The Itsekiri Kingdom (1480 AD – Present): the Afro-Europeans of the Niger Delta

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The Itsekiri is one of the many ethnic groups in Nigeria. They are a minority ethnicity inhabiting an area westward of the River Niger in southern Nigeria; this is present-day Delta state in Nigeria and are concentrated in Warri North, Warri South And Warri Southwest of the state amongst the other ethnic groups dwelling in the area. This region consists a part of Nigeria’s Niger Delta which is key to Crude oil and natural gas production.

itsekiri - pic1 map.jpg
Map showing the Niger Delta and Ethnicities


It seems the Itsekiri people have a strong ancestral relation to the Yoruba and Edo ethnicities owing to their linguistic and cultural similarities. The Itsekiri is a somewhat convoluted ethnic group. This is due to the diverse origins of the people that constitute the tribe. There are mentions of early settlers from, Igala, Aboh, and Ijebu that established settlements across the different communities of the ethnic group. Also given the hegemony that the Benin Empire once held over the Itsekiri territory it was inevitable not to have settlers from Benin. Another pointer to their complexity is their dialect which is an infusion of Portuguese, Bini, Yoruba, and English words. Their culture as a people over time has metamorphosed into a synergy of the different cultural bonds of the people. For example, the hat which is part of the traditional Itsekiri male wardrobe is borrowed from the Portuguese.

itsekiri - pic2 male outfit
Itsekiri menswear



Itsekiri Society is divided by class or societal status. At the top are the Otonolu (Royals) and the Omajaj a(Kingmakers). Then there are the Ibiedo (domestic workers) followed by the Egugun (people with a shady historical origin) and then finally at the bottom is the Ejoji (strangers)[1].  The Itsekiris refer to their lands as the Kingdom of Warri (originally Awyri which over time had variously been spelled Iwere, Ouere, Oere, Warree, Wari, and now Warri.)[2], and its capital was called Ode-Itsekiri[3]. The Itsekiris were one of the first people on the Nigerian coast to make contact with the Portuguese; this is owing to their advantageous location on the rim of the Atlantic.



In the 15th century around 1480, a Benin Prince Ginuwa (or Iginuwa in Benin Dialect) backed by the Benin empire established a monarchy in Warri. The people acknowledged this authority, and thus the Warri Kingdom was founded. Ginuwa became the first ruler of the kingdom the “Olu.” Previously before Ginuwa arrived and established the throne, the Itsekiri people were a tribe of different autonomous communities like; Omadino, Ureju, Ugborodo, and Inroin.[4] The establishment of the Olu monarchy by the Benin Empire in Itsekiri lands aggregated these communities into a nationality and a single polity.


itsekiri - pic3 olu of warri


The Olu Monarchy of Itsekiri is like a satellite extension of the Benin Kingdom, not only because it originates from Benin, but because they share immensely similar structure and functions. This is further illustrated in a public address by the Itsekiri Community in 1973 to a prince of Benin Prince Solomon I.A Akenzua, then Edaiken of Uselu[5] on the occasion of his retirement from public service and return home.


“We would like to recall the special historical relationships that bind your people and ours. Both Bini and Itsekiri histories agree that Ginuwa, a prince, like your good self, left this great city to found the Iwerre (Warri) Kingdom about 1480. In the 15th and 16th centuries, these two kingdoms emerged as a civilizing force in this part of the world and provided great splendor which attracted European adventurers, missionaries and merchants alike. The visit of D’ Aviero of Portugal of Benin City in 1485 and the establishment of a Catholic Mission in Benin about 1515 AD were great historical developments that have had their parallels only in Iwerreland. At the beginning of the 17th century, a son of a reigning Olu went to Portugal for ten years (as the Oba’s ambassador went to Portugal between 1481 and 1495 to be educated in the best schools and returned with a Portuguese lady of a high birth as his wife, their son, Antonio Domingo was Olu of Warri in the 1640s. The site of the Catholic Cathedral (St. Anthony) built in Ode-Itsekiri is still called (Satoni). We have proud similar chieftaincy titles-Iyatsere as Iyase; Ologbotsere as Ologhosere; Uwangue as Uwanguel Otsodi as Oshodin and many others. Even your present esteemed title of Edaiken compares with “Daniken,” the last ceremonial stage of the Olu-Elect before coronation. And, our Itselu means “sacred quarters” of the Olu’s mother as Uselu in Benin. Also, our war songs, lyrics, and burial songs have common roots with Bini ceremonial songs.”

