The Woyingi Blog

Black Blog Review: Ijaw Girl

Posted in Black Blog Review, Nigerian Blogs, Peoples: The Ijo by the woyingi blogger on August 31, 2009

This week, I’ll share with you a blog I stumbled up. I was interested in reading Ijaw Girl because I myself am half-Ijaw. I expected a blog about the struggle of the Ijaw in the Niger Delta against oil companies, pollution, and violence but what I got was…FASHION!

Ijaw Girl should really be called Nigerian Fashionista. The subtitle for the blog is:

-for the love of all things bright,beautiful & tailor made. -celebrating nigerians in and around fashion.

Ijaw Girl is the blog of the designer of the label AKPOS OKUDU. She is also a student. Her profile sets the tone for the whole blog:

i’m a fashion designer who loves quirkyness,couture dresses,red lipstick,photography,sewing with really loud music,dressing my friends,cocktail rings,sexy lingere,d big apple,shoes,u2,oprah,sex& d city,bags,beyonce,blush,vogue,red nail polish,the cranberries,d colour green,norah jones,playin dress up. i also love dancing in front of d mirror,bono,my beauty sleep,flats,lucite& vintage bangles,recycling trends,kate moss,eco chic[lets do our bit 2 help save d planet],thisday style,my fab. cousins[my inspiration]style.com,old hollywood movies,chandellier earrings,paris and most importantly my gap joca jellies.

This blog is about Nigerian Fashion and although I was hoping to read the blog of a politically aware Ijaw Nigerian woman, it was interesting to read about the Nigerian Fashion scene. The blog is full of images of Nigerian Fashion, as well as the blog writer’s own work.

I was fascinated to learn about the reinvention of Ankara Fabric in Ijaw Girl’s post “Nigerian Designers Jazz up Ankara“. Ankara fabric originally came from Europe (but the Turks made a cheaper version so that is why it is called Ankara, after the Turkish city of the same name). Nigerians loved the fabric and began making their own elaborate culturally inspired designs on it. But for a long time, Ankara Fabric was only associated with traditional and “frumpy” Nigerian clothing. Now Ankara Fabric has become chic, and most Nigerian fashion designers have a line of Ankara dresses and accessories. According to Ijaw Girl “An Ankara outfit is definitely a must in every fashionista’s closet”. To learn more about the history of Ankara in Nigeria read the article “Ankara: The Rebirth” in fashionafrica.com.

The Ijaw Girl blog showcases the work of some of the blog writer’s favourite Nigerian Fashion Designers. These include Folake Folarin-Coker who is the designer behind the Tiffany Amber label and Lisa Folawiyo who is the designer behind Jewel By Lisa. I really do love the designs on the fabrics used by these designers. My size is too large to fit into any of their styles (I’m much better off in the frumpy traditional Nigerian clothing which gives the “traditionally built” African woman room for her volupiousness) but I can still acknowledge that they are beautiful and as good (if not better) than anything I’ve seen come down the runways of Paris, Milan, or New York (I do sometimes watch Fashion Television).
 
Ijaw Girl sometimes just posts pictures from Nigerian newspapers and magazines of women she considers to be “Head to Toe Perfect” in terms of style. She writes:
 
Nigerian women are super fabulous; i know, i know.i could say that a million times. Your probably sick of hearing it; but come on this is a blog that generally celebrates fabulous Nigerian fashion and pretty much anything fashion related.
As amazing as i consider Nigerian women stylewise, there are lots who generally go over the top with their outfits;so when i find pictures of Nigerian women that look on point you know I’m drawn to them like a complete magpie and i get super excited.
 
It seems that the Nigerian Fashion Industry is really booming. There is even something called Le petite marche in Lagos, a monthly flee market, which provides a venue for new and established independent designers and entrepreneurs to network and sell their creations.
 
I have to thank the Ijaw Girl blog for exposing me to the Nigerian Fashion industry, something which I really knew nothing about. The writing style is far too text-message cutesy for me so I won’t be a regular reader but I wish the designer success with her label, and given the success other Nigerian Fashion designers seem to be having in Nigeria and abroad (several are premiering at New York’s Fashion Week) she will have ample opportunities to make a name for herself.

Poem: Spirit of the Wind by Gabriel Okara

Posted in African Literature, Countries: Nigeria, Nigerian Literature, Peoples: The Ijo by the woyingi blogger on August 14, 2009

Spirit of the Wind by Gabriel Okara

The storks are coming now
white specks in the silent sky.
They had gone north seeking
fairer climes to build their homes
when here was raining.

