Little Known Facts About the Ijaws #11

THE ORIGINS OF BRASS (NEMBE IJO ) (from A Tepowa 1907 The Origins of Brass) :

“… The country now known to us as Brass [Nembe] in the Niger Delta was first inhabited by three persons, viz. Obolo, Olodia, and Onyo. The three towns founded by them were called after their names (as Rome after Romulus who founded it), Oboloama, Olodiama, and Onyoama respectively. Opinion differs greatly as to who these three persons were and whence they came. Some maintain that they came from Benin, others believe that they were from Ijaw. But as there are no authentic records to corroborate the above it can only be affirmed that they were strangers.

These three towns did not last for any length of time as they were completely effaced at two different periods and through different causes.

…The people of Onyoma settled down peaceably for some time, but they were subsequently overthrown by the Kulas in a war undertaken by King Onyo of Onyoma. [i.e. the reigning Pere or Priest ruler]. Report has it that this war had its origins in a bloodthirsty act committed by King Onyo.

During the prevalence of peace and quiet, trade intercourse existed between the Kulas and the Onyomas. One of the princes of Kula visited Onyoma on a trading tour, and saw a princess of that country of whom he became enamoured. He made overtures of marriage to her and was accepted. His visits subsequently became more frequent, and he was the guest of his fiancée on all such occasions. He naturally desired to see his future father-in-law, and day after day asked the princess to accompany and introduce him to her father, and was as often put off by her till a more favourable opportunity.

Ijo War Boat entourage

He called on one occasion without previous intimation, and found that the princess was away fishing. The anxiety to make the acquaintance of his future father-in-law got the better of him; and he went along, taking with him, as becoming his rank, twelve demijohns of palm-wine which he brought from his country for presentation to royalty. Arriving at the palace, he was taken to the king: and on announcing his intentions of marrying the princess [naming her !!] the king forthwith slew him with his sword (with the last word dying on his lips). The news spread like wild fire, and when the princess returned and entered her quarters she saw a lot of baggage which, she was given to understand, had belonged to her lover. She inquired after him and the servants told her he was out for a walk-for they were afraid to break the painful news to her.

Her womanly instinct however led her to suspect that her lover had gone to the king unaccompanied, contrary to customs. When she got to the palace, she found the mutilated corpse of her lover on the ground, and burst into violent fits of weeping, at the same time hurling threats and curses on her father. She returned to her house, took a few necessary articles for a journey, and headed straight for Kula, in a canoe, weeping as she went, and singing the following son; (ONYOMA, YAM IS SWEETER THAN FISH; YAM AND FISH ARE COOKED IN THE SAME POT; GO AND INQUIRE THE REASON OF THE PALAVER WHY MY FATHER KILLED MY HUSBAND, AS I AM GOING TO KULA)

With this plaintive melody she arrived at her destination; and as she stood singing dirges over her beloved, who lay miles away, she attracted a great crowd around her, drawn thither partly from curiosity and partly from wonder and pity. Unheeding the anxious inquiries of the sympathising crowd, she asked to be shown the way to the king’s house, which was accordingly done. She began in tragic fashion by throwing herself on the mercy of the king as being the cause of the disaster; and then poured forth her tale of woe with painfully graphic clearness, explaining in measured terms and with peculiar emphasis her reasons for refusing the introduction desired by her late lover, the principal of which was his comeliness [handsome] which in her opinion was extraordinary, and her father’s excessive fondness for her the princess-winding up with expressions of manifestly sincere regret at the occurrence…. As a set off she suggested that the king of Kula should prepare for immediate war against her father. The news overwhelmed the king; and this is hardly to be wondered at, when it is considered that the late prince was the handsomest of all his sons.

Actuated by the tearful pleadings of the princess and revenge for the loss of his much loved son, the king of Kula mustered his army and started on the march for Onyoma. At the request of the princess a halt was made when Onyoma was reached, to allow her clearing her belongings from her house and rejoining the army. At a given signal from her the army fired on the town- the war began in terrible earnest – and so effective was the charge of the Kulas that not a single inhabitant of Onyoma survived to tell the sad story. After sacking the town, the Kulas resumed their homeward march, singing the poem of victory set to by musicians of their tribe in the following song: Onyoama ye kingerebo dibigha mi ama.. A proverbial saying to the same effect exists in Brass (i.e. Nembe) to this day; Onyoama Pere fua tariagha ? (THE PRIEST-KING OF ONYOMA DOES NOT LOVE SONS-IN-LAWS)……..”

(from A Tepowa 1907 The Origins of Brass)


The founding ancestors of the Nembe, referred to as Brass in the narrative above, came from a number of different sections of Ijo at different times prior to 1500 AD. The most ancient ancestors (known as the Oru-Otu or ancestral people) came from the Olodiama /Oporoma settlements, these include the founders of Olodiamabiri (Olodia), and Onyomabiri (Onyo). Some came from Kolokuma and founded Obolomabiri (Obolo). From the Obiama dispersal came the founders of Ogbolomabiri. Later on were founded Emeinbiri, Oromabiri and Ekese, Kala-Bigama and Opu-Bigama. Okpoma whose ancestors originated from Obiama (Okpo-Idumu), was incorporated into the City State later on.

The first Nembe or Debe was also known as Ijo-Nembe, comprising the most ancient sections or quarters Olodiamabiri, Obolomabiri and Onyomabiri. These sections were originally individual towns or large villages, with their own priest rulers (PERE), thus we have Olodiama Pere, Oboloma Pere and Onyoma Pere with Olodiama as the most senior. Traditions as outlined above mention a war between Onyomabiri and Kula, which caused the demise of Onyomabiri.

During the time of Kala-Ekule (1450 – 1500 ?) who was a descendant of Olodi, one of the founding ancestors and son of Father Ijo and the ancestor of the Olodiamabiri, Proto-Yoruba migrants from Benin hinterlands arrived at Nembe. Their arrival coincided with an internal dispute between Olodiamabiri and Obolomabiri. The Yoruba migrants exploited the situation with the help of one of their medicine women. She is said to have supplied destructive charms to both sides of the conflict, resulting in such devastation that both the people of Olodiamabiri and Obolomabiri dispersed. The Yoruba migrants then took control of the city. Not long afterwards the Olodiama led by Kala-Ekule made a come back and took back the town from the Yoruba migrants. Their settlement which was situated at Oromabiri was sacked, and many of the migrants fled to Ogbia area. From that time Olodiamabiri and Obolomabiri united and had one centralised political authority. In the case of Onyomabiri, the people were dispersed by the destruction of that town by the Kulas. Most of them were absorbed by the new Olodiamabiri/Obolomabiri unification.

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