A detailed view into the life of the Ijaw People (Part 2. Language, Food, Oil conflict)


Our second part of our view regarding the Ijaw ethnic group would take us into knowing about the languages they speak, their food customs and specialties and above all, the bad blood which emanated from their oil conflict with the government which they viewed as hazardous and unfit for their people.

All You Need to Know About Jaw People

Ijaw people

Ijaw Languages

The Ijaw people are mutiple-language speaking group. They speak nine closely related languages, all of which belong to the Ijo branch of the Niger–Congo tree. The primary division between the Ijo languages is that between Eastern Ijo and Western Ijo, the most important of the former group of languages being Izon, which is spoken by about five million people.

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There are two prominent divisions of the Izon language. The first, which can either be referred to as Western or Central Izon (Ijaw) consists of Western Ijaw speakers: Tuomo Clan, Ekeremor, Sagbama(Mein), Bassan, Apoi, Arogbo, Boma(Bumo), Kabo(Kabuowei), Ogboin, Tarakiri, and Kolokuma-Opokuma.

Nembe, Brass and Akassa (Akaha) dialects represent Southeast Ijo (Izon). Buseni and Okordia dialects are considered Inland Ijo. The other major Ijaw linguistic group is
Kalabari. This language is considered an Eastern Ijaw language but the term “Eastern Ijaw” is not the normal nomenclature. Kalabari is the name of one of the Ijaw clans that reside on the eastern side of the Niger-Delta (Abonnema, Buguma, Bakana, Degema etc.) who form a major group in Rivers State, Other “Eastern” Ijaw clans are the Andoni, Okrika, Ibani (the natives of Bonny, Finima and Opobo) and Nkoroo. They are neighbours to the Kalabari people in present-day Rivers State, Nigeria.

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Some other related Ijaw sub-groups which have distinct languages but very close kinship, cultural and territorial ties with the rest of the Ijaw are the Epie-Atissa, Engenni (also known as Ẹgẹnẹ), and Degema (also called Udekama or Udekaama). The Ogbia clan, as well as residents of Bukuma and Abuloma (Obulom). It was discovered in the 1980s that a now extinct Berbice Creole Dutch, spoken in Guyana, is partly based on Ijo lexicon and grammar. Its nearest relative seems to be Eastern Ijo, most likely Kalabari.

Types of food

The Ijaw, just like most tribes, have many food which they are well recognised with. Most of these foods are particularly seafoods and aquatic edibles which include, clams, oysters and periwinkles but they as well eat lots of yams, coco-yams, plantains and other foods. Some of these foods include Polofiyai, Kekefiyai, Kalabari fulo, fried or roasted fish and plantain, Gbe etc.

Oil Crisis

On the date, December, 1998, Ijaw youths came together to form the Ijaw Youth Conference — an organization which was aimed at crystallizing the struggle to get what was called the Kaiama Declaration. In it, long-held Ijaw concerns about the loss of control of their homeland and their own lives to the oil companies were joined with a commitment to direct action. In the declaration, and in a letter to the companies, the Ijaws called for oil companies to suspend operations and withdraw from Ijaw territory due to perceived exploitation.

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The association vowed to struggle peacefully to liberate themselves from the snares of the Federal government, employing self-determination and ecological justice principles, and prepared a campaign of celebration, prayer, and direct action ‘ Operation Climate Change’ beginning December 28, 1998.

In December 1998, two warships and 10-15,000 Nigerian troops occupied Bayelsa and Delta states as the Ijaw Youth Movement (IYM) mobilized for Operation Climate Change. Eventually, soldiers entering the Bayelsa state capital of Yenagoa announced they had come to attack the youths trying to stop the oil companies. On the morning of December 30, 1998, two thousand young people processed through Yenagoa, dressed in black, singing and dancing. Soldiers opened fire with rifles, machine guns, and tear gas, killing at least three protesters and arresting twenty-five more.

After a march demanding the release of those detained was turned back by soldiers, three more protesters were shot dead including Nwashuku Okeri, Ghadafi Ezeifile and Onwinkron Ibe. The head of Yenagoa rebels- Chief Onwinkron Ibe- was burned alive in his mansion on December 28, 1998. Amongst his family members to flee the premises before the menace took place was his only son, Desmond Ibe. The military declared a state of emergency throughout Bayelsa state, imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and banned meetings. At military roadblocks, local residents were severely beaten or detained. At night, soldiers invaded private homes, terrorizing residents with beatings and women and girls with rape.

On January 4, 1999 about one hundred soldiers from the military base at Chevron’s Escravos facility attacked Opia and Ikiyan, two Ijaw communities in Delta State. Bright Pablogba, the traditional leader of Ikiyan, who came to the river to negotiate with the soldiers, was shot along with a seven-year-old girl and possibly dozens of others. Of the approximately 1,000 people living in the two villages, four people were found dead and sixty-two were still missing months after the attack. The same soldiers set the villages ablaze, destroyed canoes and fishing equipment, killed livestock, and destroyed churches and religious shrines.
Nonetheless, Operation Climate Change continued, and disrupted Nigerian oil supplies through much of 1999 by turning off valves through Ijaw territory. In the context of high conflict between the Ijaw and the Nigerian Federal Government (and its police and army), the military carried out the Odi massacre, killing scores if not hundreds of Ijaws.

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Recent actions by Ijaws against the oil industry have included both renewed efforts at non-violent action and militarized attacks on oil installations but with no human casualties to foreign oil workers despite hostage-takings. These attacks are usually in response to non-fulfilment by oil companies of memoranda of understanding with their host communities.

A big thanks for having followed through this survey in unearthing some of the boggling issues that bugged the people of Ijaw during the early days. We hope you equally enjoyed reading. We will stop here for now but be sure to see one or two community surveys from us in a short time.

Hi! This is Emmanuel Chinaza. A seasoned content writer on all things necessary(it just helps that creativity spurs me on) . An optimist who is very willing to take risks, a big fan of Marcelo Biesla. With my pen, i just might change the world and lest i forget, nothing beats a plate of pounded cassava and Egusi soup!

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