Iduma natives work along an oil pipe ditch
Happy Iduma natives from Oruma fetch wood. Next to them is a open oil pipeline. Photo © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

Iduma; are a people in the Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, a subset of the Abureni, which belongs in the Ogbia-Abureni language cluster and often identified with two other communities as the “Mini communities,” a corrupted form of “Nimi” (in the neighboring people, Nembe language) earned because of their shrewdness in trade. In historian, Collins EBI Daniel’s estimation, the Iduma community was formed in circa 1317 when Omongi and his younger brother, Fenibo fled an epidemic in Ke, a Kalabari-Ijo speaking community in the Eastern Niger Delta. With their wives and children they arrived at an island close to the present Kola community from where they moved to Idumanamugbo, the place where Iduma, patriarch of the people of Iduma, was born.

After Omongi’s demise came the need to acquire more land for the purpose of agriculture, and to stay away from trouble. Iduma, leading his uncle’s family and his own, founded the present settlement for the people, establishing a kingdom for himself which was succeeded by Aye, who was first among other sons: Eboh, and Obe. Aye was succeeded by his own, Igoniwari, who as the Olilaema, or king, relocated the Iduma community to a site opposite the bank of the creek to avoid attacks from belligerent Nembe settlers. Scores of dissension arose while in this place, from cousins of the king, Ibem and Obodom who were from the Eboh lineage. Some quarrel over a symbolic feast led to the exit of other cousins; second cousins Ekpo and Oboloru who were of the Fenibo’s lineage. While the first group of dissenters left for Kolo, the latter settled few meters away from Oruama and Abulomini, after brief stops at Ogonokum in Abua area, Obomuotu, and Okeinodu.

Although this tradition of origin as told by the Idema lineages of Aye and Eboh is preponderant, there exists a tradition of origin by the Opuso lineage of Obe, which asserts that Obe, the third son of Iduma moved away from his brothers Aye and Eboh to settle at a gateway position, Igbain-Obeduma, which was the old site of Obeduma, to guard against attacks. While the Opuso version of the myth of Iduma origin records Awo, progenitor of the Awo lineage to be an Ijo newcomer into the Obeduma community, the children of Awo tells the story that Awo was a son to Fenibo, the brother of the Iduma patriarch himself. Conversely, it is Awo, according to this version who acceded to the request of Opuso, the eldest son of Obe, who was son of Iduma the progenitor, to settle at Obeduma.

The oddity of Iduma’s origination from Ke, a community which does not speak its Abureani language but a significantly different Kalabari-Ijo, was evaluated in historian’s work, The History of Iduma, with socio-cultural evidence supporting traditions of origin. It could be deduced that there had been a language shift for early Iduma settlers who mixed with the people of Iduma after initial settlement. One of such persons mentioned in the tradition was Okiki, a medicine man from Odula who was commissioned by King Igoniwari to cleanse the site proposed for the emigration of the people of Iduma. Okiki and his assistant, Osoko are today reckoned as forbearers of one of the largest° lineages, the Okikiayun of Iduma. The said language shift may have been brought about by other migrants to Iduma like the Abu lineage who came from Ayn-Amorokoin, who settled with the Awo group at Obeduma. Also, there has been migrants fleeing the depreciation of the contiguous kingdoms of Amurokana, Ebelu, and Amirowel.



Iduma lies in the geographical coordinates 4°37′ 55″ North, and 6°27′ 35″ East; a low lying land rising only some 20 meters above sea level. Its communities, Iduma, Idema, Eboh, Obeduma, Emalo, Oruan (Atubo I), and Oboghe (Adigiasikolo), together with the smaller satellite communities scattered in the Niger Delta creeks occupy the Fresh Water Swamp zone to the north and the Salt Water Swamp zone in the south. While the northern zone have river water which are usually fresh, with land rising about 2 feet between August and October, the southern zone have water which is salt-laden and tidal. Soil in this low-lying area is black-silt and is subjected more to flooding.


Flora & Fauna

High trees like Abura, Oil palm, Mahogany, Obeche, and Iroko grow in the northern zone while trees characteristic of the red mangrove dominate the southern zone. Monkeys, bush cats, bush pigs, antelopes, rats, and a vast species of birds have been hunted or sighted. Fish species like the Mud fish (Obolo), Clarias lazera (Oborh), fresh water fish (Adikoro), Snake fish (Ogelogel), and Xenomystus (Ebebelem) have been caught.


Dry season is usually within the months of November through March of another year. Flooding is common during the rainy season which data shows to pour some 3050mm and 3129mm annually in Idoma and Atubo communities respectively. Average temperature is 26.7°C in this Topical Monsoon climate which is influenced by the seasonal changes in atmospheric circle originating from the South Atlantic Ocean.




The pyramid of political units starts from the family up to the group of families which is the House and then, the town. House, called Oghol-out, is headed by the Okei-otu who is selected by families constituting the house. He is presented to the king for an investiture. The Okei-out apportioned house land in the right season and settle disputes within the house. Minor cases are also brought to him to resolve. House heads of a village constitutes the Town Council, which is chaired by the Olilaema, or the king. Idema, as a member of the Idoma clan for example, have an Olilaema who must show traceable descent in the mother’s side to Igoniwari, patriarch of the Idoma clan. The Olilaema mediates between the ancestors, the gods, and living members of the village. His government shows democratic principles as decisions were reached in conjunction with heads of lineages, and the entire village.



