THE RIVER NIGER IN NUPE HISTORY
Everything about the Nupe Nation is centred on the River Niger ever since time immemorial. KinNupe has always have its identity and integrity based on the phenomenon of the River Niger since the beginning of time. In fact the River Niger is the soul and the essence of the Nupe Nation from the beginning to the present.
It is therefore not surprising to note that the culture and sociology of the Nupe Nation is wholly perfused with everything to do with the River Niger. A careful and critical analysis of the Nupe Nation and its culture, people and society shows that everything about the national psychology of the Nupe people have always been based on the River Niger.
If we take a geographical look at the Nupe Nation vis a vis its relation and location to the River Niger we will see that the Nupe Nation is more or less a riverine nation. The central part of the Nupe Nation is a nuclearly centred on the length of the River Niger Bend in its Nigerian course such that we see that the shape of the Nupe Nation is itself a linear one running along the length of the River Niger as it enters Nigeria, confluences with the Benue and then continued its journey southward.
In more aged times the entire length of the River Niger in its Nigerian section, and even beyond, used to be located inside the Nupe Nation. That was in those days when the Nupe Nation was far greater than the pitiably smaller version that we have today.
But then the point we are trying to make here is that even the geopolitical shape of the Nupe Nation have always been shaped and chiseled by the flow and course of the River Niger. Ever since its inception the Nupe Nation have always existed centrally on the banks of the River Niger and peripherally in the valleys of the River Niger. This is such that, ands as we have mentioned before, the geopolitical shape of the Nupe Nation has always been more or less a longitudinal or linear one running in correspondence along the length of the River Niger.
Even the present Niger State and the projected Edu State also have longitudinal maps linearly running along the length of the River Niger.
But then so has it been that the Nupe Nation has always been a nation of the River Niger since aeons ago. All the accounts, historical and otherwise, about the Nupe people from ages have always identified the Nupe people as a nation wholly based on the River Niger.
And so also are the traditions of the Nupe people themselves; all the lores and mythologies of the Nupe people have always portrayed the Nupe peoples themselves as a River Niger people.
The Nupe people have always seen themselves as a River Niger people. Their cosmogony and mythologies all never saw beyond the River Niger as the origin and life of the Nupe people. It is such that we see that every praxis and myth of the Nupe people is centred on the River Niger as the essence of the Nupe people.
The sociology of the Nupe Nation is by and large a wholesome derivative of the River Niger phenomenon. Since remote ages the entire socio-cultural activities of the Nupe peoples and the entire Nupe Nation is dictated and moulded to its minutest details by the annual rise and fall of the waters of the River Niger.
So is it that the tide and flooding of the River Niger at different seasons of the year determine the farming, hunting, trading, commercial, religious and otherwise particulars on the sociocultural calendar of the Nupe Nation.
Agriculture and the River Niger
Since time long past Nupe farmers used to be very busy during the September to January period when the ‘Black Flood’, as they call it in the local Nupe parlance, of the River Niger used to inundate the Niger valleys and render the entire Nupe Nation extremely fertile for the cultivation and harvesting all manners of cash and food crops.
Things are such that the annual flooding of the River Niger in this period have made KinNupe the food basket of the entire Central Sudan since time immemorial. There is no any other region in the whole of ancient Nigeria, and probably the whole of the West African region for that matter, that is as agriculturally productive as KinNupe is to this very day.
The interesting point here is that the Black Flood is actually a blessing for the Nupe Nation as it usually comes at the tail end of the rainy season and becomes a sort of carried-over natural irrigation,’ fadama farming’ they call it in the local Nupe parlance, that facilitates farming to continue right into the dry season as if the rains were still around. This actually made it possible for the Nupe farmers to cultivate two different crops on the same farm in the same year.
So, throughout the year, the rise and fall of the waters of the River Niger made it possible for the Nupe farmer to be agriculturally productive. This is one of the reasons why the KinNupe has remained the agricultural heartland and the food basket of the entire ancient Nigerian region since time out of mind.
Fishing on the River Niger also flourishes around the time of September to the April period.
In any case the River Niger keeps Nupe famers and agriculture so industrious and productive throughout the year. This continuous agricultural industry and production have transformed KinNupe into an economic superpower of the Central Sudan since prehistoric times.
Transportation and the River Niger
The location of the River Niger right across the centre of KinNupe in a dissecting manner has also made the Nupe Nation the transportation hub and commercial centre of the Central Sudan, or ancient Nigeria and its neighbour, since antiquity.
