The Obolo people are a distinct tribe living in the Niger Delta region of Rivers (Andoni L.G.A) , Akwa Ibom State (Eastern Obolo, Oron L.G.A & Ibeno L.G.As), and Abia (Ohafia region) , and Obolo is the name of an outstanding Niger Delta lord who existed about the twelfth century. He was the progenitor of a race of warriors culturally identified as Ebi Obolo (Obolo people).
the name refers to Ijọn̄ Obolo (Obolo land) ,the homeland his people later founded and where his entity, Ido Obolo (Obolo nation) is domiciled. It is also a linguistic reference to the language his people speak, Usem Obolo (Obolo language). In sum, Obolo is a patriarch, a race, a geographical entity and a language and the Obolo language is now a combination of Efik, Ibibio, Oron, and Ijaw dialects based on the original Ijaw intonation and Efik-Ibibio lexicon. Interestingly, they are related to the Ijaw People of Niger Delta in Nigeria, and no Niger Delta forebear ,has his name as founder, homeland, people and language respectively.
Prior to the British Colonial Era the Obolo’s were among the first to come in contact with the Europeans and traded mainly with the Portuguese.They worshiped a National deity (god) called Yok-Obolo , Who is believed to be the founder /Spiritual head of the Obolo people elevated to a god upon death. Besides, Christianity was already Accepted in Obolo land long before 1699 ( as recorded when John Barbot visited Dony Town (Andoni) in 1699, he observed that the King of Dony Town accepted Christianity and Priests were regularly sent in from Sao Tome and Brazil, to minister to him, The king of Dony town also spoke Portuguese )Despite Christianity, the Yok-Obolo was still feared among neighboring tribes (Bonny, Opobo, Ibibio/Efiks, Ogonis e.t.c ) which made them to spread terrifying news about the Obolo people to the British Colonial masters.In 1869 King Jaja had to enter an oath of Allegiance with the Yok-Obolo before he was allowed to establish his new town opobo (1970) in the Andoni territory .This was against the wish of Bishop Ajayi Crowther who lamented that King Jaja was entering the “Heart of Darkness” when he came to Obolo (Andoni) is 1869 for a treaty with the Obolos.
When the ugly stories against the Obolo (Andoni) were so much the British Colonial Authorities decided to send a punitive expedition against them in 1904, which was led by Captain A. A. Whitehouse ,with the sole aim of destroying Obolo ( Andoni) as a political entity and reducing there influence among neighbouring tribes in the Niger Delta.
On arrival A.A. Whitehouse and his military team went straight to Alabie Town (Agwut-Obolo), burnt and destroyed the high altar of deity of the Obolo Monarchy, (Yok-obolo) and the site of the House of Skulls with over 2,000 skulls of Obolo (Andoni) Enemies killed in wars.
The British destroyed the House of Skulls and the Shrine of Yok-Obolo in 1904, and split Andoni into six parts, each attached to one of the six Native Courts in the Niger Delta with the aim of destroying Obolo Politically.
Some of the Bronze Arts & Crafts Collected by the British from Andoni (Obolo) during this Expedition are currently on display in the British Museum.
Museum number Af1905,0413.19
Manillas (Local Currency), Ikpoko Ebi-Ugane;
Roughly horse-shoe shaped, made of open circle of bronze with slightly wide ends at opening.
Bronze image of Obolo King
Leopard skull made of bronze.
Museum number Af1905,0413.58-59
Sword made of bronze, wire (copper), pigment.
Museum number Af1905,0413.50
Religious staff (with two skulls and two manillas attached) , made of skull (leopard), rattan, wood, bronze.
From the left,
British Museum number Af1905,0413.2
Obolo Andoni artefact (armlet-like, spiral, with flared ends) made of copper, pigment.
Museum number Af1905,0413.61
Description Cast bronze sculpture of a leopard skull.
Obolo homeland occupies an estimated area of about 360km2 with Rivers state: Andoni LGA; Akwa Ibom state: Eastern Obolo LGA, islands and peninsulas off southern coast. Ibibio [ibb] language area is east and northeast; Ogoni [ogo] language area is northwest, Ibani [iby] language area is west. with a projected population of about 1000,000 people. It lies about 4o31N latitude and 7o301E longitude falling within the south-eastern flank of the Niger delta, a region rich in oil and gas. Its land mass transverses the chains of islands between the Qua Iboe River in the east and Andoni River in the west. It is bounded by Bonny to the west, Okrika and Ogoni to the north, Ibibio to the North-east and the majestic Atlantic waters to the south. Its proximate position to the sea and location within the Niger delta belt, account for the intricate network of salt-water creeks once teaming with marine life. Obviously, the people’s mainstay and basic industry is fishing. Unfortunately, oil pollution is drastic, reducing their income per capita below sustenance level thus crippling their industrial and economic reliance.
Politically, Obolo remains disintegrated as opposed to her cultural integration. The political situation, however, is forced on her by circumstances of the Nigerian politics. The creation of states and subsequent boundary adjustment of the seventies coupled with the presence of oil in its territory adversely affected its political unity. The area became a booty for two States. Eastern Obolo Local Government Area with headquarters at Okoroete is in Akwa Ibom State. Western Obolo, the bigger block, the present Andoni Local Government Area with headquarters at Ngo is in Rivers State. Though administratively separated, they are culturally indivisible.
Originally, the religion of the people was traditional until the successful advent of Christianity towards the close of the nineteenth century brought radical changes. Today there are over forty denominations with over three hundred congregations in Obolo with Christians accounting for over seventy percent of the population. An important change of remarkable significance is education resulting in the current move to study, develop and document Obolo language and translate the Bible.
By linguistic classification, Greenburg (1955) categorized Obolo language as a member of the Cross River Two group of the Niger Kordofanian (Benue-Congo) languages. But Kay Williamson (1987) classified it as belonging to the Lower Cross Sub-branch of the Delta Cross Branch of the Eastern Division of the South-Central Niger-Congo languages. Later in 1989, Bendor-Samuel reclassified it under the Western cluster of the Lower-Cross Sub-branch of the Delta Cross main branch of the Cross River block.
Interestingly, statistical provisions clearly mark Obolo out as originating from greater antiquity than its other neighbours of the region. It was one of the four languages early European explorers met in the Niger delta area about six centuries ago, making it unique, a uniqueness arising from its survival in the face of super-ethnic influences to emerge along with time. Its survival inspired awakening at documentation especially at a time Western culture including language seriously threatens every cultural value. It is more threatening when viewed from literary angles. Considering the velocity at which Nigerian culture and foreign values advance, a language without literature or documentation faces prospects of extinction.