This paper is a historical exposition of the Ijo people of Delta State in the South-South and Niger-Delta Region of Nigeria. A literature gap exists on these groups compared to their kith and kin in the States of Bayelsa and Rivers, also in the Niger-Delta. Thus, motivated by this, the author employs a descriptive and analytical schema to present the early history of these people with regards to their origins, migrations and settlement patterns. The study also examines aspects of their social and cultural practices. At the end, it is observed that, these groups, like their other Ijo counterparts in the central and eastern delta are equally of considerable antiquity in the Niger- Delta spanning over 7,000 years, blended with a rich heritage that has been developed over time. Keywords: Ijo (Ijaw), Origins, Delta State, Antiquity, Eponymous, Migrations, Settlements
1. Introduction In this study, the attention is on the Ijaw (Ijo) people who are located in the local Governments of Patani, Bomadi, Burutu, Warri North, Warri South and Warri South West in Delta State of Nigeria. In all there are fifteen clans (Ibes) which includes the following: Egbema (Warri North), Ogbe-Ijo (Warri South), Gbaramatu (warri South West), Isaba (Warri South West), Diebiri (Warri South/ Burutu), Obotebe (Burutu), Seimbiri (Burutu), Tuomo (Burutu), Ogulagha (Burutu), Iduwini (Burutu), Operemo (Bomadi/Burutu), Mein (Bomadi/Burutu), Tarakiri (Patani), Kabowei (Patani) and Kumbowei (Patani).
Together, these groups constitutes what Alagoa (1972) in his division of the Delta into eastern, central and western zones along physiographic, linguistic and ethnic lines as, the Ijo clans of the western Delta and fringe. Apart from the general outline of their geography, the broad themes covered here, are their traditions of Origin, migrations and settlements; their economic and political systems in pre-colonial times as well as their social and cultural practices with regards to birth, marriage, death, festivals etc.
2. Geography The area covered by this brief survey extends from the east of the Benin River (Warri North L.G.A), in the west of Delta state and the Niger Delta up to the Kabowei settlement of Abare (Patani L.G.A), on the west Bank of the Forcados. Thus, the area bordering on the estuaries of the Rivers Benin, Escravos and Forcados represents the home of the Ijo of Delta state. This area is bordered in the south by the Atlantic Ocean and the Nigeria state of Bayelsa, in the north by the Urhobo, in the west, by the Itsekiri and in the east by the Isoko and Ukwuani (Asabase).
It has been observed that the entire delta area is divisible on physical terms into three belts. These are: the sandy beach ridges, the salt-water swamp areas and the fresh water swamp areas (Alagoa, 1972:12). Alagoa posits that these belts correspond to differences in the nature of the water, type of deltaic soil deposited and in vegetation. Accordingly, they are also belts along which the lives of the communities change, population densities differ and occupations suitable to the particular environment are carried on. With particular reference to our area of study, Ijo communities such as Ogulagha and the Gbaramatu settlements occupy the area of the sandy beach ridges. Further inland, most of the communities in the local Governments of Burutu, Warri south west, and Warri north inhabits the salt-water swamp belt. Lastly, the Ijo communities in Bomadi and Patani L.G.As are within the fresh water swamp belt of the Delta.
3. Traditions of Origin, Migrations and Settlements
One apt general observation that can be made of the Ijo in general is that they are of considerable antiquity in the Niger-Delta. Much of the evidence for this is drawn from Alagoa’s use of the linguistic parameter which establishes a separation of the Ijo language from that of its immediate neighbours by about 7,000 years. More- over, Alagoa’s findings based on the oral traditions of the people suggests a pattern of movement from the central Delta (approximating present day Bayelsa State) to the west (Delta state) and east (Rivers State). In this sense therefore, the central theory of Alagoa’s postulation is that the Ijo’s are of central Delta Origin (Okorobia, 2009) and with time spread out or migrated westward and eastwards to settlements in present day Delta and Rivers states. It must be noted that as plausible as Alagoa’s theories are, they do not tell us the exact time the people came into being, rather they merely tell of migrations, movements and the formation of break away groups in more recent times. Indeed, in a recent study, Robin Horton (1997) has given some fresh thoughts on the place of the central Delta as the cradle of the Ijo people. He informs that the eastern Delta, rather than the central is in fact the home of the Ijo. Employing a combination of linguistic and archaeological sources, Horton avers that the Obolo (Andoni) region in the eastern Delta (Rivers state) is the probable home of the Ijo. With all the possible defects inherent in the various theories on the ultimate place of origin of the Ijo, to avoid confusion, each cluster of clans will be examined separately before pre-colonial economic, political and social systems are discussed.
3.1. The Egbema: According to Alagoa (1972), the traditions of origin of the Egbema suggest that the mother settlement Ofiniama was founded by two traders from the Mein town of Gbekebo. The two traders, Alopomini and Opiti used to stop at the site to shoot birds (Ofini) for food on their way to Ukuroama, Iko, Eko or Lagos. There are nine traditional towns in Egbema known as Egbema Isenabiri, namely-Ofiniama, Ajakurama, Abere, Gbeoba, Jamagie/Abadigbene, Opuama/Polobubo, Ogbinbiri, Ogbudu-Gbudu and Jamagie (Alagoa, Kowei, Owei and Dunu, 2009). The founders of Ajakurama, Gbeoba, Abere and Polobubo first lived at Ofiniama for some time before they settled in their present site. Later, new groups of immigrants came from Operemo in the western Delta and founded the settlement of Jamagie. The main unifying force in Egbema traditions is the common worship of Egbesu.
3.2. The Gbaramatu: The tradition of origin of this Ibe raises important issues for the settlement history of many other Ijo groups in the Delta. It has been observed that Oproza; the mother settlement of the Gbaramatu is mentioned in the traditions of origin of other groups such as the Kabowei and Kumbowei. Alagoa, (1972) informs that the ancestors of the Gbaramatu migrated from Gbaraun in Apoi Ibe of the central Delta (present Bayelsa state). The Gbaramatu live close to the coast between the Forcados and Benin Rivers, with most of their settlements lying along the Escravos River and adjoining creeks (Alagoa, Kowei, Owei and Dunu, 2009).
3.3. The Ogbe-Ijo: According to their traditions, Ogbe, the mother settlement was founded by Ewein who came from Ekeremo in Operemo Ibe of the Western Delta in present day Bayelsa state. The Ogbe claim to have arrived at the site of Warri before the Itsekiri, and that Ewein’s settlement was there when the Oba of Benin sent men after the Itsekiri migrants from Benin. Ewein’s settlement grew into six compounds namely, Aruteingha, Perebiri, Ikiyanbiri, Otunibiri, Lotiebiri and Temebiri. Presently, the Ogbe are a clan of about thirty settlements on the creeks south of the modern town of Warri and Ogbe Ijo is the administrative Head-quarters of Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State. Continue reading