THE OLU FAMILY, TRADE AND INDUSTRY IN ITSEKIRI-LAND
Since the King had about Sixty (60) Wives, he also had many Children. The most prominent of whom was the Eldest “IJEDE”, followed by “OKUNUWA”, “UGBENRUN and EYOLUSAN”.
Two Daughters, “UWALA and UDOLOROLUSAN, often called IYE”, also acquired some importance.
When the Children grew up they occupied Quarters of their own in the Royal Part of the town or like EYOLUSAN, were sent to take up some administrative post in the Kingdom.
The ITSEKIRI People during the Eighteenth Century were noted for particular industries. The most important as far as the Men were concerned was Fishing.
The waters around the Capital however did not provide much Fish and most of the people had to rely on catching those available “in holes among the roots of the Mangrove Trees”. Groups of Fishermen went with their Nets a little farther while others used Wickers from which the Fish was collected in the morning.
Salt-making was an important industry. One method of obtaining the Salt was to evaporate Sea water. Some of the Salt made in this way (Ikpe) was very good.
There were two other methods of making Salt: “extraction of Salt from the young Salt-tree (Igbo-Okun) and its Leaves and from the shoots of Mangrove (Ibojo)”.
The young Salt tree and the Leaves or the young Mangrove trees were cut and burnt to Ashes. The Ashes were then collected into bags made of screw-pine or raffia and water poured into it. The Solution formed was allowed to filter through into a Canoe after which this was poured into Pots.
The Solution was then evaporated, leaving the Solid Salt deposit at the bottom.
Both in the interest of the Salt Industry as well as the collection of water, the Pot Industry became very popular. As we have mentioned earlier, the Capital of the Warri Kingdom had a “tenacious Red Clay” which was very good for making Pots for holding water and other utensils for domestic purposes.
This industry was mostly confined to the Women. These were moulded into desired shapes depending on what the product was to be used for. The moulds were placed in the Sun to dry. Designs were made on them before they became hard.
The surfaces were polished with smooth pieces of Stone. When they have hardened enough in the Sun, the Pots were baked in specially made Ovens “constructed of Wood, placed in the open air”.
*The various industrial products were sent into the hinterland especially into the URHOBO Country for sale. Since the ITSEKIRI did not have much land for Agriculture, most of their food products like Yams, Plantain were bought or bartered for with these articles and the Fish.
This trading could not be done without Canoes and so Canoe-building was a major Itsekiri Industry. Huge trunks of Wood were felled, hollowed out and parts burnt to make the Canoes and the beautifully decorated Paddles.
There were three (3) types of Canoes: the small Canoes which conveyed people for short distances; the large Commercial Canoes for long distance trade and the War Canoes used for the ITSEKIRI Navy.
In the Eighteenth Century, the ITSEKIRI also engaged in the slave trade. Most of the slaves were obtained from the Urhobo Country, since the ITSEKIRI rarely sold any of their kind.
They traded extensively with the City-States of the Niger-Delta; Bonny, Elem-Kalabari and Nembe. Merchants from these City-States sailed in their Merchant Canoes to the Warri Capital bringing slaves.
Thus the Niger-Delta States seemed to have been the main source of Itsekiri Slaves for re-export. Some slaves were obtained during the various Naval engagements with the surrounding peoples. These were collected and transported to the main Slave Ports of Eghoro and Bobi.
*The ITSEKIRI were the main Middlemen between the surrounding peoples and the Europeans.
We can thus see how the Ports of BOBI and EGHORO became so important during the Eighteenth Century.
These were the places where the European Ships of 250 tons or over stopped because the Port of Warri was difficult to reach. Since the mouths of the Benin and Escravos Rivers were very shallow, European Ships always carried small Boats with equipment masts and sails for use in the areas from which produce had to be collected.
#The European Merchants studied Local Requirements. On arrival they sent messages accompanied by Gifts to the Governor of the Port where they wanted to trade.
If the presents were acceptable, the Governor boarded the Ship to assess the duties to be paid, commonly in Salt. Sometimes, accounts were kept in pawns which in English currency of the time had a value of about twenty (20) or thirty (30) kobo*.
The ITSEKIRI demanded Cloth (Silk, Taffeta and Damask) handkerchiefs; Coral beads, Guns and Gun powder, Spirits, Salt, Hats, Earthenware goods and Mirrors. The European Merchants bought Slaves, Palm oil and Ivory.
END OF PART THREE