IJAW PEOPLE OF NIGERIA
This article was compiled by Jodi Phillips May 2014, for the Institute of Black Academics
concerning Black Under achievement.
PUBLISHED 09 MAY 2014 04:26
The term “autochthonous” means native, aboriginal, indigeous, original. The available anthropological and archaeological evidence at our disposal makes it clear that the settlement of the Southern West Africa region is a recent event, going back not more than 5000 years. While the Northern part of West Africa, may stretch back to 10000 years, if we take into consideration the Sahara grassland of antiquity.
The so called Proto-Niger-Congo language, of which the Ijo language is classified into, is divided into the following language groups - Kordofanian, which split into Kordofanian and Mande-Congo, which also split into Mande and Atlantic-Congo, which also split into Atlantic, Ijoid, Dogon, and Volta-Congo. Volta-Congo split into North Volta-Congo and Benue Kwa, which split into Kwa and Benue-Congo. Now the Ijoid language split into Ijo and Defaka, while the Benue-Congo split into Yoruba, Igala, Edo and Ibo and some other southern Nigerian languages.
According to the Encyclopedia of Precolonial Africa-Archaeology, History, Language, Cultures and Environment, edited by J O Vogel (1997, p172);
“…The indigenous languages of western Africa belong to three of the four phyla of African languages established by J H Greenberg in 1963: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger-Congo……Consequently, the homeland of Niger-Congo is normally placed in western Africa, whereas those of Nilo-Saharan languages and Afro-Asiatic are sought farther to the east and northeast respectively. From time to time, suggestions have been made that Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo are ultimately related. Recently Roger Blench has proposed that Niger-Congo is simply a branch of Nilo-Saharan, most closely related to the Central Sudanic family of Nilo-Saharan in the centre of the African continent. If this view is correct, Niger-Congo would have originated farther east than is us ually assumed, perhaps to the northwest of the present-day central Sudan. The Congo family, in Sudan, is assumed to have moved eastwards. The other families of Niger-Congo presumably were gradually compressed into West Africa as a result of the desiccation of the Sahara. As Western Africa became more crowded, Adamawa-Ubangi and Bantu expanded southwards into central Africa and later, in the case of Bantu, into eastern and southern Africa….Two relatively small families, Dogon and Ijoid, are thought to have split off next. Dogon with little internal differentiation, remained on land, south of the bend in the Niger, while Ijoid, with somewhat more internal differentiation into Defaka and the Ijo group, moved down the Niger to its confluence with the Benue and then either directly along the Niger or via the Benue and Cross River to the Niger Delta and associated waterways where it is found today….”
If Niger-Congo is a branch of the Nilo-Saharan proto-language, as has been suggested, then it gives credence to the argument that the ancient language differentiation of Africa took place in prehistory in the regions of the Nile-Valley and the Old Sahara grasslands, and not in the vicinity of the Niger-Benue confluence.
The absence of the anatomical remains of early human beings, and the lack of evidence for stone age and bronze age cultures in the West Africa region, rules out any claims by a group of people, to be truly autochones or aboriginal to West Africa. All West African peoples migrated to the area at one time or another, from either North, East or South Africa, as such, West Africa has been peopled at different times by successive waves of migration from East Africa and North Africa/Sahara region respectively.
Taking the combined evidence of language studies, ancestral tradition, anthropology and archaeology, it is certain that by at least 2000 BCE the West Africa region was being peopled. As to who arrived first is of no consequence as the land space is too vast for the first arrivals to lay claim to ownership. By 1000 BCE we have the emergence of the Lake Chad civilisation of Daima and the Nok Culture of the Niger/Benue Confluence. We can also discern a number of ancient peoples who entered the area of the Niger & Benue about the same time. They include the following:
The Ancient Oru (Anu) founders of the Great Nile Valley civilisation complex (and possibly the lake Chad complex); The Ancient Ugbo or Igbo (or Kwa people) who seem to have been the founders of the Nok complex; The above ancient people belong to the branch of Black African referred to as Sudanese or Nilotic Negroes. And the Ancient Bantu, who migrated from East/Central Africa.
There were, of course other ancient peoples who were migrating into the West Africa region, but the aforementioned ones serve the purpose of tracing the origins of the Ijos, Yoruba, Edo and Igbo.
An unbiased reading of the works of notable Ijaw historians such as S K Owonaru (History of Ijos and her Neighbours in Nigeria 1949), E J Alagoa (The History of the Niger Delta) and the works by other historians from the Yoruba, Edo and Igbo will demonstrate that indeed the Ijaws are one of the ancient tribes to have settled West Africa, who later on intermarried with other equally ancient tribes to give birth to the ethnic nationalities that now inhabit Southern Nigeria today.
