History of the Itsekiri

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  • Topic: Nigeria, Benin, Yoruba people
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  • Published : May 24, 2013
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HISTORY OF ITSEKIRI, WARRI LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA, DELTA STATE The Itsekiris are a peculiar and unique people in the Nigerian Niger Delta. They have inhabited their homeland, which now constitutes the Warri Local Government Areas of Delta State, Nigeria, for centuries. The Itsekiris have rich traditional and cultural practices. In the 15th century, the early Itsekiris adopted a prince (Ginuwa) from the kingdom of Benin as a monarch, and quickly united into a kingdom under his rule. Prior to this time, the Itsekiris lived independently in different communities that included Irigbo, Ureju, Omadino and Ugborodo. Traditionally fishermen and traders, the Itsekiris were the first in the region to make contact with the Portuguese traders. These interactions in the 16th century led to the Itsekiris becoming primarily Roman Catholic. The Itsekiris primarily lived in a society that was governed by a monarch (the Olu) and council of chiefs who form the nobility or aristocracy. The current is Ogiame Atuwase II, who was crowned at an impressive ceremony in 1987. Itsekiri itself was organised along the lines of an upper class made up of the royal family and aristocracy. Various Perspectives on the History of Itsekiri.

There are various perspectives on the history of Itsekiri. One version says that they descended from the most easterly of the Yoruba Kings’ subjects, made up of runaway slaves, law breakers, etc. Inter-married with adjoining tribes; they sometimes say Jekri means a coward, a man who would not fight and therefore who was expelled from their tribe…’’.Another perspective is that when the Portuguese came to Benin City, one of the leaders’ sons, a half-caste, was sent to Warri, or as the people themselves name the town, Jekri, and there a house was built for him. By means of the Juju of the King of Benin, he was declared King of that part of delta; he brought Yoruba wives with him and was the founder of the Itsekiri nation. A third perspective is like a mixture of the first two because it says that the half-caste found at the delta, Yoruba runaways of whom he constituted himself Chief and from these Yorubas, the Jekri descended. From the aforesaid, it can be seen that the impression of the people who were piecing up antecedents in Itsekiri history that culminated into the Warri kingdom were mere speculators. The basic reasoning adduced by the Itsekiri people in disregarding these speculators by Granville and Roth who were closely associated with the administration of the territory after it came under the British protection in 1895 was that the word ‘Jekri’ does not mean a coward, or a man who would not fight… Also, the Itsekiri people would not buy the contention that the origin of their descent is traced to a Benin monarch’s son, a half caste, who reigned in the 17th century. This, they claimed, is a misrepresentation of facts as the kingdom had already been founded before his reign. The reference to a half-caste king (as we shall unveil later) referred to an Itsekiri King, Dom Antonio Domingo (Olu Oyenakpagha or Obanighenren) whose mother was a Portuguese woman of a noble birth. Thus, if this contention is allowed to gain ground, it therefore means that the Itsekiri people would have been a race of the mulatto colour. However, this is not to say that this colour is not uncommon in the kingdom. The last statement by Graville and Roth: “… for it said that the half-caste found at the delta, Yoruba runaways of whom he constituted himself Chief and from these Yorubas, the Jekri are descended,” seemed to be in line with the Itsekiri views, save that the Benin leader was not a half-caste but a Benin Prince, who constituted himself king over the aboriginal inhabitants. THE ITSEKIRI AWANKERE (OKERE JUJU) FESTIVAL

Around Nigeria, every village celebrates some kind of traditional festival. These festivals bring families together, and they are usually full of singing, dancing and rejoicing. Many of these festivals send praise to God,...
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