The Itsekiri People

The people of Itsekiri also called the, Isekiri, Ijekiri or Ishekiri are a peculiar and unique riverine ethnic group currently numbering over 1 Million people. They are traditionally fishermen and skillful traders living in the Niger Delta, a southern part of Nigeria.

Itsekiri people are more dignified in behaviour and traditional conduct.

They are characterized not only by class and uniqueness but also with different kind of peculiarity.

Itsekiri is spoken by nearly 900,000 people in Nigeria as a first language and by many others as an additional language notably in Delta state and in parts of Edo and Ondo states of Nigeria.

Wondering why the itsekiris sound more like yoruba? William A. Moore, an itsekiri historian gave more revelations. He wrote, “Prior to the advent of the Benin Prince Iginuwa, the territory now known as the Kingdom of ITSEKIRI or IWERE, was inhabited by three tribes, namely, Ijaws, Sobos (Urhobos) and the Mahims.”

Also, some elders said during the time when the struggle for kingdom carving was at its peak, various communities in the Yoruba kingdom were engaged in inter-communal war. As a result of this, streams of migration flowed in from Ijebu-Ode, Akure, and Owo.

They found their way into the kingdom, which then was not a kingdom, to settle in various parts; including Ureji and Ugborodo.

This should explain the mystic affinity between the Itsekiri language and Ijebu. It is also said that groups from Igala in Nupe country came in through the creek.

The Itsekiri people practice a gerontocratic system of governance where elders are chosen as leaders. The priests are also highly respected.

The itsekiri community is governed by a monarchy referred to as “The Olu” and council of chiefs who form the aristocracy. As a sign of respect to the Olu of Warri, the customary posture for greeting is to kneel both legs and stretch both arms, slapping and bowing hailing “Ò GIÀ MÉ SUÓ”….. He responds waving his both hands saying “DO SAN GBÉRÉ” which means you are blessed.

However, the posture for greeting itsekiri chiefs is different. This time you kneel with your left leg, hitting the right leg and simultaneously raising your left hands hailing his appellation.

The itsekiri people confer with their deities through the Ife oracle. Still they believe in an overall God known as “Oritse”.

Traditionally, Itsekiri men wear a long sleeved shirt called a Kemeje, tie a George Wrapper around their waist and wear a hat with a feather stuck to it. The women wear a blouse and also tie a George wrapper around their waist. They wear colourful head gears known as Nes (scarf) or coral beads.

Depending on the occasion, they either have the wrapper tied on their chest or it is worn with a blouse.

On a regular day the women are seen on two Ankara wrappers popularly called singles with a blouse.

In the olden days, marriage took place through family arrangements. The groom never met with the bride before the wedding day. The bride is dressed in George and elaborate ornaments of coral beads, gold and silver.

Most interestingly, their women are known as good cooks and stories have it that they cook so well that a man can hardly resist.

The soups peculiar to the Itsekiris include Banga Soup, made from palm kernels, and Owo soup made from palm oil and starch both eaten within starch.

Itsekiris are also famed for their traditional fishing skills, melodious songs, gracefully fluid traditional dances and colourful masquerades and boat regattas.

We are glad to shared the people, culture and traditions of the itsekiris. Keep exploring Africa’s diversity with us.

A Big thank you to Goge Africa and Kulturefest for the video excerpt.

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