They are back with me now
spirits of the wind,
beyond the gods’ confining hands
they go north and west and east,
instinct guiding.

But willed by the gods
I’m sitting on this rock
watching them come and go
from sunrise to sundown,
with the spirit urging within.

And urging, a red pool stirs,
and each ripple is
the instinct’s vital call,
a desire in a million cells
confined.

O God of the gods and me,
shall I not heed
this prayer-bell call,
the noon angelus,
because my stork is caged
in singed hair and dark skin?

Poem: The Call of the River Nun by Gabriel Okara

Posted in African Literature, Countries: Nigeria, Nigerian Literature, Peoples: The Ijo by the woyingi blogger on August 14, 2009

This is Gabriel Okara’s famous poem.
The Nun is formed when the Niger River splits in two, forming the Nun and Forcados rivers. This poem is all the more poignant now to Ijaws because Shell is dredging the River Nun .

The Call of the River Nun

I hear your call!
I hear it far away;
I hear it break the circle of these crouching hills.

I want to view your face again and feel your cold embrace;
or at your brim to set myself and inhale your breath;
or like the trees, to watch my mirrored self unfold and span my days with song from the lips of dawn.
I hear your lapping call!
I hear it coming through; invoking the ghost of a child listening, where river birds hail your silver-surfaced flow.

My river’s calling too!
Its ceaseless flow impels my found’ring canoe down its inevitable course.
And each dying year brings near the sea-bird call, the final call that stills the crested waves and breaks in two the curtain of silence of my upturned canoe.
O incomprehensible God!
Shall my pilot be my inborn stars to that final call to Thee.
O my river’s complex course?

Further Reading:

Interview with Gabriel Okara in the Sun News Online

Interview with Gabriel Okara in African Writing Online

Interview with Gabriel Okara, an Ijaw Writer

I want to devout a large portion of my blog to sharing my knowledge of Nigerian History, Literature and Culture with my readers.

Nigerian Literature is probably more well known internationally than the literature of other African countries but it is still not read a much as it should be.

This article is a great interview with a famous Ijaw writer, Gabriel Okara, which originally appeared in the Nigerian Sun News Online.

It’s also a great survey of some pivotal events in Nigerian History, such as the Biafran War.

My father met Okara’s daughter and through her I was able to have a short exchange through e-mail with Gabriel Okara himself. I intend to write a review of his novel, The Voice, soon for my blog.

Unfortunately, this article also highlights the lack of financial support given to Nigeria’s great artists.


Writer saw me pushing my old car and Gov gave me a new one -Gabriel Okara

By NWAGBO NNENYELIKE
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Although he has just 17 years left to become a centenarian, Gabriel Okara, the great African poet, is still very active and agile. The octogenarian writer, whose poem, The Call of the River Nun, won the best literature award 51 years ago in the Nigerian Festival of Arts, developed his writing career through self-education and reading. This took him to several libraries, including that of Oxford University, England. The outcome of this reading habit made him one of the main literary figures not only in his country and Africa, but also around the globe.

The Ijaw-born poet, who is reputed for projecting African world-view, has also argued in favour of indigenous languages. He has reasoned that English language can be well manipulated to express African cultural values. This is what he experiments in his popular novel, The Voice.

Many of his poems are embedded with Ijaw imageries and symbols. And because he abhors injustice in whatever form, the poet told Daily Sun that he stood on the side of Biafra during the civil war as a propaganda officer and later, as the poet who was able to write so many war poems.

Background

I was born in 1921 at Boumandi in Bayelsa State. I attended the village school and also primary school in Kaiama from where I was awarded government scholarship to Government College, Umuahia. I left the college in 1940. That was during the Second World War. I had wanted to join the Air Force but because I failed the medical test, I joined the British Airways. I was transferred to the Gambia from where I came back to Nigeria. I have been a widower for many years. My wife died in 1983. Remarry? Oh! I do not want to talk about that but I have four children.

Information service/Journalism

All the while I was in the Airways, I was reading and writing. Then when I came to Nigeria from the Gambia, I joined the media. It was in Enugu when my poem, The Call of the River Nun, won the best award for literature in Nigeria Festival of Arts in 1953. From then, I continued writing. I later became the information officer in the Eastern Regional Government. I ran a number of courses in British Information Services Centre, London. Also, I was in Northwestern University, USA where I studied Comparative Journalism and Public Relations. That was a special programme for foreign journalists.

