The History of Igalaland

His Royal Majesty Idakwo Ameh Oboni II, Attah-Igala of Igala Kingdom

Geographical Location: 


Igala is the language spoken by the people located within the triangle formed by the confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue in Kogi State of Nigeria. 'The Igala people are found east of the confluence of these rivers. The land is bounded on the west by River Niger, on the east by Enugu State, the south by Anambra State, on the north Benue/Nassarawa States. It is 120 kilometers wide and 160 kilometers long. It is located approximately between latitudes 6°30' and 8° north and longitudes 6°30' and 7°40' East and covers an area of about 13,665 square kilometers. The population of the Igala people is estimated at two million in the late 1990s.


The people are evenly distributed all over the land but with ldah, Anyigba and Ankpa more densely populated. The Igala are also sparsely found in Edo, Delta, Anambra and Enugu States. But the huge bulk of the people are in Idah, Ankpa, Dekina, Omala, Olamaboro, Ofu, Igalamela/Odolu, lbaji, Bassa (and even Lokoja and Ajaokuta) Local Government Areas of Kogi State. The boundary of the land was far larger than it is in our time. The traditional limits of the land included: 'The greater part of ldomaland, Nsukka area, Kogi, Anambra area (North of Onitsba)... The Atta of Igala formerly exercised suzerainty over them.  The Igala are unmistakably the major language group in Kogi State of Nigeria today.


Igalaland could be said to be a sort of terminus.  It is located strategically at the natural crossroads in Nigeria.  Owing to this reason, it has been influenced both positively and negatively by trends of events as it is pulled in different directions. By and large, it has enjoyed some degree of encounter with the Yoruba, Edo (Benin), Jukun, Idoma, Nupe, Igbo, Hausa, Igbirra, Bassa-kwomo, and Bassa-nge. This experience naturally left certain imprints on the tradition or culture of the Igala people. To some extent, its central positioning may account for the land being considered a cultural melting pot. Yet, it might not be quite true to conclude that Igala is totally a conglomeration of other ethnic groups.  Igala existed as an entity on its own before the other cultures were assimilated into its mainstream


Vegetation, cultural endowment and communications:


            The Igalas have an unusually and richly endowed environment. They are within the"middle-belt" of Nigeria which has an advantage of the climate of the drier Savannah vegetation to the north and the wet forest regions to the south.


            The area lies within the warm humid climatic zone of Nigeria. There is a distinctive wet-dry season dichotomy. The wet season lasts from about April to the end of September or early October while the dry season lasts from about October to about the end of March or early April. Rainfall can be heavy and the effects of the harmattan can be severe, especially from about November.          

 The area has an average rainfall of about 50” a year.  The lowland riverine areas are flooded seasonally, making it possible for the growing of paddy rice and controlled fish farming in ponds that are owned on an individual or clan basis.  The lbaji area is the major place washed by flood. This makes the area very fertile soil more than other places in the land: "The receding floods leave behind a large quantity of fish in ponds and lakes. This fact plays an important role in the economic and social lives of the people,"


Simply put, the vegetation is mainly deciduous, with the major rivers (Benue and Niger), a few minor ones such as Okula, Ofu, Imabolo, Ubele, Adale, Ogbagana, and many streams in the land. Hence, is Igalaland popularly known as a blessed fishing and arable region. 


            The most common economic trees are palm trees (ekpe), locust beans (okpehie).mahogany (ago), iroko (uloko), whitewood (uwewe) and raffia palms (ugala). Common plantations are of okra (oro..-aikpele), cashew (agala), banana (ogede). Some of the economic trees mentioned here provide timber for the people and for sale. In the forest regions were also found certain wild animals, such lions (idu), hyenas (olinya), leopards (omolalna or eje), elephants (adagba), bush-pigs (ehi), chimpanzee (ukabu). etc.


This favorable vegetation makes farming and hunting highly profitable. Thus. 90% of the population. practice farming.  Both forest and savannah crops thrive on Igala soil very well. Thus, the main forest crops produced are yams, cassava, maize, melon, and groundnut.  And they produce such savannah cereals as guinea corn. beans. millet and benniseed.  However, due to the shifting cultivation being practiced, bush burning and felling of trees, a good proportion of the forest is being gradually destroyed and wild animals are fast becoming extinct.


            Igalaland is blessed with rich natural resources.  In the south are swamps where crude oil prospected some years ago. It is generally believed that oil was discovered at Alade and Odolu. IS The Okabba (Adagio) coalmine is close to Ankpa in the north.  The country has benefitted from the coalmine since 1967.


