The Ijaw People: Earliest Inhabitants In Southern Nigeria?

Ijaw (also known by the subgroups”Ijo”or”Izon”) are a collection of indigenous peoples mostly to the forest regions of the Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States within the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Some are natives of Akwa-Ibom, Edo, and Ondo states also in Nigeria. Many are found as migrant fishermen in camps as far west as Sierra Leone and as far east as Gabon along the Western Africa coastline.They are believed to be some of the earliest inhabitants of southern Nigeria.The Ijaws currently numbering about 15 million have long lived in locations near many sea trade routes, and were well connected to other areas by trade as early as the 15th century. Ijaw people sit on Nigeria`s rich oil lands.
Historical Origin Of Ijaws
The Ijos (Ijaws) of the Niger Delta are the descendants of the autochthonous people or ancient tribe of Africa known as the (H) ORU. They were known by this name by themselves and their immediate neighbours. The Ijos have kept the ancient language and culture of the ORU. The Ancient ORU People. As to what time the ancient ORU people started to settle the Niger Delta is not clear as language studies cannot properly indicate when a people settled at the region.
What is known is that they have existed as a distinct language and ethnic group for upwards 5000 years. Their settlements in the Benin region, Lower Niger & Niger Delta were aboriginal (i.e. being the first) and by 500 BC they may have started inhabiting the Niger Delta. The traditional Ijo narratives refer to the ancestors (the Oru-Otu) or the ancient people (Tobu Otu) who descended from the sky (were of divine origin). They are also referred to as the WATER-PEOPLE (Beni-Otu). It is ORU who established the ancient communities of mask-spirits and mermaids (mami-water) dedicated to spiritual initiation culture
“Language and cultural studies prove that they are related to the founders of the Great Nile Valley civilisation complex (and possibly the lake Chad complex). They immigrated into West Africa from the Nile-Valley during antiquity. The ORU people who went and founded the Nile-valey civilisation complex of ancient Egypt and Sudan were also known as the ONU or ANU people or followers of HORU (HORUS). Another of their names seems to have been KUMONI. It was during the time of King ADUMU-ALA (alias ODUDUWA), that ORU Princes who derived ultimately from Nubia (ancient Sudan) established city states in the Southern Nigeria region. Their names have come down to us as the ancestors ADUMU, ASARA, UJO, IGODO, NANA, ALA-FUN. These city states gave birth to different ethnic nationalities through the process of fusion and ethnic intermarriage. This is reflected in the ancestral traditions of the Ijos.
The ancestor who is known as Ujo or Ijo is also known in traditional Ile-Ife history as Idekoseroake. He is also known by the titles “Kalasuo” and “Indo-Oru’. His identification as ORU, means that he was of the tribe of Oru. His identification as Kumoni, means that he was of the tribe of Kumoni (the section that hailed from Upper Egypt), therefore he was Kumoni-Oru. In Ife traditional history it is believed that he died before his father. It is also stated that he died at Ife, although it is not known for sure that he did. All that is known is that King Adumu (alias Oduduwa) lost the service of a number of powerful and warlike sons early on during his reign. Where they went or what happened to them has never been explained by contemporary accounts at Ife. On the other hand Ijo traditions maintain that Ujo (i.e. Idekoseroake) migrated from Ife along with some brothers and a large entourage. Since these traditions are accurate and can be corroborated in regards to the foundation of Benin and Ife , then we can take it that they are also true in regards to the origins of the ancestors of the Ijo people.
Birth Of The Ijo People Or Orus
The 1st migration out of Otu-Ife (or Ile-Ife as it was later to be known) was led by Prince Ujo (alias Idekoseroake) mentioned in the ancestral tradition as being the first son of King Adumu . Prince Ujo along with the warlord Ogu (Ogun) were war commanders in the military alliance, who took part in the battles that were fought to subdue the hostile Ooyelagbo communities and establish the Yoba Kingdom. Between 650 -700 AD Prince Ujo led his migration out of Ife to the Benin region, where he encamped and established a settlement (Uzama) that later was to become the basis of Benin City. At this time other ORU people, as well as the EFA people were settling the Benin region.