My role in the civil war

I was the head of the information service when the civil war broke out. I was on the side of Biafra, tagged the rebels. I wrote many war poems some of which were included in my first poetry book, The Fisherman’s Invocation, which won the Commonwealth prize in 1979. I did not go to the warfront as a soldier. I was the director of the cultural division of the Propaganda Directorate. I worked with Comrade Uche Chukwumerije and Dr. Eke. I have not heard much of Eke now, but they were the top directors.

Biafran intellectuals/Emeka Ojukwu

They were those attuned intellectually to the course of Biafra, because they were convinced that it was a right and just course. People like Chinua Achebe, Cyprian Ekwensi and myself who is not an Igbo and many others. The Biafran leader, Emeka Ojukwu, sent three of us to the US during the war to tell the world about the fate of Biafra. This was to let the world know that it was not just soldiers but that intellectuals joined in the fight, too. We read our literary works during the tour.

After the war

I was absorbed back into the civil service which had by then been created. I set up the Rivers State newspaper, The Tide, from scratch. Again, I set up Rivers State Television. I became commissioner for Information and Broadcasting in 1975.

How I started

I was propelled by the interest in writing, reading and the curiosity to know. Early in life, I knew I was going to write even as I was at the Government College, Umuahia. In fact I thought I was going to be a Fine Artists. I painted so well in water colour. But later I came to realise that I’m more talented in writing poetry. So I started and continued with it. I cannot remember the first poem I ever wrote but I wrote, a lot and even short stories till the time I wrote the poem that won the literature award in 1953.

The Call of the River Nun

In this poem, I was trying to remember my life as a child born at the bank of River Nun; how peaceful, joyous and beautiful life was at that time. Then coming into life as an adult in a strange place like Enugu, I found that things were not what I thought they would be. As a child, everything was rosy and beautiful. But as an adult, I came face to face with the realities of life and the various challenges people contend with. People follow unscrupulous ways to get along, shoving other people aside in a crowd to move on. It became a matter of survival of the fittest.

Ijaw/riverine world view

Ijaw man does everything of his in the water. He derives his livelihood in the river and other water related things. His way of life is the water. That is his culture.

African Literature

There are about three schools of thought as to what African literature is. One said you do not have to write in a special way that your Africaness would emerge with respect to what you write in any foreign language. The other group went to the extreme to argue that the only authentic African Literature must be written in the indigenous language of the writer. Mine is the mid-way. We can adapt the metropolitan language, but use it in such a way that it will suit our own way and the idea we want to express in our own language. That is the result you find in my novel, The Voice.

Inspiration

It is all about being very sensitive to what happens around me. I see things in the way that others would not see them. For instance, in my ideal country, I think of a corruption-free country because it is corruption that pervades all sectors of the society. The reality of corruption in the society conflicts with my own corruption-free society. It is like singing. What makes the singer sing may be the feeling of joy or sorrow. This feeling can equally be expressed in poetry or in prose. So I have, in most cases, expressed my feeling using poems.

Symbols and images

I use them a lot in my poems. The Fisherman’s Invocation, for example, is full of symbolism. I am talking about the gaining of our desire, the independence. That is the fight for victory. After the victory dance and the palm wine in the head, we have to face governance. In the poem, I have used the reverie Ijaw symbols and images as well as tradition to present the experience. In most cases, I use universal imageries. For instance, in the same The Fisherman’s Invocation, I used Midwife which is known everywhere. That is to say that when you write, your culture is bound to reflect and also universal culture.

Block

At times people want to write, but it will not flow. In my own case, it does not happen very often Whenever it happens I leave that particular piece to sleep for days, weeks, months and even for years before I start it again. But I will be writing other things. My best writing time is in the night.

Christopher Okigbo

He was a very good friend of mine. We used to gather, form a poetry group, read and criticise our poems. That was when we were all young. Apart from poems, we used to talk about the state of the nation. Wole Soyinka used to be in the group.

Writing for children

I write for children just like Chinua Achebe does. We all learnt a lot in Government College, Umuahia. But Achebe and the rest of them were my juniors. Most of the teachers that taught us were young graduates from Oxford and Cambridge who were very sound. The library was filled with books. So I feel that it is to nurture the reading as well as writing habit of children which I equally acquired in the college by writing for them. It will also help to implant the idea of honesty, bravery, hard work and good behaviour while they are young because most of us imbibed same as children. Apart from school, my father taught me early in life that it is better to tell the truth and die than to live in falsehood. And that if I must be anything in life, I must work hard for it. These have been my guiding principles.

