The Itsekiri (also called the, Isekiri, Ijekiri or Ishekiri) are a peculiar and unique riverine ethnic group currently numbering over 1 Million people. They were traditionally fishermen and skillful traders living in the Nigerian Niger Delta. They have inhabited their traditional homeland, which now constitutes three Local Government Areas of Delta State (Warri South, Warri North and Warri South-West) for centuries as well as parts of Edo and Ondo states. The Itsekiris also make up a considerable proportion of the modern towns of Sapele, Burutu, and Forcados in other local governments of Delta- as well as many large cities and towns in the country such as Lagos, Port harcourt, Benin City and Abuja F.C.T.. The Itsekiris traditionally refer to their land as the Kingdom of Warri or 'Iwerre' as its proper name.
Itsekiri people lived in communities like Ode Ugborodo, Ogidigben, Ureju, Koko, Mereje, Ode Itsekiri, Okerenkoko, Inorin, Eroghor, Jakpa, Okere, Omadino etc, in a Pre-Ginuwa era. Ginuwa is said to have been a Benin Prince, but the Olu and his people were quickly absorbed into Itsekiri (A Yoruba dialect akin to South-Eastern climes of the language) like the Romans who conquered the Greeks but were civilized by the Greeks.
In the 15th century (1400's), these early Itsekiris adopted prince Iginua (Ginuwa) from the Kingdom of Benin as a monarch, and quickly coalesced into a kingdom under his rule which birthed the Iwere kingdom in 1480.
Traditionally fishermen and traders, the Itsekiri were among the first in the region to make contact with Portuguese traders. The Itsekiri are a minority ethnic group in Niger-Delta but they were well-respected by the Europeans that met them during the pre-colonial and the colonial era. Dapper in 1668 had described the Itsekiri as being in many ways cleverer than the Bini (Roth H. Ling. Great Benin). Captain Leonard described the lsekiri thus: "on the Warri and Benin rivers we find the itsekiri middle men who are not only the most intelligent and tractable but quite the best mannered of all the tribes in the lower Niger' (southern Nigeria) (Captain Leonard 1906).
The Itsekiri are a people of mixed ethnic origins who speak a language very closely related to the Yoruba and Igala languages of South Western and central Nigeria, but which has also borrowed some vocabulary, particularly loan words from the Edo (Benin) language in some court terminologies, Portuguese in trade terminologies and also more recently, English. Although linguistically related to the Yoruba and Igala ethnic groups, however, through centuries of intermingling modern day Itsekiris are of mixed ethnic origins. They are primarily of South-Eastern Yoruba groups (Ilaje, Ijebu, Akure, Ikale, Ondo and Owo), but also Edo, Urhobo, Ijo, some Anglo-Scottish and Portuguese descent) and are today mainly Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic) by religion.
Having six centuries of direct cultural exposure to Western Christianity and other African influences, contemporary Itsekiri language and culture successfully evolved into a hybrid of the many cultures that have influenced its development. Similarly owing to the complex ethnic mix of most Itsekiris over the centuries, many individuals self-identifying as Itsekiri would usually be a complex mix of any of the aforementioned ethnic and racial groups.
Itsekiri society traditionally had the following classes: (1) Oton Olu (Royals), (2) Oma jaja (king-makers), (3) Egungun (people with shady spiritual origin), (4) Ajoji (Strangers) and (5) Oton Eru (Slaves).
Itsekiri believe in Supreme Being and Creator God known as (Oritse). Their neighbours the Edo call God (Osanobua), The Ilaje call God him (Olorun) while smaller gods are called (Orisha). The deity Omalokun in Itsekiri, is the provider of sea foods. Ife oracle with its 256 literary corpus (Odu) is a compendium of the cultural practices of the people. It includes the metaphysical and psychic studies of the people, a source of ethics and discipline of the people. It must be sustained to raise the spiritual level of the people. There have been 20 Olus of Warri, the latest being Ikenwole Abiloye Emiko, who took the throne after the death of Atuwatse II (Toritseju Emiko)
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