Prince Ujo`s instructions were to go to the Niger Delta, and establish a strategic base from which to defend the coastal region. Clearly his father King Adumu, regarded the whole southern region as a virgin territory which he would bring under his direct control. Prince Ujo proceeded to the central Niger Delta with his followers and came across isolated ancient communities of ORU people in remote settlements of the central delta. Together with these people they formed viable communities in the central delta originally based on the City-state formation. This was the birth or genesis of the Ijo people. The Kumoni-Oru who settled the Niger Delta with the most ancient inhabitants known as the ORU (TOBU OTU) gave birth to the Ijos. The original settlements were in the western & central delta, from where they spread out to people the whole Niger Delta. This period has been estimated to have occurred between 500 BC to 1000 AD. These original ancestors were spiritual initiates of the ancient African spiritual initiation system of the CREATOR TEM (TEMUNO). They made heavy symbolic ritualistic use of the water, and hence have been referred to as the “water people” (beni-otu). Later on between 1200 ? 1600 AD the Ijos of the Niger Delta received immigrants from their relatives living at Benin and the lower Niger regions, who were fleeing the various upheavals and power struggles of Benin city during the time of the 2nd dynasty. They collectively gave birth to the Ijo nation with its City-states and collective Clan communities. This is the birth of the Ijo people, otherwise known by the ancient name of ORU.
Some of the Kumoni/Oru remained behind at Benin region, indeed a section of the Oru known as the Beni, who had come from the Sudan (NupaTU or Napata) through Nupe, gave the name Beni to some of the newly emerging settlements. These were the Oru or Ijos of Benin City who later on between the 12th ?15th centuries AD fled into the delta to escape the upheavals of Benin City. Along with the EFA people they were quite prominent at Benin during the 1st kingdom between 650-1150 AD.
There are two prominent groupings of the Izon language. The first, termed either Western or Central Izon (Ijaw) consists of Western Ijaw speakers: Ekeremor, Sagbama (Mein), Bassan, Apoi, Arogbo, Boma (Bumo), Kabo (Kabuowei), Ogboin, Tarakiri, and Kolokuma-Opokuma (Yenagoa).[citation needed] Nembe, Brass and Akassa (Akaha) dialects represent Southeast Ijo (Izon).[citation needed]. Buseni and Okordia dialects are considered Inland Ijo.

The other major Ijaw linguistic group is Kalabari. Kalabari is considered an Eastern Ijaw language but the term “Eastern Ijaw” is not the normal nomenclature. Kalabari is the name of one of the Ijaw clans that reside on the eastern side of the Niger-Delta (Abonnema, Buguma, Bakana, Degema etc.) who form a major group in Rivers State, hence their involvement in the fight for greater oil control. Other “Eastern” Ijaw clans are the Okrika, Ibani (the natives of Bonny, Finima and Opobo) and Nkoroo. They are neighbours to the Kalabari people in present day Rivers State, Nigeria.
Other related Ijaw subgroups which have distinct languages but very close kinship, cultural and territorial ties with the rest of the Ijaw are the Epie-Atissa, Engenni (also known as Ẹgẹnẹ), and Degema (also called Udekama or Udekaama). These groups speak Delta Edoid languages. The Ogbia clan, Andoni people, as well as residents of Bukuma and Abuloma (Obulom) speak Cross River languages.[citation needed]
It was discovered in the 1980s that a nearly extinct Berbice Creole Dutch, spoken in Guyana, is partly based on Ijo lexicon and grammar. Its nearest relative seems to be Eastern Ijo, most likely Kalabari (Kouwenberg 1994).
The Ijaw were one of the first of Nigeria’s peoples to have contact with Westerners, and were active as go-betweens in the slave trade between visiting Europeans and the peoples of the interior, particularly in the era before the discovery of quinine, when West Africa was still known as the White Man’s Graveyard because of the endemic presence of malaria.
Some of the kin-based trading lineages that arose among the Ijaw developed into substantial corporations which were known as “Houses”; each house had an elected leader as well as a fleet of war canoes for use in protecting trade and fighting rivals. The other main occupation common among the Ijaw has traditionally been fishing and farming.
Being a maritime people, many Ijaws were employed in the merchant shipping sector in the early and mid-20th century (pre-Nigerian independence). With the advent of oil and gas exploration in their territory, some are employed in that sector. Other main occupation are in the civil service of the Nigerian States of Bayelsa and Rivers where they are predominant.
The Ijaw people live by fishing supplemented by farming paddy-rice, plantains, yams, cocoyams, bananas and other vegetables as well as tropical fruits such as guava, mangoes and pineapples; and trading. Smoke-dried fish, timber, palm oil and palm kernels are processed for export. While some clans (those to the east- Akassa, Nembe, Kalabari, Okrika and Bonny) had powerful chiefs and a stratified society, other clans are believed not to have had any centralized confederacies until the arrival of the British. However, owing to influence of the neighbouring Kingdom of Benin individual communities even in the western Niger Delta also had chiefs and governments at the village level.
