The Ukwuani people (also called Ndokwa Ethnic Nationality) are located in the southern part of Nigeria in the western part of the Niger Delta. They are found majorly in the northern part of Delta State and in some parts of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of Rivers State, Nigeria.
Ukwuani people are located in Delta North senatorial district of Delta State which is usually referred to as Anioma. Ndokwa Land consists of three robust Local Government Areas: (Ndokwa West, Ndokwa East, and Ukwuani). There over three dozens of towns and villages in Ndokwa land thus, making it the second largest ethnic Nationality in Delta state. The five most popular ones are Kwale, Aboh and Obiaruku, Abbi and Ogume. Ndokwa land lies between latitudes 50 481 N and 50 601 N and longitudes 60 081 E and 60 321 E of Delta State. Ukwuani land is bordered on the North by the Benin Division, on the south by the Ijaw Division, on the South-West by Urhobo and Isoko Divisions, on the East by the Niger River, on the North-East by Ika and Asaba Divisions, and on the South-East by Ahoada Division of the Rivers State. The important rivers in the region are Niger, Ethiope, Adofi, and Umu while the Ase creek is the major creek.. The geographical position of Ukwuani, places the country within two belts and they include the Deltaic Swampy Forest, which covers the southern and south eastern coastal towns as well as the tropical rain forest situated in the Northern part of the territory. In the swampy region, numerous creeks and impassable dense forest abound which also experience flood during certain period of the year. The area also has adequate rainfall all year round and the vegetation is a mixture of evergreen forest and the savannah grassland with very fertile soil.
The Ukwuani people, just like every other tribe or ethnic group in Nigeria has their own traditions of origin. It is difficult to explore the whole gamut of traditions of Ukwuani people because the range is almost endless as a result of the fact that the various clans that make up the Ukwuani ethnic group do not have a single tradition of origin.
Matching events with dates have been very difficult in writing about the history of Ukwuani and this problem stems from the fact that very few literature are available on the history and origin of Ukwuani. Hence, one has to rely on oral traditions from the Okpala’s, Okwa’s, Onotu’s (Inotu’s), Eze’s, Ada’s and some other experienced men in Ukwuani whose source of knowledge was also through oral tradition.
Again, there are so many traditions of origins of Ukwuani and this has been a subject of great controversy. The controversy arose from the fact that there are vested interest on the topic with each clan, village or family component trying to exert influence and superiority over others.
In consequence of the heterogeneity of Ukwuani clans, divergent views were held with regards to the historical origins of the people. However, from the varying account of the elders, three waves of migration appeared to account for the present population of the Ukwuani people from the varying accounts of the elders.
The first wave are represented by the clans who claimed to have originated from Benin Kingdom. Some of these clans include Umu-akashiada, Ebedei, and Akarai. The second waves of independent settlers and expansionist from the great Nri Kingdom are those whose ancestors migrated from Eastern Nigeria. The clans in this group settled along the bank of the River Niger and they include Umu-obarauchi, Ndoni, Onya, and Adawai. A third wave is in the form of a well organised expendition of Benin conquerors and some of this group include, Aboh, Amai, Umukwata . Ogbe-ani in Utagba-uno clan also claimed to migrate from ancient Benin Kingdom. stated that apart from these three waves of immigration, there are also mixed eastern and western Igbo, Igala origin and Edo immigration.
Ukwuani is a language spoken in parts of Delta and Rivers States in Nigeria, notably: Abbi, Aboh, Afor, Akoku, Amai, Ndoni (Rivers), Isukwe (Rivers), Onuaboh, Ashaka, Ebedei, Emu, Ejeme Aniogo, Ezionum, Eziokpor, Utagba-Ogbe(Kwale), Ndemili, Obiaruku, Obetim Uno, Obikwele, Owa Alidima, Umuaja, Ossissa, Utagba-Uno, Umutu, Onicha-Ukwuani, Obinomba, Iselegu, Umukwata, Owa Abbi, Utchi, Abgragada, Ushie, Ogume, Azagba and Umuolu, etc.
It is a branch of the Volta-Niger language family and have slight dialectal differences in the Language based on their closeness to the four ethnic groups at their borders. These are: Igbo, Urhobo, Edo and Ijaw. The influence of these Languages is manifest in slight variations in their pronunciation manifesting in different dialects namely: Onu-Aboh dialect(Ndosumili area), Ukwuani Akashiada, Utagba dialect and Osissa dialect. The one spoken by the majority of the people is the Utagba dialect. It is easily understood by the speaker of the other dialects and it is the dialect that is used for Ukwuani language studies. Ukwuani language is also included in the list of 27 Nigerian languages approved by the Federal Government for the purposes of “mother tongue education”. Ukwuani language has a common ancestry with the Igbo language and Edo language .
The word ‘Ukwuani’ stands for the people as well as their language and so its usage therefore encompasses both the people and their language.
However, some Ukwuani people are found in other parts of Delta State and Rivers State respectively. Although most writers and historians on the other hand, who have written on Ukwuani history did not include these ones as part of the ‘Ndokwa Nation’ or ethnic group (for they confined the ethnic definition of Ukwuani people to only those found in the above mentioned Local Government Areas) it is important to note here that the Ukwuani speaking people in these other parts of Delta and Rivers State also form part of the ‘Ndokwa Nation’ because for one thing, they speak Ukwuani language just like their counterparts in the above mentioned L.G.As. In addition, they have similar traditions of origin like them in the sense that most of them trace their origins to some of the recognized Ndokwa/Ukwuani communities in Delta State.
