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ln the 15th century, the early Itsekiris adopted a prince Ginuwa (also called “Iginuwa” in Bini Language) from the Kingdom of Benin as a monarch, and quickly coalesced into a kingdom under his rule. Traditionally fishermen and traders, the Itsekiri were among the first in the region to make contact with Portuguese traders. These interactions in the 16th century led the Itsekiri to become primarily Roman Catholic.

The Itsekiri monarchy has continued to the present day, with the coronation of Ogiame Ikenwoli on 12 December in 2015. The Itsekiri’s historical capital is Ode-Itsekiri (also called “big warri” or “Ale iwerre”), though the monarch’s main palace is in Warri town the largest city in the area and home to diverse other communities including the Urhobos, Ijaws, Isoko, and many other Nigerian and expatriate groups working in the oil and gas industry.

The Itsekiri, though a minority group within Nigeria, are considered to be a highly educated[citation needed] and affluent ethnic group[citation needed] with a very high rate of literacy and a rich cultural heritage. The Itsekiris have one of the oldest histories of western education in West Africa, and are noted for producing one of its earliest university graduates – the Olu of Warri Kingdom, Olu Atuwatse I, Dom Domingo a 17th-century graduate of Coimbra University in Portugal. Today, many Itsekiris can be found working in the professions[citation needed] particularly medicine, law and the academic professions and in business,[citation needed] trade[citation needed] and industry[citation needed] and were among the pioneers that led the development of the professions in Nigeria during the early-to-mid 20th century .[citation needed]

The Itsekiris traditionally lived in a society that was governed by a monarchy (the Olu) and council of chiefs who form the nobility or aristocracy. Itsekiri society itself was organised along the lines of an upper class made up of the royal family and the aristocracy – the ‘Oloyes and Olareajas’ these were mainly drawn from noble houses including the Royal Houses and the Houses of Olgbotsere (Prime Minister or king maker) and Iyatsere (defence minister). The middle class or Omajaja were free-born Itsekiris or burghers. As a result of the institution of slavery and the slave trade there was a third class ‘Oton-Eru’ or those descended from the slave class whose ancestors had come from elsewhere and settled in Itsekiriland as indentured or slave labourers. In modern-day Itsekiri society the slave class no longer exists as all are considered free-born.

Traditionally, Itsekiri men wear a long sleeved shirt called a Kemeje, tie a George wrapper around their waist and wear a hat with a feather stuck to it. The women wear a blouse and also tie a George wrapper around their waist. They wear colourful head gears known as Nes (scarf) or coral beads. Itsekiris are also famed for their traditional fishing skills, melodious songs, gracefully fluid traditional dances and colourful
masquerades and boat regattas.


Before the introduction of Christianity in the 16th century,[9] like many other African groups, the Itsekiris largely followed a traditional form of religion known as Ebura-tsitse (based on ancestral worship) which has become embedded in modern-day traditional Itsekiri culture. Once the dominant form of western Christianity in Itsekiriland for centuries.

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