These people were the aborigines, and are known as the Oma ale (the sons of the soil). According to most Yoruba, their people migrated through many places when they were coming from the south of Egypt. They stopped at different areas before they reached the present Yoruba land. Although the Yoruba know the Isekiri came in the series or waves of migrations, they tend to see the Isekiri as part and parcel of them and do not want to list Isekiri as a separate migrant in the same migration trend. Abiola says, concerning this Egyptian migration:
"There were some who left with Yoruba, but who did not get to Ile-Ife. Some now form part of the eastern province of the republic of Sudan. They are known as the Benjas and the Adandawas of Eritrea and Ethiopia. They have the same figures as the Yoruba of Nigeria. Others are the Sheyias (also in the Sudan). They, like the Yoruba, carry tribal marks. In the Chad republic there is also another called the Wadai, who claimed the same historical background as the Yoruba. There are the Bagarinus and the Kanuris of Bornu who said that their ancestors came from the same place as those of the Yoruba."(E. O. Abiola 1974:33).
Isekiri are not mentioned in this story, because he was only a person out of the thousands in the migration trend. The Igala also believe that they are in the same migration with the Yoruba. In fact, some Igalas are claiming that the original Ife is located somewhere in Igala land (a place of rest for Oduduwa). The Ebus and the Olukumis have also claimed to be in the same migration trend with the Isekiri. To augment the account of Abiola and many other writers like Conton (1960:71), Aderibigbe (1976), Taraqh Sawandi (2000) Atigbiofor (1970), from the Irigbo quarters of Ode-Isekiri, and O. N. Rewane, are of the view that when the ancestors of Yoruba and kindred peoples were coming from the south of Egypt, they stopped in many places. According to Atigbiofor, most of the water traditions of the Egyptians were left in Isekiriland, which the Isekiri Egyptians saw akin to their original land.
In addition to the Egyptian migration, some of the people that reached Ile-Ife still returned to the Warri area. The Ilajes claim to be the original owners – aborigines (omale) in Ife before the Oduduwa era. That was the time when Obatala clan was ruling in Ife. During the period of Oduduwa, some of the aborigines (Ugbo) people were warring with the new entrants represented by the monarchical system. (Maurice Omojuwa, 2004). The Oduduwa descendants prevailed. According to Okanlawon Dada, an Oba in the Ilode area of Ife, Ajishegiri, together with others, left Ife as a result of defeat by the Oduduwa group. So, Ajishegiri together with his brothers left and they came to Ijebu waterside. There was another migration by the same group of ancestors that took a plunge into the seas and reached the present Ilaje and Isekiri areas.
It should be noted that these people reached Ugborodo, Ureju, Omadino, etc. These people also met people who were either fully aborigines or migrants from Egypt. These aborigines spoke Yoruboid languages. The Ugborodo people confirmed that they met Ogheye on ground. The Urejus talk about the whole place being called Eri before the arrival of their ancestors from Ode in Ijebu-waterside, where they lived side by side with the Ilajes and the people of Ijebu waterside. Some words (Osa, Adumu, Aghosa, Ipi, Hori and so on) represent words used by Isekiri in Egypt before 3400BC. Is this why the Awujale maintained that the Isekiri have retained the oldest Yoruba dialect? (2004)
So far as we have seen from the oral traditions, scanty as they may seem, traces of aboriginal group existed in Warri area before Ginuwa. Some ancient cultural practices link the Ijebu waterside people with Ilajes and Isekiri. Olero is still a deity in Isekiri and among the Ilajes. He moved between the present Ilaje and Isekiri area, and had a settlement at the River Ramos area around Amatu (Ale Odeaja) (Apostle Tade Ohun-Ayo: September 20th 1998) now in the northern fringes of Bayelsa state .Can this be some of the reasons why the Isekiri treaty of 1884 cover up to the River Ramos area in the Northern fringes of Bayelsa? Is this why Pereira claimed that the Ijaws never extended to river Forcados by 1505? Is this why Tsanomi leased his ancestral land to the Ijaws around the area by 1860s? We can never know until we plug in the pre-Ginuwa period in Isekiri history.
Alagoa, a Niger Delta doyen of history, maintained that Isekiri brought the deity, Ogidagan (Agidigan), to them by 1460; and it was the Irigbo elements that did that. After 1480? Alagoa also says that the Isekiri brought other deities to Ijo land – Oromabiri, Kalabari, Soku, Orusengana, Oloibiri, Gulagha etc. – in deep antiquity. All these deities are water divinities. The pockets of Isekiri migrants to Ijaw land never took the type of Bini monarchical system to Ijaw land - mostly among the Bayelsa and Rivers Ijaws. Instead, what they did was to usher in a system of priesthood with high monarchical power as was in existence in the days of the Olirigbos as high priests, with semi monarchical powers. According to Alagoa, the Isekiri power ruled Nembe for more than a hundred years from 1460 until the Ijaws overthrew them. The Isekiri also established deities in Ogula (the Olukumieyin deity). Isekiri songs are still used among the Kalabari Ijaws - in Soku and Orusengana area. Alagoa refers to the Isekiri as "religious innovators in several of these places" (1977).
