THE ORIGIN OF THE ITSEKIRI
The Itsekiri tradition traces them to the migration of Iginua from Benin during the reign of Oba Olua. Iginua was said to have met people who inhabited the area before he and his party moved in. These people were called Umale. Besides, there were some Urhobo and Ijo elements settled in the neighbourhood. The incorporation of Ijo, Urhobo, Benin and Yoruba cultures suggests that apart for earlier groups, the Itsekiri had strong connections with the Yoruba to the West. The Itsekiri language is similar to Yoruba. The Itsekiri evolved a centralised system of government. The capital of the Itsekiri kingdom was refered to as Ode-Itsekiri with adjoining settlement similar to Benin; the most important are Escravos and Forcardos. The kingdom was ruled by the Olu (King) who was assisted by a council of Chiefs known as the Ojoye; they were seventy in number. The most significant titles among these chiefs were the Ologbosere – The Prime Minister and the lyasere – War Leader.
Uwangue was the Chief in charge of the regalia and spokesman, during official meetings. Each village was administered by the elders headed by Olare-aja, who was the oldest man in the village.
The development of centralised institutions in Itsekiri can be attributed to its response to the internal trade within the Delta region and towards the European trade in slaves.
The economy of the Itsekiri
The economy of the Itsekiri was characterised by fishing, farming and pottery. These products were exchanged with their neighbours within the Delta and outside the Delta. Very pertinent in the trade was pottery. Itsekiri pottery were keenly sought after in the Niger Delta. This trade laid the bases for European trade in agricultural products and slaves and much later, palm oil and palm produce.
The Aboh, according to Dr Ogedengbe, was founded as a result of Benin invasion into an area that is already inhabited by Igbo elements. Though the Benin were stronger and were able to ensure the political institutions operated a monarchical system of government, the lgbos were numerically stronger and were able to determine the language.
The Aboh Kingdom was ruled by a king called Obi, a title he must have derived from the Igbo. Aboh was divided into two sections. These were: the Umude section – an area inhabited by the descendants of the Edo; and the Ndiche who were non-Edo immigrants. The Obi was assisted in the administration by a council of selected men from both sides.
The two most important chiefs were the Odua and lyasere. The Odua was the oldest male of the Umude and deputised for the king when necessary, and he was also in charge of the royal court and announced the new Obi. The Obiship was open to all aspirants from the Umude. The lyasere, who was selected from the Ndiche, was the commander-in-chief of the army; his parents must come from the two sections in the society. The outlying environs were administered by the Obi and chiefs through the council of elders within them.
The Aboh Kingdom was strategically located at the apex of the Niger Delta which meant that it was able to take part in trade; it became a centre of convergence between the Akwuane and Igala as well as those along the coast like the ljo.
During the slave trade, Aboh exported a lot of slaves coming down the Niger from the hinterland communities to the ljo city-states and acted as a major distributor of European goods including firearms up the Niger. This made her very rich and powerful. Aboh therefore owed her rise to this trade as she was able to extend her territory to other Igbo towns and as far north as the Igala Kingdom.