebhe ne ribhi omhọn ti egbele itata. (Every ingredient in soup likes to be seen as meat.)

Ọ’ ii yi ẹlo ni Aah rẹ lie man, ọ’ ii yi ọhle Aah rẹ kha elamhẹn. (The attitude with which food is eaten differs from that with which meat is shared amongst the eaters.)

Ese kha la zi emhin, omhọn ni inodẹ ki oto obọ a. (It becomes possible today for yesterday’s soup to burn one’s hand once supernatural forces are at work.)

Ọ’ ii yi ẹlo ivin ivin rẹ ni udẹn. (A palm kernel would never produce palm ointment unless under the searing heat of the pot.)

Aah ii ni ọnọ wuẹle gbi ugan si ebhohiẹ. (You don’t argue about a dream with its dreamer.)

Ọbhẹbhẹn yyọ ghe khi ena ọle rri era’ẹn fiọ, ghe ọnọ to khian ni ọle bha lẹn ẹlo bhọ. (A mad man only knows of the spot where he dropped fire but cannot account for the offshoot ravaging the forest.)

Aah kha rẹkhan ẹkpẹn khian, Aah ki li elamhẹn; Aah kha rẹkhan ẹbhe khian, Aah ki li ebeh. (A companion of tiger will feed on meat but a companion of goat will eat leaves.)

Ebale kha sike ebgi unu gbe, ọ’ ii ji Aah le. (Food that is too close to the mouth is difficult to eat.)

Ọba ii de Esan, Ọzọloa ii ri Ẹdo. (No Benin monarch visits Esan land, just as Ọba Ọzọloa who was slain in Esan will never return to Benin.)

Ọgbihiagha bhi uhọmhọn nain ọka yyọ ghe ọhle lẹn otu si ọhle. (The dreadlocked maize insists it knows its age mates.)

Evẹkpẹn kha vi ẹkpẹn fo, Ibhioba ki bi ebeh. (The people of Ibhioba clear the leaves after the butchers of tiger are done.) nearly LIT

Eni ediọn kha le, enai ẹlimhin ki khọn. (When the elders eat, the spirits are full.)

Ọnọ ii mhọn ọmọn ii mhọn oruan. (The one who has no child cannot have an in-law.)

Ọnọ ri ebeh bin uwa kha dia khẹ efi. (He who builds a house with leaves should expect the storm.)

Aah gbudu yi ọba ‘họ’ọ’! (Even the king can be reprimanded.)

Ebi Aah gbe bha yu, Aah ii mun bhi ẹkpa. (Until the animal you are killing is dead you don’t put it in a sack.)

Ebi Aah ko ta, ọhle khi ẹmhọn ni inẹdeso. (What was discussed earlier is what can be cited as a previous discussion.)

Aah ii tti egbe emhin, ọhle enele da tto uwa a. (That the house was gutted by palm waste was due to disregard for something.)

Ẹdẹ ii tughu ọ’ bha sẹn. (A river must become crystal-clear after being upset.)

Ijan ọkpa ọmọle feọ n’ọ da hu. (If a man’s urine must foam, he must urinate on one spot. Or, cf. English version: ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss.’)

Aah bha min ebe re n’ọ ii fo. (There’s nothing without an end. Or, Whatever is in vogue ultimately expires.)

Ukpọn ni ahoho sabọ, ọhle ọ’ re bhi ifi. (The wind only picks the dress that it can take off the rope.)

Ebe ii yi emhin ọhle ho alo. (It is the insignificant thing that struggles over the forefront.)

Ọnọ mhọn ivie bhi uru bha lẹn si ọ’ ghanmhin. (He who has a gold necklace round his neck does not know its worth.)

Etin kha di oya, Aah ki ri abọ eveva fi ọhle. (When a blow becomes a challenge, the two hands will be used to apply the blow.)

Osẹ ko eran ni ọnọ ii mhọn uze. (It is God who provides firewood for the one who has no axe.)

Ebe ba bhi egbe ii ni ara’ẹn re. (A painful experience does not necessarily bring out blood.)

Ohuẹ ii tie bi ọle miẹn bhi ikhẹeran. (A hunter never discloses the happenings in his hunting expedition.)

Omhọn n’ọ mhẹn bhi unu ii si eman. (Delicious soup is often inadequate for a meal.)

