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Idah: Traditional Capital Of Igala Kingdom

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Wriitten by Abah Adah Last update 09/10/2017

Idah is an ancient metropolitan town located in present day Kogi State of Nigeria. Primarily populated by the Igala tribe, Idah is regarded as the traditional capital (headquarters) of the Igala Kingdom. It is also a small local government area in Kogi State. The predominant language spoken here is Igala.

Geography and Demography

Idah, an old river port town, lies on a sandstone cliff on the east bank of the River Niger in the North central (Middle Belt) region of the country. Directly overlooking Idah land across the river, i.e., on the west bank of the Niger, is Aganebode in the South-south geopolitical zone of the country, which serves as the capital and ancestral city of all Weppa-Wanno (predominantly Etsako speaking) people and as the administrative headquarters of Etsako East Council.

During the 2006 headcount, the population figure of the area, whose landmass is approximately 36 sq km (14 sq miles), was put at 79, 815 people.

On the globe, Idah Local Council Area of which Idah is the headquarters, can be located on coordinates 7o 05’ N 6o 45’ E / 7.083o N 6.750o E at an altitude of approximately 62 metres.

Idah has commercial routes on the River Niger linking Lokoja, the Kogi State Capital, through to the north of the country, Onitsha in Anambra State, to the South, and Aganebode in Edo State, across the Niger with the aid of ferry service, to the west. Roads from the town lead to Nsukka and Ayangba as well.

History and Politics

Different versions of Oral tradition concerning the origin of Idah and the entire Igala have been given. While some have related the Igala to the Yorubas in the west, others believe they migrated from the ancient Jukun Empire and may have the same ancestral lineage with the Idomas in Benue State, yet some accounts recognise part of Igalaland, especially Idah, as being inhabited by migrants from Benin in the early teen centuries. The variation may have stemmed from proximity factors and the fact that the Igalas have, in part, cultural affiliations with the west, the Jukun offshoots, and Benin. However, some inhabitants of Idah and their Weppa-Wanno cousins on the other side of the River Niger in Edo State believe their origin is traceable to the ancient Benin Kingdom, even the close cultural similarities among the people on both sides point to that. According to a report, the Iyase (Prime Chief) of Weppa-Wanno kingdom, High Chief A. O. Ethuakhor, once said that the Igala people who reside in Idah might have moved and crossed the river by a stroke of opportunity long before those who settled at Aganebode at the west-side bank of the Niger.

He said: “The origination from Benin is very clear. We migrated from Benin and it is the barrier of the Niger that stopped the movement. It is possible that the Igala people crossed earlier. Aganebode moved here in the fifteenth century and the people of Idah could have moved earlier. It is because of the barrier that our people settled here and that is how the name itself evolved. A-gane-gbode means Settle down here; we are not passing beyond.”

This account was partly corroborated by the Achadu Igala (Second to Attah of Igala), Alhaji Yusuf Ameadaji, who said there are still some Edo-speaking people now indigenous to Idah.

From either of the two banks, the other town is visible. And maybe to sustain the buoyant commercial activities and trade between them, there are two important markets located on either of the shores. In Idah, the historic Ega Market, located close to the river bank, welcomes traders and goods transported from Aganebode across the river, while the Bode Market is the first point of contact on arrival from the Idah side. In both markets, Igala and Etsako languages are used for commercial transactions. Traders from both towns converge at the markets every five days to buy and sell. Common commodities of exchange at the markets include palm oil, cassava flour, garri, fish, fruits, yams and domestic animals.

As if to further collaborate the legend of the Igala-speaking Idah people migrating from Benin, a historical account has it that Idah was brought under the jurisdiction of the kingdom of Benin by Oba (King) Esigie in the early 16th century. From Benin, the polity of Idah adopted both a system of kingship and the art of cire perdue (“lost wax”) casting in bronze. It was also believed that Tsoede, the son of an early Attah (“king”, the title of the paramount traditional ruler of the Igala nation till date), left Idah and conquered and refounded the kingdom of Nupe (near the confluence of the Niger and Kaduna rivers); he is also said to have introduced to the Nupe people the art of bronze casting, for which they later became well known.

The Attah Igala, who now sits on the foremost traditional throne of Igala land, is His Royal Majesty (HRM), Michael Ameh Oboni II. He succeeded HRM, Alhaji Aliyu Obaje who died in July, 2012.

Economy

During the 19th century, Idah was a thriving port, trading palm oil and kernels and rubber to Europeans and staple crops, cotton, woven cloth, horses and other livestock, pots, and knives to the Igbo people just to the south. The Igala were able to maintain strict control over the lower Niger trade, north of Idah (no Igbo boats were allowed above the port), partially because just south of the town, the Niger valley emerges from a narrow, rocky section to some wide, extensive floodplains.

Modern Idah remains a major trading centre (palm produce, yams, cassava [manioc], rice, and fish) on the river. Besides trade and farming, the local population is engaged in making canoes, fishing nets, and soap; handicrafts and cotton weaving are also significant. There are limestone deposits in the vicinity and coal deposits near Ankpa, 68 miles (109 km) east-northeast.

Religion

As was the case with most African settings, the Igala people adhere to the three main religions in Nigeria: traditional African religion, Christianity and Islam. Islam is the predominant religion in Igalaland of which Idah remains the nucleus. Before the introduction of Islam in Igala, the Igala had a very powerful kingdom that was driven spiritually by African religion (or what you may call paganism) which is no longer popular with the people today. Though Usman dan Fodio’s jihad war in the early 19th century did not extend to Igalaland, majority of the inhabitants embraced Islamic faith in the aftermath of the religious war. The influence of Islam in Igalaland emanated out of political circumstance. Igalaland, which falls geographically to the South (of Nigeria), was made to belong to the North politically. The Hausa/Fulani who were the most influential political group in the North were mostly Muslims. As the political heavy weights, the rest—who number about two hundred ethnic groups—fell under their political and religious influence. Hence Islam became popular among the inhabitants of the area.

On the other hand, a good number of inhabitants of Idah, though in the minority, are Christains. Christian missionaries have been active among the Igala since the 1860s and, as was customary of the early missionaries, the teaching of the Christian faith was done side by side with the spreading of western education. Idah’s Roman Catholic community is the sponsor of a secondary school and a teacher-training college to the benefit of many families in the area. That was how the foundation of western education became established, and today, Idah has primary, secondary, and tertiary educational institutions spread across the Kingdom. The Federal Polytechnic, Idah, established in the year 1977 (then as Idah College of Technology), is one of the outstandingly reputed technical schools in Nigeria that has produced technocrats in many areas of human endeavour.

Culture

Idah people are good observers of moral ethics such as respect for elders, decent dressing, and table manners, among others. The act of greeting is highly cherished among the people: on such occasions, pleasantries are exchanged passionately for as long as two to five minutes when two people meet.

Infants from most parts of the kingdom usually receive three deep horizontal cuts on each side of the face, slightly above the corners of their mouths, as a way of identifying them. However, this practice is becoming less common.

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