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Benaebi Benatare of IPA, UK 14 December, 2018

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The Ijaw people are the most populous indigenous inhabitants of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.  The Ijaws constitute ten (10) percent (19.8 million) of the national population of Nigeria and are the fourth largest ethnicity within the borders of Nigeria.

The term Ijaw is the anglicised version of Ijo or Ejo.  Other modern variations include Izon (Ijon), Ezon (Ejon) and Uzon (Ujon) meaning the same thing. Other names referring to Ijaw people are Uzo (at Benin), the original ancestral name Oru (in Ijaw and Ibo land) and Kumoni (in Ijaw). These names were applicable through the Niger Delta and environs as noted by early British visitors;

“… The early British explorers applied the curious name “ORU” to the Ijo west of Brass from the Nun entrance to Taylor creek, Dr Baikie said of them in 1854. ‘From the mouth of the river (NUN) up to this point (TAYLOR CREEK), the country on either side is named ORU. The people are of the same tribe as who inhabit the tract of country up to the Rio Formoso where however they are called EJO or OJO by which name they are known at Abo, at Brass and even Bonny, by English palm oil traders. They are often termed Jo-men. Throughout this district but one language is spoken with but little dialectical difference….Dr Bakie does not explain where he got the name Oru as the appropriate term for Ijaw. the word means “a God” in Nembe and it is clear the explorer did not get it from a Nembe source….In 1906 Major Arthur Glyn Leonard listed a number of tribes of the Delta, distinguishing an Oru as well as an Ijo tribe…”The Oru occupy the tract of country on each side of the Nun branch of the Niger and along the coastline between it and the Ramos river. Then in the triangle formed by the Nun and the Gana-Gana, also outside it, to a small extent, both eastward and westward, dwell the Ijo the most important tribe in the lower Delta, and indeed after the Ibo in the whole of Southern Nigeria…”[1]

“..About three hours from Sunday Island, we came to inhabited villages; we induced two canoes to come off, from who we learnt that the people between Brass and Aboh are called Oru…”[2]

“….July 2:…Some of the neighbouring chiefs of Oru came off, with whom we had conversation about legal trade…”[3]

“…November 3: weighed early this morning, and anchored of Agberi, the first Oru village below the Aboh district…”[4]

“…The Oru or Ijo or Udso of Koelle are identical with Brass, at the mouth of the Nun on the coast, otherwise called Hebu or Nempe by their Ibo neighbours. This language is spoken to the extent of 100 miles from the mouth of the Nun, to the boundary of Abo territory: how far inland towards Benin, on the right and towards the Ibo country on the left is yet unknown…”[5]

The original collective names for the ancestors of the Ijos were “Kumoni” and “Oru”, survivals of the ancient terms of “Khem-Anu” or “Khem-Onu”, and “Horu” of the ancient Nile valley civilisations of Khem or Kemetu (ancient Egypt) and Kush (ancient Sudan). The Kumoni-oru derived from ancient Egypt via Ife, while the Oru derived from ancient Sudan. Now the earliest ancestors of the Ijos, the “Orus” or “Tobu-Otu”, migrated from the lake Chad aquatic civilisation of Daima region (c 5000-2000 BCE). Their settlement in the delta was from the earliest of times. Unfortunately not much is known about this period, only that traditionally it is said that these early ancestors “dropped from the sky” (i.e. to say the Orus were of divine origin), and were devotees of spiritual culture that made much use of the waters (hence the mermaid and water people legends “Beni-Otu”) They were later to be joined by other ancestors “Kumoni-Orus” from about 400 CE, and 650 CE (AD), who, after settling first in the Nupe and Borgu regions, then the Ile-Ife region, moved to the Benin region via Nupe, and Ife. In the Benin region they eventually settled and launched expeditions into the Niger Delta, where they came across remote settlements of the Orus, whom they termed “ancient people”. But because they were also ultimately Oru, from the beginning they established communities as one people. The Ijos were known by the two names of Kumoni or Oru up till the time of the 19th century. European visitors noted the name Oru as a distinct term for Ijaw. Likewise the compilers of the Izon/English dictionary noted that “to speak Kumoni is to speak pure Izon language”. The term Ijo (Ijaw) or Izon evolved as the name of the whole ethnic nationality through time, even though as a personal name it derived from one ancestor who was known as Ujo, whom as we have previously mentioned, represents the time when the Ijos evolved as a distinct separate people from their neighbours.