Ẹbho ni Aah ii da min ahiẹlẹkpẹnh ọhle ọkhọh da lui mama. (It is in the land where there are no hawks that chickens have leverage.)

Aah ii tọni egbe bi eji egbe rẹ tọnọ. (Do not scratch your skin just the way it itches you.)

Unẹ bha sẹ khin unẹ ọhle okhuo da ri obọ muin inyẹ’ẹnh mhọ’ẹn. (A woman holds tight to her breasts only when a race has not assumed seriousness.)

Aah ii walan si u’u bhọ. (Man is senseless before death.)

Ese ii muin ẹdẹ. (No amount of trouble can prevent daybreak.)

Source: The Illustrated Dictionary of Esan Language (unpublished), by Iseribhor Okhueleigbe

Linguistics and Esan Language

Esan is one of the numerous languages of the Kwa subdivision of the Niger-Congo language family, one of Africa's largest subgroups. Unlike English, Esan is a tone language like many of its neighbouring settlements' and Chinese as well. Currently, albeit slow, efforts are variously being made to have dictionaries and grammar texts of Esan language. Once produced, they may help interested Esan appreciate their tongue better and improve on it. Some huddles against achieving this dream are: first, the unusual level of aliteracy among many Esan; second, the literacy level which though comparatively high but calls for improvement; third, the large number of dialects that make up Esan such that, for instance, the people of Ẹkpoma would hardly comprehend Ẹkpọn or Ohordua. So pathetic is the situation that most annual Esan Kings' Council meetings are largely conducted in English. For the interim, however, the information below may be of some assistance in the direction of understanding Esan.

Linguistic finding has shown the word ‘gbe’ to have the highest number of usages in Esan, with up to 76 different meanings in a normal dictionary. Names starting with the prefixes Ọsẹ; Ẹhi, Ẹhiz or Ẹhis; and Okoh (for male), Ọmọn (for female) are the commonest in Esan: Ẹhizọkhae, Ẹhizojie, Ẹhinọmẹn, Ẹhimanre, Ẹhizẹle, Ẹhimẹn, Ẹhikhayimẹntor, Ẹhikhayimẹnle, Ẹhijantor, etc; Ọsẹmundiamẹn, Ọsẹmhẹngbe, etc; Okosun , Okojie, Okodugha, Okoemu, Okouromi, Okougbo, Okoepkẹn, Okoror, Okouruwa, etc. To any Oko-, 'Ọm-' the suffix of the name can be added to arrive of the female version e.g. Ọmosun, Ọmuromi, etc.


Esan uses the Latin alphabet, and a total number of 25 letters make up the alphabet:

a, b, d, e, ẹ, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, ọ, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, y, z.

The digraph consists of 10 sets of double letters:

bh, gb, gh, kh, kp, kw (rarely used), mh, nw, ny, sh.


Bhi, Ibha,

Gbe, Agba

Gha, Ughe

Khu, Akhuẹ

Kpa, Ẹkpoma






All Esan nouns begin with vowel letters (i.e. a, e, , i, o, , u): aru, eko, ẹbho, itohan, ozẹ, ọrhia, uze, etc. Due to the influence of neighbouring tongues and Western languages, especially English, there is the tendency among Esan to pronounce many non-Esan nouns beginning with a consonant letter. In the event of such within the boundary of Esan write-up, an apostrophe may be employed before the first consonant letter both to Esanize and ease the pronunciation. In speech however such apostrophe is often pronounced as ‘i’ /i:/: ’bazaar, ’Jonah, ’labour, ’zoo, etc.

Each Esan noun ends in either a vowel letter (e.g. ato, Ẹkpoma, uri, oya) or the vowel-associated letter ‘n’: agbọn, eran, ẹnyẹn, itọn, isẹn, etc. Exception to this rule is the writing of proper nouns where a name can end in letter ‘r’ always after a letter ‘ọ’ to make it sound like ‘or’ in English as well as the use of letter ‘h’ after a letter ‘o’ to make it sound as ‘oh’ in English: Isibor, Oko'ror, Okoh, Okoọboh, etc.

