Reminiscences: The Hardworking Ebira people of Nigeria


Ebira people of Nigeria

By Simbo Olorunfemi

Things have not always been this way with mutual suspicion now a dominant odour all around us.

Our people once freely moved around and settled in far-away places. People moved around for trade, commerce, farming, jobs, education and all sorts.

The evidence is there all around us – the Sabongaris, Ogbon-Oyos in other parts of Yorubaland, the Hausa settlements (Sabo) at Idi-Araba, Agege in Lagos, Ibadan, Ife and other places.

People moved around. Freely too.

This morning, I found my mind suddenly going the way of the hard-working Ebira people of Nigeria. They are to be found mainly in Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa and Edo States.

Back then, especially in the Ondo-Ekiti axis, you could not miss the Ebira people. Their settlement (Aba Ebira) was always to be found in the farthest part of town close to their farms.

If the secret to wealth (money) is in hard work, the Ebiras should be the most financially successful. You would find them at all sorts of back-breaking endeavour. Beyond the farms, they worked as labourers in construction sites, Farm hands, maids. They never seemed to get tired.

Growing up, I watched them. My Mum could communicate in Ebira, to a little extent, having partly schooled in the Ebira-speaking area of Edo State. The women, with the biggest tubers of yam sitting on their heads, would call out in front of our house – ‘Ota mi!’ While ‘ota’ in Yoruba means ‘enemy’. in Ebira, it means ‘friend’.

Fascinating to have someone stand at the front-yard to shout – ‘Ota mi!’. Mum built a good relationship with many of them and their community and they came to her, a number of times, faced with health challenges.

Ebira people were all over the place.There used to be some settlements in Ikeja. Was there one at Maryland? Was there one at Coker village? I remember the one at Ikeja GRA at Ogunbiyi `village. They have had to give way for the yawning hands of modernity that will not allow space for huts.

Back in Secondary school, with the adventurous and mischievous spirit roaming freely in the Boarding house, Aba- Ebira across the road was a refuge camp for us, a life-saver for some.

We took the really crazy risk, sometime after ‘night-prep’ to dash across the Teachers’ farms, crawl under the barbed wire fence and make it across the road to ‘Ebira Hut’, as we named it.

The mission for some was to bring in contraband from across the border. Some even traded in the goods. Ayuba was a well-known trader in bread (buy and sell). Occasional indulgence from the calabash of palm-wine was it for some. Other things, as well, for some.

The Ebira people were always there for us. They would even alert us in case of possible danger, perhaps, school officials lurking around the corner. To be caught was to be suspended from school. At the supposed hearing of the peculiar sound of the Principal’s car, we would dash for the bush and farms to hide until the coast became clear.

Remember seeing a lot of Ebira people on their way home (Okene) for a particular festival at a specific time of the year. The farms would for once rest or left in the care of others, They would all have these long whips, so long that they will shoot out from the windows of the buses in which they travelled. I was told, the whips are important as they would be in use in administering lashes during the festival. Who knows?

Then, their music!

We all got along once. We still do, though
Whatever happened to the old Yoruba-Ebira template for farming? What was the arrangement over the ownership of land? Anything to learn or borrow from that for today?

Whatever happened to the template that served us well and enabled us to get along? Life? Modernity? Greed?

Whatever happened to us?