State of Nigerian writers

Many people work, retire and live on pension. But the case of writers is quite different because they are independent. Writers are self-employed and live by our writing. That is the only thing we have. We gain very little in terms of cash reward. This is because many people stop reading immediately they leave school. In fact, generally, poets do not have money. Only textbook writers make money these days because their works are used in school. But then the money they make is still small. Ours is if the Ministry of Education recommends our creative work, you make money during that period. When the book is no longer required, nothing again. Worst still, there is the case of piracy. Of course, the copyright law is not effective because nobody is really enforcing it.

State of poetry in Nigeria

There are some young writers whose poems are good. But many also have wrong ideas about poetry. They feel they will not make money by writing poems. So when they are in school, they ask what are they going to do with poetry when they leave school. They conclude that with something like Engineering or Law, they can make money. As such, they do not develop interest in poetry. Indeed, the state of poetry is that people do not read poems for the sake of reading them but for examinations. Many people do not read at all. Some think that poetry is a foreign thing. I ran a class in Imo State University and I told the students that poetry exists with us, that we have it in our villages. The traditional songs we sing and ballads are all poetry. And that is how poetry started in Europe before it was written down. I told them to write down in the native language some of their traditional songs like dirges, the songs at marriages and other events. They did and I asked them to read and sing them. Later I asked them to translate them to English. After the exercise, they were all happy. They accompanied these songs with dances. Of course, in African tradition, songs go with dance. You cannot stand still when you sing as the Europeans do. It was a great revelation to them.

Literature in Nigeria

There is a wrong idea about literature in this country, especially among the youths. They think that anything written is publishable. I am saying this out of experience. Many bring what they have written for me to help them get a publisher. But publishing companies are commercial enterprises. They want to make money out of what a writer has written and give him a certain percentage. So it is not easy for some works to be published. But those who have the urge to write should continue. Opportunity would surely come for the publishers or the general public to discover them.

Car gift to me

The Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepriye Alamieyeseigha, presented a brand new 406 Peugeot to me on my birthday. I was told that the Secretary-General of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Bayelsa State branch, told the governor that he saw me pushing my old car trying to get it started along the street. The governor was touched as to why a great man like me push a car when I should ride comfortably in my car. I am grateful to the governor for that kind gesture.

My coming volume

My next volume of poems is with the publishers in the US. The title is, The Dreams, His Vision. I chose that title because most of the poems are about debacle and suffering under the military dictatorship. The dreamer is a man who dreamt about the future of his country and joined the mass movement of the people, became a leader of the masses and was overthrown by the dictators. The dreamer is somebody who would come and deliver this nation from the grip of military dictatorship. What made me use the title is Moshood Abiola. When he was campaigning for the presidency, he said, “You the people of this country have made me what I am today. And I am going to give you back when I become the president.’’ I respected him for that statement which is a great dream, but he never lived to realise it. So he is the dreamer in that poem.

My publications

The books I have written are, The Fisherman’s Invocation (poetry), The Voice (prose), and a lot of books on children, like Little Snakes and Little Frog.

Further Reading:

The Voice, a novel by Gabriel Okara

Another Interview with Okara on African Writing Online

How I was Destined to be the First Arogbo Ijaw Canadian

It is, of course, a matter of some debate whether I truly am the First Arogbo Ijaw Canadian of mixed heritage. My father is convinced of this fact. Actually, he considers the siring of the first “half-White” Arobgo Ijaw Canadian to be one, if not the, greatest accomplishment of his life.

I have written earlier about the Ijaw concept of destiny or fate. I wonder if in some way my father tried to defy his destiny by coming to Canada and so, although granted his wish of having a half-White child, something he had dreamed of doing since he was nine years old and had seen his first White man, a Lutheran missionary, he was not allowed to stay here. The circumstances of my father’s deportation and my subsequent disconnection from him seem to be the stuff of Ijaw tragedy. 

But I was not only conceived by one person. There is also my mother and her fate.

You see, just as if I was to be born to my father I was destined to be half-White, if I was to be born to my mother I was destined to be half-Black.