The Formation of the Ijo ethnic nation was a gradual process. We have the period prior to 400 CE i.e. 500 BCE to 700 CE (AD), of which the proto-Ijos or “ancient people” ancestors (Tobu Otu) or Oru settled in the central delta and fused with later immigrants. Then we have the time of; 700-1200 CE (AD), where we have the ancient Kumoni-oru ancestors who came with the ancestor Ujo ultimately from Upper Egypt, migrating through Ile-Ife and other places such as Gbara in Nupe, establishing further settlements at Agadagba-bou in Igbedi creek, and the Nun river in present day Kolokuma Ijo. It was from here that the bulk of the ancient ancestors fused and founded several towns and clans and the beginnings of the Ijaw evolving as a distinct ethnic nationality.

After establishing at Igbedi creek, Ujo sent for more of his people who were at Wari-Ife/Warige and Ujama or Uzama (i.e. Ado or Beni). This was at the very beginning of the foundation of Beni, and it is this account that some traditions mention Benin as a place of origin (also a district around Nupe was also called Beni, founded by the Beni clan of Kumoni, with capital at Gbara);

“…The first place of Ujo’s encampment in his journey from Ile-Ife was the site where Benin City now stands. Then like the Yorubas all the tribes founded by members of Ujo’s retinue and by Ujo himself claimed that place (Benin City) as the place of their original settlement whence they emigrated….”[6]

“…The Origin of the Ijos. There are lots of different opinions about the origin of the Ijos. Some anthropologist say that the Ijos came from South Africa, some say from East Africa. Some say they are from a district around Nupe province in Northern Nigeria and some say that the Ijos came from Benin…. In general the Ijos themselves believe that they came from Benin and in fact most of their traditional stories and folklore refer to Benin. yet we are left to wonder the great difference in language among the Ijos and Benin. If we should assume the belief that the Ijos came from Benin according to the natives it might be that the Ijos left Benin far earlier than any other tribe migrating from Benin….”[7]

The original ancestral settlements founded by the proto-Ijos in the central delta were, Agadagba-bou (first home of Ujo in the central delta), in Igbedi Creek, Isoma-bou along the Nun river, Opuan-bou in the same area, and Orubiribua-bou, also in the same area, and Abo, with its villages, further up the Niger.

When they came and settled in the central delta, the ancestors personified by Ujo, after establishing their authority over preexisting settlements (central delta), instructed an expedition force to go and guard the mouth of the delta and other important places along the coast as stipulated by his father King Adumu. These people became the ancestors of several Izon clans. Keni Opu Ala or Keni-Ala, the holy seer (Asain) of Adumu, the Supreme Intelligence symbolized by the sacred serpent python, was the ancestor who founded Ke or Keni and its daughter towns. Kula and Bille were also founded in this way. Ogulagha and Iduwini, were founded as a result of proto ancestors settling in the western coastal delta, to guard that region. Oguru (alias Kala-Ogbo who gave his name to Warri region (Ogbo Ijo) settled in the area now known as Warri region, these ancestors were to be joined by people from Oporoma. Others such as Kuru, founded the Kru people (they seem to have been proto-Ijos), who eventually migrated to the present day Liberia region, while some ended up settling in present day Ghana region.

After many years of settlement Ujo left his headquarters in Igbedi creek in charge of the Agadagba of Egbesu (military officer), and decided to go back to Otu-Ife. He traveled with nine companions including his grandson Apoi (Opoi) the son of Kala-Okun. Without a skilled astronomer they got lost and decided to settle in a creek near the vicinity of the Nun river. It was here they founded the village of Apoi. Ujo made his permanent home with his grandson Apoi at the quarter now known as Okoto-aja. It was here that he died and was buried. Ujo who was titled Kalasuo, gave the title to his grandson Apoi, since then the rulers of Apoi clan have been titled “Kalasuo”. From the central Apoi, a section migrated to the western delta, to found Apoi Ijo of the Ondo region. Also from the central Apoi, was founded Akassa clan along the coast.

The ancient town of Ujo-Gbaran or Gbaran for short was founded by Gbaran an elder son of Ujo. Gbaran was given the scepter of Ujo on the death of his father. Later on his descendants went and founded the town of Oporo-aja (Oproza) in the western delta region of Escravos, to give birth to the Gbaranmatu and also Arogbo in Ondo area. Children of Ujo, Olodi and Oporo, went and established a common settlement, from which descendants founded Oporoma and Olodiama clans. From Olodiama in central delta, ancestors left to found Olodiama in the western delta near Benin, and also ancestors left to found Olodiamabiri and Onyomabiri and other towns, to form Nembe clan. From Agadagba-bou was also founded Ogbia (Ogbo-Oyan) clan who are the descendants of Oyan. From the same Agadagba-bou, led by Opu-Ogbo, was founded, Isoma-bou or Opuan-bou, from which ancestors later migrated to found, Ekpetiama, and Seimbiri clans.

