Predominantly found in the Warri South, Warri North and Warri South West local government districts of Delta State (and sparsely in Edo and Ondo states of Nigeria), The Itsekiri (also spelt and called with the following variations; Isekiri, iJekri, Itsekri, Ishekiri, or Itsekhiri) are an ethnic group of Nigeria’s Niger Delta area, Delta State. Traditionally, they refer to their land as the Kingdom of Warri or ‘Iwerre’ as its proper name –an area encompassing the three Warri local government districts; which is a key centre of Nigeria’s crude oil and natural gas production and petroleum refining. The main town Warri (a multi-ethnic metropolis) forms the industrial and commercial nucleus of the Delta State region.
Historicity and Socio-Economics of the Itsekiri people
Historically, Itsekiri are said to have migrated from Egypt to their present day location in Nigeria. The Itsekiri who have rich traditional and cultural practices are now people of complex mixture of the many different ethnicities and races and speak a language very closely related to the Yoruba language of South Western Nigeria, but which has also been significantly influenced by other languages particularly Portuguese, Edo (Benin), English. Thus having had six centuries of direct cultural exposure to Western Christianity and other African influences, contemporary Itsekiri language and culture has successfully evolved into a hybrid of the many cultures that have influenced its development. Because of their proximity to the water bodies, they are a peculiar and unique riverine people who were traditionally fishermen and skillful traders living in the Nigerian Niger delta.
Religious Inclinations and Traditional Structures of the Itsekiri People
Itsekiri believe in Supreme Being and Creator God known as Oritse. Their neighbours, the Edo call God Osalobua, the Ilaje call him Olorun and Itsekiri say Orise which is closer to Osiris in Egypt than any of the first two. It is their ancestral belief that ‘Ra’, the god of the sun in Egypt that helps the crops to mature is the wife of Umalokun in Itsekiri, the provider of sea foods. Myths and folklore claim that the ltsekiris in ancient times use Albinos (Afen) to appease the god of the sea. Later they changed it to white he-goat. Most of the effective war shrines were appeased every year with blood. Itsekiri system of governance is gerontocracy, but priests are highly revered at every occasion. They are allowed to preside over every meeting that involves discussion of the deities, because their existence is claimed to be controlled by ancestors and spiritual forces, particularly those from the seas.
Itsekiri has the following traditional classes: the Otonolu (Royals), the Omajaja (king-makers), the Ibiedo (domestic workers), the Egungun (people with shady historical origin), and the Ejoji (Strangers). It should be noted however that, royals are never made priests at any public shrine or masquerades. They are the overlord at every point. A disregard of a royal can result into something that the ancestors do not cherish. It could be mentioned by Ife oracle when the ancestors or shrines are being appeased.
Marriage amongst the Itsekiris
The Itsekiri Traditional Marriage is usually an arrangement between two families as opposed to an arrangement between two individuals; both families arrange the day the bride price or dowry will be paid. On that day the family of the bride prepares for their guests by providing drinks, food, kola-nut, dry gin, native chalk and palm wine. The bride will be dressed in a pair of georges and beads around her head and neck, with a well made-up face. The groom on the other hand is also dressed in georges and a matching long blouse on top of it. He comes on that day with his family to present a bowl of kola-nut, bottles of dry gin, soft drinks and a box of cloths for the bride. The father or any other head of that family (Groom’s family) will present the things they have brought, including 24naira for the bride price. It is then accepted and followed by prayers from both families that the marriage should bring forth good things such as peace, love, long-life, prosperity and children. Thereafter, the merriment and celebrations commence.
Traditionally, Itsekiri men wear a long sleeved shirt called a Kemeje, tie a George wrapper around their waist and wear a cap with a feather stuck to it. The women wear a blouse and also tie a George wrapper around their waist. They wear colourful head gears known as Nes (scarf) or coral beads.
Featured image source: home.itsekirichatgroup.com