The ancient people from which the Ijaws descended from were not known as Ijaw (Ijo, Ujo, although this name has been traced to a legendary ancestor who established in the Niger Delta with his people). The ancestral name was ORU. That is why in colonial documents the Ijaws are also referred to as ORU people. It was the ancient ORU people that fused with others to produce our immediate neighbours.
In the ancestral histories of the Ijaw, Benin kingdom and Ife, not to mention the Borgu and Nupe kingdoms, there is reference to a number of migrations from the Sudan and Egypt into the West Africa region. This narratives cannot be dismissed as were fairy tales. Now historical question that we need to ask is, were the ancestors of the Ijaws a part of these great migrations into West Africa from Egypt and Sudan? If indeed the answer is yes we will go deeper into this root, if the answer is no, historians need to come with an answer, where did the ancestors come from?, considering the fact that no West African people are truly autochthonous to West Africa. Each arrived during antiquity or recently.
Glancing at the Benin narratives of the history of the foundation of the Benin kingdom, there is reference to migrations from Egypt via Sudan to Ife and then Benin region, where it is stated that the migrating group met an earlier group of settlers which had come from the Sudan. These first settlers or aborigines from the Sudan, were they the ORU people? The migration from Egypt/Sudan is not confined to Benin. Independent of Benin influence we have traditions recorded from Seimbiri-Ijo clan and Andoni-Ijo clan than claim that the Ijo ancestors one time lived in Egypt. Again these traditions cannot be dismissed as fairly tales or fabrications, as there were no reason to lie by the ancestral traditionalists.
The problem with the histories of Borgu, Nupe, Ife, Benin, Ijo is the deliberate confusion created around as to who were the actual people who migrated from Egypt & Sudan and else where to establish these kingdoms, brought about by studying these migration traditions in isolation. Could they not be all referring to the same migrations?
The migrations from Egypt & Sudan mentioned in the ancestral narratives of the Ijaw, Benin and Yoruba, as well as the Borgu and Nupe refer to one and the same people known as the KUMONI (a branch of the ORU people that settled in Upper Egypt)and the ORU. This fact has been obscured, but we are now in the position to establish this historical fact. The original autochthonous people that were settled in the Benin region prior to the arrival of the KUMONI, were the ORU people, who as the traditions state had also come from the Sudan at an unknown earlier date in antiquity. Other ancient people’s that had settled in the Benin region were the EFA, and Ife region were the OYELAGBO or UGBO (IGBO) peoples, while east of the Niger we also have the IGBO’s
The mistake many modern Ijo historians have made was to believe that reference to Ife and Benin as places of origin means originating from the Yoruba and Edo peoples as we know them today. Whereas a deep investigation into the histories of both Ife and Benin indicate that more than one ethnic group were responsible for the genesis of these two city-states. For the earliest dynastic period of Ife and Benin an unnamed people associated with both the legendary Oduduwa at Ife and Ogiso Igodo dynasty at Benin was responsible for establishing the earliest forms of monarchy in these two city kingdoms. Whereas in Ife, the proto-Yoruba ancestors called OOYELAGBO OR UGBO are mentioned, and at Benin the proto-Edo ancestors called EFA are mentioned, the name of the tribe of the dynastic founders are not. What was the name of the tribe that Oduduwa belonged to? What was the name of the tribe that Igodo the first Ogiso of Benin, belonged to? Why has Oduduwa’s original name ADUMU not been emphasised more than his alias ODUDUWA?
An examination and comparison of the names ADUMU, OGU (OGUN) & OGBOGBODIRI the first 3 kings of dynastic Ife, IGODO, ERE & KALADIRAN the first 2 and last Ogisos of Benin with the Ijo language, reveals that these names are still being borne by Ijo individuals up till today, but the present day Yoruba and Edo do not bear these names. What does this suggest? It suggests that the dynastic founders of Ife and Benin were ethnically related to the present day Ijo people as emphasised by ancestral tradition.
The facts that we have gained through the understanding of the related traditional narratives of the Ijos, Urhobos, Binis, Yoruba, has enabled us to reconstruct the sequence of events that led to the emergence of the City State complexes of Ife and Benin and the Ijos of the Niger Delta. Our outline throws light on the seemingly confusion of the ancestral traditions of the aforementioned peoples and demonstrates that instead of looking at the traditions as isolated events, or at worst invented fables, we should view them as the individual perspectives of the whole story that has until now, not been fully told. So let the full story unfold. Based on the research we have done we are bold to assert the following:
Starting from about 500 BC (although the peopling of West Africa goes back to at least 2000 BC) various ancient African peoples indigenous to the continent started to settle the Lower Niger, Savannah fringe and forest regions of present day Southern Nigeria. These ancient peoples had come from different parts of Africa namely the old Sahara grasslands, North Africa, North east Africa (Nile-Valley) and the East African Great lakes region: which were the homes of more ancient civilisations going back at least 10,000 years. As to who arrived first is of no consequence, since the land was too vast for any one people to lay claim to the whole.
