The IJAW (also know as the Ijo or Ïzon) are a group of people indigenous to the Niger Delta in the African country of Nigeria. They also come specifically from the forested areas of the Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States withing the Niger Delta. Mostly based in Western Africa, they also are from Gabon and Sierra Leon. The whole ethnic group of the Ijaw is made up of approximately 50 clans. There are 9 Niger/Congo languages spoken by the Ijaw and they are all a subset of the Ijoid branch. The majority are Christian, although with some Ijaw religious traditions mixed in.
One of the most famous Ijaw is Goodluck Jonathan, the former President of Nigeria. Unfortunately his government was known to be very corrupt with an estimated $20 billion gone missing. Not exactly someone you would want to associate your name with. Fortunately there is someone the Ijaw can be proud of and that is Timi Dakolo who was born in Ghana. Mr. Dakolo is the winner of Idols West Africa 2007 and subsequently was able to sign a contract with Sony.
The Ijaw, as with any indigenous people, are always trying to find ways to keep there cultural heritage alive by passing it down through their children. Fortunately for the Ijaw, their current population consists of approximately 10 million people, which in terms of numbers, is very good compared to many other indigenous people. Because of this large number and their desire for keeping their customs and traditions alive, the Ijaw have been very successful with this endeavor. One would be amazed at the amount of various indigenous groups that are located throughout the continent of Africa and even just in the country of Nigeria.
As with most things in Nigeria, the Ijaw have a connection to the lucrative oil industry, albeit a very unfortunate relationship. With the expansion of the oil industry, the Ijaw were victims of this growth and were losing control of their land. During the month of December 1998, two Nigerian warships along with 15,000 troops occupied the states of Delta and Bayelsa. During a protest of up to 2,000 people, the soldiers opened fire on the peaceful and unarmed crowd and initially 3 people were killed, with three more killed in the porceeding days. The following days were filled with terror as homes were raided, people were beaten and women raped. In the next month of January 1999, the terror continued for the Ijaw people and many more were attacked and killed. The whole incident is known as the Odi massacre. The protests and some action still continue by the Ijaw, although all of this is in response to the oil companies not fulfilling their promises and agreements.
The Ijaw have a tightly knit community, as well as diaspora in North America and Europe, and with this cohesion will continue to strive and build in the areas in which they live. 10 million strong can be a very efficient force in the fight against corruption and violence in Nigeria, although we hope that the Ijaw will be able to live their simple and humble lives in peace.