My mother only dated Black men since she was a teenager. She felt safer with Black men, due to the abuse she experienced in her home and in early relationships with White men, she had come to fear them. But Black people, Black men in particular, had always  struck her as “safe” and kind. I think she watched too many Sidney Poitier movies growing up. I wonder how many mixed race folks owe their existence to the aura of Sidney Poitier?

My mother had grown up watching Black people on television-dignified and great men like Poitier and Martin Luther King, Jr. She first met Black people in the flesh during a trip to Windsor, Ontario, when she was about eight. She had wandered away from her mother and found herself in front of a Black Baptist Church. She heard the singing of the choir and was drawn in. She thought this church was far more entertaining than the ones in Alymer, Quebec. The congregation welcomed her and she felt the warmth of their community. My grandmother eventually found her and was furious. I believe from that moment, I was destined to be my mother’s daughter.

But I must say, I have been a disappointment. I have never exuded the level of warmth my mother expected to radiate from me due to my African heritage. My mother made the mistake of confusing culture with genetics. She expected that African American Gospel Culture would run in my veins. From an early age my mother was horrified in my taste in music. Although she was raising me on the rhythms of Motown, as a child I prefered the angst ridden lyrics of pasty, emaciated White boys like Morrissey (Note: If your child is listening to Morrissey before the age of 15 you really should seek out medical help).  When I turned 11 I got into Nirvana and the whole Grunge Movement. In my teens, the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was my favourite album. This was not what my mother had hoped for.

And in the end, my father was not what my mother had hoped for either. He was no Sidney Poitier. He couldn’t save her in all the ways she wanted to be saved (If she had been really paying attention to the words they were singing in the Baptist Church she would have known that only Jesus could do this). I believe this disappointment was one of the many reasons why she decided to revoke her sponsorship of my father, inevitably leading to his deportation. She would later regret this and tried to say that she wanted to sponsor him again but she kept changing her mind each time she had a falling out with him and so the courts didn’t believe her.

So in the end, neither of my parents really got what they wanted but their longing led to my creation. I was destined to have them as my parents.

Ijaw View of the Personality by Margaret Laurence

Posted in Canadian Literature, Countries: Nigeria, Peoples: The Ijo by the woyingi blogger on July 21, 2009

Acclaimed Canadian writer Margaret Laurence’s only work of Literary Criticism is about early Nigerian Literature in English. In Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists 1952 -1966, originally published in 1968, she studies such internationally famous Nigerian writers as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. She also studies the work of two less widely known writers of Ijaw heritage, Gabriel Okara and John Pepper Clark. In her chapter on the work of John Pepper Clark she explains the Ijaw concept of the soul.

I am half Ijaw and I find it is very difficult to find information about Ijaw religious traditions beyond descriptions of deities in the pantheon. Unlike with the Yoruba, an ethnic group I am also descended from, there has not been many Ijaw writers who have written academic level studies of Ijaw religious philosophy. If you are aware of any works of this nature I would greatly appreciate information about them.

What follows in an excerpt from Long Drums and Cannons in which Laurence describes the Ijaw concepts of teme and biomgbo:

Ijaw View of the Personality

According to traditional Ijaw belief, before a person is born, a part of his soul decides his destiny. There is also a village destiny. The ancestors and the gods continue to play a parental role, and the living, as in most tribal societies, remain in the role of children. This, obviously, creates irritations for the adults in a community, but it also provides emotional security, for a man is never utterly alone. An individual’s fate is influenced not only by his conscious efforts but also by his lineage and by his teme, that part of his spirit which decided his fate before he was born and which will continue to live after his death. But-and here is the really essential difference between the deeply tribal outlook of the Ijaw and the deeply tribal outlook of the classical Greeks-according to the Ijaw, a man’s destiny can be changed. With the proper rituals, his pre-natal wishes can be altered. Unlike Oedipus, or Antigone, or Agamemnon, his destiny is not inevitable.

The personality, in the Ijaw view, is layered, just as it is in the Freudian view. The biomgbo or personal soul, containing the individual’s desires and feelings, corresponds to the conscious mind. The teme or steersman of the soul is comparable to the unconscious, whose aims are unknown to the conscious mind and often in diametrical opposition to it. If a man’s fate is to be changed, however, it can be done only with the proper observance of rituals, not by the individual acting alone.

I have often wondered how I would fit into Ijaw religious traditions as a person of mixed ethnic heritage born far away from my father’s ancestral village. If your destiny is also connected with the destiny of your village then what if you are born far away fromt that village and never visit it?

