Religion And Spirituality In Esanland, Nigeria

Religion And Spirituality Among The Esan People of Nigeria

The Esans are one of the major ethnic groups in Edo state that started thriving culturally, agriculturally, and otherwise before the advent of the colonial masters. Most of the Enojies that ruled in Esanland are still revered and honored today as heroes of the people for their works and stiff resistance to the whites’ penetration in Esanland. Join our Content Creation Academy

Introduction to Religion And Spirituality In Esanland

Religion and spirituality are at an all-time deemed important in Esanland, such that it has become a stigma in the lives of the Esans. It can be inferred that the Esans’ strict adherence to their belief and tradition amounts to the blessings and spells of peace that beclouded the people in the earliest times.

To top it off, worship and sacrifices remain the vital aspect of the Esans’ spirituality and religion, although some of these practices have been viewed as barbaric and evil since the advent of Christianity in the Esanland.

Since the adoption of Christianity and Islam, the more prevalent religion in Esanland today, the people have withdrawn from their traditional religion. Different tribes in Nigeria and Africa as a whole relented in their traditional mode of worship, which Birago Diop lamented in his poem “Vanity.”

Talk about the ethnic group in Nigeria that’s highly spiritual and religious; the Esans top the list. Sadly, Christianity has washed away those modes of worship, sacrifices, and all, caking the people’s minds with a new belief system.

It’s worthy of note that the Esans’ traditional religion in the pre-colonial times-initiated orderliness, peace, and corporation amongst the people because they knew that a slight deviate from the laws would lure the wrath of the ancestors.

Religion And Spirituality In Esanland In Precolonial Era

Most Africans don’t trivialize reincarnation, and naming those who believe strongly in reincarnation and continuation of life after departing from the physical world; the Esans take part. The Esans believe that life doesn’t end here in the physical world.

They harbor this mindset and opinion that life goes on when their beloved ones pass on; hence the Esans indulge in ancestors’ worship.

The ancestor worship is appeasement or placation of the dead family members by the descendants of the dead. This appeasement is done to the ancestors who are believed to be the intermediary between the living and God (Osanebua), and it all come in the guise of sacrifices.

Animals like goats, sheep, and fowl are taken to shrines, knifed, and offered to the dead, and foods are equally prepared. Delicacy like pounded yam is offered, also.

This is done attract the blessings and protection of the ancestors, that are revered still as part of the family. As the ancestors are still viewed as the members of the family, the responsibility is now hunched on his descendants to ensure constant offering of sacrifices to the dead will always fight for the living family members in the other world and extend his helping hand at times of needs.

By offering these sacrifices and indulging in ancestor worship, do the Esans pay due homage and respect to the dead, and a firm communication link is generated between the living and the dead, giving more room to the ancestors’ influence on the people’s life.

Generally, this worship enables the Esans to always recognize the presence of their forefathers. Once cognizant of the ancestors’ presence, the Esans, therefore, avoid transgressions not to incite the rage of the ancestors. Hence, all Esans conduct their activities properly, following the laws and leading a righteous life.

How The Esan people Worship Their Ancestors

The assertion that all first males are endowed with special responsibilities and rights manifests majorly in the life of the Esans. The ancestor worship is performed by the first Male of every family in Esanland. However, the first son will undergo special training while the father is alive.

Training on how to become a better heir, how to endow the younger siblings with blessings through the ancestor worship, and other vitals expected of the first son.

The heir of the family performs the rites during the worship. He will be in possession of the family’s staff, referred to as (Ukhure) two feet stick decked with cowries that embody the spirit of their deceased father.

The first son uses this staff to bless the younger siblings after the worship like their father had done when he was alive. It’s prohibited for the younger siblings to conduct the rites and sacrifices themselves; rather, they seek the first son’s assistance in conducting the ritual.

During the worship, all the sacrificial lamb and supplements for the ritual will be gathered and presented to the priest by the first son. The priest accepts and offers it to the deity.

Christianity In Esanland

The Esans started embracing Christianity in Esanland wholly during the first decades of the twenty-first century. The colonial masters, as was said, brought Christianity with them, slothfully converting a few subjects that wanted to benefit from the gifts the whites brought with them.

The Esans conversion during the early times wasn’t based on full acceptance; as a result, the people practiced syncretism. As time passed, more people slowly gave in to Christianity, especially those who studied in Europe and those who had communicated with the missionaries.

The conversion of fellow Esans also warranted the swift acceptance of Christianity by the rebellious subjects. Since the inception of Christianity, most Esans culture and belief was abolished; however, Christianity has a striking resemblance with the Esans traditional religion, but as a result of the mental slavery, the Esans were subjected to abandoning their local tradition in the quest for the superior religion.

On accepting the new religion (Christianity), the Esans with strong and meaningful traditional names modified their names to Christian names during a baptism to meet the new trend. This abandoning of traditional names by the Esans still manifests today as parents tussle to name their infants with English names.

Despite the introduction of Christianity, a handful of Esans still strongly believe in their traditional religion, performing ancestor worship, sticking to their traditional names, adopting communal life, paying respect to elders, etc. It’s no surprise that the introduction of Christianity splintered the Esans that were at one time united.

Those Esans that still glued to traditional ways at direly ostracized and viewed as the evil ones in the society. That said, Christianity in Esanland could be viewed as the opium of the people considering its ripple effects on the Esans’ lives and relationships with one another.


Ancestral worship in Esanland proved helpful in consolidating the people. It induced unity, orderliness, strong bonds, and love among the people as they had the same beliefs.

The Esan traditional religion in the pre-colonial times rid of any ounce of social vice such as rape, burglary, murder, etc., because of the belief that any violation of law will attract punishment from the ancestors.

It enhanced communication between the people and their ancestors and also strong-knitted the Esans’ belief in reincarnation. That’s to say, Christianity not only split the people apart but also instigated social vices in Esanland today.

To crown it all, the traditional religion in Esanland laid the foundation for morality and spirituality in the people in the precolonial era.

Written by Juliet Emmanuel for African Docs Project

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