Igala people

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Igala territory
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Islam, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Idoma, Igbo, Ebira, Esan,Yoruba

The Igala are an ethnic group of Nigeria. The home of the Igala people is situated east of the river Niger and Benue confluence and astride the Niger in Lokoja, Kogi state of Nigeria with its headquarters in Idah. The area is approximately between latitude 6°30 and 8°40 north and longitude 6°30 and 7°40 east and covers an area of about 13,665 square kilometers (Oguagha P.A 1981). They can also be found in Delta, Anambra, Enugu and Edo States of Nigeria.


The traditional Igala society is largely agrarian, although fishing is also a mainstay of the people especially the Igala's of the riverine Idah area. The Igala before the 19th century inhabited the entire triangular tract of territory on the left bank of the Benue and Niger about 100 kilometers above and below their confluence. Settlements of the Igala speaking peoples were also located on the right bank of the Niger below the confluence opposite Etobe. The dynasties of the Igbirra kingdoms of Panda and Igu, the rulers of the Alago kingdom of Doma, Attama and Eze of the Nsukka area in north-west Igboland on the border of the Igala, as well as the Oku of Ikiri in the north-east Yorubaland claim either that their founding ancestors came from Idah, or derive the legitimacy of the offices from the Atta of Igala. Dynasties apart, the clans of the Igbirra Tao (Okene area), the Osomari Igbo south of Onitsha, some clans of the Idoma and Agatu claim migrations from Igala territory. Thus, the histories of the Nupe and Igala (and indirectly of the Kwararafa(Jukun))provide a general framework for the history of the people of the Niger - Benue confluence area. Boston (1968) believes that the central geographical location of the Igala people has exposed them to a wide variety of linguistic as well as cultural influences from other ethnic groups in the country. Notable among these are the Igbira, the Bini, the Igbo, the Hausa, the Idoma and the Yoruba ethnic groups. The languages of the Igala and Idoma bear a close resemblance. Igala and Igbo have important historical, ancestral and cultural relationships.

Angulu(1981) note that Igala and Igbo have important historical, ancestral and cultural relationships. Eri is said to be the original legendary cultural head of the Umu-eri, a subgroup of the Igbo people. Eri migrated from southern Egypt through the Igala area, settled, and established a community in the middle of Anambra river valley (at Eri-aka) in Aguleri where he married two wives. The first wife, Nneamakụ, bore him five children. The first was Agulu, the founder of Aguleri (The ancestral head of Eri Kingdom clans) (the Ezeora dynasty that has produced 34 kings till date in Enugwu Aguleri), the second was Menri, the founder of Umunri / Kingdom of Nri, followed by Onugu, the founder of Igbariam and Ogbodulu, the founder of Amanuke. The fifth one was a daughter called Iguedo, who is said to have borne the founders of Nteje, and Awkuzu, Ogbunike, Umuleri, Nando and Ogboli in Onitsha. As one of the children of Eri, Menri migrated from Aguleri, which was and still is, the ancestral temple of the entire Umu-Eri (Umu-Eri and Umu-Nri). His second wife Oboli begot Ọnọja, the only son who founded the Igala Kingdom in Kogi State.[1]

Akinkugbe (1976,1978) is of the opinion that based on evidence, Igala is neither a dialect of Yoruba nor a language resulting from the fusion of Yoruba and Idoma people as claimed by Silverstein, but rather Igala shares a “common ancestor” with Yoruba. In her words, “... this common ancestor was neither Yoruba nor Igala but what we have labeled here as Proto-Yoruba-Itsekiri–Igala (PYIG). The evidence suggest further that presumably, Igala separated from the group before the split of Yoruba into the present day Yoruba dialects considering the extent of linguistic divergence found between Igala on one hand, and the rest of Yoruba on the other” (1978: 32) Akinkugbe cites lexicostatistic evidence as well as evidence of sound shifts and lexical innovations as support or corroboration of this claim. Other comparative works aimed at investigating the language status of Igala (directly and indirectly) are Omamor (1967) and Williamson (1973). In fact, Williamson is the originator of the label ‘Yoruboid’ for the group of languages comprising Yoruba, Itsekiri and Igala for the purpose of distinguishing “between Yoruba as a language on the one hand, and Yoruba, Itsekiri and Igala as a genetic group on the other”. (Akinkugbe 1976:1) Akinkugbe refers to the proto- language of the group as Proto-Yoruboid in 1976 and Proto-Yoruba-Itsekiri-Igala (PYIG) in 1978[2] Contemporary historians believe that the Igala most likely shared a proto-Kwa ancestry with the modern Igbo and Yoruba people as well as most ethnic groups of Nigeria today. Thus, the ethnic family would include not only the prior two, but groups like the Idoma, and the Nupe to the north.