Recommended Reading:

Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists 1952-1966. Edited by Nora Foster Stovel. University of Alberta Press. 2001 Review available online

African Interests: White Liberalism and Resistance in Margaret Laurence’s “Pure Diamond Man” by John C. Eustace (essay available online)

Some Ijaw Proverbs

Posted in Countries: Nigeria, Peoples: The Ijo by the woyingi blogger on June 3, 2009

As my readers may know, my father comes from the Nigerian minority ethnic group the Ijaw, who are concentrated in the Niger Delta.

The following are some proverbs from this community whose wisdom and truth particularly resonate with me. I found them on the website of the Bayelsa State Council for Arts and Culture.

Tell me what you think about them.

A child who hides what he is doing from his father will always go to the old man for help when trouble comes.

He who sees a rough river and tries to cross with a small canoe should not blame God.

It is only when the fishing gear is broken that one hears its wonderful performance. The tongue is only 3 inches, but it can kill a man that is 6ft tall.

A person who has not secured a place on the floor should not look for a mat.

If the singer is a fool, the listener is also a fool.

A man who thinks everything around him is sweet should remember that bitter leaves grow in the bush with oranges.

A man may have unlimited access to his wife and share flesh and blood but her bones belong to her people.

He whose house is on fire does not pursue a rat.

To whom nothing is given, of him nothing can be required.

He who has not sat on the marital stool does not know the problems of marriage.

One does not protect another’s head in such a manner as to allow the hawk to lift one’s own off one’s shoulder.

A wise fish knows that a beautiful worm that looks so easy to swallow has a sharp hook attached to it.

Neither whose reign brings peace and stability nor the one whose reign brings turbulence would be forgotten.

The man who jumps from the ground onto an ant-hill is still on the ground.

The world is like a dancing masquerade. If you want to see it well, you do not stand is one place.

The rat says he has no quarrel with its killer but with the one who informs on its whereabouts.

Happiness in marriage is a matter of chance.

A parent with only one child sleeps with one eye open.

If you wish to read more Ijaw proverbs visit the Bayelsa State Council for Arts and Culture website.

The Return to Arogbo: Reflections on Slavery, Kinship, and Going Home

Posted in All About My Nigerian Father, Arogbo, Countries: Nigeria, Peoples: The Ijo, The Woyingi Blogger by the woyingi blogger on April 21, 2009

A few months ago, my father took the body of his elder brother back to the village of Arogbo in Ondo State, Nigeria to be buried. When my father dies, he too will return to Arogbo to be laid to rest. I wonder if my father hopes that I also would wish to be buried there. My father tells me that the people of Arogbo are my people.

A few years ago, when my father tried to convince me to visit him in Nigeria, the people of Arogbo built me a hut and a canoe in expectation of my return. The idea was that I would be returning to Arogbo because this was the place I always belonged, even if I had never been there before in my life. I can’t use a canoe to save my life. Here in Canada, canoeing is actually a very popular pastime. But as a child I was too poor to go to camp and learn to canoe. The canoe was an invention of the indigenous peoples of this land. Canoes were used by early European explorers in order to navigate the vast territory that is now called Canada, a word that means village in Iroquois. Canada became the property of kings and queens thousands of nautical miles away who would never stoop to sit in a canoe. The Ijaws have a reputation for being experts at navigating the creeks and rivers of the Niger Delta with their canoes.

My father’s people have a close relationship with this landscape. The pollution caused by oil drilling in the region has destroyed the livilihood of many of my father’s people, as well as sending toxins into the drinking water which have resulted in an increase in cases of cancer and other maladies.

It was only when I found my father that I learned of the Ijaws. I’ve spent the majority of my life not knowing that such an ethnic group even existed. So what can my relationship to them possibly be? When I learned that my father was an Ijaw I immediately tried to get my hands on anything written about them. I was lucky to find Alagoa’s “A History of the Niger Delta” which really should be called the history of the Ijaw because it gives detailed chronologies of each Ijaw sub-group in the Niger Delta region.

It was from this book that I learned that the Ijaw were broken down into sub-groups. I asked my father which sub-group he belonged to and he said we were Arogbo. Of course, “we” were Arogbo, not just him. Arogbo roughly translated means canoe-maker’s camp in Ijaw (aru-canoe, obgo-forest). The Arogbo are further divided into three groups. My father belongs to the group Erubiri, from which the Agadagba, the king of the Arogbo, is chosen.