The culture of the Ukwuani people is also related to several cultures in the Niger-delta (Igbo, Urhobos, Ezon, etc.) and are very patriotic to the core. The traditional administrative set-up of the Ukwuani people from the early days to modern times is generally an organisational structure based on age-grades culminating in a gerontocracy of the oldest men in town with most ancient as head popularly called Okpala-Uku and next to him is the Ikpala and below them the Inotus who advise and carry out the wishes of the council and generally controlling the remaining population, made possible by system of age-grades. Monarchy system of leadership which had been abandoned over three centuries ago in Emu Kingdom was again restored after the coronation of king Ulu, the fourth(4th) Ezemu of Emu Kingdom on the 4th day of April,1999.
Ajieh is an original form of greeting to the traditional chiefs. But as time moved on, (just like the supporting of kolanut with money became expanded), it became a general greeting for all adult males(Ikoluobie). Even the male youths are also greeted “Ajieh Biakoni” meaning Ajieh in the making. The older females are greeted “Otofe” while the younger ones are greeted “Owesu” or “Oticha akwa”. This form of greeting started during the colonial era when the colonial masters tried in vain to usurp the impenetrable powers of the “Ineotu” Traditional Chief’s for indirect rule. in consequence, they raised some strong opinion leaders in the then Aboh Division who greeted themseves by saying; “Anyi ji Eye” or “Anyi je” signifying that they now hold the power, or power belongs to them. Now the greeting “Ajieh” and “Otofe” has become a general one as corrupted in fast tongue.
Indigenous arts include basket weaving, metalwork and sculpture (known as Okpu-Uzo). The Ụkwụànìs are also widely known for their music, having produced such Late artistes as Charles Iwegbue, sir kendo, Ali Chukwuma, King Ubulu, Prince Smart Williams Achugbue, Issac Rogana Ottah, Sir Daddy Kris, Agu Lato, and Franco Lee Ezute; they still have on the list names which are ever present in the scene such as Harvest music stars a.k.a The Unlimited, Julie Bright, John Okpor, Prince Tony Kiddy, Queen Azaka, Bob Fred, Eric Enuma, Computer Onah, Steady Arobbi, Deskenny, Prince 2 Boy, Ishioma Henry Ossai, Orji Moore, Chris Hanen, Eric Enuma, Capt Dennis Abamba, Murphy Gingo, Chuks Igba, Ogwezi Ubulu and many others. It very important to note that the most widely known Hausa song, “A Kwai Wuta Ni Gari”, was made popular by two Ukwuani Indigenes (sons) in the late 40s, “The Ishie Brothers”. The duo sang together in all their local musical performances while one usually beat two short sticks (maracas), the other scratches a cigarette cup against its cover to produce their kind of musical entertainment. They lived the best part of their lives in Northern Nigeria, mostly Kano city. They were among the early legends of modern music in Nigeria.
The style of Ukwuani music is one of the main influences they have had over their neighbors, many of whom have adopted Ụkwụànì music as their own traditional music They remain a socially tight-knit group. Community unions and clubs are the rule, even among those who have emigrated to North America, Europe, or Asia. These organizations routinely hold festivals and celebrations. Marriage and burial rites are also often the occasion for elaborate ceremonies. Most of the people are Christian. Large Catholic congregations are found in Obiaruku, Ashaka, Obinomba, Umutu and Kwale where Catholic missionaries established churches and elementary schools during the colonial era. Protestant churches are also common. Traditional worship still takes place in nearly every community. There is also a very small Muslim minority among them.
The colonial history of Ndokwa people began in 1905 with the formal establishment of colonial administrative office in Kwale. It was then known as Aboh Native Authority and later renamed Aboh Division in 1952 with headquarter in Kwale. In 1976, there was Local Government reforms and Aboh Division became Ndokwa Local Government with headquarters still in Kwale. The name Ndokwa was formed from two words; Ndoshimili and Ukwuani. They signify the two major districts of Aboh Division. Following the 1991 and 1997 Local Government creations embarked upon by the Military led Government, Ndokwa came under three Local Government Areas (LGAs) namely; Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West and Ukwuani with headquarters in Aboh, Kwale and Obiaruku respectively. The three LGAs speak Ukwuani language and are known and recognized as a distinct ethnic nationality since pre-colonial times. Lord Lugard amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates to form Nigeria. Ndokwa people were a part of the nations in the Southern protectorate. Although it included the great Aboh Kingdom which, arguably, was the greatest naval force on the Niger Delta Coast for close to a century before the arrival of the Europeans, the people were subjected to British rule and would later be ruled as part of the Western region-one of the two regions carved out of the Southern protectorates. By 1963, Mid-west region was created to include Ndokwa Land and other Non-Yoruba speaking parts of western region. Ndokwa people remained as part of Mid-West region until Ndoni people were carved out from Aboh Division to join parts of the old Eastern region to form Rivers State in May 1967 as part of a new 12 State Federal Structure. The rest of Ndokwa Land remained in the Mid-west which was now renamed Bendel State, fusing the first three letters from the Benin Province with the first three letters of Delta Province. Ndokwa remained as part of the Mid-west Bendel configuration for 28 years until the creation of Delta State in 1991.