In nouns, following the first vowel letter is always a second consonant letter: ahoho, avan, ilo, udia. For the expression of a feminine gender, the second consonant letter following a vowel letter is doubled: ahhihi (=female ant), ọsshọ (=female friend), ọrrhia (=female person), etc. This gender-sensitive style is better understood by French speakers, who usually differentiate genders – masculine, feminine, neuter. Exception to this rule has to do with certain nouns that consist of vowel letters only e.g. 'oẹ' (leg, plural 'ae'), 'oo' (mother), 'uu' (death), etc.

Pluralization in Esan is of two forms, the first of which has to do with nouns that have original plural forms, in which case the first letter is replaced/displaced by another letter:

ọmọn (baby), imọn (babies); ọmọle (man, male), imọle (men, males); okpea (man), ikpea (men); okhuo (woman, female), ikhuo (women, females); ọshọ, ọmuọe (friend), ishọ, imuọe (friends); obhio (relation), ibhio (relations); obhokhan (child), ibhokhan (children); oghian (enemy), ighian (enemies); usẹnbhokhan (boy), isẹnbhokhan (boys); ọmamhẹn, ọmọhin (girl), imamhẹn, imọhin (girls); ọwanlẹn (elder, adult), iwanlẹn (elders, adults); ọrhia (person), erhia (persons); ọbo (doctor), ebo (doctors); Ebo (English citizen), Ibo (English citizens); obọ (arm), abọ (arms); oẹ (leg), ae (legs); use (nail), ise (nails); udo (stone), ido (stones)

The second has to do, not with the above which have original plural form but, with a large number of other nouns which do not. In this case, a suffix (as the use of 's' in English) is used by adding it to the noun in question, but without a change in pronunciation. For example:

uwaebe (school), uwaebeh (schools); eran (stick), eranh (sticks); emhin (something), emhinh (some things)


All Esan pronouns have plural forms different from singular, but both subject and object cases do not differ: All Esan pronouns have plural forms different from singular, and both subject and object cases are the same:

Singular Plural imẹn (I, me), iman (we, us); uwẹ (you) ibha, (you, or Pidgin English ‘una’); ọle (he, him), ele (they, them); ọlle (she, her), elle (they, them); ọhle (it), ehle (they, them); –, Aah; otuan [preceding figure(s)], ituan [preceding figure(s)]; ukpọle ikpọle,

(‘Aah’, ‘otuan’ and ‘ukpọle’ have no English equivalent, and while ‘Aah’ can only be used as subject, ‘otuan’ and ‘ukpọle’ can be used in both ways: Otuan ọkpa ni ele dia; Dati ituan eva re. Ukpọle ọkpa ribhọ. Jia ikpọle ea re. Note that ‘otuan’ (pl. ituan) is used for humans, ‘ukpọle’ (pl. ikpọle) is used for non-humans and ‘Aah’ depends on the context in which it is used.)

Sentence order

The use of Esan is open to three orders or arrangements: (subject-verb-object (SVO), object-subject-verb (OSV), and object-verb-subject (OVS)) to express themselves Okoh ’h gbi ele (SVO). Okoh imẹn ddaghe (OSV). Ena yẹ imẹn (OVS). SVO is commonest and most employed. The use of OVS is restricted to a limited number of grammatical constructions.


All Esan verbs start with consonant letters and end in either vowel letter or the vowel associated letter ‘n’: bi, dẹ, fan, hẹn, lolo, etc. In expressing the past, doubling of initial letter of a verb takes place such that ‘bi’ changes to ‘bbi’ and ‘hẹn’ becomes ‘hhẹn’. A verb can also begin with a diphthong: khian, gbe, bhanbhan. The formation of past tense in this case is not different: kkhian, ggbe, etc. Some Esan dialect such as Uzea makes use of ‘ah’ (or ’h) to show present participle (as in “He is going home.”). Although this is absent in majority of Esan dialects, it is used and placed before the main verb when writing: Ele ’h khọa = They’re having bath.


An Esan adjective, as does an English adjective, modifies a noun or pronoun. That is, it gives more information about a noun or pronoun and makes its meaning more specific. It can appear before or after a noun. The only difference between Esan and English adjectives is that like Japanese, some Esan adjectives are verb-like in that they inflect to show tenses: Ele mhẹnmhin. = They are good. // Ele mmhẹnmhin. = They were good. The doubling of the initial letter of the adjective 'mhẹnmhin (good)' like verbs, clearly demonstrates this point. Esan adjectives are of two distinct types: ‘word adjective’ and ‘phrasal adjective’.