The Olu is the ultimate symbol of power and succession to the throne is hereditary. He is aided by his chiefs, whose functions include performing palace rituals. Before an Itsekiri prince is crowned Olu, he undergoes Daniken. Daniken is a three lunar month restriction period that an Olu-Elect undergoes. During this time, he undergoes some training and orientation to what it entails to be an Olu. This is similar to Edaiken[6] in Benin where the Oba’s son and heir to the throne is sent to live beyond the walls of the city to be schooled and trained on the responsibilities of being an Oba.



Warri has remained predominantly Christian since the 16th century. The first ever Christian monastery in Nigeria was built around 1700 in Ode-Itsekiri or big Warri by a Christian Olu Antonio Domingo. Prior to the arrival of missionaries and spread of Christianity, a traditional religion governed beliefs. In traditional Itsekiri religion which is still in practice, the people believe that Oritse is the supreme God. Communication to the spirit world is established through the Ife oracle[7] and the Ife priests serve as the mouthpiece of the oracle. Close and cordial interaction with the Portuguese brought about widespread Christianity. As a matter of fact out of the 19 Olus, there have been 8 Roman catholic Olus.

The Itsekiri people were predominantly fishermen and traders, although they also traded by selling palm oil, rubber, slaves, and farm produce. At a time Warri became an essential town and significant center for palm oil trade and other products like rubber, cocoa, groundnuts, palm products, animal hides, and skin. Slave trade boomed as well to the extent that Warri became a base for Dutch and Portuguese slave traders. The abolition of slavery and the slave trade prompted a switch to other exports but the invasion of Nigeria by Britain led to the various kingdoms in the region losing their sovereignty, political and social structure. The trade in oil was taken over by force by European actors.


The Itsekiri Monarchy boasts a proud history over 500 years old. Since the mid 15th century 19 Olu of Warri has reigned till date.

Ginuwa I (1480- 16th century)

Ogbowuru I (16th century)

Frame I (16th century)

Ojoluwa I (16th century)

Esigie I (16th century)

Atorongboye I A.K.A. Sebastian (1570- 1620 AD

Atuwatse I A.K.A Oyeomasan Don Domingos (1625–1643)

Oyenakpara I A.K.A Obanighenren Don Antonio Domingo (1643–1653)

Omoluyere I (17th century)

Abejoye I A.K.A Matias (17th century)

Akenjoye I A.K.A Ludivico Domingo (1675–1709)

Omagboye I (18th century)

Akengboye I A.K.A Agostinho Sabastiao Octobia (1730–1732)

Atogbuwa I A.K.A Manuel Octobia (1734–1760)

Erejuwa I A.K.A Sebastiao Manuel Octobia (1760–1795)

Akengbuwa I A.K.A Eyeolusan Joao (1808– 14 June 1848)

Ginuwa II A.K.A Emiko Ikengbuwa (7 February 1936– 8 January 1949)

Erejuwa II A.K.A Wilson Ayoronmitsi Gbesimi Emiko (24 March 1951 – 17 December 1986)

Atuwatse II A.K.A Godwin Toritseju Emiko (2 May 1987– 5 September 2015)

Ikenwoli I A. K. A Godfrey Ikenwoli Emiko (12 December 2015–)

[1] International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences ISSN: 2300-2697, Vol. 21, pp 62-68. 2014 SciPress Ltd., Switzerland


[3] Also referred to as Ale Iwerre Or Big Warri.


[5] He later went on to become an Oba of Benin

[6] Daniken in Itsekiri means or refers to a timeframe whereas Edaiken in Benin is a title or name

[7] International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences ISSN: 2300-2697, Vol. 21, pp 62-68. 2014 SciPress Ltd., Switzerland

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The Itsekiri Kingdom (1480 AD – Present): the Afro-Europeans of the Niger Delta

by Editorial Team time to read: 5 min