So, it is clear from the oral tradition of the Isekiri, Ilaje, Ijebu, Ife, Ijaw, etc, that the Isekiri had been in existence before the Ginuwa period, and that their original home was more extensive - reaching the Sapele and river Ramos area in those days (Olotu-Ijala of Warri 2007). Some of the ancient Isekiri towns include Efurukpo, Gbolokposo, Okotomu and Irigbo in Ode-Isekiri area; Ureju, Omadinor, Ugborodo and Inorin.
The Ifa of Ile-Ife
Some words believed to be ancient – Osa, Ore, Arigbegbonron, oshe esan; oghori esan etc – are still used in the Ifa oracular traditions of Ife. This shows the antique nature of Isekiri. Oba Oladatun Okanlawon Dada is of the view that these words, now currently in use in Warri, are the old forms of Yoruba. He added that
The Ifa/Orunmila divining machine is the spirit behind the existence of the Yoruba race. Since the spirit is non-destructible, the language it uses has remained unchanged, even as other Yoruba words are fast changing. In modern Yoruba ˜arigbegboron' is ˜afi egba se oun kan'. The older form arigbegboron was in use before the Oduduwan revolution."(Obatala of Ilode,Ile-ife kingdom: the Ifa/Orunmila art exhibition 2005 :July 27 : 08038481022 )
Many authorities have commented on the existence of Isekiri before the acclaimed 1480 date. Ikime, Alagoa, Conton and Nwambara, among others, give striking evidences of the Isekiri nation before this date. Alagoa states that:
Pereira's records suggest that those Ijo group now living west of the Forcados and east of Bonny had not yet arrived at their present territory by 1500. Arogbo was first mentioned in 1644(Alagoa. 1977: 338)
From records it is evident that the Isekiri economy was more developed than those of their neighbours in the period of study. In the period after Ginuwa, Alagoa contends that Warri was more developed than the entire Ijaw kingdoms east and west of it. He also mentioned that none of the Urhobo clans was as developed as Isekiri kingdom of Warri (Alagoa: 1989:72; Ikime, 1980: 96). Buttressing this, Obaro Ikime says of the slave trade:
The Isekiri also sold a little oil, some ivory, pepper and some kind of cloth. All told, the picture of the Isekiri economy which emerges is a fairly complex one and it seems reasonable to accept it was this comparative complexity of the economy which demanded a political organization which produced the kingdom" Obaro Ikime (1980: 104.)
The superiority of the Isekiri economy vis-Ã -vis that of their neighbours produced the kingdom in the first place. Since the Portuguese visited the Isekiri area before the establishment of the kingdom, 1472, to be precise, the pre-existing Isekiri society's trade and civilization led to both Ginuwa and the European merchants being attracted to the region, and the Portuguese desire to trade and do business with the Isekiri. Ruy De Sequeira made his voyage to this part of the coast by 1472. (Ryder A.F.C 1969: 24). By 1479, in the Escravos area, the Portuguese have acquired ten slaves, which they sold at Elmina area of Ghana. (Conton: 1965:90; J.O. E Sagay: Warri Kingdom: 8; Talbot: 1965: 317).
Concerning this pre-European and pre-kingdom Isekiri economy, Ikime says:
It has been suggested that the Portuguese concentrated their missionary effort on the Isekiri when they failed to get a foothold in Benin and that the Portuguese effort contributed to the Isekiri adopting a more independent attitude towards Benin. If the Portuguese thought that it was possible to build up the Isekiri kingdom as a counterpoise to Benin, one may argue that the kingdom was already fairly well developed before the arrival of the Portuguese (Ikime: 104; also, mentioned in John Barbot: 1732.)