Word adjective.

A word adjective is an adjective consisting of a single word: esi, khọlọ, hu, jian, etc. This form of adjective is subdivided into five types: pre-noun adjective, post-noun adjective, numeral adjective, nounal adjective, and restricted adjective. A pre-noun adjective appears only before the noun it modifies, provides information about the noun’s size and/or quantity, and they start with a vowel letter: ukpomin, ekitui, udede, ikwẹkwi, etc. These adjectives are not subject to the law of tenses and do not take the suffix ‘mhin’. A post-noun adjective comes immediately after the noun it modifies: khọlọ, khọriọn, fuọ, ba, to, han, lẹnlẹn, bhihi, hu, khisin, khere, re(le) (far), re (deep), re (grown up), re (well attended), bue, tan, etc. These adjectives are subject to the law of tenses such that they are used to reflect time (e.g. “Okoh rẹ kkhọriọn.” = "Okoh is ugly.").

Except the adjective ‘khọriọn’, all others can be used with the suffix ‘mhin’, and (‘ebe’ and ‘esi’ which are also called noun adjectives) they all start with consonant letters. A numeral adjective is one that can be used to answer such question as “how many?”: ọkpa, eva, ea, igbe, etc. Because they are also nouns, they all start with vowel letters. They are neither subject to the law of tenses nor can they be used with the suffix ‘mhin’. A nounal or noun adjective is one that comes before a noun and can easily be manipulated to become a noun in usage: esi, ebe. It can neither be used with ‘mhin’ nor are they subject to tense law. A restricted adjective is one that can only be used with a particular noun e.g. ‘bhibhi’ in 'ewewẹ bhibhi' (early morning).

Some adjectives that can be placed under the word adjective are adjectives that are formed from the doubling of a word adjective: fanọn-fanọn (unkempt; untidy), rughu-rughu or ragha-ragha (disorderly), sankan-sankan (muddy and rough), yagha-yagha (untidy), kpadi-kpadi (rough or even), ose-ose (beautiful). This system can also be used thus: fanọn/2, yagha/2, kpadi/2, sankan/2, ose/2, etc.

Phrasal adjective.

A phrasal adjective is one that consists of more than one word; it is made up of a phrase. More often than not, an adjectival phrase usually contains either a noun + verb or an adjective+preposition+noun which combine to perform the work of an adjective. Some common examples are: rui ẹlo (blind), yi ehọ (deaf, rebellious), di ọmalẹn (old, senile), di itọn a (wretched), bhọn ose (beautiful), fi ahiẹ a (serene), fua amẹn (light-complexioned), ba bhi egbe (painful), mhẹn bhi egbe (body-friendly), mhẹn bhi unu (sweet), mhẹn bhi ẹlo (beautiful or not offensive to sight), mhẹn bhi ihue (not offensive to the nose), mhẹn bhi ehọ (not offensive to the ear), khọ bhi unu (unpalatable; offensive), khọ bhi egbe (unbearable), etc.

