The Niger Delta occupies the area enclosed by longitude 50E60 45¢ East of the Greenwich Meridian and latitude 4040¢ and 6010¢ suitable for the riverine people of the province which the Ijaw, the Itsekiri and the Aboh inhabiting what can be roughly described as the western Delta of the Niger. Other people of the province are the Isoko, the Ukwuani and the Urhobo.1 Although by compression with the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Aboh this latter group of peoples can be described as up country peoples the Niger Delta swamps to a large part of the Aboh and Isoko countries as well as to some parts of the Urhobo country. This area is Triangular with its Apek between Ndoni and Aboh, descending eastwards to the Qua Iboe River, at Eket and westwards to the Benin River with the base along the Atlantic coast between and bights of Benin, and Biafra. This geographical definition seems to agree with the view of some other writers who have explained that “East of the Benin Rives lies the delta of the Nigeria land of myriad channels, Greeks and mangrove swamp”. At the seaward faing the delta form a sand ridge high enough for villages of fisherman a salt gatherers. In the upper delta, inland beyond the salt water and mangrove swamps is a region of fresh water swamp with some highland suitable for agriculture. As historical evidence alters to conditions in the delta its self encourage trade between the seaward settlement and the agricultural area of the upper delta and it’s hinterland. By 1500 AD, one of the villages at the lower fringe of the delta was exported to have a population of 2000 people and an active commence through the system of Greeks and lagoons. Similar conditions existed further east, where the estuary of the Cross River again, provided an opportunity to exploit maritime resources and trade these products with the peoples of the hinterland. By 1500. AD, one of the villages at the lower fringe of the delta was reported to have a population of 7000 people and an active commerce through the system of Greeks and lagoons similar conditions existed further east, where the estuary of the Cross River again provided an opportunity to exploit maritime resources and trade these products with the people of the hinterland. In a study of the pre-colonial history of the area, E.J Alagon classifies a specific area of the region as the core, the western and eastern Niger Delta, the geographical basis of the classification is the grouping of the pre-colonial states that lie within the delta of the River Niger. This definition seem acceptable to those who make a distinction between the core the peripheral Niger Delta in the composition of states in present day, Nigeria, they argue that the core Niger Delta states are Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and some part of Akwa Ibom and Imo States and this excludes Edo and Cross River States. On the other land, some others contend that all the core and peripheral states belong to the Niger Delta in geopolitical teams as the South-South Zone of Nigeria comprising six of Nigeria’s thirty-six states, namely, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross – River, Delta Edo and Rivers. The region fit into the major injustice groups, described instance of their Ijaw, Yoruba,Edo, Igbo and Cross River origin. The Niger Delta province can be divided into zones namely the lower Delta which is the home of the Ijaw, the Itsekiri and the Aboh and the upper Delta inhabited by the Isoko, Urhobo and Ukwuani. The distinguishing features of the former is the dense mangrove vegetation through which meanders a network of Greeks. The latter zone falls within the evergreen forest belt dominated by the oil palm tree. This division of the province into two natural vegetation types has been an important factor in determining the relations between the people of the province, in so far as their occupational pursuits have been determined by their varying natural habitants. Thus the “lower delta dwellers were and continue to be fisherman makers of bit and earthenware, Canoe and where the situation permitted, middlemen traders the dwellers in the hinterland naturally took to agriculture and the exploitation of the oil palm tree through some engaged in fishing the exchange of the product of their various occupations they constituted an early determinant of inter-group relations. The water people had fish, crayfish and salt to offer the land people while the latter offered in return yam, plantains, pepper and the various product of the cassava plant. As from the 16th century slaves from up country also became an important commodity in the commercial transaction between the two groups. The people of the Niger Delta particularly the western Niger Delta have close historical ties. The link between the various kingdoms of the Niger Delta is strongly supported by their stories at origin and evolutions with evidence of conquest or political domination at a point in time in their history. The kingdom of Itsekiri for example was established by Iguinuwa, the son and heir apparent of Oba Ohia of Benin in 1473. The kingdom is made up of the Itsekiri, Ijaw and a number of other ethnic groups with settlement scattered along the forcados, Escarvous and the Benin Rivers. The traditional of origin holds that Iginuwa gave an advice which eventually proved disastrous to his father making the former very unpopular to the extent that the people vowed never to have him succeed his father. On realizing this, in order to avoid problems in the kingdom, the Oba decided to arrange a kingdom outside Benin for Iginuwa the then sent him with chiefs and servants to an area by the sea to establish a kingdom of his own. On arrival at the spot, he met with some Ijaw who took him and his followers by canoe to an Island where they founded that came to be known as Itsekiri kingdom. The palace of the Olu of Itsekiri and the title system were modelled after that of the Benin kingdom and the Olu like the Oba combined in himself with spiritual and secular powers and he is seen as semi-divine. Some Urhobo groups like Ughelli, Oghara and Ogro trace their origin to the Ijaw groups, Uwherun, Abraka, Oogun, Ohomu and some other claimed to have been founded by Benin immigrants. The Izon city states of Brass, Kalabari, okirika, Opobo and Brass member developed as a result of the trade with the European where they occupied a special position of middlemen. They did not develop any centralised system of administration like the Binis but spread across the riverine area. Also not a single group of the Isoko can claim to have developed on it’s own as traditions encapsulate a great deal of relations in ancient times between the various Isoko group. It is this fact of close relationship that help to defined the boundary of the Isoko speaking areas as distinct from the non-Isoko groups in the area under study. There are traditions that speak of settlements founded by brother throughout the Niger Delta including the Benin kingdom. These in the words of Obaro Ikemi may be speaking of negotiated brotherhood in the inter-groups politics of the period instead of blood brothers. In other words, each settlement may have struck out on it’s own and eventually, contacts were made with other settlement. Conflicts and even war may have ensured. Then negotiation took place and peace was agreed. In order to prevent future wars a brotherhood pact was established. The formally compositing groups agreed to become “brothers” meaning that they enter into blood covenant not to fight themselves any more so traditions developed which speak about brothers who founded various settlement or a particular clan or village groups. In conclusion “Niger Delta people had a unbroken relationship with most people in the immediate hinterland for very many centuries”. However, apart from the Binis they related to these other peoples as independent units. The relationship was invigorated as from the 15th century with the in ordinance of slave trade of much latter the palm oil trade. s ENDNOTES 1. Jacob Safed et al, The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed. Voil. 16 (New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. 2002). P. 5764. 2. Obaro Ikime “The people and kingdoms of the Delta Provinces” in Obaro Ikime (ed.) Ground work of Nigerian History, Ibadan: Heinemann, Educational Books, 1980, p. 89. 3. Ibid.4. E.J Alogua “The Niger Delta States and their Neighbours to 1800” in J.F.A. Ajayi and Michael Crower (eds.), History of West Africa, Vol. 1, London: Longman, 1976, P. 331. 5. Ibid. 6. Ikime “The people and kingdoms of the Delta Provinces” P. 89.7. Reuben Udo, “Environments and People of Nigeria: A Geographical Introduction to the History of Nigeria” in Ikemi (eds.). Groundwork of Nigeria History, P. 11. 8. Alogua “The Niger Delta States and their Neighbours to 1800”. P. 331.
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