WHO ARE THE EDOS?
NOWAMAGBE AUSTIN OMOIGUI, M.D., MPH, FACC
The term "Edo" is ubiquitous and can be unwieldy. It refers to
place, dialect, language and people.
Benin-City is called 'Edo'. Individuals from the Benin Kingdom call
themselves "Oviedo" or "Ovioba". The Benin Kingdom was redefined (by
the British) after the restoration of the monarchy in 1914 - and limited (by the
British) to the new Benin Division (composed of Binis). Its major
sub-regions included Iyek-Ovia, Iyek-Orhionmwon, and Iyek-Ogba. However,
traditional culture and religion as well as sentimental attachments continue
to grant the Oba of Benin spiritual and temporal authority and recognition
far beyond these British administrative borders.
The Benin empire extended westwards all the way to Wydah in Dahomey in its
heyday - along with eastern influences along the Niger (western/ riverine
When the term "Edo" is used linguistically it refers to the Bini
dialect of the language. But the term "Edo speaking" covers peoples of the
old Benin, Delta and Ondo provinces as well as the Degema area of the old
Rivers province. It applies to those who either speak Bini or closely related
dialects as a first language.
2. Ishan (34 village groups)
3. Ivbiosakon (19 tribes)
4. Etsako (9 tribes)
5. North-West Edo (28 village groups)
6. Ineme (10 villages)
7. Urhobo (18 tribes/chiefdoms)
8. Isoko (17 tribes/ chiefdoms)
9. Engenni (Degema area of Rivers)
Our social organization as a people (nation) is based on:
CORE ELEMENTS COMMON TO ALL EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLE:
a. The Village settlement is the basic political unit. Higher
levels of organization include village-groups, tribes,
sub-chiefdoms, chiefdoms and the kingdom itself. Villages consist of
wards and patrilineal family clusters.
b. The Male population is stratified into age-grades - youths,
adults and elders.
c. Kinship and lineage is patrilineal and based on primogeniture.
ELEMENTS THAT ARE NOT COMMON:
a. Differential marriage payments among Etsako and some Ishans. (Full
dowry confers all the children to the husband while partial payment
allows the wife's father's family to own some children)
b. Double descent system among some North-West Edos (individuals
belong to both their patrilineal heritage as well as a looser
c. Three-tier age grades system among Urhobo/Isoko women.
d. Multiple-tier age grade system among some northern Ivbiosakon and
e. Minor variations in political structure with different degrees of
predominance of age-grades (Ivbiosakon/ North-West Edo), hereditary
rulership (Bini/ Ishan) and fee-paying title associations (northern
Edos and some Urhobos). Hereditary rule is also seen among some
Urhobo, Isoko, Etsako, Onitsha and Aboh. Note that Benin-City in
particular was exceptionally urbanized - hence the term "City".
To varying degrees the Edo speaking people have influenced and have
been influenced by Yorubas, Igaras, Igbirras, Nupes and Ibos.
NOTE: Itsekiri is a dialect of Yoruba [close to Ilaje and Ijebu].
But all their kinship terminology are Edo. Their political organization
is also Edo. Their royal family is of Edo origin. Itsekiri culture
and ethnography is a complex mix of Yoruba, Bini, Urhobo and Ijaw.
Source of information:
Bradbury: The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-speaking Peoples of
South-Western Nigeria.  International African Institute.