top of page

The History Of The Benins And The Itsekiris And Their Igbo Slaves


Reposted by Mr. Odeh, president of BARCO

This piece of history was written by Reno Omokri, I couldn't reveal this because of the sensitivity behind it. But no matter how controversial history might be it is better to know, and don't forget the fact that Itsekiris themselves have their ancestry lineage to Benin Kingdom.

This is our past, our history.

Part 1

Dear Nonny,

Itsekiris and the Binis had Igbo slaves for centuries before British colonialism. After the British banned slavery, we were forced to set them free. Some of them returned to Igbo land, others remained with us and gradually formed a new language called ******* (an Itsekiri word which we used to call them while they were our slaves). There are about 200,000 ******* still with us.

(I will not reveal the name of this tribe called *******, because I do not want to offend them, but they are in Delta state)

If they speak, an Igbo person will understand some of what they say, while Itsekiris, Binis and even European Portuguese people will understand them too. Those of them who chose to return to Igbo land have Igbo names that sound like Itsekiri or Benin names, for example Iweka, and many names beginning with Oba or Iken.

That is how some of our names and also Benin names went into the Igbo lexicon.

We have century old carvings in Ode Itsekiri and Benin depicting Igbo slaves, which we sold to the Portuguese via our ancient pre colonial port called Ogidigben. The grandfather of the present Oba of Benin showed some of these carvings to the world famous British anthropologist, Sir David Attenborough in 1973. The video is on YouTube. When you see the carving, even you will have no doubt that the person is Igbo.

Because of the sheer number of Igbo slaves we sold at Ogidigben, the Portuguese named the town Escravos, which means slave in Portuguese. Till today, many people still call Ogidigben Escravos.

We also sold slaves in another town called Burutu, which the Portuguese renamed Forcados (meaning forced labourer, which is a nicer way of saying slaves).

Obviously, I am not too proud of this history. I wish it never happened. History is not always pleasant. I am only revealing it to you because you are getting the wrong idea of linkages between our two peoples.


Part 2

Dear Dominic,

It was not a case of conquest so to say. In terms of population, the Igbos have always been by far larger than the Binis and Itsekiri. However, they never formed an empire and instead lived in autonomous villages and clans.

The advantage the Itsekiri and Benin had was that they formed Kingdoms under one king and had a standing army. So, all they did was expand their empires by raiding one autonomous village at a time.

You will notice that the Fulani were able to penetrate the Hausas, Northern minority and even poached a bit of the Oyo Empire, but they never made inroads to us. Never, ever, ever.

Google our Bronzes and swords. Some have been carbon dated to be almost a thousand years old.

Now, imagine a people with bronze weapons fighting a people without any type of metal weaponry from village to village. You can put two and two together.

However, what worsened the situation was our friendship with the Portuguese. My direct ancestor, Ogiame Atunwase I, the 7th Olu of Warri, was the first West African to have a university degree in 1611. He was also a Catholic. He wore a crown with a Cross on it.

Both Portugal and the Catholic Church were our allies. As a matter of fact, the famous street called Akpakpava in Benin is a bastardisation of the word Papal Via (meaning Pope road in Latin). That was the road where the Pope’s ambassador to the Binis and Itsekiris lived.

They sold us guns, which enabled our ancestors to further extend their domains.

Even the British had to sign a peace treaty with us in the 19th Century, because when they wanted to take over the palm oil trade from us Nana Olomu fought them and survived.

From 1851, the British themselves officially recognised the Itsekiri as the Governors of the Benin River, with Idiare becoming the first Governor.

Someone like me, and many other Itsekiri, we have written records of our ancestry for at least 200 years.

Our strength is not in numbers. We have never been well populated. We compensated for our lack of numbers by our unity and willingness to submit without question to one king.


54 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All