Last Saturday, many of us woke up to news of the coronation of the Olu of Warri, King of the Itsekiri people, on social media. There was a lot of fanfare and buzz, and rightly so. After all, besides the actual symbolism of the event, the pictures circulating were very scenic and beautiful, especially those fantastic videos of the boat regatta!
As I scrolled through Twitter that day, I realized that many people had become curious about who the Itsekiri’s were, some of them were even Nigerians. no judgement though. Most of us learned that “there are three major tribes in Nigeria.” But unfortunately, we forget to add that the 200 more that are brushed aside as just as important, with cultural value systems that to the pre-slavery era.
So, now that you know their king, let’s talk a little about the Itsekiri people.
The Itsekiris’ are a tribe in Delta state. They are a small but powerful tribe, also quite rich as a land because of the oil and gas reserves on their land. Sadly, that oil has also caused trouble for them, but that’s a story of another day. They have deep relationships with the Benin Kingdom. According to historians, a Benin Prince founded the Itsekiri kingdom. The Itsekiri, similar to the Ijaws, also have a lot of cultural affiliation with water; this is why the boat regatta was the flagship event of the coronation ceremony. The new king always enters the kingdom from the river. Their native food is ukodo (unripe plantain cooked with spices and fish) and starch and ohwo soup, a.k.a yellow and yellow!
Okay back to the king, this coronation was an important one for the people of Itsekiri, and I think for other Nigerians too. The new Olu, formerly Prince Tsola Emiko, now Ogiame Atuwatse III, is only 37 years old. He’s the youngest person to have been crowned king in the kingdom. He’s educated, and he’s a Christian. During the coronation ceremony, he sang worship songs and prayed—breaking a curse on the land. He’s forward-thinking. He acknowledged the vital role of women in the kingdom and promised that women would no longer be on the sidelines! He’s embracing entrepreneurship and technology to move the kingdom forward. The Itsekiri people, and I think everyone who watched the coronation ceremony, is rooting for his success.
Fun fact: an Itsekiri Prince named Domingos was one of the first men to be western educated in West Africa. He had a theological education at the University of Coimbra in Portugal in the 7th century!