Today, we are shining the spotlight on the Ijaws (also known as the Ijo or Ïzon). This group of people are popular across Nigeria for their beautiful culture, food and attire but here are a few facts you probably didn’t know about them:
Interestingly, it is believed that the Ijaws’ ancestors were spiritual beings who fell from the sky. Others trace their roots to a group of nomads who migrated from the Nupe and Borgu regions in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, then the Western town of Ile-Ife region and eventually the Bini Kingdom. Their final move was an expedition into the Niger Delta forest where they finally settled down to form communities. This area later emerged to become modern-day Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa states.
This is highly debatable but some consider the group to be the 4th largest ethnic group in the country with its population size of almost 15 million people (and counting). Indigenes belong to approximately 50 subdivisions such as Akassa, Bonny, Kalabari, Nemba and Okrika.
Ijaws speak 9 Niger-Congo languages originating from the Ijoid branch of the Niger-Congo tree. Approximately 1 million people speak Izon which belongs to the Eastern Ijo division of the language. The second most prominent sub-language, Kalabari belongs to the Western Ijo division and is the mother tongue of 500,000 speakers.
Their affinity to the Niger Delta and its rivers has led to fishing and farming as primary means of livelihood for the local people. Notably, the Ijaws also worked as middlemen between the European settlers and the region’s natives during the colonial slave trade era. They eventually became merchant shipping staff in the years prior to Nigeria’s independence.
In modern times, Ijaws are primarily Christians but some indigenes still practice the ancient worship of water spirits called Owuamapu. These beings are usually prayed to and celebrated during week-long festivals. The people also engage in ancestral divination where the dead are contacted and asked about their cause of death.
Like many ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Ijaws have many local foods that are not widespread in Nigeria. Some of them are:
1. Polofiyai: A very rich soup made with yams and palm oil.
2. Kekefiyai: A pottage made with chopped unripened (green) plantains, fish, beef and palm oil
4. Fried or roasted fish and plantain: Fish fried in palm oil and served with fried plantains.
4. Gbe: The grub of the raffia-palm tree beetle that is eaten raw, dried, fried in groundnut oil or pickled in palm oil.
5. Kalabari “sea-harvest” fulo: A rich mixed seafood soup or stew that is eaten with fufu, rice or yam.
The Ijaws boast of some of the best minds the country has. Some of their most important personalities are:
1. Goodluck Jonathan (President of Nigeria)
2. Ben Murray Bruce (Founder/President of Silverbird Group)
3. Agbani Darego (Miss World 2001, first black African to win the title)
4. John Pepper Clark (renowned Poet and Playwright)
5. Asu Ekiye (famous Nigerian gospel musician)