Kalabari is a tribe of the Ijaw people of Rivers state living in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. They migrated from the Benin fringes of Ijaw land and became a large kingdom of about 35 communities/
settlements including Abonemma, Buguma, Bakana, Tombia, ke, Soku, Bille, Bukuma, Degema, Obonoma, Sama, Abalama, Ilelema and others.
The people were originally fishermen before the coming of the Portugese to the west African coastline. The Kalabari like most coastline tribes were wealthy as a result of interactions with Europeans.
The kalabaris share similar culture/language to the Okrikas, Bonny, Opobo, Bayelsa Ijaws (Nembe in particular as the language is almost the same), Delta Ijaws, Ondo Ijaws and some parts of Edo state.
It was discovered that in the 1980s, that a nearly extinct Berbice Dutch/KALABARI LANGUAGE was spoken in Central America. Guyana to be precise.
The kalabaris do bear European names (Briggs, Horsfall, Jack, Harry, West, Braide etc) due to their inter- racial relations with their slave-trade partners.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THE KALABARI-IJAW HAVE NEVER BEEN SLAVES.
Kalabari, Opobo and Bonny were the first to trade with the whites in Rivers state alongside Okrika and Andoni. Many of them do have light skin due to European mixtures.
They engaged in overland trade with the Portugese in the 1400s, later Dutch, then British whom arrived by sea for trade and missionary work. They also traded clothes from India. Since the early 1800s, The Europeans noted that the Kalabaris refused to trade their goods on credit.
Their industrial prowess coupled with their lovable demenor has won the admirations from surrounding communities of the Niger delta.
The Kalabari constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in Rivers State with 3 LGAs and they are the largest Ijaws in terms of population in the state.
They constitute almost a million (90% of people based in Akulga, Asalga and Degema are indigenes, so the 2006 population census results states..(AKULGA:156,006 , ASALGA:220,110 , DEGEMA:249,773)..626000 altogether excluding the population of kalabaris based in Phalga LGA, Obioakpor LGA, LGAs in the state, indigenes outside Rivers State and diaspora.. Majority of Kalabari people stay at the PHALGA (Portharcourt old township, Borokiri, marine base, Dline, Diobu, Iwofe, Aggrey, Eagle island etc.) axis of Port Harcourt.
The kalabaris are highly educated and have the love for western education. They are known to have a high concentration of Professors, Lawyers and Doctors in Nigeria.. Because of their civilized and generally peaceful behaviour, the kalabaris were called English men in the past..
List of Notable People from the Kalabari Tribe
Agbani Darego… First black African to win miss world
Jimi Rex Lawson… High life musician.
Dabota Lawson… Ex beauty queen(Miss Nigeria UK)
Asari Dokubo.. Human right activist
Tonye Graham Douglas… Politician
Albert Horsfall… Former SSS Boss
Dumo Lulu Briggs.. politician
Chief Dr Hutton.. Antropologist
Prof. (Hajia) Duke … Astute Academic & Politician
Taribo West… Ex footballer
Ian Whyte ……. Legendary DJ (worldwide)
Prof. Tam David West… politician and many others..
KALABARI TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE:
This occurs in 3 forms namely; IYA, IGWA and WARRIBIOBESIME.
The IYA is the most lawful and highest form of kalabari marriages. In this marriage, divorce is not permitted and the offspring belongs to the man’s house. An IYA marriage is not complete until the BIBIFE ceremony(buying the mouth) is undertaken. The BIBIFE signifies 3 things. First, a stage in a lawful marriage which gives the bride the right to eat in the husband’s house. Second, it signifies the man’s responsibility towards the wife and his willingness to feed her for the rest of her life.
Finally, it signifies and crowns the new communion between the 2 families. It involves serving the bride with innumerable courses of food., usually in the evenings. Thus, the bride is dressed with coral accessories, crown and chunky coral beads.
THE OWU ARU SUN FESTIVALS OF THE KALABARI KINGDOM:
This is a festival of unity in Buguma and it draws visitors from far and near to the Kalabari kingdom in Rivers State.
It is performed by the Ekine Sekiapu society and it’s the famous and most outstanding masquerade in the history of the kingdom. Previous editions were held in 1908, 1927, 1973 and 1991 and 2009.
TOMINA FULO: This is a kalabari soup prepared using fresh fish and sea food. Cocoyam is usually used to thicken the soup.
ONUNU: This is another delicacy prepared by pounding boiled plantain with yam. It is then finished off with palm oil.
10 Interesting Facts About the Kalabari People
1. The kalabari is a tribe of the Ijaw people of Rivers state living in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
2. Kalabari people are Ijaw speaking settlers who came from the Bini fringes of Ijaw land from the lineage of a man called Mein Owei.
3. They are one of the largest ethnic groups in terms of population and geography with three Local Government Areas in Rivers State.
4. Kalabaris were originally fishermen before the coming of the Portuguese to the West African coastline.
5. Like most Nigerian coastline tribes, the Kalabaris were wealthy as a result of their interactions with the Europeans.
5. Kalabari, Opobo and Bonny were the first to trade with the whites in Rivers state alongside Okrika and Andoni. They engaged in overland trade with the Portugese in the 1400s, later Dutch, then British whom arrived by sea for trade and missionary work. They also traded clothes from India.
6. They share similar culture and language to the Okrikas, Bonny, Opobo, Bayelsa Ijaws (Nembe in particular as the language is almost the same), Delta Ijaws, Ondo Ijaws and some parts of Edo state.
7. It was discovered that in the 1980s, that the nearly extinct Berbice Dutch (Kalabari Language) was spoken in Guyana.
8. The kalabari people are also known to bear European names like Briggs,Jack, etc due to their inter-racial relations.
9. Kalabari people are highly educated; they are known to have a high concentration of Professors, Lawyers and Doctors in Nigeria..
10. The Kalabaris were called English men in the past because of their civilized and generally peaceful behaviour.
The public are hereby warned to be on their guard when visiting a Kalabari’ s person’s home because the Kalabari person is mostly likely to keep offering you one food after the other, thereby leading to over-feeding.
Previously, and possibly up until the early 1990’s, the new mothers, as well as new brides are kept in what is known as a ‘Fattening-Room’, the person is fed continuously and is not allowed to lift a finger to do any form of work during this period.
Other cultures have been known to openly show their jealousness over this unique Kalabari behaviour.
It was this ‘Fattening-Room’ enjoyment that inspired my uncle and legendary Highlife Music exponent – Cardinal Rex Lawson to sing the famous “Atabala-woman” super hit in the late 1960’s.
It has been confirmed that the Kalabaris were NEVER slaves to anyone.
The term ‘slave-masters’ reflects the fact that the Kalabaris had a lot of different trading partners who were referred to as “slave-masters” due to the fact that as soon as they arrived, someone will run to the trader and shout your slave-master (meaning the new master for the slaves you have) has arrived.
To further confirm that they were the sole trading partners with a particular white trader, the Kalabari trader allows people to call them their white partner’s names. It stuck .
With such an arrangements, when their particular partner arrives, only that trader can do any trading with them.
This perhaps explains the origin of these names in Kalabari-land.
Once again, the Kalabaris were never slaves, rather they were (and are still) very fierce warriors.
This post is not by any means the full and final position on Kalabari history, rather it is an attempt to bring the Kalabari culture to the forefront of our present day.
I DO NOT have any form of monopoly on the history of Kalabari.
I will humbly concede to all superior knowledge.
This post is a ‘Continuum’ and as such is a never-ending story where others are invited to contribute.
IF you know the right history and keep quiet, then do not blame others for any wrong ‘projections’ of our Kalabari culture & history.