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The Idoma are an ethno-linguistic group that primarily inhabit the lower western areas of Benue State, Nigeria, and kindred groups can be found in Cross Rivers State and Nasarawa State in Nigeria. The Idoma language is classified in the Akweya subgroup of the Idomoid languages of the Volta–Niger family. The Akweya subgroup is closely related to the Yatye-Akpa sub-group. The bulk of the territory is inland, south of river Benue, some seventy-two kilometers east of its confluence with river Niger. The Idoma are known to be warriors' and 'hunters of class, but hospitable and peace-loving. The greater part of Idomaland remained largely unknown to the West until the 1920s, leaving much of the colorful traditional culture of the Idoma intact. The population of the Idoma is estimated to be about 3.5 million.
The history of the Idoma people precedes the history of Benue state (created 1976) and the history of the Republic of Nigeria (created 1960). Oral tradition is the primary method of which history has been passed in Idomaland and is considered a central cultural institution. From a young age Idoma children usually learn from their elders stories of old and are brought up around extended families, which make multiple historical resources available. When prompted Idomas generally will proudly tell you where they are from, and it’s not uncommon for Idoma to be able to recite at least four generations of their progenitors. Historically, being unable to answer the emblematic question “Who is your father?” disqualified one from important roles and titles in Idomaland. Quite naturally, a number of villages trace origins to single ancestors and further, several Idoma groups trace their heritage to one common ancestor, considered the “father” of the different groups. According to traditional history, Iduh, the father of the Idoma had several children who each established different areas. Hence the expression: “Iduh the father of Idoma.” “Iduh the father of Idoma Iduh who begot all the Idoma He also begot the following children: Ananawoogeno who begot the children of Igwumale; Olinaogwu who begot the people of Ugboju; Idum who begot the people of Adoka; Agabi who begot the people of Otukpo; Eje who begot the people of Oglewu; Ebeibi who begot the people of Umogidi in Adoka, and Ode who begot the people of Yala ” While there may be some truth to the above, the Idoma cannot be said to have a unitary origin. Many Idoma groups and village subsets have their own histories complete with stories about how their people arrived at their current location. As one can imagine, the ever-changing of people through time makes it difficult to study Idoma history.
Scholars have combined oral history with genealogical data and analysis of kinship totems to trace the roots of the Idoma people as a whole. One notable Idoma scholar E.O. Erim cites genealogical data, collected from most modern groups in Idoma suggesting that they derive from several ethnic groups, each with different historical origin. Furthermore, the available genealogies indicate the existence of diverse ethnic groups who descended from ancestors other than Idu. In several of these cases, the claim of common descent is backed by both extensive genealogical connections and possession of common kinship totems. Erim contends that while Idu was certainly a migration leader—he was not the “father” of the Idoma in the sense implied in the above traditions. These two considerations make it difficult to simply accept the view that every group in Idomaland is descended from Idu. Many Idoma kindred claim an ancestral homeland called Apa, north-east of present day Idomaland due to pressures of Northern invaders as recently as 300 years ago. The historical Apa was part of the ancient Kwararafa Kingdom (Okolofa Kingdom), a confederacy of several peoples. Informants in other ethnic groups have corroborated existence of this kingdom, chiefly the Jukun who also believe they once ruled a confederacy called Kwararafa. In the Hausa book Kano Chronicle it is mentioned that Zaria, under Queen Amina conquered all towns as far as Kwarafara in the 15th century. At present, there is a Local Government Area in Benue State called Apa and is said to be the home of those who made the first migration from the historical kingdom. For many Idoma nationalists today, the name Apa elicits sentiments of a past glory, and some in the political sphere have gone as far as suggesting it should become the name of a new Idoma state. Other scholars point to historical and linguistic evidence that suggests that Idoma have ties with the Igala people to the west, concluding that the two nations came from a common ancestor. Among this group, there are those who believe both ethnic groups fled the same kingdom at some point in history. It is interesting to note that many traditional Idoma spiritual chants and “secret” tongues spoken during traditional ceremonies are actually Igala dialects and there are some Idoma themselves who assert their Igala ancestry. There are yet other Idoma groups notably in the southern regions, which claim their ancestors arrived at their present location from Northern fringes of Igboland as a result of land disputes. Scholars believe these people had most likely fled Apa too, settled and resettled.
As suggested, a number of factors make it difficult to study Idoma historical origins of the Idoma people as a whole. In any event, it could be said that despite their heterogeneous origins, trading, marriage, language and other interactions among the Idoma have cultivated traditions and shaped a rich cultural identity distinctly their own.
- Abraham, R.C., The Idoma Language. Idoma Wordlists. Idoma Chrestomathy. Idoma Proverbs. Published by the Author on behalf of the Idoma Native Administration, Government of Nigeria. 1951.
- Ethnologue Language Tree: Idomoid;
- Armstrong, Robert G. 1983. The Idomoid languages of the Benue and Cross-River valleys.;
- Bennett, Patrick R. & Sterk, Jan P. (1977) "South Central Niger–Congo: A reclassification" Studies in African Linguistics 8: pp. 241–273;