PORTUGUESE CULTURAL IMPACT ON THE IJAWS OF THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA

PORTUGUESE CULTURAL IMPACT ON THE IJAWS OF THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA
PORTUGUESE CULTURAL IMPACT ON THE IJAWS OF THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA

PORTUGUESE CULTURAL IMPACT ON THE IJAWS OF THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA

Abstract

The main aim of this study was to examine Portuguese cultural impact on the Ijaws of the western Niger Delta. Two approaches were adopted for the study. The first was descriptive approach, while the second is the analytical approach, the use of materials collected from different sources such as libraries and internet were used.

Chapter two comprises of: a brief survey of the Ijaw ethnic group, traditions of origin, migrations and settlements and history of the Portuguese. However, chapter three comprises of the Atlantic world, the Ijaws in colonial Nigeria: the pre-independence era, Ijaws’ participation in the Atlantic slave trade and the Ijaw in the Age of Legitimate Commerce.

In chapter four the researcher takes a critical look on the Portuguese cultural impact on the Ijaws of the western Niger delta, growth of palm oil export in the Ijaw land, impacts of Portuguese palm oil trade on local politics in Ijaw land, the impact of the Portuguese on religion and cultural practices in Ijaw land and the impact of Portuguese in western education in Ijaw land, it was however concluded that the Portuguese impacted the Ijaws’ both positively and negatively. 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

  • Background to the Study

The Europeans came to Nigeria and other parts of Africa, as explorers, missionaries, traders and colonial administrators. In order to accomplish the purposes for which they came, they did a lot of things which profoundly affected the traditional ways of life of the local people.

In the Warri area of the Western Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the activities of the Europeans greatly influenced the relations between the Ijaw neighbours in the area. The general consensus is that the two groups had lived peacefully together in precolonial times, and that it was the advent of the Europeans with their new forms of trade, religions, education, government and so on that strained the hitherto cordial relations between them.

This is in agreement with this position. The idea, however, is not to further divide the people or be turn them against the Europeans, but to enable them see the roots of their present misunderstandings, so as to make them see if they could make amends, and live peacefully together again. In order to do some justice to the topic, some of the issues (factors) that were introduced by the Europeans that had caused problems between the two groups are examined one after the other.

All of the issues cannot be taken in just one article. We have therefore concentrated on trade, education, and land acquisition and ownership matters. By the 19th century, some of the people of Nigeria have had about three hundred years of contact with the Europeans mainly through trade (Orugbani, 2005).

PORTUGUESE CULTURAL IMPACT ON THE IJAWS OF THE WESTERN NIGER DELTA

In those early days of trade relations between the Europeans and the local people, first in slaves and later in agricultural products, the Europeans were contented with anchoring at the coast and waiting for the Nigerian middlemen to go into the hinterland and bring them the commodities they wanted (Ikime, 1982).

This simple arrangement, as is well known, was the result of physical geographical barriers, language problems and the Europeans’ fear of the malaria-breeding mosquitoes in the interior. There was also the opposition mounted by the rules and peoples of coastal states. Because of these hindrances, the Europeans traders had no direct access to the production areas of the commodities they needed until about the 1880s.

However, according to Adangor, Z. (2018). Another important development in their early commercial (and even missionary) activities was that the Europeans were for obvious reasons of security and peace, more attracted to centres of centralised political authority.

Thus, in the Western Niger Delta, the first places the Europeans made their trading centers were the port of Ughoton (Gwato), which was the nearest river port to the capital of the ancient Benin Empire, and Ode-Itsekiri, the ancestral headquarters of the Itsekiri Kingdom (Alagoa, 1970). The trade at Ughoton was controlled by the Oba of Benin while that at OdeItsekiri was under the authority of the Olu of Itsekiri.

By the end of the 18th century, however, European trading vessels could no longer get to Ode-Itsekiri; they rather anchored at the lower reaches of the Benin River (Lloyd, 1969). This was because of the treacherous and shallow bay of the Forcados River, which linked the town. In order to continue to enjoy trade with the European, the Itsekiri migrated to found new settlements along the Benin and Escravos Rivers. By this time, the Gbaramatu and Egbema Ijo sub-groups had also arrived in these places.

It was, however, the Itsekiri that had a better control of the trade as their settlements were more strategically located at the mouths of the rivers. The Ijo who were sandwiched between Itsekiri settlements became a problem to the trade on the two rivers. They preyed on ships and looted goods. Both the European and Itsekiri traders, therefore, dreaded them. The Ijo at times blocked the whole river, preventing movement up or down. In 1692, the Olu of Warri was said to have written a letter to Father Monteleone in Benin.