All long distance trading and commercial activities from the north to the south, or vice-versa, of the Central Sudan must at a point pass through Central KinNupe when it comes to cross the River Niger – and that has been the case since the beginning of time, for as long as the Central Sudan have ever existed.
So was it that the Nupe canoe men became famous since days gone by as the commercial transporters of goods and merchants of the caravans that shuttle between sections of the Central Sudan from the north to the south.
The River Niger as the transportation channel of the entire Central Sudan made it possible for KinNupe to become the clearing house, and the export and import headquarters, of almost all the merchandise and manufacturing industry of the Central Sudan. All manufactured products and natural resources – including salt, clothes, agricultural products, arms and ammunition, merchandise, etc, etc – of the entire Central Sudan have to pass through and be assorted out here in Central KinNupe on the banks of the River Niger before they are repackaged and redistributed to all other parts of the Central Sudan.
This, of course, inevitably made KinNupe the industrial capital of the Central Sudan in former times. As workers, including S.A. Balogun, P. Lovejoy, S.F. Nadel, Janet Ewald, Professor Alan Ryder, and many others documented, however, the commercial and economy superpower of the Nupe Nation was actually a West Africa-wide affair that was not restricted to just the Central Sudan area alone. Professor Lovejoy, for instance, categorically documented how long distance traders all the way from the Manding and Upper Volta were constantly shuttling between KinNupe and the westernmost coast of West Africa.
We see, therefore, how the strategic location of the River Niger in Central KinNupe has shaped the entire sociology of the Nupe Nation since those prehistoric times.
The Spirit of the River Niger
The River Niger is a living spirit to the Nupe people. This spirit have been identified or referred to by an endless variety of divine and sacred names, epithets, appellations including as Yemaja or Yamaya(the mother of Shango), Eya (Oyo), Eyagi, Wuya, Edu, Eduma, Ndaduma, Gani, Gwara, Agwara, Koro, etc, etc.
In the various and antiquated Nupe spiritualisms and religions the River Niger is seen as a living spirit that must be propitiated – through fertility rituals and libations – to ensure the River Niger’s continuous sustenance of the Nupe Nation.
It is on this account that we see so many spiritual and religious rituals and social practices performed and observed by the Nupe peoples with regard to the River Niger. There are very important and solemn rituals and publican festivals that were carried out annually by the high priests of the Cult of Ndaduma and other such spiritual and religious systems of the old-time Nupe peoples on the Wòbà and guṇnubà altars dedicated to the River Niger.
Tsoede, the Founder of Latter Nupe, was, for instance, himself said to be the one who personally founded and established the Ketsa guild of Ndaduma high priests on Ketsa Rock of Jebba who perform the annual Ketsa sacrifice to the River Niger to this very day. Of course the Ketsa high priests on the Jebba Island are still in possession of the fertility rites Chains of Tsoede to this very day.
Tsoede and the River Niger
Even the Mythical Charter of Tsoede, which Professor Nadel has blown into the foundation myth of the Nupe people, is about the story of Tsoede, the founder of the Nupe Nation, who was born, brought up, bred, flourished and died on the waters and banks of the River Niger.
The entire story of Tsoede is about how every stage and phase of his life was on the River Niger.
First Tsoede was said to have been born at Nku which is a fishing and riverine village still located on the banks of the River Niger to this very day. Then it was said that he later on grew up at a now-extinct Mokwa capital city of his father the AtaGara which was also an hoary Nupe capital city located on the banks of the River Niger.
Then the Tsoede Myth elaborately narrated how Tsoede was pursued on the River Niger by his half-brothers who chased him out of the AtaGara capital city which was also located on the River Niger.
It was on the River Niger that Tsoede eluded his pursuers by sinking his bronze canoe to the depth of the River Niger.
Later on it was said that Tsoede came back to overthrew his uncle at Nku and transformed Nku, the village on the banks of the River Niger into his new capital of the Nupe Nation. From Nku Tsoede later on set up a new capital city, called Dakomba, right on the very waters, they said an island, of the River Niger. And then Tsoede again set up a new capital called Nupeko on the very same banks of the River Niger.
And Tsoede was said to be the one who performed numerous and solemn sacrifices on a daily basis to the Ndaduma spirit of the River Niger.
So, we see here how the entire story of Tsoede, the Founder of the Nupe Nation, is completely based on a recurring theme of the River Niger. This, of course, tells a lot about how everything about the olden Nupe people is always centred on the River Niger and none else.
