Jaja of Opobo

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This article is about the Nigerian ruler Jaja. For the French cyclist, see Laurent Jalabert.
Jaja of Opobo
Jaja of Opobo.jpg
Jaja of Opobo, Opobo
Reign 25 December 1870–September 1887
Coronation 25 December 1870
Predecessor None
Successor Perekule
Born c. 1821
Amaigbo[citation needed]
Died c. 1891
Burial Opobo
Full name
Jumo Jumofe "Jaja"
Dynasty Jaja
Father Ozurumba
Mother Uru

Jaja of Opobo (full name: Jubo Jubogha; 1821–1891) was a merchant prince and the founder of Opobo city-state in an area that is now part of Nigeria. Born in Umuduruoha, Amaigbo,[citation needed] in Igboland, he was sold at about the age of twelve as a slave in Bonny. Jumo Jumofe later took the name "Jaja" for his dealings with the British.

Jaja proved his aptitude for business at an early age, earning his way out of slavery; he was enculturated according to Ijaw (Ibani) rituals and eventually established himself as head of the Anna Pepple House. Under Jaja's leadership, Anna Pepple soon absorbed a number of Bonny's other trade houses until an ongoing dispute with the Manilla Pepple House led by Oko Jumbo forced Jaja to break away as Opobo city-state in 1869.[1]

Opobo soon came to dominate the region's lucrative palm oil trade, and was soon home to fourteen of what were formerly Bonny's eighteen trade houses. Jaja also moved to block the access of British merchants to the interior, giving him an effective monopoly; at times, Opobo even shipped palm oil directly to Liverpool, independent of British middlemen.

At the 1884 Berlin Conference, however, the other European powers designated Opobo as British territory, and the British soon moved to claim it. When Jaja refused to cease taxing British traders, Henry Hamilton Johnston, a British vice consul, invited Jaja to negotiations in 1887. When Jaja arrived, the British arrested him and tried him in Accra in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) then took him to London for some time, where he met Queen Victoria and was her guest in Buckingham Palace. After some other turbulent history,[clarification needed] he was exiled to Saint Vincent in the West Indies.[2] Plans were also made for him to be relocated to Barbados.[3]

In 1891, Jaja was granted permission to return to Opobo, but died en route, allegedly poisoned with a cup of tea. Following his exile and death, the power of the Opobo state rapidly declined.


Jaja eventually won his liberty after years of fighting against his wrongful abduction, and it was agreed by Parliament that he could be repatriated to Opobo. Jaja was by then an old man and after years in exile his health had deteriorated. He embarked on a British vessel bound for Opobo, but his health continued to fail and on his way back Jaja died. His body was shipped instead to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where he was buried. The anger and fury felt by his people due to the chain of events that had preceded, compelled many Opobians to press their demands for the body of their king, which was promptly exhumed and transported back to Opobo for Jaja to be buried there. Many of his people had never given up hope that one day their much loved and powerful king (Amayanabo) would return, and after his body was returned he was honoured with two years of mourning and with a ceremony immortalising Jaja as a deity.[4]


  1. ^ Cookey 2005, pp. 117ff.
  2. ^ "King Jaja of Opobo". Black History Pages. 
  3. ^ Cookey 2005, pp. 159.
  4. ^ Cookey 2005.


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