The first external contact of the Niger Delta Ijaw people with the Europeans was with the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. By 1841, the Portuguese had already established strong trading contacts along the Niger Delta River where they exchanged trading items such as pepper, ivory, coral beads, iron, tools, weapons, clothes, horses, hardware, guns and manilas for slaves in Benin, and with the Ijaw people.

The Portuguese dominance of the region and monopoly on trade with West Africa was challenged and broken by other European nations, such as the Dutch, French and the British, in the course of the seventeenth century. Together with the Portuguese, the Dutch, British and French, and to such a lesser extent the Danish, became actively involved in the slave trade at the ports of the major city states of Bonny, Kalabari, Okrika and Nembe.

It is noted that the emergence of the overseas trading between the Ijaw and the Europeans are closely associated with the topographic nature of the River Niger. The Niger Delta environment particularly the Creeks that provided many natural harbours along the Atlantic Ocean had influenced the beginning of the early trading contacts between the Ijaws and the European merchants.

Other factors such as existence of a vibrant internal trade between the Ijaws and the inland ethnic group, dynamic trade routes, and experienced professional merchants largely fuelled the growth and development of the overseas trade in the central and eastern Delta.

The scene was thus set for the Ijaws‟ active involvement in the Atlantic slave trade with the Europeans between the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. Historians such as Crowther and Horton believed that the coming of the European slave trade into the Ijaw territory stimulated the growth of a number of trading stations.

Wariboko specifically affirmed Alagoa‟s claims that the „internal long-distance trade laid the foundations for the emergence of the canoe-house trading system‟, especially in the pre- Atlantic slave trade. Alagoa‟s suggestion is therefore, subject to more debate, because Cookey C.J.S disagrees with both Alagoa , Horton and Crowther claiming that the canoe-house trading unit of the eastern delta wasengender by indigenous means of transportations, and that the internal long-distance trade not the European trade, influenced the overseas trading in slaves.

This signified that the new development in the age of the slave trade was built on what existed before. This is in contrast with Crowther and Horton’s view that many if not most of the Ijaw institutions developed as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. (Baker, Geoffrey, 1997)

However, according to Abbassatai, M.B. (1990) the Europeans came to Nigeria and other parts of Africa, as explorers, missionaries, traders and colonial administrators. In order to accomplish the purposes for which they came, they did a lot of things which profoundly affected the traditional ways of life of the local people.

In the Warri area of the Western Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the activities of the Europeans greatly influenced the relations between the Ijo neighbours in the area. The general consensus is that the two groups had lived peacefully together in precolonial times, and that it was the advent of the Europeans with their new forms of trade, religions, education, government and so on that strained the hitherto cordial relations between them.

This is in agreement with this position. The idea, however, is not to further divide the people or be turn them against the Europeans, but to enable them see the roots of their present misunderstandings, so as to make them see if they could make amends, and live peacefully together again.

By the 19th century, some of the people of Nigeria have had about three hundred years of contact with the Europeans mainly through trade (Orugbani, 2005). In those early days of trade relations between the Europeans and the local people, first in slaves and later in agricultural products, the Europeans were contented with anchoring at the coast and waiting for the Nigerian middlemen to go into the hinterland and bring them the commodities they wanted (Ikime, 1982).

This simple arrangement, as is well known, was the result of physical geographical barriers, language problems and the Europeans’ fear of the malaria-breeding mosquitoes in the interior. There was also the opposition mounted by the rules and peoples of coastal states. Because of these hindrances, the Europeans traders had no direct access to the production areas of the commodities they needed until about the 1880s.

Another important development in their early commercial (and even missionary) activities was that the Europeans were for obvious reasons of security and peace, more attracted to centres of centralised political authority. Thus, in the Western Niger Delta, the first places the Europeans made their trading centers were the port of Ughoton (Gwato), which was the nearest river port to the capital of the ancient Benin Empire, and Ode-Itsekiri, the ancestral headquarters of the Itsekiri Kingdom (Alagoa, 1970).

The trade at Ughoton was controlled by the Oba of Benin while that at OdeItsekiri was under the authority of the Olu of Itsekiri. By the end of the 18th century, however, European trading vessels could no longer get to Ode-Itsekiri; they rather anchored at the lower reaches of the Benin River (Lloyd, 1969). This was because of the treacherous and shallow bay of the Forcados River, which linked the town.

However, In order to continue to enjoy trade with the European, the Itsekiri migrated to found new settlements along the Benin and Escravos Rivers. By this time, the Gbaramatu and Egbema Ijo sub-groups had also arrived in these places. It was, however, the Itsekiri that had a better control of the trade as their settlements were more strategically located at the mouths of the rivers.