There are many roads in the area. The main ones are Anyigba-ldah, Anyigba-Ankpa,Anyigba-Shintaku. Those of Anyigba-Ajaokuta, Ankpa-Otukpo, Otukpa, Ankpa-Ogobia. Idah•Nsukka and Ejule-Otukpa link the land with neighboring states. Good waterways are possible between Idah-Agenebode-Onitsha and the Shintaku-Lokoja axis of River Niger. These waterways have served as veritable means of transport in the recent past. It encouraged social and economic interactions.


Today, Igala land does not possess any airport. However, air travelers make use of Ajaokuta Steel Company's airstrip. The Itobe-Ajaokuta Bridge constructed about two decades ago on the River Niger has also turned out to be of tremendous benefit as it has enhanced intra and inter-state links and commercial transactions. 

The Rulership


            The "Atta" is the traditional paramount king of the Igala kingdom. "Atta", as the name implies is the father or custodian of the entire Igala people's culture.  Tradition holds that "The Atta of Igala


(the king) was a priest-king.  He was in charge of the major Igala sacred objects, shrines and festivals.  His provincial chiefs (Am 'Onu) were also in charge of the various shrines, sacred objects, and festivals in their own areas •of authority.  Atta and his chiefs (Am 'Onu) therefore, play very active roles in the traditional religion.


Idah, the cultural center or headquarter of the Kingdom is where the Attah resides. From there he cares for the entire kingdom.  He also delegates certain powers to other chiefs, as it is also their responsibility in some cases to exercise power of adjudication in matters of dispute among their immediate subjects.  Attaship is hereditary and it is ascended to by those who belong to the royal lineage. It is by a rotating system of succession in which three other lineages hold the royal office in turn before the cycle is complete and a son succeeds his father.


The Social-Cultural Life


            Dialectical differences are noticeable, yet the people are not divided.  According to Okwoli, ''the Idah dialect, central dialect, the Dekina dialect 'With Bassa-Igbirra influence, the Ankpa dialect with Idoma influence and trans-Niger Anambra dialect (in Odolu and Ibaji) with Ibo influence".  With the coming of British colonial masters and missionaries, the English Language has spread to every nook and cranny of the land, even if it were at some level pidgin English. The villages in the land are a conglomeration of houses whose first settlers founded as a result of good farmland, rich fishponds, favorable hunting expeditions.  In these villages, settlements are sometimes lineal.  But in most eases people live according to clans thereby giving way to the circular style. In certain cases, land disputes, incessant illness, death of children. war, epidemics, natural disasters, marriage, ostracization or barnishment could occasion relocation. The buildings were traditionally mudding walls with thatched roofs (unyi~egbe) but owing to developments, such locally constructed houses have given way to solid cement walls, rectangular in shape with corrugated roofing sheets to match.


The major commercial nerve centers in Iga1aland are Anyigba, Idah, Ankpa, Ejule, Ajakaand Afo-gamgam.  Idah, Anyigba, and Ankpa also form the nodal centers or focal points in the land. It was, Idah remains till today the traditional seat of culture of the Igala people. Yet Anyigba is considered as a cultural meeting point. owing to the centrality of its location.  Anyigbahas also remained the venue for the "Italo" 7 which was introduced by the colonial administrators in about A.D 1942.


The Origin and Development

The actual origin of the Igala people is not quite known. Different people present many versions of legends of immigration There are claims, for instance, that the Igala people came from the Jukun (Kwarara/a), some say Benin, others Yoruba. Yet, others feel they migrated from Mecca (Southern Yemen) or Mali.


In the past, the reigning Atta, His Royal Majesty. Agabaidu (Dr.) Aliyu O. Obaje, had. for instance, explained: "the !gala came from Southern Yemen, passed through Ethiopia (where there is an ethnic group called the Gala) and through the (medieval times} Empire of Mali, to Jukun land; then finally, to our present location."  In another instance, the Atta said that the Igala "came from the Arab country of Yemen and were in present Nigeria at the same time as the founding fathers of the Yorubas, the Jukuns and the Beriberis or Kanuris Bornu.  He also maintains that the earlier migration into Igalaland was at "about the 12th century A.D.... led by Amina, a Zaria princess, and warrior. who fought her way to Idah ... with Hausa and Nupe followers.


            Certain traditions even hold that the Igala is of Fulani origin, simply because of the similarities in their physical features.  It IS clear that Fulanis do not speak a Kwa language. And owing to the linguistic affinity, others affirm the Yoruba connections. For Byng Halt notes that "It is not surprising that within a short period of arrival in Igala land, a Yoruba is well acquainted with the language.”  He attributes the ease in learning the language to the closeness of the two languages. Armstrong sticks to this same view when he said: "the most definite historical statement that can be made about Igala is that. they had a common origin with the Yoruba and that the separation took place long enough ago to allow for their fairly considerable linguistic differences. There is a whole corpus of oral traditions on the origin of the Igala people.


            While this study did not engage .in any detailed criticism of the diverse opinions on the Igala origins. it gave a thorough look: at certain .inescapable facts, These intricate issues were pinpointed in order to allow us to take a solid stand.