For our research topic we have singled out four distinct ancient peoples whose names have come down to us through tradition, who combined and came together in various ways to give birth to the kingdoms of Southern Nigeria. These ancient people have been identified as:
The ORU or KUMONI (also known as the ONU or ANU people) they were an aquatic based culture, settling the banks of rivers and watersides. They were indigenous to the Nile Valley and Lake Chad regions before moving south (an exhaustive comparison between the ancient religious and cultural system of the twin Nile-Valley civilisations of Egypt and Sudan, plus language studies enables us to conclude that the ANU or ONU were ethnically the same as the ORU.
The IGBO or UGBO (also known as OOYELAGBO) a branch of the Kwa, they were land based. They were originally situated in East Africa, before migrating to the north of the Niger/Benue confluence region in antiquity.
The EFA, they were also land based. The EFA & IGBO seem to have descended from a people once known as the KWA or KWARA people, who inhabited the Middle Niger/Benue confluence region (hence its original name of Kwara river).
The BANTU & SEMI BANTU of unknown names, from east and central Africa.
THE EVENTS THAT GAVE RISE TO THE FOUNDATION OF IFE, BENIN & DELTA STATES
The period between 500 BC & 700 AD was a time of great demographic change and population migration in West Africa. From a central location situated within the Niger/Benue confluence valley, some sections of the KWA people namely the IGBO and EFA started to migrate and settle the now Western and Eastern Nigeria regions. Also around about this period, from the Nile Valley and Lake Chad regions, the ancient ORU or KUMONI people started to settle the middle Niger, Lower Niger and Mid-west regions of present Nigeria. Some, even settling and making their way to the Niger Delta coast.
By about 500 AD scattered primordial isolated communities of all the aforementioned ancient peoples began to come into being throughout the Southern Nigeria region.
This isolated and stateless existence situation was changed with the arrival of fresh immigrants from the Nile Valley due to the Arab onslaught from about 640 AD. In the various traditions these immigrants are referred to as having came from EGYPT, SUDAN, & ARABIA (MECCA) To clear up this point. The use of the term MECCA or ARABIA is just a reference to the EAST, While references to Egypt and Sudan have more factual foundation, as these civilisations were clearly indigenous Black African civilisations up until their colonisation by the Arabs. The migration route of these stream of refugees fleeing the upheavals of North East Africa was through the Lake Chad – Middle Niger (Borgu/Bussa/Nupe) then on to the Ife, Benin and Lower Niger regions.
The fusion of these newly arrived immigrants with the older communities was like a seeding process, causing a condensation of populations to converge in city like communities. It was this process that gave birth to the first dynastic City State centres, of which Borgu, Nupe, Ife and Benin became the most prominent.
From the ancestral traditions we can reconstruct the following facts regarding the foundation of Ife & Benin.
From about 500 AD a branch of the UGBO referred to as OOYELAGBO started to arrive in the Ile-Ife region, from an ancestral home situated in the Niger/Benue confluence region. They set up dispersed communities within the now Ile-Ife region. Shortly afterwards (650 AD) a branch of the ORU known as the KUMONI, migrated from Upper Egypt to the Bussa region. In the Bussa region they fused with the local population and established the BORGU Kingdom. From the Bussa region a section decided to settle in the Ile-Ife region and establish a City state to be known as YOBA (YEBA) derived from the original name of the Upper Egyptian province that they had hailed from.
They establishment of this new city was opposed by certain sections of the OOYELAGBO communities led by the chief Obatala priest ORELUERE, who argued that since it was they who arrived first, the king of the city must be from amongst them. This led to a war told in the ancestral traditions as the “war between ODUDUWA & OBATALA” In reality it was a conflict between two theocratic systems of government. On the one hand we had the new form of centralised Government based on a theocratic monarchy focused on the SUPREME MOTHER GODDESS (Woyingi). The OOYELAGBO form of traditional chief’s council opposed this with the head chief being focused on the GODHEAD (Obatala).
