IJO Information

Location: Southern Nigeria, Niger River Delta
Population: 250,000
Language: Ijo (Kwa)
Neighbors: Ibgo, Yoruba, Ewe, Urhubo, Isoko, Ekoi
Types of Art: Ijo are best known for their extensive production and alteration of cloth. Dress is used to signify status throughout society. They also produce wooden sculpture and memorial screens to commemorate their ancestors. Ijo carvers produced altar panels and horizontal headdresses called Otojo [2], which represent water spirits. They believe that these spirits are like humans in terms of their strengths and weaknesses and that before their birth, human beings live among the Otojo. Once born, the Ijo maintain contact with them through prayers in order to gain their favors.
History: The geographic conditions of the Niger Delta region have resulted in the Ijo being located astride trade routes throughout the region. Routes connecting them to other west African groups were established at least as early as the 15th century. In the 1600s the Ijo served as intermediary slave traders between Europeans and African groups to the north of them. Due to their central location, the Ijo have appropriated many outside ideas into their own expressive culture. This is most significantly expressed in Ijo fashion choices. In recent years many Ijo have moved to Port Harcourt in search of employment, but many of the wealthy still maintain residences in their homelands.
Economy: The Ijo rely largely upon their relationship with the rivers and ocean for their survival. They depend on trading goods and fishing to supplement farming and hunting. Yams and processed palm oil are produced in large quantities for outside trade. Women normally participate in large market systems where people trade and sell wares for pleasure, as well as survival. Wealth is often redistributed through the institution of dowries. Usually bride prices paid to people outside the immediate community are larger, to compensate the bride's community for the loss of her children who will remain in the village of the husband. Those who live in Port Harcourt, the capital of the region, often work as professionals, traders, and civil service workers.
Political Systems: Peoples from eastern Ijo territory traditionally lived in compact villages and towns that were politically integrated through a system of chiefs who were family or clan heads. High status is normally awarded in accordance with elaborate hierarchical systems and often results only after payments have been made to those already holding titles. Peoples from western and central Ijo territory acknowledged no central political authorities until the British arrived.
Religion: Ijo traditional religion centers around water spirits who inhabit the numerous rivers and swamps of the area. Tribute is also paid to ancestors who are often represented in wooden shrine figures or memorial screens known as Nduen Fobara by Kalibari Ijo. Funeral ceremonies among the Ijo are often quite dramatic, with greater attention afforded to members of the community who have reached a combination of advanced age and high prestige. Extensive funerals are held for both women and men in preparation for sending them on their final journey away from the village to the spirit world across the river.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project, [2] The Tribal Arts of Africa, Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, p.92