The Igala ethnic group of Nigeria, are ruled by a figure called the "Attah". The word Attah means 'Father' and the full title of the ruler is 'Attah Igala', meaning, the Father of Igalas (the Igala word for King is Onu). One initial problem in sketching the history of the Igala state in its early period is that of chronology. The kinglist features a continuity which would make us believe that the Attah Ayegba belongs to the 17th century(24). Crowther was informed in 1854 at Idah that the reigning Attah was the twentieth, implying that the present (1970) Atta should be the thirty-first and not the twenty-fifth. Evidence other than the kinglist however, push the establishment of the Igala state as a recognizable political entity to a much earlier period. Benin traditional history preserves information on the relations of the Obas Ozolua and Esigie with "Attah of Idah". It appears that a relatively powerful state had come into existence in the homeland of the Igala by the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The new Attah Igala is HRM Idakwo Michael Ameh Oboni II.[1] He ascended the throne of his fore fathers in February, 2013, after the demise of Attah Aliyu Ocheje Obaje.[3]

In Igala tradition, infants from some parts of the kingdom, like Ankpa receive three deep horizontal cuts on each side of the face, slightly above the corners of their mouths, as a way of identifying each other. This practice which was prevalent during inter-tribal wars in the 17th and 18th century has now become less common. The Igalas are ruled by a figure called the "Attah". The word Attah means 'Father' and the full title of the ruler is 'Attah Igala', meaning, the Father of Igalas (the Igala word for King is Onu). Although "Attah" means "father"', female rulership is recognized and Igala has had female rulers in the past (Boston 1968). Among the most revered Attahs of the Igala kingdom are Attah Ayegba Oma Idoko and Atta Ameh Oboni. According to oral tradition, Attah Ayegba Oma Idoko offered his most beloved daughter, Princess Inikpi to ensure that the Igalas win a war of liberation from the Jukuns' dominance. Attah Ameh Oboni is known to be very brave and resolute. He is revered for his stiff resistance of the British and his struggles to uphold some ancient traditions of the Igalas. When he got wind of a plan by the British to depose and exile him, he committed suicide by hanging himself to forestall the plan. He is regarded by most Igalas as the last real Attah Igala. There is an Igala association in the United States, called Igala Association USA. The new Attah of Igala is HRM Idakwo Michael Ameh Oboni II.[4]

Further reading[edit]

  • Angulu (1981) An Igbo Civilization: Nri Kingdom and Hegemony Hardcover – 1 Apr 1981 by M.Angulu Onwuejeogwu
  • Akinkugbe, O. O. (1976). “An Internal Classification of the Yoruboid Group”. J.W.A.L. XI. 1-2, pp. 1–17
  • (1978). A Comparative Phonology of Yoruba Dialects, Isekiri and Igala. Ph.d. Thesis, University of Ibadan
  • Boston, J. (1967). “Igala Political Organisation” African Notes 4.2
  • (1968). The Igala Kingdom. Ibadan: OUP
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.
  • Silverstein, R. (1973). Igala Historical Phonology. Ph.d thesis, university of California, Los Angeles
  • Tokula, Lillian (2008). Re-Duplication in Igala: An Autosegmental Approach. Masters thesis, Department of Linguistics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.


  1. ^ Angulu (1981) An Igbo Civilization: Nri Kingdom and Hegemony Hardcover – 1 Apr 1981 by M.Angulu Onwuejeogwu
  2. ^ Akinkugbe, O. O. (1976). “An Internal Classification of the Yoruboid Group”. J.W.A.L. XI. 1-2, pp. 1–17
  3. ^ Boston, J. (1967). “Igala Political Organisation” African Notes 4.2
  4. ^ (1968). The Igala Kingdom. Ibadan: OUP

External links[edit]