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Ethnic Groups in Nigeria: The Bassa People

Bassa is a Local Government Area in Kogi State, Nigeria. Its northern border is the Benue River and its western border is the Niger River. Its headquarters are in the town of Oguma.

Bassa Local Government has three major ethnic groups. The Bassa-Komo, Bassa-Nge and Egbira Koto . The Bassa-Komo has the highest population followed by Bassa-Nge and Egbira koto. The traditional title holder of The Bassa-Komo is the “Aguma of Bassa” who is a First class chief, The “Etsu of Bassa-Nge” also a First class chief and the “Ohiorgba of Mozum” is the traditional chief of the Egbira koto people and is a 3rd class chief.

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Bassa-Nge History

The Bassa-Nge people can be traced historically to the Nupe ethnic group. Historically, the Bassa-Nge people were formerly one with the Nupe. They spoke the same language, share the same culture. During the Great Fulani Jihad by Usman Dan Fodio, while most of them accepted the Islamic faith, the rest of them, fled to the Middle Belt, towards South-West Nigeria to the present Kwara State Ilorin where they settled. Following the war and conquest of the region, most of them accepted Islam while the remaining people fled across the Confluence river of Lokoja. Reaching the land across the great river, the elders said “babo sa umo ge” which when transliterated to Nupe language means “here is good and it is fine”. It was later shortened to ‘bassa-nge’ which presently stands as the name of their variety of the Nupe language.

Historical records indicate that the further movement of the Bassa Nge people was brought about as a result of the persistent Massaba raids, popularly referred to as “Eku Anupe” (literally, “Nupe Wars”) of the early 1840s, which was occasioned by the inability of the fleeing migrants to pay tributes to Bida, the current capital of the ancient Nupe Kingdom. Massaba, Emir of Bida, marched down with an invading army and encamped on the site of the present-day city of Lokoja from where the Nupe migrants (Bassa Nge people) abandoned the territory for another settlement on the eastern bank of the River Niger, their present abode, Bassa-Nge land.

​The present abode of the now called Bassa-Nge District was said to have been discovered by a famous hunter called Eshida. While the Nupe migrants (Bassa-Nge people) were living at Mount Patti in present-day Lokoja, this hunter, Eshida, used to cross the River Niger to hunt for game in the forests on the river banks. Through this, he discovered the land and decided to settle there, by the rocks called Takun-Kporo (Eriwota Rock) – the weathered sculptured phenomenon that has left three rocks delicately balanced on top of each other a spot still marked by Eshida’s grave and decorated with his hunting trophies.

​Having created a living home around the Eriwota Rock, Eshida then persuaded all the people (kpata zazi) to cross-over and join him in his new-found land, which he named Kpata, meaning “all the people.” The people indeed heeded Eshida’s call and agreed to cross over to settle in one city, Kpata. Eshida’s aim was to implore “all the people” (kpata zazi) to come and settle at a place he considered to be “a nice place” (baboge/baage or babossa).

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By a historical coincidence, the Bassa Komu migrants and Nupe migrants (namely, Bassa-Nge) had almost simultaneously migrated and settled in the same geographical area called Bassa Province. The Bassa Komu crossed at the confluence of the Rivers Niger and Benue in the 1840s, whereas the Bassa Nge crossed the River Niger in the 1850s. These migrational movements brought the people now called Bassa Nge and Bassa Komu close together in the same geographical area; otherwise, the two groups of people have nothing in common in their origin, culture or history. While the Bassa-Nge people are a Nupe-speaking people from Gbara in Nupe Kingdom, the Bassa Komu are a Bassa tribe from Gumna in Zozo Kingdoms of Fulani Bororo. Linguistically, Bassa Komu belongs to the Benue-Congo branch while Bassa Nge, being Nupe-speaking, belong to the Kwa branch of Nigeria-Congo languages.

Unfortunately, with the coincidence of these two distinct ethnic groups inhabiting the same geographical Bassa Province, the name, Bassa, invariably became erroneously applicable to both of them. This somehow accounts for the white colonial officials’ lumping together of otherwise separate communities with a common name, Bassa. The colonialists had indeed taken the community (Bassa Nge) to be the same with the Bassa Komu and they were so commonly referred to as Bassa – a case of mistaken identity! However, even with the imposition of a common identity with the generic term, Bassa, the colonialists were conscious of the differences between the two ethnic groups. Therefore, they designated each of them with a linguistic suffix, “Nge” and “Komu,” to denote “Bassa-Nge” and “Bassa-Komu,” respectively.

The traditional title holder of the Bassa Nge is the Etsu Bassa Nge. The Etsu of Bassa Nge has his royal throne dominant in Gboloko. Gboloko is the kingdom headquarter of the Bassa-Nge Kingdom.




Featured Image Source: @anlelechannel – Instagram

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Jeremiah Aluwong

Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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