WHO ARE THE NUPES?
Today most people think that the national name ‘Nupe’ applies only to a clearly-defined linguistic group found mainly in Niger South, Kwara North and parts of Kogi, FCT, Kaduna and other states of the Nigerian Federation. The truth, however, is that the Nupe phenomenon is far more than the parochial definition above.
The more we research into the Nupe question the more we discover that the Nupe identity encompasses far more than the traditional definition of Nupe as a tribe or language found in Niger, Kwara and Kogi states. The definition of the Nupe identity has been evolving and expanding over the decades as more and more research data emerge.
First there is this discovery that the Nupe also include the various so-called ‘Sub-tribes’ including the Dibo, Kakanda, Gupa, Kupa, Bassange, etc, etc. Then came about the ongoing discovery that Nupe actually includes all the tribes of the Nigerian Middle Belt including the Gbagyi, the Igbira, the Igala, the Tiv, the Jukun, etc, etc.
On the other hand there is also the unfolding discovery that the whole Kororofa complex, comprising of over two-third the entire population of Nigeria, is Nupe. This will make Nupe the largest ethnic group or tribe in Nigeria.
In the beginning we all thought that the Nupe people are those who speak what is today known as the Nupe language. These people – variously known as the Nyipe by the Gbagyis; as the Nufawa by the Hausas; as the Tapa by the Yorubas; as the Nupe by themselves; etc, etc – are, as we have mentioned before, concentrated in Niger and Kwara states and are to be found in all the neighbouring states and the FCT.
This classical Nupe people are said to have a tradition alleging that a certain mythical figure, called Tsoede, was their eponymous founder. The father of this Tsoede was said to have been an Igala prince who married a Nupe princess to give birth to the bastard/half-caste founder of Nupe.
This was the traditional story of the Nupe people as recorded by the earliest of the European expeditionists and missionaries to arrive KinNupe. By the time of the Lander brothers and Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther all that was known about Nupe cosmogony was centred on the personality of Tsoede the, so-called, Founder of Nupe. Professor Leo Frobenius came along, in 1911, to give academic credence and authority to this traditional history of the Nupe people.
It was frequently claimed in those days that the history of the Nupe Nation does not go beyond the emergence of Tsoede in the 14th or 15th century. It was said that the Nupes had no history and did not exist as a nation until Tsoede came and founded the Nupe Nation.
But by the time that Professor S.F. Nadel arrive KinNupe in the 1930s and plunged into his detailed sociological researches on the Nupe peoples he discovered a lot of inconsistencies in the traditional and conventional history of the foundations of the Nupe Nation as being centred wholly on the Tsoede personality.
Professor Nadel was the first to emphasise the existence of a pre-Tsoede Nupe Nation and thereby extending the existence of the Nupe Nation and the Nupe peoples to the period before the birth and emergence of Tsoede. Professor Nadel actually came up with his elaborate story of what he termed the ‘Bini Confederacy’ which he said was a mighty federation of Nupe city states that flourished long before the emergence of Tsoede.
Professor S.F. Nadel also, and more importantly, discovered and extended the Nupe Identity beyond the traditional linguistic group known as the Nupe or what he called the ‘Nupe Zam’. It was Professor Nadel who popularised the idea of referring to related lects and dialects as ‘Nupe Sub-tribes’. These he listed as including the Dibo, Kakanda, Gupa, Bassange, etc, etc.
So, we see that the Nupe Identity and Nation comprises of not just the classical Nupe people but also the so-called Nupe subtribes. With this new definition we will see that the Nupe Nation will extend to include greater parts of not only Niger and Kwara State but also Kogi, the FCT, Nasarawa, Kaduna and many others.
But in the 1950s and ’60s the flood of historiographic research into Nigerian history and culture added another dimension to the Nupe Identity question with people like Professor Michael Mason categorically demonstrating that Tsoede was not the Founder of Nupe. He pointed out that the Nupe Nation and Nupe people existed for several centuries on end before the time of Tsoede. Professor Michael Mason insisted that Tsoede should rather be referred to as the Re-founder of Nupe.
Professor Michael Mason also pointed out that the traditional period of the 13th or 14th century assigned to Tsoede by scholars including Professor Leo Frobenius and Professor S.F. Nadel is wrong. It is the contention of Professor Michael Mason that Tsoede lived and flourished long before the 13th or the 14th century. This, of course, means that the Nupe Nation existed for several centuries before the 14th century previously assigned to the foundation of the Nupe Nation.
But, and more importantly, Professor Michael Mason discovered that the Bini Confederacy of Professor S.F. Nadel was not restricted to just the Bida axis as was claimed by the latter. Professor Michael Mason found out that the story of the Bini Confederacy also existed among the Nupe people of Lemu whom Professor Nadel didn’t actually included in his list of the twelve Bini city states.
Moreover Professor Michael Mason also discovered that the Bini Confederacy was not just a collection of Nupe Bini city states but was actually a large federation or empire of Bini nations. These Bini nations that went into the formation of the expanded Bini Confederacy of Professor Mason’s discovery evidently included the Edo-Benin kingdom, the Igala kingdom, the Kebbi kingdom, the Oyo kingdom, the Igbira Panda kingdom, and so on and on.