The River Niger and AtaGara Independence
There is a subtle edge to the Tsoede Mythical Charter story as it relates to the River Niger if only we could take a closer look at the story. The story of the flight of Tsoede from AtaGara and his subsequent founding and establishment of his own Nupekoro or Kororofa empire indirectly tells us also that it was through the use of the River Niger that Tsoede was able to throw off the yoke of AtaGara sovereignty over Nupe and thus obtain independence for his maternal Nupe people from his paternal AtaGara people.
In any case we only used the story of Tsoede as a case study. The truth of the matter is that it is not just the Tsoede story, alone, but every other myth, folklore and story in Nupe culture is centred on the River Niger as a theme. We see, for instance that the stories of other great Nupe figures, including Yisa the great Christian Emperor, Elemkpe or Oduduwa the Nupe founder of the Yoruba race, Korau the Nupe founder of Katsina, Bayajida the Nupe founder of the Hausa people, etc, etc, the same extra-emphasis on the role played by the River Niger in the insculpting and shaping of their particular biographies.
The River Niger and Nupe Cultural Values
So also is the case with the sociocultural value system of the timeworn Nupe people. Every initiatory ceremony or exercise in the lives of a Nupe individual was always referred to and carried out on the banks of the River Niger in former times. This was such that all the vintage guilds and secret society associations of the venerable Nupe people were all sustained only through elaborate sacrificial and fetish libations that have to do mainly with the River Niger.
And that, of course, is just an aspect of a wider situation whereby the entire religious establishment and machinery of the well-established Nupe people is wholly and completely centred on the essence and integrity of the River Niger.
Almighty God Ndaduma
The truth of the matter is that so important is the River Niger in the national psychology of the antique Nupe people that they have come to retained the River Niger appellative of God Almighty as a paramount cognomen with which they address Him, namely, as Ndaduma.
It is the River Niger that was known, in Old Nupe, as Eduma, which literally meant ‘The Large Water’. And Accordingly God Almighty became known as the ‘Nda Eduma’ or ‘Ndaduma’ which, clearly, meant ‘The Master of the River Niger’.
Now then the interesting point here is that the bygone Nupe people had an endless variety of attributial names and compellations for God Almighty but it is their nomen for Him as the Master of the River Niger, namely, Ndaduma that have become so paramount that at a time it almost became the proper name for God in the antique Nupe language.
This, of course, means that the River Niger is just too important in the psychology of the primordial Nupe man that he even attempted to refer to God Almighty with the name of the River Niger.
In any case, and if we look at it very well, the primeval Nupe people cannot be blamed for having their psyche dominated so much by the River Niger. Otherwise, what do you expect from a nation that was completely and totally dependent on the River Niger for all aspects and facets of its existence?
It was the River Niger that fed the ancient Nupe Nation and that transformed the ancient Nupe Nation into the food basket of the whole of the Central Sudan in those former times. And, as the researches of the modern Nigerian authorities – who, on their own independent volition, sited the National Cereals Research Centre in Central KinNupe; and the Kwara State Government that resettled Zimbabwean farmers in Central KinNupe – if the agricultural potentials of the River Niger are properly appreciated and managed the Nupe Nation can actually feed the whole of the African continent with excess left-overs for several years on end.
We also see that it is the River Niger that made ancient KinNupe the sociocultural and demographic headquarters and power-house of the whole of Africa south of the Sahara in those days.
The valleys of the River Niger and its Benue-Niger Confluence transformed ancient KinNupe into the generator for both population and sociocultural values for the whole of Black Negro Africa. This is why ancient KinNupe became such a central point in the history and prehistory of West Africa and Black Africa in very ancient times.
The story of the River Niger and its KinNupe super kingdom spread all over the world and continuously attracted people from explorers from all over the world onto the very banks of the River Niger right here in Central KinNupe. That was how came about the story of the Kisra people and their Yisa Emperor who came from the outside world to come and settle down on the banks of the River Niger.
Before then the River Niger have attracted the Table of the Sun spies of the Persian king Cambysus, the wild Numidian youths of the Classical Greek stories, the gargantuan voyage of Hanno the Carthaginian, and so on and on….
… even Greek Mythology categorically related that it is on the banks of the River Niger, right here in Central KinNupe, that the Garden of the Hesperides, the Garden of the Eden of the Semitics, is located. It is no wonder that the same Greek Mythology categorically related also that it is to this very banks of the River Niger that Zeus and the entire pantheon of all the Greek gods lived.
The Classical King James version translation of Genesis 2:13 actually goes this way:
“And a river went out of Eden to water the Garden, and from thence it was parted and became four heads…. And the name of the second river is Gihon (River Niger); the same is it that compasseth the whole Land of Cush (Central Sudan).”