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Historically Itsekiri are said to have migrated from Egypt to their present day location in Nigeria. According to Jackson Omasanjuwa Ireyefoju and Florence Ejuogharanmakelesan Ireyefoju in their seminal work “Ife Oracle in Itsekiri Social System of Nigeria,” Itsekiri people came from Egypt after the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. They arrived and settled in the present Warri Kingdom in about 28 B.C in Gborodo, Ureju and Ode Itsekiri. The leaders of the teams were Iset, Iweret and Ipi. This part of Itsekiri history is one that can’t be dismissed so easily as there are more similarly in Itsekiri language and custom with those of the ancient Egyptians than any that of Itsekiri and any other civilisation in the world.

The Catafalque of Erejuwa II.  Just like an old Egyptian Catafalque.
The Catafalque of Erejuwa II.
Just like an old Egyptian Catafalque.

Another school of taught said that The aboriginal inhabitants of Warri Kingdom can be said to be as far back as to some few years before the medieval time when communities were frequently engaged in inter-communal clashes, most especially from the Yoruba communities. John O. Sagay said “the people called Itsekiri today did not have a common origin. They represent different migrant groups on which a monarch was superimposed.

It is said the much earlier peoples from Ode, near Ijebu Waterside and Igala in Nupe country had moved to settle in Omadino and Irigbo-Okotomu (Ode-Itsekiri) respectively.

Others had come from Akure and Owo, and through the coast to settle in various parts, including Uregu and Ugborodo. Even though they remained a part as independent mini-communities, they appeared because of the predominance of the Yoruba stock amongst them, to have developed a Yoruba dialect (Itsekiri).

Again it is said that, several waves of migration before the 15th century and some a little 16th century. Groups from Igala in Nupe country, came in through the Creeks, Yoruba from Ijebu-Ode, Akure and Owo found their way into parts of the kingdom and a group from Aboh also came in. Some along the coast came in.

When the struggle for the carving out of kingdoms were at its peak, various communities in the Yoruba Kingdom engaged themselves in inter-communal clashes. The resultant consequence of these clashes was a mass exodus of refugees looking for a safe haven.

The migrants like ants moving in echelon had come from diverse places: Akure, Owo, IjebuOde through the coast by way of Gulani to settle in various parts, including Ureji and Ugborodo.This should explain some affinity between the Itsekiri Language and Ijebu; if we accept this, then there may have been some Yoruba settlements along the Benin and Escravos Rivers, but it was unlikely that they were found before then, there may have been small fishing settlements.

The people of Ugborodo and Ogidigben still describe themselves a descendants of their immortalised ancestor named Eghare Ikpere, Olaja-Oriwu and others.

Those of Omadino claim to be descendants of Lenuwa, the title of the ruler of Ode.” we can see that some communities in the kingdom still believe in their ancestral descents before their settlement. Nevertheless, they are still bonafide citizen of the kingdom in view of the monarch’s dominance over all the communities in the kingdom.

Of all the movements for a safe haven by these migrant groups, one that is most instrumental to the carving out of a race that is today known as the Itsekiri tribe is that conducted by one Mr. Itsekiri and his family. The journey, which started from Ode in Ijebu, saw them migrating to Kerenmu. From Kerenmu, the horde moves to Ijalosan and then finally to Okoyitemi (Okotomu) presently called Ode-Itsekiri.From the foregoing text, it can be seen that the word Itsekiri which was corrupted by these variants: Jakri, Jekri by various Europeans who had contact with the tribe is not an interpretation of cowardice or a man who could not fight as surmised by Granville and Roth; but rather a word adopted from the name of the founder of a place.

While Yorba settlements were maturing along Escravous and Benin Rivers, the children of one Ijenekun called Fifan Wandobo and Itsekiri were migrating from Kerenmu to Ijalosan and later from Ijalosan to Okoyitemi: Itsekiri led the migration to Okoyitemi (Okolomu). He was thus head of the settlement of Okolomu when the migrants from Benin arrived.”

Still on the Pre Ginuwa history of Itsekiri, Sir William Moore narrated the story of the Umale. He said that the Umale were a peculiar people very ingenious, powerful and rich. Children born to them were the giants of the land such as the great Akpajigha ( Olokun-ri-Jedo) of Omadino, Imutsi of Obodo, Ebele of Orere, and Arigbon of Ikenerenmu ( all these are Itsekiri Giants of Old)

An Itsekiri 19th century Giant. About 12.6 feet tall
An Itsekiri 19th century Giant. About 12.6 feet tall

Owing to constant ware waged against them by the Olus, and coupled with the unholy manners of the party from Benin which the Umale where unhappy with, they where said to have dematerialised into the ethereal world and ceased to dwell physically among the Itsekiris.

Our national name, Itsekiri was the name of one of those Umale and he was the owner of the quarters where Ijijen and Irame landed at Ode Itsekiri. Several of Itsekiris compatriots fled at the sight of the iroko box

And the crowd which rushed out of it, but the man, Itsekiri with the other inhabitants of Okorotom Quarter remained and acknowledged the Olu superiority and dwell with him as his subjects.

Ginuwa Ark
Ginuwa Ark

The tittle Olu (King) was derived from the exclamation of the Umales of Ode Itsekiri at the first sight of the iroko box. The exclamation was “Mori Olu urun” Meaning “I see the king of things (wealth)

Like different historical mythology the story of the Itsekiri before the Ginuwa era is one of great interest and adoration.