Below are some Esan adjectives and their meanings (and those that can be used with the suffix ‘mhin’ are shown.The addition of the suffix 'mhin' to a word turns it from adjective to noun just as the suffix 'ness' in english does.) Ukpomin (little), ekitui (many; much), udede (big), ikwẹkwi (tiny; trivial), khisin-mhin (small; diminutive), khere-mhin (small; little), hu-mhin (big; foamy), khuẹlẹ-mhin (slim), re-mhin (far; deep; well attended; grown up), dia-mhin (straight; appropriate), bhala-mhin (light-complexioned), bhia-mhin (large, spacious), riẹriẹ-mhin (smooth), rẹrẹ-mhin (restless), kpoloa (smooth), gọ-mhin (crooked) kpono-mhin (slippery), kwọn (slippery; slimy), to-mhin (irritating), kpọ-mhin (widespread), khia-mhin (holy, righteous), fu-mhin (peaceful), bhiẹlẹ-mhin (lazy), fa-mhin (dirt-free, clean), lẹ-mhin (scarce), tua-mhin (quick), zaza-mhin (skilful), sun-mhin (slimy), kholo (spherical), hian-mhin (efficacious; alcoholic), nwun-mhin or mun-mhin (sharp; alcoholic), khọlọ-mhin (bad; painful), sẹ-ẹ (ordinary), nọghọ-mhin (difficult), kpataki (real), lo-mhin (inexpensive; deep), khua-mhin (heavy; hot), tọnọ-mhin (itchy), luẹn (ripe), khekhea (sour), riala-mhin (bitter), fua-mhin (white), bhihi-mhin (black; dark-complexioned), kẹnkẹn-mhin (multicoloured), kọnkọn (fat), kaka-mhin (hard; serious), toto-mhin (serious; taut), ghan-mhin (costly), ghantoa (costly), wualan-mhin (wise), sọnọ-mhin (offensive), lẹkhẹ-mhin (soft), khẹrẹ-khẹrẹ (muddy), gban-a (expansive), tan-mhin (tall; elegant), guẹguẹ (ingratiating), mhẹn-mhin (good), lẹnlẹn-mhin (sweet), zeze-mhin (strong), wo-mhin (powerful; mature), bie (cooked or done), fe-mhin (wealthy); fanọn-fanọn (unkempt; untidy), rughu-rughu or ragha-ragha (disorderly), sankan-sankan (muddy and rough), yagha-yagha (untidy); rui ẹlo (blind), yi ehọ (deaf, rebellious), di ọmalẹn (old, senile), di itọn a (wretched), bhọn ose (beautiful), fi ahiẹ a (serene), fua amẹn (light-complexioned), ba bhi egbe (painful), mhẹn bhi egbe (body-friendly), mhẹn bhi unu (sweet), mhẹn bhi ẹlo (beautiful or not offensive to sight), mhẹn bhi ihue (not offensive to the nose), mhẹn bhi ehọ (not offensive to the ear), khọ bhi unu (unpalatable; offensive), khọ bhi egbe (unbearable), etc.


‘ọni’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘the’ (as singular) in English: ọni emhin = the thing

‘eni’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘the’ (as plural) in English: eni emhinh = the things

‘ni’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘that’ in English: emhin ni or ọni emhin ni

‘na’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘this’ in English: emhin na or ọni emhin na

In the determiner phrases below, the determiners are in boldface:

‘ukpi’ (pl. ‘ikpi’) in Esan is equivalent to the indefinite article ‘a’/‘an’ in English:

ukpi ẹmhin = a thing

ikpi emhinh = ... things

‘ọsoso’ (pl. ‘esoso’) in Esan is equivalent to ‘any’ in English:

emhin ọsoso = any thing

emhinh esoso any things

‘eso’ /ayso/ in Esan is equivalent to ‘some’ in English:

emhinh eso = some things

‘ikpeta’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘few’ in English:

ikpeta emhinh = few things

‘nekirẹla’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘whoever’/‘whichever’ in English:

emhin nekirẹla = whatever thing

‘erebhe’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘all’ in English:

emhin erebhe = all things ‘eveva’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘both’ in English:

Emhinh eveva = both things

‘ekitui’ in Esan is equivalent to ‘many’ in English:

ekitui emhinh = many things

Paternoster (The Lord's Prayer)



Era iman nọ ribhi Okhun,

ji elin uwẹ khin ebi Aah gẹn,

ni ejele sẹ vae,

ni Aah lu bhi otọ na bi eji Aah lu bhi Okhun.

Rẹ ebale ni iman la le ẹlẹna ni iman le.

Ri olukhọ si iman humhin iman

bi eji iman rẹ rẹhumhin ene lui iman khọlọ.

Kha ii ji iman deọ bhi edọmhẹn –

himhin iman sibhi ebeimhẹn re.

[Ọsẹ khi ọni ejele, ọni ahu bi ọni oriri-ejele dabhi eji Aah

ye na rẹ sẹ bhi ẹdẹdẹmhẹndẹ.]




Our Father in Heaven,

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come,

your will be done on earth as in Heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

[For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for




External links

  • Gerontocracy of Esan people
  • University Of Benin
  • Edo State Website


(1) S. Okhueleigbe, The History of Uzea Kingdom

(2) A. Aimienwalan, Esan Vision magazine, Esan Students' Association of Nigeria, 1990

(3) C. Okojie, Customs and Tradition of Esan People

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