Esan Vegetation And Forest Resources

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Last Update June 4, 2020

Esan has rich vegetation made up of two distinct parts, predominantly. The southern part of the area was made up of the moist deciduous forest rich in timber and other forest woods. This area comprised the lowlands with rivers and numerous valleys. The forests were thickly wooded and inspired beliefs from the average Esan. In this respect, the forest bush was held distinct from the forest farm. At night without the support of Cebolo or strong medicine or charms even the bravest of hunters were cautious and respected the wild forest or forest bush. Only few dared to risk the strange and terrifying experiences of venturing where they thought the evil Azen or witches were operating in tree tops as they believed that even the relatively harmless Ihololele or dwarf – like beings found in the deep forest could kill them if they ran between one’s legs. In the forest bush it was also said roamed the spirits of those who had not been settled by proper burial ceremonies. Thus the forest, thickly woody, cold and unreceptive was generally dreaded by the ordinary person and even more in the night.

Yet in the daytime the forest and ¡its produces were highly valued for their innumerable contributions to everyday life. The forest was vital to the life and culture of the Esan. There were medicinal preparations for leprosy, gonorrhea, loose teeth, fevers, abscesses, ‘black tongue’ childbirth and purgatives. There were, portions prepared from forest products to put people to sleep, charms to make yams grow and poisons for ordeals and to put on arrow tips. Different timbers were used for nearly every aspect of house building and there were a variety of woods for making tools, native harps, tobacco — pipe, traps and for collection as firewood. Burnt wood derivatives included charcoal, potash, salt and ashes for native soap and native dye. There were adhesives, sponges for polishing house walls, rope, bowstrings, dance rattles etc. There were special trees used for chewing sticks and many fruits, seeds, roots and leaves gathered for the preparation of different soup. There were other foodstuffs such as wild beans edible fungi palm wine, snail and honey from wild bees. Hunters caught various games from the forests rich in wild animals including bush pigs esi, giant pouched rats eluo and glasscutters okhaen etc. Part of the forest riches can be gleaned from a description of the 15 century market places in the Benin area… roasted baboons and monkeys, bats and largo rats, parrots, dried lizard, fruit. Palm wine.

The contradiction of Esan attitudes lo the forest i.e. their fear of its supernatural forces on the one hand and their physical dependence on it for their everyday needs on other have created different interpretations. For example, some people have suggested that the nucleated Esan villages and their farm and fallow lands were separated and surrounded by forests, ever threatening to encroach and believed to be peopled with evil spirits. Taken like this. Esan negative altitude to forests stemmed from fear. On the other hand, Peter Darling have suggested the possibility of higher population densities or a continuation of Savannah derived practices to preserve the flora during the period of Iyala or moat constructions (C 1000 AD) in the area. Consequently, a higher or low population tended to favour practices in which conservation of the useful forest environment (at the margins of the rotational bush fallow systems) were encouraged. Therefore it was not fear but the cultural dictates to conserve the flora that created a reverence of the forests among the Esan people. J.B: Webster also suggests in the same way that, plant totems have been associated with the preservation of flora in the Sahel. The oak tree among several others is the “totem of the Isaba ward in Ewoyoma” village in Uroni. So also other trees are held in reverence among the Esan people. Whether it was reverence derived from fear or for preservation, the forests survived long into the colonial period in Esan. Throughout the period, European companies that exploited timber were given various concessions by the colonial government in Esan to do same. They were Messrs W,B. Maclever and co. Messrs A.C.B. Henri and Co. Messrs Mc Neil Scott and Co. and Messrs Miller Bros. Ltd. .

The early Esan created (he dichotomy between the forest ‘bush’ and forest farm and it was based on neat ecological distinctions of forest bush and farm. According to Ben Amos, among the Edo people generally, there was a major dichotomy between concepts of home and bush, wild and civilized nature and culture a dichotomy in which the Iyala or moat once played an important part and survived. Both concepts were the year began with ceremonies concerned with brushing the farm and purifying the land .After planting, other ceremonies were directed at the fertility of crops. The lkukpe ceremony in Ekpoma for example marked the traditional end of the year. The entire agricultural cycle derived much of its spiritual dependence from the forest and this is in addition to the physical dependence of agriculture and housing on forest products.
In the culture of a rotational bush fallow system the fallow time exceeded the time the land is cultivated and the aim usually to create a regular system of fallow which was never permitted to return to woodland or forest bush. The Esan term Ugbonukpe last years farm and ugbonikpea last year but one’s farm expresses fallow an overgrown farm clearing, as an extension of farmland Ugbo and not forest Oha. Thus the farmland as held distinct from the un-enclosed forest Oha.

Unlike the lowland, plateau on the northern fringes of Esan had the forest Savannah vegetation that chinned into the northward savannah country. This part is made up of sandy topsoil that could be easily cleared cultivated and relatively, weed — free. The topsoil is also mixed with laterite and various clays that have already been discussed. Thus a suitable environment laddened with various enhanced Esan settlement in their land.

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