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, Enugu 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 4 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 and dance 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.
The popular idea is that the Idoma are an ethno-linguistic group primarily found in the western areas of Benue State, Nigeria. This is because they are the second largest group in the state and occupy 9 local government areas (L.G.A.’s) which include: Ado, Agatu, Apa, Obi, Ohimini, Ogbadibo, Oju, Okpokwu and Otukpo . Aside from the western parts of Benue, this tribe have settlements in other parts of the country, including Nassarawa, Kogi, Enugu and Cross River States. The men are obliged by tradition to pound yam for their wives, Unlike other cultures where the woman is expected to perform all culinary chores, the Idoma men are not always exempted.
The traditional colours of the Idoma people are red and black stripes.
The most famous traditional dance of the Idoma people is known as Ogirinya dance. It is a highly energetic dance that requires jumping (at regular intervals) on the toes in short period of time. A video of the Ogirnya dance can be viewed in this link and this link. Dancers putting on the Idoma attire (traditional colours) can be seen in both links.
The Idoma people are known for their love of food, as there is an annual food festival in Benue State to celebrate women and the various traditional cuisines. Most popular among their delicacies is the Okoho soup which is made with the peculiar Okoho plant, bush meat and many other ingredients.
With the advent of Christianity, Islam, and other foreign religions, the traditional belief systems of most ethnic groups in the country has been influenced by western practices. However, a majority of the Idoma people still believe strongly in the Alekwu , which is seen as a link between the living and the dead. They host an annual ‘Aje Alekwu’ festival where traditional religious practitioners commune and make sacrifices in worship of their ancestors across the land. The Idomas have strong attachment to the worship of Alekwu-spirit of the ancestors which is believed to stand as an invisible watchdog of the family and communities while checkmating vices like adultery, theft and murder.
Marriage tradition in Idoma land is considered a lifelong state, although divorce is possible on the grounds of adultery or other concrete reasons. When an Idoma man is at least twenty-five years old and has the financial and physical capacity to maintain a wife and children, he looks for and finds a woman of his choice, who must be least eighteen years old. He reports his findings to his family, which then chooses a go-between, a person who is familiar with the girl’s family. The go-between investigates the family of the prospective bride to ascertain that the family has no history of mental disease, epilepsy, stealing traits etc. If the result of this investigation is positive, the prospective groom’s family visits the woman’s family with gifts of kola nut and hot drinks. After the first visit, another visit is scheduled for the woman to meet her future husband, after which a final visit is scheduled for the future groom and his family to pay the bride-price and offer other gifts. If the woman refuses to marry the man after these gifts have been provided, the groom’s family keeps them.
The bride-price comes in many folds, the groom must pay a dowry first to the bride’s mother and then another dowry to the father; this involves a significant amount of bargaining. Also every member of the bride’s mother’s family must be given money, with the groom’s family determining the amount. The bride’s age group and her more distant relatives also get some money; the amount paid varies according to bride’s level of education and productivity. Then the groom’s family gives the bride a rooster and some money. If she accepts these gifts and gives them to her mother, she indicates her acceptance of the groom, but if she refuses, she signifies her refusal. If she accepts him, she is showered with gifts and money, and the two families eat and drink together. Before the bride is finally handed over to her husband, however, her age group will pose as a mock barrier to those who want to take her and extort money from the anxious groom’s family. The bride’s mother buys her cooking utensils and food because she is not expected to go to the market for the first five market days after her marriage. At the end of the eating and drinking, the wife is finally handed over to her husband’s family. (Omokhodion 1998).
Virginity is highly valued in most cultures in Nigeria, it a thing of pride and joy to girls family. Eventually, if a bride is found not to be a virgin, she is taken to the husband’s family’ ancestral shrine for cleansing. After this the Ije is put on her to invoke fertility on her. This marks the beginning of married life among the Idoma tribe.
While the marriage rites and customs of the Idoma people is not unlike that of the Ibos and some other south-eastern cultures, there are specific aspects that clearly distinguish their tradition. One of those specific aspects is the fact that the groom and his family have to present the bride with a rooster and some money on the marriage day after the dowry has already been paid. If she accepts, it is a sign of approval and disinterest if she reject the gift. While there are no certain reasons to justify the need for a rooster, it remains an interesting part of the ceremony.