Ijaw people (also known by the subgroups "Ijo" or "Izon") are people in Niger Delta in Nigeria, inhabiting regions of the states of Ondo, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom and Rivers state.
Many are found as migrant fishermen in camps as far west as Sierra Leone and as far east as Gabon.
Population figures for the Ijaws vary greatly, though most range from 13 million to 15 million. They have long lived in locations near many sea trade routes, and they were well connected to other areas by trade as early as the 15th century.
Formerly organized into several loose clusters of villages (confederacies) which cooperated to defend themselves against outsiders, the Ijaw increasingly view themselves as belonging to a single coherent nation, bound together by ties of language and culture. This tendency has been encouraged in large part by what are considered to be environmental degradations that have accompanied the exploitation of oil in the Niger delta region which the Ijaw call home, as well as by a revenue sharing formula with the Nigerian Federal government that is viewed by the Ijaw as manifestly unfair. The resulting sense of grievance has led to several high-profile clashes with the Nigerian Federal authorities, including kidnappings and in the course of which many lives have been lost. The Ijaw people are resilient and proud. Long before after the colonial era, the Ijaw people traveled by wooded boats and canoes to Cameroun, Ghana and other West African countries. They traveled up the River Niger from River Nun.
The Ijaw speak nine closely related Niger–Congo languages, all of which belong to the Ijoid branch of the Niger–Congo tree. The primary division between the Ijo languages is that between Eastern Ijo and Western Ijo, the most important of the former group of languages being Izon, which is spoken by about five million people.
There are two prominent groupings of the Izon language. The first, termed either Western or Central Izon (Ijaw) consists of Western Ijaw speakers: Tuomo Clan, Egbema, Ekeremor, Sagbama (Mein), Bassan, Apoi, Arogbo, Boma (Bumo), Kabo (Kabuowei), Ogboin, Tarakiri, and Kolokuma-Opokuma. Nembe, Brass and Akassa (Akaha) dialects represent Southeast Ijo (Izon). 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, Other "Eastern" Ijaw clans are the Abua, Andoni, 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). The Ogbia clan, as well as residents of Bukuma and Abuloma (Obulom).
It was discovered in the 1980s that a now 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 Ijaws 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 Ijaws 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 Ijaws 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.
Extensive state-government sponsored overseas scholarship programs in the 1970s and 1980s have also led to a significant presence of Ijaw professionals in Europe and North America (the so-called Ijaw diaspora). Another contributing factor to this human capital flight is the abject poverty in their homeland of the Niger Delta, resulting from decades of neglect by the Nigerian government and oil companies in spite of continuous petroleum prospecting in this region since the 1950s.
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 neighbors. 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.
The ancestor UJO, IJO (alias IDEKOSEROAKE), also known as UZON, IZON, IZONOWEI, KALASUO, ORU, INDO-ORU & OGULABIOWEI. THE FIRST PERE (RULER) and ancestor of the whole ethnic nationality.
The Ijaw ethnic group consists of 40 loosely affiliated tribes. These clans are based along kinship lines and/or shared cultural and religious traditions.
The Ijaw speak nine closely related Niger–Congo languages, all of which belong to the Ijoid branch of the Niger–Congo tree. The primary division between the Ijo languages is that between Eastern Ijo and Western Ijo, the most important of the former group of languages being Izon, which is spoken by about four million people.
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). Nembe, Brass and Akassa (Akaha) dialects represent Southeast Ijo (Izon).. 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.
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.
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.
Like many ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Ijaws have many local foods that are not widespread in Nigeria. Many of these foods involve fish and other seafoods such as clams, oysters and periwinkles; yams and plantains. Some of these foods are:
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.
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.
“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’.
The most famous of the Ijaw art is definately the traditional river masks made from carved wood, which embody water spirits (owuamapu). Mostly these are depictions of human heads built up of geometric shapes and combined with animal and abstracting qualities.
Musically, the Ijaw have traditionally used drums, percussion planks and other idiophones. These are still used during cultural festivals to accompany dances such as the Fisherman’s Dance, the Egbelegbele Sei and the Wind and Trees Dance in addition to horns and other contemporary instruments.
New types of music have popped up over the years as well, including a genre of gospel which sounds a bit more like reggae or ska, making much use of trumpets and other horns, than American gospel. Popular music of the Ijaw seems to hold to this emphasis on horn, percussion, and steady, slow beats as well.
Another art form the Ijo are famous for is the memorial screen, which is a carved plank of wood depicting the deceased. They were made when members of trading families died and were kept in the trading house and given offerings of food and drink.
It is believed that one is always being watched by the spirit of his ancestors and must show appreciation to the dead and pray to them for future well being. Before each meal, one offers a bit of their food to the ancestors by tossing it to the ground and calling out the names of his ancestors, and every eight days, food and drink are set out specifically for them. Every seven years a goat’s blood is sprinkled in front of images or pillars representative of the ancestors. It is against tribal law to speak badly of a spirit. If someone does speak ill of the dead and refuses to apologize, the insulted family retaliates by speaking against his dead family. When apologies are made, they all perform an atonement ceremony.
One can also pray to the spirits at special shrines to ask for help in emergencies. Everyone has two souls - the eternal ego and the life force that dies with the body. Both souls leave the body with the last breath, but the life force can also leave before death at times of great fear. If this soul does not return, the body dies. The eternal soul leaves the body on the last breath and takes the form of a ghost, shadow, or reflection, so it’s considered dangerous to step on a shadow. Mirrors are often used so evil spirits will strike the image of the soul reflected in the mirror and not the actual soul.
As in many religions across the world, there is a Ghost King, Nduen-Ama; and a ghost messenger, Ffe,who appears as a skeleton and brings death upon a person by striking him at the base of the skull with a large staff; a ferryman, Asasaba, who brings good souls across the river of death to be reincarnated into trees, animals or other living things.Although different ethnic groups believe in different forms of reincarnation for good and bad souls, all believe in karma. For example, in one tribe, a good soul could become a cow, elephant, or leopard; in another tribe, good people may be reborn as trees, whereas in a third tribe, only evil people become plants after they die.
Ijaws give respect their ancestors. Ancestors are revered and loved. To speak ill of them, though, is taboo.
Women braid their hair or crop it close and wear it under a head cloth. Men crop their hair short. Both men and women of all ages wear necklaces of huge coral beads on formal occasions. Beads are also made of ivory, but only the rich wear these.
The day to day wears of the Ijaw man is a shirt and trouser made of a wax material. While the ceremonial dress of the Bayelsa man is a big long-sleeved shirt worn over a long piece of wrapper tied from the waist down to the ankle and most times thrown over the shoulder.
A blouse is worn over a wrap tied from the waist to just below the knee for young girls and unmarried women, while married women wear a wrap from waist to ankle and the blouse worn on top with a wrap tied over it from waist to knee. The ceremonial dress for women is the same pattern, but with higher quality fabric and worn with a head tie and beads. Women of royal blood may wear the two wraps without the blouse, as can maidens during wedding ceremonies.