The last to leave the ancient town of Agadagba-bou, were the ancestors of the Opukuma, Kolokuma, Tarakiri and Andoni. Opu-Okun was the ancestor of the Opukuma, while Kala-Okun was the ancestor of the Kolokuma, both were children of Ujo by the same mother. Tara a younger child of Ujo was the ancestor of the Tarakiri, while Ayama the son of Tara was the ancestor of the Andoni in eastern Ijo,. The Andoni (ruler known as the Andoni-Oru) town of Asarama was founded by Asara or Assa an ancient ancestor descendant of Ayama.. At that remote period most of the ancestors lived in Igbedi creek at Agadagba-bou and the immediate environs of the Nun river. Afterwards their descendants migrated all over the delta. Lastly Abowi, the Asain (seer) of Ujo who led the migration from Otu-Ife or Ile-Ife, journeyed up the river Niger to establish a number of villages which gave rise to Abo and Atani (ruler known as the Atani-Oru). Abo or Aboh and Atani no longer speak Izon language.

Lastly we have the 1200-1600 CE (AD) period; From these early formations and migrations sprang other clans, while at the same time ancestors joined the Ijo of the delta at the beginning of the 12th century up to the 16th century CE or AD when the old Napata kingdom collapsed at Gbara, the Adumu or Oduduwa dynasty was overthrown at Ile-Ife, the last Ogiso Kaladiran, were overthrown at Benin City, and civil strife at Benin caused people to leave. From the central delta Apoi, was founded the Apoi of the western delta area of Ondo. From Oproza town in Gbaranmatu clan was founded at the end of the 15th century, Kabo, Kumbo and Gbaran clans, which was the result of a large family migration from Oproza town about 1480. From Kumbo was founded Okparabe. From Gbaran town in central Izon, was founded Effurun and Uvwie. Efferun a descendant of Gbaran, elder son of Ujo, was the ancestor of the Effurun in upper Warri area, while Owei was the ancestor of the Uvwei. Likewise, from Gbaran was founded via Efferun, the Tuomo clan. From Oporoma was founded the Operemo clan, and some went to join the Ogbos, descendants of Kala-Ogbo to become the Ogbe-Ijo clan. From the Isedani lineage of Kolokuma, led by Opumakuba and Alagbariye (alias Kala-Beni), a migration to the eastern delta coast founded the Ibeni or Ibani clan now known as Bonny early in the 12/13th century. From the Isoma-bou area along the Nun, was founded Obiama, from which came Boma and Ogboin. Izon who lived at Benin city later joined these ancestors. From Benin City, migrated Beni-Izon people who were fleeing the local wars. They founded Obotebe, and Beni (Oyakiri) clans. The ancestor Mein, who was Beni-Izon, i.e. an Izon citizen of Benin, and his family migrated from Benin City because the reigning Oba had started to confiscate the private lands and property for his own use. Mein settled in Igbedi creek and founded the town of Ogobiri. From Ogobiri, was founded the Mein of the western delta. Perebokekalakebari shortened to Kalabari the grandson of Mein was the ancestor who founded Kalabari clan.

Basan, Furupagha and Tungbo was also founded about this time, through ancestors coming from Nupe, Oporoma, Kolokuma and Ke. Other clans include the Buseni and Okodia, who hailed from Kolokuma and Benin-Izon (Ado), Egbema from Iduwini and Operemo. Okirika or Kirikeni hailed from Isoma-bou, Andoni, and Ogboin. Others include the Ndoki, who came from Isedani of Kolokuma, but now speak Ibo, Nkoro or small Okirika, Zarama and Egbema of Imo region, Opobo (1800), who hailed from the house of Opubo of Ibani (Bonny) and Oruma, whose other name is Tugbene hailing from Oboloma. Altogether they constitute the Ijo people who stretch from the eastern shores to the western shores of the Nigerian coast.


[1] Alagoa E J (1964) The Small Brave City State, p7.

[2] Crowder S (1970 2nd Edition) Journal of an Expedition Up the Niger and Tshadda [Benue] Rivers undertaken by Macgregor Laird in 1854 – Missionary Research and Travels no.15, p10.

[3] Ibid, p13

[4] Ibid, p194

[5] Ibid, p199

[6] Owonaru S K, op cit, p118.

[7] Neiketien P B (1941) A Short History of Tarakiri Clan, p27.

Learn more about Ijaw History and culture at:

Ijaw World Studies


History, Culture, Belief and Marriage of the Ijaw People – Pulse.ng


Ijaw People: Nigeria’s Aboriginal Water People of Niger Delta