There exist various traditions on the origin of the Ígáláà, a mainly agrarian people who speak a language of that name and occupy the arc created in the south of the Niger-Benue confluence in the middle-belt region of Nigeria. Dr. G.T. Mott, a British Colonial Officer, claims that the Ígáláà came from Júkùn (or Kwàráràfá) background; while Jacob Egharevba, a Benin historian, believes that the Ígáláà came from the Benin kingdom; he claimed that a Bini Prince was sent there by an Oba in ancient times. Chief Ámánà Èdímẹ̀ states that Igalaa trace their roots to Benin; that a Bini prince and hunter had set up camp at Ójúwó Àtógwū (near Ígálọgbá, Ídá) and was giving gifts of games to the host population, healing them with his immense, miraculous powers; then the people asked him to be their king. K.C. Murray, a historian and fine artist, also opined that the Igalaa descended from Benin, anchoring his judgment on the Bini origin of the 16th Century pectoral mask, ‘Éjúbejúáìlò,‘ worn by the Àtá.
Reverend (later Bishop) Samuel Ajayi Crowther, after his second voyage on the Victorian Expedition to Ida in 1854, published a book, A Comparative Word-List of Yoruba, Igala and English Languages. He traced the roots of the Igalaa to a Yoruba sovereign who had lost his territory to Fulani invaders and ran to the Sultan of Nupe kingdom for assistance to enable him to have a new habitat. The Sultan had journeyed down the River Niger
from his capital, Rabbah, and finally “… arrived at Idah, which the Akpoto (Àkpọ̀tọ̀) had inhabited then.” According to him, the Àkpọ̀tọ̀ were driven away and the Sultan bought the land and later installed the Yoruba man as king, with the title of “Attah.” Crowther further claimed that “the Igala country originally belonged to the Akpoto tribesmen… and their king then was named Igala (Ogala).” Apart from Rev. Crowther, other writers have variously linked the Igalaa to the Yoruba, because of their similar languages. The two languages, alongside Itshekiri spoken in Delta State, are classified in the Yoruboid group of the Kwà family. Prof. Gabriel Audu Oyibo, a world-renowned mathematician and son of the Igala soil, quotes an Igala oral tradition stating that the Igalaa and their Yoruba brethren descended from Khem (Ancient Egypt) and entered the present-day Nigeria together. Historians state that they separated about 2000 years ago at Ìfẹ̀ area, locacted north of Igalaland. Miles Clifford, in A Nigerian Chiefdom, claims that the king (Ọ́jọ́gbáà) of Ìfẹ̀ District and the Yoruba’s Ọọ̀ní of Ifẹ̀ were originally half-brothers born of a common Yoruba mother.
There is, however, a contrary view that the Ígáláà did not ever immigrate from anywhere else into their present location in Kogi East. Miles Clifford, referring to the Kanem Bornu Empire of the 14th Century, observed that it comprised of two classes: the Ahel Dirk – (warriors and noblemen with Berber features) and the Ahel Gara, who were the “aborigines” or “natives.” He concludes that “there is no doubt … that Igala is the same name as ‘Gara,’ ‘Gala’ or N’gala.”
An Igala historian, Philip E. Òkwòlì, in his book, A Short History of Igala, states that the Igalaa were a product of their present environment, which they have occupied since prehistoric times. He states further that “Idah, the traditional Igala capital, had the economic, social and geographical factors, which enabled the earliest inhabitants to evolve their peculiar kingship system,” adding that the early Atas resided at Ọ̀pù-Àtá, a section of Ídá.
Professor Catherine Acholonu, founder and Director, Catherine Acholonu International Research Centre, Abuja, recently published a book, which was based on the Centre’s 21-year research into the African origins phenomena, reveals that “Iduu Eri is the putative ancestor of all the Kwa peoples of West Africa,” that he had “five sons, including Agulu Eri, Atta Eri, Edo Eri and others,” emphasizing that Atta Eri is the ancestor and father of the Igalas and the founder of the still-surviving ancient lineage of Atta Kings of the Igala nation.” Citing Nigerian oral traditions, the book states that Iduu Eri’s seat of power, “is located at the junction of two rivers located east of Benin. … The only junction of two rivers located east of Benin is the Omambala-Niger confluence, which is located in Aguleri town, Anambra State, Igboland, Nigeria.”
It adds that “the Sumerian kings of the lineage of the ancient city of Agade, founded by Sargon, bore the title of ‘Atta.’ Believing that ancient Nigerians were the Sumerians, the book identifies a catalogue of unique cultural practices which Nigerians share with the ancient Sumerians, including:
- the “Sacred Science of Ifa divination,”
- mud-huts thatched with reeds,
- worship of deities in shrines,
- “scoffing food with bare hands,”
- arranged marriages,
- tapping and drinking of palm-wine and many others.