With the help of dissatisfied sections of the OOYELAGBO communities, led by Oba-Meri, and also ORU people living in the Nupe region; the leaders of the KUMONI people headed by a prince original named as ADIMU (ADUMU) went to war and defeated the opposing factions of Ooyelagbo and established his centralised government. Prince Adimu was also a priest of the SUPREME MOTHER GODDESS LODGE (known in Kumoni language as Woyingi, and in Ooyelagbo language as Oduduwa) and at the same time a high initiate of the ancient ADUMU (ADUM) spiritual Initiation lodge of ancient Egypt.
Before the final setting up of the government, Prince Adimu invited the leaders of the hostile Ooyelagbo communities and his own allies (the Oru and Ooyelagbo supporters) to a constitutional conference, where it was agreed to form a confederacy where all the communities living in the area would swear allegiance to Adumu, but have control over their own internal affairs. At that conference Prince Adumu was declared the LORD OF THE FORTRESS ‘ALA – AFIN’ (ALA-lord or chief, AFIN-fortress) and henceforth addressed as “ALA-AFIN ADUMU-ALA”. (ALA is still a Chief title amongst the Ijaws). He also took on the alias ‘ODUDUWA’, as it was the term in the Ooyelagbo language for the Mother Goddess of which he was a priest.
In order to unite the opposing factions intermarriage was decreed. This is told in the tradition as the marriage between Obatala & Oduduwa with the birth of the sixteen gods and goddesses. Indeed Prince Adumu took several wives from the local Ooyelagbo women as well as his own Kumoni/Oru women. This policy was adhered to by his successors. Prince (now King) Adumu administered the new City state (military, theocratic confederacy) so skilfully that he was remembered in ancestral tradition as the ancestor of the YOBA NATION, meaning the ORIGINATOR OF THE YOBA NATION. This was how the first Yoba nation came into being and how Ife became the centre of the 1st dynastic city-state in Southern Nigeria. This was also the Ife of the 1st dynastic period. Later on YOBA was corrupted to YORUBA and the term applied to all the people who spoke related dialects/languages, who had centuries later integrated to become one people. The original Kumoni language spoken by the king and his people (Kumoni-Oru) was later on absorbed into the Ooyelagbo language to give rise to Yoruba language and its various dialects.
Meanwhile at this early stage, even while the unification was yet complete, some sections of the KUMONI-ORU left Ife to establish themselves elsewhere, after accomplishing their task of setting up the City state with Prince Adumu (alias Oduduwa) as the first dynastic king. The 1st migration out of Ife was led by prince Ujo (alias Idekoseroake) mentioned in the ancestral tradition as being the first son of King Adumu. Other migrations, such as the one by Prince Nana, ended up in present day Ghana region.
Prince Ujo was a war commander who took part in the battles that were fought to subdue the hostile Ooyelagbo communities and establish the New Kingdom. Between 650 –700 AD Prince Ujo led a migration out of Ife to the Benin region, where he encamped and established a settlement that later was to become the basis of Benin City. At this time ORU people, as well as the EFA people were settling the Benin region. These all these people combined to form the genesis of the Benin Kingdom, later to be joined by other settlers from Igala and elsewhere.
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 communities of ORU in remote settlements. Together with these people they formed viable communities in the central delta originally based on the City-state formation. This was birth of the Ijo people.
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 through Nupe, gave the name Beni to 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. Shortly after the 1st migration, a 2nd migration from Ife led by Prince Igodo established the early foundations of the Benin Kingdom dynastic government of the Ogisos.
Prince Igodo (Godo) led the 2nd migration from Ile-Ife. At the death of King Adumu, Igodo was sidelined in the scheme of things. It seems that what happened at this point in time was that King Adumu’s chief war officer Ogu (Ogun) temporarily took over the reigns of government until a successor could be chosen. It was decided that a son whose mother was an Ooyelagbo should occupy the throne, and so Prince Ogbogbodiri (alias Ala-Fun or Lufon I) assumed the kingship.
Prince Igodo and a few companions decided to leave Ile-Ife for good, acquiring the mystic source of powers which aided his father in the defeat of the hostile Ooyelagbo, Prince Igodo migrated to the Benin region and met up with the followers of Prince Ujo who remained behind and had established settlements at Benin (Uzama, Ogiama, etc). Later on like his father before him, Prince Igodo centralised the existing ORU and EFA communities and was proclaimed the 1st PRINCE OF THE REALM or OGI-SUO (OGISO). Also like his father he allowed the existing communities internal autonomy, thus the leader of the EFA communities was proclaimed OGI-EFA. These communities later on came together to give birth to the 1st dynastic state of Benin Kingdom (IGODOMIGODO).
[Source : http://www.earthrights.net/nigeria/history.html].