In a discussion session on NEBO TV, an alarming revelation has come to light regarding the male and female “Ewu Iwu,” or “Edo Dress,” a traditional attire worn by Edo men. The focus of the discussion was on the growing misrepresentation and distortion of this culturally significant dress. Originally conceived as a replacement for the traditional Benin body markings, the “Ewu Iwu” holds immense cultural importance.
Created by Dr Ekhaguosa Aisien, the attire was introduced as an alternative to the traditional body markings of the Benin people, with its symbols closely mirroring the original Iwu body markings that were once etched into the bodies of ancient Benin inhabitants. The groundbreaking design gained official approval and was launched by Oba Erediauwa in 1986 at the Oba’s Palace.
However, a disconcerting trend has emerged in the years following the introduction of the “Ewu Iwu.” Various incorrect designs have gradually overshadowed the authentic version, notably featuring the symbols of Ada and Eben, two crucial elements within the Edo cultural tapestry. These distorted interpretations have found their way into the design, threatening to dilute the authenticity of the traditional attire.
The original male version of “Ewu Iwu” has suffered a significant decline in representation. The authentic symbols of the “Iwu” body markings, which were intended to be a central aspect of the dress, have faded from prominence in many attires. Today, only a handful of Edo citizens, primarily members of the Benin Traditional Council, still honour the true essence of the Ewu Iwu by wearing the original style.
The female version of the Ewu Iwu, on the other hand, faces a different challenge altogether. It appears that the female style has not gained much popularity among Benin women, possibly due to a lack of awareness or misconceptions regarding the attire’s gender specificity. Some may have assumed that the attire is exclusively intended for Benin men, thereby overlooking the female version entirely.
As cultural enthusiasts and guardians of tradition become increasingly alarmed by the growing misrepresentations, the need to restore the true essence of the Ewu Iwu has become more pressing. Educating the public, especially Benin women, about the female version of the Ewu Iwu and highlighting the stark distinction between the authentic style and its imitated counterparts has become a priority.
Preserving cultural heritage is a responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the community as a whole. By recognising the importance of accurately representing the “Ewu Iwu,” the Edo people can ensure that this traditional attire continues to be a proud symbol of their identity for generations to come. As efforts are made to correct the course of this cultural narrative, the hope remains that the genuine spirit of the “Ewu Iwu” will once again shine through, bringing its symbols and meanings to life in their truest form.