            The view that Princess Amina of Zaria led the very first migration into Igalaland in the12th century does not hold water. This is because Queen Amina was a 14th C figure and history has it that the Igala people were already settled in this area and were relating socio-culturally with the Igbos right from the, 7th and  9th century A.D. Moreover, the obvious absence of a legend relating to this princess and warrior .in Igalaland is a clear indication that it might not be true after all that she actually reached Igala land.  Stories on Igala Benin war and Igala-Jukun war, for instance. are very popular. The near-dead silence on an Amina war leaves room for great doubts. Niven argues against the presupposition that she died at 'Atagara' (that is ldah) when he said: "she died at Atagara, probably a place iii the Gongola valley then under Kwararafa, not Idah. which is now known as Atagara.'


The linking of the Igala with Yemen In Arabia is another highly speculative opinion. This story was probably a device of the Muslims to Islamise Igala people. The people of Igala had long settled before the Galas entered Ethiopia. because tradition has it that it was only in the centuryA.D, that the Gala migration to Ethiopia took place. In addition, it is quite improbable that the Semite Galas would metamorphose into Negroes of the contemporary Igalaland overnight.  The similarity in name is thereby merely coincidental.


The Mali connection remains baseless too because the similarities between the words "Mela"(nine of them) of Igala-Mela (the nine Igala kingmakers) is in no way attributable to “9” as originating from Mali. To the Igala mind, "nine" simply symbolizes perfectness.


Likewise, the supposition that the Igalas came out of the Fulanis, carries no weight, since "no tradition in Igala supports it.  History attests to the fact that the Fulanis were still in the region of Senegal by the time the Igala was already having a "centralized state system ... in the 12"century.


            That the Igala have a traditional link with the Benin kingdom is indubitable. There abound theories for instance, that support a Benin origin of Igala kingship.  However, there was already in existence indigenous Igala people with their kingship systems before the arrival of the Benin kings. But it must be understood that at some stage of Igala history, the Benin people wielded some power of influence over them. The difference in their system of government alone is enough reason to prove that it is never true to say the entire Igala originated from Benin.


            The tradition, which holds that the Igala has the same origin as the Yoruba seems to be a plausible one. This humble submission is based on the fact that the Igala language has a lot in common with the Yoruba. Okwoli supports this view when he said: "When people speak the same language. or related languages, there is every reason to believe that they have a common origin or have met somewhere.


The Jukun link with the Igala is another very strong tradition that immediately calls for serious attention. Stories about the Jukun origin of Igala kingship, for instance, cannot be waved aside. That there were certain Jukun immigrants who came among the Igalas at some stage of the development of the Igala kingdom is quite evident It is even a common knowledge that the present ruling dynasty is Jukun.


Ultimately, therefore, there is no single account of the origin of the Iga1a people, which is unassailable, however, one may agree with Boston that the different tradition "probably corresponds to different phases of history in which the Yoruba link may be the most ancient, followed by the Benin connection, and most recently. some form of Jukun suzerainty'.  In order not to continue swimming in this shark-infested waters of legends and traditions, we concluded that the Igala kingdom originated from within their immediate vicinity, namely. West Africa. As a matter of fact, before the advent of the colonial masters, about seven very prominent black. kingdoms were noticeable in the forest belt, thus, Ashanti, Dahomey. ]fe, Oyo, Bini, Igala and Jukun(Apa) kingdoms.


The Atta's scope of influence


With Atta Ayegba Om'Idoko, the kingdom was zoned in the 17th century A.D. into smaller units in order to decentralize authority. Then in 1905, the British created the districts. These districts comprised Ankpa, Dekina, Egwume., Ejema, Imane. Iga, Ika, Ogwugwu, Ojokwu. Atabaka (Okpo), Biraidu (Abocho), Ife (Abejukolo). Odu, Iyale, Emekwutu, Okenyi, Ojokiti, As these districts were formed and "trustworthy relatives and followers" were sent to rule, these were given the 'traditional titles of "Onu" (the principal person or chief).


                Some Igala tradition holds that an Atta gave the Nupes a Kingdom, He bestowed the rule of Nupe country to Edegi (Tsoede), one of the sons he had from a Nupe mother. He gave riches of various types to him and gave him different insignia of kingship: a bronze Canoe, twelve Nupe slaves. the bronze Okakachi (Trumpet) which are still being used by Northern Nigerian ~.state drums hung with brass belts and heavy iron chains and fetters which were endowed with strong magic power …, Tsoede or Edegi then became the ruler of the Nupe people and took the title of Etsu (King) and the Nupe kingdom became an ally to Igala,.


(Curled from the book written by Rev. Fr. Fidelis Egbunu which discusses Christians taking chieftaincy titles in Igala land)


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