The Ikhianalimhin or Igbabonelimhin dance is a very popular dance that is common with the Esan people of the Central Senatorial District of Edo State in the South – South geo-political zone of Nigeria.

The dance is said to have originated from a hunter who watched a group of monkeys performing complicated acrobatic and gymnastic displays in what he termed to be the dance of the spirits. He brought back to the village what he had seen the group of monkeys do in the deep forest.

The youth of the village were brought together and taught the steps and since then it has been a part and parcel of Esan traditional entertainment performed by the youth. How the dance became a common feature of Esan towns and villages is lost in oral tradition and history. It is not impossible that it may have been as a result of competition between the villages or as a result of a form of travelling theatre and dance group moving from village to village. The fact that there is close affinity between Esan towns and villages is another important factor that may have helped.

Esan towns and villages are organised in quarters headed by the most senior elder reporting directly to the king. The settlement of Esan land was done by groups of family members who though migrated as a group of people nevertheless still retained the distinctive individuality of the subgroups of migrants. It was not uncommon to find like minded groups or family members settle in the same quarter. However, a common feature of all Esan towns is that there must be an Eguare quarters which is the king’s quarter.

From the above, it can be seen that a description of the “ikhianlimhin” dance can only be done from the perspective of one’s experience gleaned from the quarters

I am from Ubiaja in the Ebhuru quarters, and my description is based solely on my experience from the Ebhuru quarters organisation of the “Ikhianalimhin” dance.

Ebhuru quarters housed the administrative buildings and government presence in Ubiaja which served as both divisional and provincial headquarters of the then Esan Division of the Mid- West Region. It also served at one point as provincial capital covering as far away as Auchi.

Ubiaja is made up of twenty-two quarters with one king and Odionwere for each quarter. My quarter is the Ebhuru quarter, and I am speaking specifically on the IKHIANALIMHIN dance as performed in the Ebhuru quarters.

Usually, the head of the Youths called “Odion Egbonughe” will consult with the Elders, otherwise called “Edion” and fix a day for the traditional dance which is usually fixed for Sunday.

A day before the dance, which is usually Saturday, at about 4pm, the masquerade called Okpodu which is referred to as the female version of the masquerade entertains the people by dancing and getting the people to give them money. The ones that are not interested in entertaining the people spend the time chasing ladies around and beating them while small boys struggle to follow them. They do this until about 6pm before retiring for the day.

On Sunday, which is usually the actual day of the dance, the Okpodu masquerade comes out as early as 7am and entertain until 8 am when the people prepare for church services. The period of 7am and 8am is also the time, new Okpodu’s are introduced to the people.

The people come back from the church not later than 12pm when the Okpodu masquerade comes out again to entertain and in some cases chase and beat up ladies/girls. This goes on till 4pm when they are expected to retire.

After 4pm, the male version of the masquerade called alimhin comes out to entertain with acrobatic dance and gymnastic skills. They come out with the backup singers and drummers moving slowly from the hibernation house to the village centre where they will entertain.

At the village square, the people are gathered to watch the entertainment and performance of the various alimhin to the exclusion of women. The alimhin masquerades strives to outperform each other and after about two hours of entertainment the dance come to an end with everybody happy.

It is usually a time of festivity and happiness in the quarters as visitors from other quarters and other parts of Esanland pour in to witness the dance.

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