Esan Acrobatic Dance Exchanges: A Case Of Eroding Culture

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By Boniface Ojienon (Last Update October 30, 2018)

Acrobatic dance otherwise known as ‘Igbabonelimi’ is synonymous with the Esan ethnic group located within the Central Senatorial District of Edo state. This dance had remained prominent, wide-spread and regarded as sacred among the people of these ethnic groups.

Today, isolated performance of this dance draw many who are apparently attracted by rare displays that characterize every move made by the dancers. In fact, it is quite easy to reach a conclusion that none of its kind has ever been seen, not only in Nigeria, but elsewhere in the world.

Because of the reverence accorded this dance, our fore-fathers made some attempts not only to preserve but also to showcase the beauty of this dance to the outside world. One of such attempts gave birth to the “Esan Acrobatic Dance Exchange” a vehicle of social interaction which ultimately helped the past generation of Esan maintain peace and socio-cultural harmony.

The Exchange usually involve two Esan towns hosting each other in turns every other year. The men from the two towns were expected to choose a regular friend known in local circle as “Osho” from the other town, who will be saddled with the responsibility of accommodating, feeding as well as general care of such friend throughout the duration of the festival.

The acrobatic dance fiesta, organized between the month of September and November usually left the participating communities with unparallel merriment and great excitement. It was a time characterized by emotions as people engage in several activities in preparation for the D-day. Such activities include shopping, harvesting of yams, soliciting for kegs of palm-wine, hunting of games and many more. It is also a time for entertaining relations, in-laws, friends and well-wishers.

Majority of these friends and relations do not visit empty-handed. They usually present kegs of palm-wine, tubers of yarn and money to their hosts. During the one week of acrobatic display, there are always a lot to eat and drink, irrespective of the number of guests who had come from all walks of life to catch a glimpse of the occasion and the accompanying actions.

It is always a stiff competition which leaves the hosts and their community with the mandate to provide the best for their “oshos” from the visiting community. Attention is given to the level of reception received, and this usually determine the level of reciprocity, as each community tries not to fall below standard. Although there was no bench- mark in assessing such reception and entertainment one thing was quite obvious — the Esan hospitality.

Apart from the noticeable excitement everywhere within the hosting community, the period usually afforded people from the participating communities the opportunity to strengthen bilateral agreements, some of which developed into marriages, which had gone a long way to forestall inter- community squabbles or outright wars.

It also helped to boost cultural interaction and the overall economics of Esanland. Thus, everyone concerned awaited the period with a lot of eagerness and great expectation.

It is rather disheartening to note that, for the past thirty years or so, this once important and highly cherished acrobatic fiesta appeared to be eroding. The million naira question now is, what has happened to this once highly revered aspect of the Esan Culture? It is a high time the people of Esanland wake up from their doldrums and make concerted efforts to ensure an immediate return to the status quo which gave our fore-fathers un-imaginable recognition and fame.

I am quite certain that the majority of the Esan people and their friends would want this dance exchange resuscitated and continue on a sustainable basis. In this modern era when a lot of people are reaping the dividends of their tourism potentials, some of which find expression in dances, carnivals etc.

Esan land, and indeed Edo State, may well be on the part of becoming the tourist destination in Nigeria, if deliberate efforts are made to re-package the Esan dance exchange and make it more attractive to the uncountable guests that delightfully form part of its beauty. Like the popular saying goes, the object being sought for in “Sokoto” is in one’s “Shokoto”.

Finally, many governments have been battling with the problem of “rural-urban drift” coupled with its attendant under development. With this dance sustained and adequately mirrored to the outside world, many of the middle aged men with emotional attachment to it would prefer to stay and work in their locality where they could have constant opportunity to perfect their dance steps.

The overall implication of this is the countless benefits derivable thereof. First is the opening up of the localities involved to the outside world. Secondly, it could help to stem rural-urban migration with its inherent problems. Again with the kind of unity which the practice affords, inter-community bigotry and blood clashes would certainly become a thing of the past.

It is therefore the fervent opinion of this writer that the once cherished and highly patronized “Esan Acrobatic Dance Exchange” among the Esan Communities be revitalized, modernized and properly packaged and placed on the world’s radar to compete with other carnivals elsewhere in Nigeria, and even beyond. Edo people in general stand to reap the dividend, if this is done.

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