Political system: (chiefs, clans etc, wealth or status classes):
People in the eastern region of the delta traditionally lived in small villages and towns that were run by a system of chiefs who were family or clan heads. High status is normally awarded in accordance with elaborate hierarchical systems and often results only after payments have been made to those already holding titles. People from the western and central Delta regions acknowledged no central authorities until the British.
Marriage in Ijaw Land
There are two forms of marriage, both involving bride-wealth. In a small-dowry marriage, the groom must offer a payment to the wife’s family, which is typically cash. In this type of marriage, the children trace their line of inheritance through their mother to her family. This means that when they grow up the children have more choices as to where they can live: with their father’s or mother’s people.

The second type of marriage is a large-dowry marriage, which means that the children belong to the father’s family. These marriages are rare, and wives are not usually from the local community.
There is high rate of polygamy among the Ijaws. Most men have at least two wives. Each wife has her own bedroom and kitchen, usually in a single house. Ijo wives are not ranked, and ideally, each is treated equally and has equal access to her husband.
Ijaw Traditions
Funeral ceremonies, particularly for those who have accumulated wealth and respect, are often very dramatic. Traditional religious practices center around “Water spirits” in the Niger river, and around tribute to ancestors.
Egbesu is the god of warfare and the spiritual foundation for combating evil. He can can only be invoked in defence or to correct an injustice by people who are in tune with the universe.Recently, members of the cult, known as the Egbesu Boys, have been fighting against authorities in the Niger Delta in response to environmental and economic problems caused by oil exploitation. Young men who have joined the cult undergo initiations which impart the powers of Egbesu. The initiation involves being etched with scars on some hidden part of the body. Followers often believe the charms and the cult initiations make them bulletproof.
Although the Ijaw are now primarily Christians (95% profess to be), with Catholicism and Anglicanism being the varieties of Christianity most prevalent among them. The Ijaw also have elaborate traditional religious practices of their own. Veneration of ancestors plays a central role in Ijaw traditional religion, while water spirits, known as Owuamapu figure prominently in the Ijaw pantheon. In addition, the Ijaw practice a form of divination called Igbadai, in which recently deceased individuals are interrogated on the causes of their death.
Ijaw religious beliefs hold that water spirits are like humans in having personal strengths and shortcomings, and that humans dwell among the water spirits before being born. The role of prayer in the traditional Ijaw system of belief is to maintain the living in the good graces of the water spirits among whom they dwelt before being born into this world, and each year the Ijaw hold celebrations in honor the spirits lasting for several days. Central to the festivities is the role of masquerades, in which men wearing elaborate outfits and carved masks dance to the beat of drums and manifest the influence of the water spirits through the quality and intensity of their dancing. Particularly spectacular masqueraders are taken to actually be in the possession of the particular spirits on whose behalf they are dancing.
The Ijaw are also known to practice ritual acculturation (enculturation), whereby an individual from a different, unrelated group undergoes rites to become Ijaw. An example of this is Jaja of Opobo, the Igbo slave who rose to become a powerful Ibani (Bonny) chief in the 19th century.
Myths (Creation):
“There was a once a large field,and in this field stood an enormous Iroko tree with large buttresses. At the sides of the field appeared pairs of men and women, each woman holding a broom and each man a bag. As the women swept the field the men collected the dirt into their bags. And the dirt was manilas [wealth]. Some collected ten or more manillas, others none, and when the field was swept clean they disappeared back into the edges of the field, two by two. The sky darkened, and there descended on the field a large table, a large chair, and an immense ‘Creation Stone’, and on the table was large quantity of earth. Then there was lightning and thunder; and Woyingi descended. She seated herself on the chair and placed her feet on the ‘Creation Stone’.
Out of the earth, on the table Woyingi moulded human beings. But they had no life and were neither man nor woman, and Woyingi, embracing them one by one, breathed her breath into them, and they became living beings. But they were still neither men nor women, and so Woyingi asked them one by one to choose to be man or woman, each according to their choice. Next Woyingi asked them, one by one, what manner of life
each should like to lead on earth. Some asked for riches, some for children, some for short lives, and all manner of things. And these Woyingi bestowed on them one by one, each according to their wish. Then Woyingi asked them one by one by which manner of death they would return to her. And out of the diseases that afflict the earth they chose each a disease. To all these wishes Woyingi said, ‘So be it’.