The Ijo who were sandwiched between Itsekiri settlements became a problem to the trade on the two rivers. They preyed on ships and looted goods. Both the European and Itsekiri traders, therefore, dreaded them. The Ijo at times blocked the whole river, preventing movement up or down.

In 1692, the Olu of Warri was said to have written a letter to Father Monteleone in Benin. In the letter, he complained: Matters here are in such a state that everybody is suffering to some extent, the reason is that the Ijos are stopping us from going to Benin and my subjects are unable to cultivate their farms, which is a great hardship (Ryder, 1977, p. 146)

This clearly explains the frequent mention of the Ijo as pirates in the early European records. John Barbot (1732, p. 356 cited in Alagoa, 2005, p. 26) has, for example, referred to the Ijo of the Benin River as a people river as a people “who lived altogether on plunder and piracy on the rivers”.

The Itsekiri acting as the most influential middlemen, especially in the era of the legitimate trade in agricultural products, procured palm-oil and other commodities from the Urhobo, Isoko and other upland groups and sold them directly to the Europeans at the coast.

The pattern of trade was that the Itsekiri merchants collected goods such as cloth, guns, gun powder, glass wares, mirrors, rugs, spirits, beads, plates and so on from the Europeans on trust, and distributed them to credit-worthy persons in the Benin River settlements who would mobilise big canoes to go to the hinterland markets. The trust goods were further distributed, in the markets, to local producers who supplied the commodities the Europeans needed (Sagay, n.d.).

The inability of the local producers at times to supply the required commodities often to raids in which individuals were sometimes handed over as pawns to the Itsekiri creditors. Failure on the part of the Itsekiri merchants to deliver the required goods to a European trader who had advanced trust goods to them resulted, many times, in the seizure of consignments meant for other Europeans, which often put the Itsekiri trader in tight corners.

This practice, which was popularly known as “chopping”, offended the Itsekiri middlemen, resulting sometimes in conflicts between them and the Europeans (Ikime, 1982). It is however on this background that this study seeks to examine Portuguese cultural impact on the Ijaws of the western Niger Delta.

  • Statement of the Problem

The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, also known as the Congo Conference or West Africa Conference met on 15 November 1884, and after an adjournment concluded on 26 February 1885, with the signature of a General Act,  regulating the European colonisation and trade in Africa during the New Imperialism period.

The conference was organized by Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of Germany at the request of King Leopold II. The General Act of Berlin can be seen as the formalisation of the Scramble for Africa that was already in full swing. However, some historians however warn against an overemphasis of its role in the colonial partitioning of Africa, and draw attention to bilateral agreements concluded before and after the conference.

The conference contributed to ushering in a period of heightened colonial activity by European powers, once made the point that the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 was responsible for “the old carve-up of Africa”. Other writers have also laid the blame in “the partition of Africa” on the doors of the Berlin Conference.

But Wm. Roger Louis holds a contrary view, although he conceded that “the Berlin Act did have a relevance to the course of the partition” of Africa. Of the fourteen countries being represented, seven of them – Austria-Hungary, Russia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden–Norway, the Ottoman Empire and the United States – came home without any formal possessions in Africa. After the conference, Africa and other sub countries in it became a point of interest by for the colonizers who have been eager to invade Africa soil for a very long time.

However, Nigeria and Portugal have a long and complicated history that dates back to the 16th century. The first recorded contact between Portugal and what is now known as Nigeria occurred in 1472 when the Portuguese explorer, Lançarote de Freitas, sailed down the Niger River.

This marked the beginning of centuries of Portuguese trading and exploration in the region. In the late 18th century, the British took control of Nigeria. But many aspects of the Portuguese culture remain in Nigeria, as seen in the language and cuisine. There are also some cultural similarities between the two countries, such as the use of traditional medicines.

Portuguese is still spoken today in certain parts of Nigeria, particularly in the south. It has a strong presence in the Niger Delta region and is used as a lingua franca among people from various ethnic backgrounds. It is however on this backdrop that this work seeks to examine the Portuguese cultural impact on the Ijaws of the Western Niger Delta.

  • Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to examine Portuguese cultural impact on the Ijaws of the western Niger Delta. Specifically, the study also seeks to;

  1. examine the bilateral relationship between Portuguese government and the Ijaws’ of the western Niger Delta
  2. investigate the areas in which the Portuguese cultural practices influence the original Ijaws cultural practices of the western Niger Delta before the coming of the Portuguese
  3. examine the origin and the cultural background of the Ijaws’ of the western Niger Delta long before the coming of the Portuguese.
  4. lastly highlight the remarkable landmarks left behind by the Portuguese on the land of Ijaws’ of the western Niger Delta.

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