The Ijaw people of Nigeria are a collection of people indigenous to the Niger-Delta in Nigeria. They are found in regions of the states of Ondo, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Abia and Rivers. The Ijaw people are one of the largest groups of Nigeria; the population figure is between 13 to 15 million. The people inhabit the coastal areas where they built houses majorly on water which are in clusters.
The Ijaw languages are numerous going from one community to another. The languages spoken in their towns include; Izon, Kalabari, Obolo, Ibani, Wakirike, Nembe, Ogbian, Kabou, Buseni, Ata, Bille, Kula, and Apoi and so on.
The Ijaw ethnic groups consists of 50 loosely affiliated clans. These clans are based along kinship lines and or shared cultural and religious traditions. Among the clans and their states includes ; Akassa (Bayelsa), Andoni (Rivers/Akwa Ibom), Apoi Eastern (Bayelsa), Apoi Western (Ondo), Arogbo (Ondo), Egbema (Delta/Edo), Ekpetimma (Bayelsa), Ukomu (Edo), Zaruma (Bayelsa), Bonny (Rivers), Opobo (Rivers) and Tungbo (Bayelsa) and several others.
The people are predominantly fishermen and farmers. The people were said to be one of the first Nigerians to have contact with the westerners so they were active as go-between in the slave trades. The kin-based trading lineages form corporations known as houses. Each house has an elected leader as well as a fleet of war canoes used in protecting trade and fighting rivals.
Being a riverine people, many of them worked as shipping merchant in the early and mid-20th century. With the advent of oil and gas exploration in their territory, some are employed in the sector. Some found themselves in European countries as a result of scholarship by the oil and gas industry in their locality.
RELIGION, CULTURE AND TRADITION
Nowadays, the people are predominantly Christians (Anglican, Catholics and Pentecostal). Most of them have traditional religion of their own before Christianity. Veneration of ancestors plays a major role in Ijaw traditional religion. Water spirits which are known as ‘Owuamapu’ figure prominently in the Ijaw pantheon. Ijaw practices a form of divination called ‘Igbadai’, in which recently deceased individuals are interrogated on the causes of their death.
The people also belief that water spirits are like humans in having personal strength and shortcomings, and that human dwell among the water spirit before being born. The people also practice ritual acculturation whereby an individual from different tribe undergoes rites to become a member of the group e.g. King Jaja of Opobo, he rose from a Igbo slave to become a powerful Ibani (Bonny) chief in the 19th century. Few indigenes have also converted to become Muslim e.g. Asari Dokubo and others. In their marriage practices, dowry are been paid like most places in the country.
Men wear Georgian dresses or the Senator top with hats and long walking sticks. They match the top with wrapper or trousers. Women are adorned in short sleeve blouses with big beads on the neck and wrist. They also adorn double wrapper as well as jewelry and artifacts.
The people eat more of foods having fish and other sea foods because of their closeness to the sea. Some of the local foods eaten here include; Polofiyai, Kekefiyai, Fried or roasted fish and plantain, Gbe, Kalabari Fulo, Owafiya (Beans pottage), Geisha soup, Ignabeni, Kiri-igina and Oporu-fulon.
NOTABLE IJAW PEOPLE
Renowned and well known indigenes include; Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, J.P Clark, Owoye Andrew Azazi, Timi Dakolo, Ibinabo Fiberesima, Ben Murray-Bruce, Finidi George, Samson Siasia, Timaya, Susan Oyinbrakemi Charles and Asari Dokubo.