This, of course, tallies with the conclusion of world linguists who scientifically listed the Nupoid group of languages as including the Igala, the Igbira, the Gbagyi, and so many other peoples of Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria.
We see in this context, therefore, that the Nupe Identity is actually a very large one – far beyond the traditional definition of the Nupe as a people confined to just the Central KinNupe area.
In recapitulation we can see how the definition of the Nupe Identity have evolved from that of a simple reference to the Nupe people in Kwara and Niger State to that of a Nupe nationality comprising of the so-called Nupe Subtribes to that of all the tribes and ethnicities abutting or neighbouring the Nupe Nation.
We also see how the timeframe for the history of Nupe have extended along a timeline that goes several centuries, if not a millennium, beyond the traditional 13th or 14th century previously assigned to Tsoede and wrongly claimed to be the time for the foundation of the Nupe Nation.
The interesting point here, however, is that accumulating research data have continued to both expand the Nupe Identity to include more and more of the Nigerian peoples who have not been traditionally identified as Nupe and also to extend the timeframe of Nupe history and prehistory back to millennia. In other words the Nupe Identity is fast expanding in terms of both space and time. We discuss these in the following paragraphs.
Nupe historiography is now discovering a vast pre-Tsoede era that may prove to be even more elaborate than the details we have on the post-Tsoede era.
It is now becoming clearer that apart from the Bini Confederacy which Professor S.F. Nadel said predated the Tsoede era there was also the AtaGara empire. In other words the Bini and the AtaGara were contemporary confederacies or empires in the immediate pre-Tsoede era. As a matter of fact Tsoede was an half-caste whose father was the king of AtaGara while his mother was the Queen of Bini.
The Igala, actually Gara, referred to in the Tsoede Mythical Charter was the AtaGara empire which was located right here in Central KinNupe and not the Igala kingdom that is still headquartered at Idah outside KinNupe proper today.
It was Tsoede’s Nupeko, otherwise known as Kororofa among the Hausas, that came and relegated his parental empires of the AtaGara and Bini to the background.
AtaGara shattered into various daughter kingdoms all of which migrated out of Central KinNupe. These included the Zaria kingdom, the Igala kingdom, the Oyo (Katunga) kingdom, the Igbira Panda kingdom, the Zhitako or Dibbo people, the Shintakoi Gbagyi people, etc, etc.
The Bini empire also shattered into the Kebbi kingdom, the Agife Gbagyi people, the Nyife or Ile Ife Yoruba people, etc, etc.
And before the era of the AtaGara and the Bini empires there was the Akanda, Gara, Bini and Ife kingdoms all located in Central KinNupe.
It is the Akanda that are still variously known as the Kakanda, Kyadya, Batati, etc, etc.
The Akanda and the Gara merged to form the United kingdom of AtaGara while the Bini and the Ife kingdoms merged to form the Binife, otherwise known either as the Bini or Nupe, empires.
And then there was also the arrival, in KinNupe, of the Kisra Refugee peoples from the outside world – from outside the African continent. These Kisra people were variously known as the Kisara, Saraki, Sagi, Zakzak, Yisa, Esa, Asa, Hausa, and so on and on. They came to KinNupe with an ancient from of Christianity and their emperor was known as the Isa or Yisa.
It was the Yisa or Esheti kingdom of these ancient Kisara peoples that eventually shattered into the various daughter kingdoms of Zakzak (or Zaria), Esa (or Asa or Hausa), Shango,
These things happened several centuries, or even a millennium, before the time of Tsoede.
It was the Nupeko empire otherwise known as KoroNupe or Korofe founded by Tsoede that was also referred as Karifi, Korofa or Kororofa by the Hausa city chronicles. This Nupeko or Kororofa empire founded by Tsoede expanded out to cover the whole of ancient Nigeria and neighbouring places of the Central Sudan in ancient times. This is how came about the fact that over two third the population of Nigerian people are today of Kororofa, Nupeko or Nupe origins to this very day.
So, the territorial identity of the Nupe people extends beyond Niger and Kwara states to engulf the whole of Nigeria and even beyond.
And several centuries before the time of Tsoede Nupe dynasts including the Nyizagis (of Yisa Nupe empire), the Bagis (of the Gwagba Nupe empire), the Egifes (of the Niyfe or Ife Nupe empire), the Egibi, Gibi or Bigi (of the Bini Nupe empire), etc, etc, flourished, reigned and declined.
The truth is that the origin of the Nupe people goes beyond the Tsoede era to a primeval time eons beyond the time of Tsoede. The Apa, Ifa, Ife, Nyife or Nupe people have been around d since the beginning of civilisation. They were remnants of the super and First Civilisations of Fara or Bara that produced the world emperor known as Fara, Afra, Abra, Abram or Abraham otherwise known as Ibrahim in the Semitic scriptures.