The Ijaw People: Earliest Inhabitants In Southern Nigeria?

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’.