Other writers such as Ogbobine R.A.I, Ayomike J.O.E, Alagoa E.J, Ling Roth, Ediyekio, etal, talked on pre-existing Isekiri settlements before the Ginuwan revolution of monarchical civilisation. On Isekiri before Ginuwa, Ayomike says that. "Iginuan who had led them from Benin became the first Olu, Olu over whom? ----------- John Sagay said in a lecture at the Iwere club workshop in Benin City in 1982: "that the people who constituted the tribe called Isekiri have diverse origins". And Stride and Ifeka have this to say about them: ˜the Isekiri are probably a mixture of several people. The original inhabitants were called Umale, but they were soon absorbed by invading group from the forest'. A school of thought holds that migrants from Ode in Ijebu waterside had settled in Omadino far well ahead of the royal party from Benin ------ it is claimed that a large party from the Olukumi area in the course of trade or fishing moved through the Niger to settle in Irigbo in Okotomu quarters of Ode-Isekiri" (Ayomike J.O.S: 1988:110)
Stride and Ifeka (1975:336; Sagay John: 1982: 14) also have similar views with Ayomike on a pre-existing Isekiri civilisation. The Awujale of Ilebuland says:
We have a number of Benue. The Kanuris are our stock. They are there. The isekiris are Ijebus. They retained the old Ijebu dialect – Omatsola, Omatuase and so on..... They retained the original Ijebu dialect. (April, 17, 2004).
The Awujale, in the same article, claimed that the Ijebus descended from Middle-Eastern sources. The late Ologbotsere of Warri, chief O.N Rewane, also believed that the Isekiri, together with the bulk of the Yoruba, came from Egypt. Hear him:
Oral traditions has it also, that when the Yoruba came from the South of Egypt, they did not go straight to where they now occupy, they settled at llushi, some at Asaba area, Ebu, Ukwunzu - while some settled at Ode-Isekiri (O.N Rewane: 1987:13)."
This Ode-Isekiri group is the present- day Isekiri – no doubt.
O.N Rewane linked the Isekiri migration to other related peoples (the Yoruba, Ebu and Olukumi). If one considers the general linguistic affinities of these peoples, one will easily ascribe a historical relationship to these peoples. This is even more so, when it is considered, that apart from geographical differences, that impact on culture, the people also, have cultural similarities. This is a pointer to the fact that the peoples - Isekiri, Yoruba, Ebu, Olukumi and Igala - have in the past, a genetic relationship based on a common history. Is this common ancestry? (See the Yoruba Voice August, 2005).
Corroborating this genetic relationship as buttressed by Rewane, it is also stressed by Ayomike J.O.S that: "Another account of the Origin of the Isekiri suggests that the founders were part of a Yoruba migration which came West-wards from Igala, South of the Nupe country, breaking off from the main migration stream, going down the creeks and ultimately founding a settlement. It is believed that part of this wave of migrants also settled in Ebu in present-day Oshimili Local Government Area" (Ayomike JOS: 110-111:1988)"
Although Rewane places the point of migration at the Nile valley, Ayomike places it at the Niger-Benue confluence. One point can be deducted from these two sources: the genetic relationship amongst these groups of linguistically related peoples - the Isekiri, the Igala and the Ebu. The Niger-Benue confluence was one of the stop-ports of the migrants. Herein lies the justification of the position of Ayomike. Ling Roth claimed that by 1776, the Isekiri said that the ruling king was the 61st on the king list|. To him if that is true, the list would take us to BC 60. (Roth H Ling: 1903). This shows there were some priest-rulers in Isekiri before 1480.
P.C Lloyd also commented on the pre-Ginuwan period, but he maintained that these communities were acephalous, but not monarchical. (See PC Lloyd: The Benin kingdom with a section on the Isekiri Pg 170- 175).
Another historian, Ediyekio, while discussing the history of Krakrama, a community within the Kalabari area, posited that Isekiri existed in pre-Ginuwa times. Hear him:
However, all four versions are agreed on the fact that the ancestors of the krakrama migrated to the eastern Niger Delta from Iselema, Warri area in the western Delta. Since we already have a date of about 1200AD, for the Kalabari settlement along the new Calabar River, we can tentatively assign a date of pre-1200 AD for the settlement of Ibele and others at Ibelema." (Ediyekio 2005:256.)
If the Krakrama migrated from Iselema in pre-1200AD, then Iselema (Isekiri or Warri) must also be in existence before 1200AD! Ediyekio talked further on the Kalabari clan of Kula. He says:
Kula is also referred to as Okpoinkiri in reference to Okpoinama, the original homeland in the central Niger Delta. Another version claims that the ancestors started the migration from Iselema (Warri area) Hence the name "Suku-Iselema" in reference to the present kula"..... We may surmise from all the evidence available that the Kula settlement must have taken place before the 13th century"Ediyekio (Ibid)
Alagoa buttressed the fact of an Isekiri settlement in Pre-Ginuwa time, when he referred to a migration to the central Ijaw area by 1460, 20 years before Ginuwa left Benin. Hear him.
"Finally a number of royal refugees from the Isekiri kingdom of Warri (Iselema) arrived about 1460" (Alagoa E.J: 1972: 28)
by EYEBIRA AGHARAWU AND ORITSEWEYINMI OLOMU
Traditional game known as gbelele amongst the Itsekeri people being played by youth children. Seeds of a certain tree are used.