The book states that the 21-year research findings provided “consistent and conclusive evidence” to prove that the Ancient Sumer was, in actual fact, “an ancient Nigerian civilisation,” pointing, as evidence, to “the anthropomorphic features inscribed on carved stones found on the Monoliths of Ikom in Cross River State.” It was found that “the carved stones are those, not of humans, but of Apes and Ape-men… the very Apes of Darwin’s Evolution, the primeval ancestor of humankind.”
The word, ‘ídúù,’ is derived from Igala language, meaning ‘wealth’ ; while ‘érí’ is another word for ‘elephant,’ hence, we have ‘ényí-eri‘ (elephant teeth/tusk) in the Igala vocabulary. Note that Iduu Eri’s seat of power, Àgùlérì, is located on the southern tip of the Igala external contemporary border with Anambra State, a stone-throw from Ida, the Igala capital. This geographical contiguity presupposes that both Ida and Aguleri might have shared common socio-cultural experiences, details of which might have been buried in the ashes of history, which only further research can excavate.
The research findings further established that “Ídúù Erí is the same person whom the Egyptians called ‘Khem,’ the founder of Ancient Egypt. From Sumerian records, we learn that “by 3100 B.C., a “Nubian” from Sub-Saharan Africa went north and conquered Egypt and annexed the Egyptians to his own kingdom in the south.” According to Prof. Acholonu, “That Menes was definitely a Nigerian, as Ancient Nigeria was the mainstay of Sumer.”
A synthesis of generally accepted origin traditions and pieces of new information obtained from Acholonu Research Centre’s findings has, no doubt, provided a better understanding of the past, while, “helping the people to reclaim their ancient heritage in the global, historical context.” For instance, an earlier opinion had it the initial Igala Dynasty was founded by Àtá Àtógwū. However, a fresh research finding has established that Ata Eri, rather than Ata Àtógwū, was the founder of the indigenous dynasty. Àtógwū happened to be the penultimate Ata who was succeeded by Ata Ọ́gáláà Erí, in whose reign the First Dynasty of indigenous Atas was terminated in 1507.
- the ‘Akpoto’ king whom Rev. Crowther referred to as “Igala (Ogala)” and R. A. Sargents called “Eggarah Eri” is the same person as Ọ́gáláà Erí.
- the conquest of the Igala Kingdom by Prince Aji Attah, son of Oba Ọ̀zọ́lua of Benin in 1507, forced Àtá Ọ́gáláà Erí to proceed on self-exile to the “southern part of the Benue Valley.” He later relocated to Nri in present-day Anambra State.
- neither the Ígáláà nor the Ìdomà can provide a meaningful interpretation of the word, Àkpọ̀tọ̀, in their respective languages; nor do they know who the Àkpọ̀tọ̀ are and where they live today.
The Bini Atas were concerned with only the economic and political interests of the “paramount imperial authority in Benin.” Upon settling down as kings of the “vassal peripheral royal enclave” at Ida, they designed and produced a new royal head-dress into which part of a manatee’s tail (Aro totem) had been sewn. It was in appreciation of the help they had rendered the Aji Attah’s army at the west bank of the Niger (crossing them in Aro canoes to Ida), seeing that the army was stranded, having been constrained by that logistic problem.
The Bini Atas also wore a pectoral mask currently known as ‘Éjúbejúáìlò‘ (Eyes that frighten other eyes). Originally, it was to showcase the beauty of their own Benin art in a
vassal state, the “Idah royalist provincial enclave,” which had been subjugated to the “paramount royalist enclave” of Benin. According to R. A. Sargents (1984), the Aji Attah (Bini) Dynasty lasted 180 years (1507 – 1687). The king-list of the Bini-speaking Atas is as follows:
- Aji Ata (founded the dynasty in 1507)
- Olema I
- Olema II (1687)
In our next historical post, we shall discuss the immense political, military and economic powers of the Benin empire and how it was able to subjugate several parts of Nigeria under its paramount authority as a “conquest state” and the factors that led to the rise and fall of the Aji Attah (Bini) Dynasty in Igalaland.
- Politics, Economics and Social Change in Benue Basiṇ: C. 1300 – 1700 by Robert Arthur Sargent (1984)
2. Sumer on the Niger: Origins of Arians of Eri-land, Hebrews, Moors and Vedic Indians by Prof. Catherine Acholonu (2012).
3. An Igala-English Lexicon: A Bilingual Dictionary with Notes on Igala Language, History, Culture and Priest-Kings by John Idakwoji (2015).