The following passages are taken from “A History of the Niger Delta: An Historical Interpretation of Ijo Oral Tradition” by Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, Onyoma Research Publications 2005.

Arogbo lies in the middle of trade routes traversing this part of the Niger Delta. Accordingly, it is the only Ijo sub-group for which direct references can be found or inferred in the European records. It also had contacts with the Ijebu (Yoruba) traders in the delta to the west and with Itsekiri on the Benin River to the east. This history of varied contacts is shown now in the bilingualism of the Arogbo (in Ijo and Yoruba). They have retained their Ijo dialect and cultures intact because of their delta location south of the Apoi (another Ijo sub-group), and because of their Egbema Ijo neighbours to the south-east. In addition, Arogbo traditions are in the mainstream of Ijo traditions of origin and migration from the Central to the Western delta.p. 32

Perebienmo who led the Arogbo out of the Central Delta is said to have been the son of a previous pere (The religious head of an Ijo sub-group serving its national god as High Priest) Ogbonu, but his authority was largely based on the fact that he was priest of the gods Egbesu (The Ijo God of War and Retribution)… The connection with Egbesu is specially preserved in the coronation of the Agadagba of Arogbo. The ceremonies are rounded off at the shrine of Egbesu. He is told that he derives his power from Egbesu and must serve Egbesu. And finally, that he must pray daily at the shrine for the welfare of all three quarters of Arogbo-Aguobiri, Egbesubiri, and Erubiri. p. 33

The sense of unity and continuity is again evident in the position of Agadagba of Egbesu, the priest/king of the Arogbo. In the coronation, it is the head of Egbesubiri who shows the pere elect from Erubiri to the people, and it is the head of Aguobiri who marks him with the chalk of office. The traditional regalia too show little influence from outside: a staff of multiple iron bells, and armband made of leopard’s teeth (the animal sacred to Egbesu) and coral beads, an eagle feather, and a crown made of beads. Arogbo traditions claim a trading area extending westwards to Lagos and eastwards to the Itsekiri country. Slaves were mentioned as a prime article of sale, and piracy is implied as a means of procuring slaves. These claims seem supported by early nineteenth-century accounts of trade in this portion of the Niger Delta. The Ijebu slave, Osifekunde, had been captured by Ijo pirates, who could have been Arogbo, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Osifekunde had been following Ijebu trade routes in the delta covering the same area claimed by the Arogbo…p. 34

A second early nineteen-century source identifies Arogbo even more specifically. One of Koelle’s slave informants at Freetown (Sierra Leone) on African languages was Okoro who supplied a word list of Edso (clearly Ijo). This Ijo dialect has been identified as Arogbo; and Okoro belonged to the Egbesubiri ward of Arogbo. He had known Ijebu and had been sold into slavery at the Itsekiri port of Bobi on the Benin River. (FGH: He had been convicted of adultery and sold by his fellow Ijaw). The goods listed by the Arogbo as traded by their ancestors are similar to lists in early European accounts of the Benin River. They included slaves, carvings, ivory and birds such as parrots……p. 35

There are still in Arogbo several relics of the trans-Atlantic trade, including old cannon, and collections of porcelain and china ornaments. And when in 1885, the British came to erect posts of sanctuary for slaves in this part of the delta, Arogbo was one of the places chosen. The Arogbo date the planting of this okpo, or freedom pole, in the reign of Aga (circa 1885). p.36

How am I supposed to react to that? What responsibility do I carry for this? What degree of guilt should I feel?

You might say that I’m making too much of a big deal out of this. So, my ancestors sold slaves. Also, my ancestors were enslaved too by rival African ethnic groups. There is evidence of Ijaws in places like Cuba and Guyana. My ancestors didn’t really benefit from the trade. Just look at the sorry state of the Ijaw today! Africa is so incredibly underdeveloped. White people made all the real profits. This is true but I do have one privilege that the descendants of the Africans my ancestors sold don’t have: I know my origins.

African Americans are paying thousands of dollars to have their maternal DNA tested in the hopes of tracing just where their ancestors might have originated from in Africa. One of the most serious traumas caused by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was the breaking of kinship ties. People no longer know their origins. Even if I don’t know what it means to me to be Ijaw, I know that I am part Ijaw. My father is from Arogbo and he is of the Erubiri. Whether I want to or not, I can choose to go home again and be buried in the soil with the bones of my ancestors.