All laws were made in the name of the House Heads and the Olilaema who constitute the Town Council, the highest authority where redress was made for inter-personal grievances. Accused persons are often tried publicly by this assembly, with punishments ranging from fining, flogging, and public shaming meted on them.

Minor offences like theft, assault, and slander were tried by the Ekine society, a town institution whose membership is open to the public. Even smaller cases were decided at the level of the family or the House, which is the group of families. Rules are appealed by dissatisfied parties in that reverse order, i.e. from the families to the House, to the Ekine society, and finally, the supreme body which is the Town Council.


A street in Ogbia town
Ogbia town. Photo: facebook (BAYELSA LEGACY PROJECT)


After their migration from the autochthonous and the then politically advanced community at Ke, the Iduma people moved westward of the Niger Delta to form their own community, which quickly divided into flanks, sited in adjacent positions for the maintenance of security. A civil war among the lineages caused further division and the people moved to go live with other community of peoples like Agholo, Eghunuma, and Okeinodo.

The people of Iduma shared arable land through a tenure system which allows for the passage from hands to hands of Okukwa lands which are on the river banks and close to town, and Ikpu or Eghana lands which have different frequencies of use. Palm oil and kernel did not follow this system however. The trade in palm produce succeeded to prominence with the dissolution of slave trade. The people of Iduma, as major producers achieved relatively little for themselves as the people of Nembe monopolized the role of transporting produce to coast for selling to the Europeans.

Nembe neighbors would later be frustrated by activities of the greater monopolizer, the Royal Niger Company whose trading rights, freshly granted by the British crown covered the area. Their raid on the company’s headquarters at Akassa in 1895 was replied with a catastrophic attack which marginally improved the economy of the people of Iduma who resided north east. In 1900, the Royal Niger Company merged with the Oil Rivers protectorate which was later joined with others to form the Southern Nigeria. The Iduma people, like their neighbors, had by now come under the British colonial government which subsumed them under a consular authority resident in the Brass division of Owerri province. This arrangement effectively returned them under Nembe domination, being in the same district with it, under the Brass division. Cases of murder, theft, and slander hitherto decided at the Iduma town councils were now the jurisdiction of the Nembe Native Court.

In 1954 when the Local Government administration system came into use, replacing the old Native Administration system, village councils were established in Iduma with members drawn from its Idema, Eboh, Obeduma and other villages. At the independence of Nigeria, the Iduma community had found a voice at the Local Government level at least.



The Eyal Awani Festival in Idema is mentioned as one of the major festivals indigenous to Bayelsa in the state government’s website. Also, at the end of each farming season which often falls in the month of March, an eight-days festival, Eyal Odudul, is celebrated among the Iduma clan. The Akara masquerade display is the climax of activities in this festival which features many different rites.



That the people of Iduma possessed a highly developed indigenous religious system is evident in the opposition it put up against the new religion of Christ which came in from Abonnema very late in the 19th century. Like other members of the Abureni group, the Iduma believes that the sanction of gods like Iyibio, Obo-Awuruma, Ibe, Igbiani, and of man determine good yields. Sacrifices and libation were therefore accorded these gods in shrines spread throughout the villages.

In 1896, an Anglican church was established by Reverend J.D. Garrick, with the assistance of a group of persons who were exposed to the Christian religion while on business trips. A family diary of the Daniel Oruan at Idema asserts that daily prayer sessions were held in the family house when the church was initially established. A permanent church building was erected at Eme compound in Idema in 1910, followed by a proselytizing instrument; the St. John’s (Anglican) school, which was founded in 1927.

Ogbia-Nembe Road in Bayelsa
Ogbia-Nembe Road constructed by the NDDC. Photo: Bayelsa State Govt.



Farming was traditionally carried out through cooperation and payments made by reciprocal gestures or by exchange of items. When trade in palm produce became a trend the money economy had become dominant. With the introduction of taxes, the need to take money as payment became apparent, and producers employed labour instead of relying on the good turn of families or friends.

Rafia products like Thatch (Akain), Mats and Fishing fence were sold to Nembe, Kalabari, and Okrika neigbours. Canoes were made and hunting surplus sold to neighboring communities. Same goes for the different species of fish caught on the Iduma fresh water and the salt water swamps. `The traditional economy of Iduma underwent some transformation after the discovery of crude oil in Oloibiri, a small fishing town sharing same Local Government Area with Iduma. Many able hands directed their attention away from Palm produce or timber business to getting opportunities around the new industry. This, like all other economic activities stagnated with the Civil War of 1967-70, especially when Iduma villages of Idema and Eboh were attacked in 16 May 1968 by separatist forces who used the city of Port Harcourt, 126 km away from Idema, as their primary port. Liberation of Port Harcourt by forces of the Federal Government in that year led to the drift of Iduma population to the city. The oil boom that followed the war appears to have impacted the cultural economy of the people as emphasis shifted away from production. Money trickled down the Iduma villages through activities of multinational corporations such as Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), and the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC).



Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer