People and Culture of Nigeria: The Idoma Group

Classified as a minority ethnic group and often mistaken to be part of the Igbo tribe, the Idoma people 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 history of the Idoma people precedes the history of Benue State (created 1976) and the history of the Republic of Nigeria (created 1914).

When prompted, Idomas generally will proudly tell you where they are from, and it is not uncommon for Idoma to be able to receive 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 Idoma land. Quite naturally, several 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” who begot all the Idoma. While there may be some truth to the above, the Idoma cannot be said to have a unitary origin.

The Idoma language is classified in the Akweya subgroup of the Idomoid languages of the Volta-Niger family, which include Alago, Agatu, Etulo, and Yala languages of Benue, Nasarawa and Northern Cross River states. The Idomas are known to be ‘ warriors’ and ‘hunters’ of class, but hospitable and peace-loving. The greater part of Idoma land remained largely unknown to the west until the 1920s, leaving much of the colourful traditional culture of the Idoma intact. The population of the Idoma is estimated to be about 4 million.

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.

The traditional colours of the Idoma People are red and black stripes. This has only been around since the 1980s to Foster a distinct Idoma identity.

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 a short period. Dancers put on the Idoma attire (traditional colours) can be seen in both links.

With the advent of Christianity, Islam and other foreign religions, the traditional beliefs systems of most ethnic groups in the country have been influenced by the western practices. However, a majority of the Idoma People still believe strongly in the Alekwu, which is seen as the ancestral spirits – a link between the living and the dead. The Idomas have a strong attachment to the 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.

There are specific aspects that clearly distinguish their tradition. In some Idoma subcultures, the groom and his family have to present the bride with a rooster and some money on the marriage day after the bride price has already been paid. If she accepts, it is a sign of approval and disinterest if she rejects the gift. While there are no certain reasons to justify the need for a rooster, it remains an interesting part of the ceremony.

The Idoma People have a traditional ruler called the Och’ ldoma who is the head of the Idoma Area Traditional council while each community has its traditional chief such as the Ad’ Ogbadi- bo of orokam. The palace of the overall Och’doma is located at Otukpo, Benue state. The present Och’Idoma, Elias Ikoyi Obekpa was installed into office in 1997 and the position is for life.



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