There are several versions of the origin of the Igala people according to oral traditions. The first version claimed that the first Attah was a hunter by profession who came from a group named Ado to the west of the Niger. He endeared himself to the Igala by gifts of big games. However, when a quarrel arose, he drove out the Attah Igala and took over the kingship.
The second tradition had it that the Akpoto were subjects to the Attah. In addition, the Attah of Igala and the Etsu Nupe and Aboh came from Ado.
The third version indicated that the Igala descended from Apa. They fled from the Jukun in a canoe through the Benue River in about 1490A.D. under their leaders, Idoko. It was Idoko’s son, Ayegba who joined forces with the head of Akpoto Omeppa to defeat the Jukun near Idah after sacrificing his daughter Inikpi. Ayegba Idoko who emerged as the first Attah of Igala ruled Igala Kingdom from Idah, while his elder brother Atiyela migrated eastwards to establish Ankpa Kingdom. However, Idah has continued to serve as the traditional headquarters of Igalaland.
FACTORS THAT LED TO THE RISE OF IGALA KINGDOM
The traditional Igala society is largely agrarian, although fishing is also a mainstay of the people’s economy especially in the riverside area. They were believed to be closely related to the following ethnic groups: Itsekiri, Benin, Yoruba and Nupe through their culture and language.
Factors that led to the rise of the Igala Kingdom included: the Attah institution, the agrarian economy of the people, the introduction of Islam and inter-group relations in the area.
- The Attah Institution: The institution of the Attah united the Igala people. This promoted peace and political stability in the kingdom. The Attah fought wars of expansion. The Igala Kingdom flourished at the same time with the Benin and the Oyo empires. It had become strong enough to have attracted attention of Benin Empire and threatened its existence in the 15th and 16th
- Agrarian Economy: The kingdom was located in the Niger-Benue confluence. The fertile environment supported agricultural activities and led to the growth of the kingdom.
- The Introduction of Islam: By the early 19th century, Islam was introduced to the Igala Kingdom through contacts with Muslim traders from Kanem-Borno and Hausaland. The rulers and their subjects embraced the religion of Islam. This eventually sustained the political and economic structures of Igalaland.
- Inter-group relations: Igala Kingdom interacted with other groups in the Niger-Benue area and southern part of Nigeria. Trade was a major factor in this interaction leading to the exchange of different commodities between Igala Kingdom and the neighbouring communities. The Igala shared cultural similarities with Yoruba, for example, their means of succession, royal regalia and languages are related in many ways.
FACTORS THAT LED TO THE FALL OF IGALA KINGDOM
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Igala seem to have turned to river piracy and the Royal Niger Company punished Idah on more than one occasion. The Igala and their neighbours were a constant source of trouble to early British administrations, even after raising the British flag at Lokoja in 1900. The factors, therefore, that led to the fall of Igala Kingdom were; slave-raiding activities, the activities of the Fulani Jihadists and the advent of European imperialist in the area.
- Slave-Raiding activities: Slave-raiding and slave trading had long been a regular part of the Igala economy and indeed, one of the major sources of revenue of the people. However, as lucrative as the trade was, it was on the other hand destructive. Such wars for slaves gradually depleted the population of Igala Kingdom. This led to the fall of the Kingdom.
- Activities of the Fulani Jihadists: By 1854, the Fulani had become a really serious threat to the Igala. They had raided all the way down to the Delta along the west bank of the Niger, burning and pillaging towns and taking large numbers of slaves. North of the Benue, the situation was even worse in 1853, Panda was destroyed and the emirate of Nasarawa was founded. The districts along the Benue River became flooded with refugees.
- The advent of European Imperialist in Igala Kingdom: The earliest European explorers and travelers found the king of Idah in control of the whole east bank of the Niger from Adamugu, at the edge of Igbo country, to above Koton Karifi. The two Ebira Kingdoms of Koton Karifi and Funda (Panda) were tributary to the King of Idah. In 1904, and thirty years (30 years) after, a garrison of troops was stationed at Ankpa in eastern provinces through Igala in such a way as to cut Idah off from northern Igala. This gradually led to the fall of Igala Kingdom.