Under the patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator, Portuguese Sailors began the exploration of the coast of West Africa in the Fifteenth Century.
Before Prince Henry died in 1460, a large part of the coast as far as SIERRA LEONE had been known and charted. “But it was not until about 1472 that one of the Captains of Fernao Gomes, to whom the contract for the exploration of the rest of the ‘WEST AFRICA COAST’ was given’ reached the BENIN, ESCRAVOS and FORCADOS RIVERS”.
The area soon became very important for the Portuguese Slave Trade. As early as December 1479, two Portuguese Caravels commanded by Fernando Pro sailed for the ESCRAVOS RIVER, obtained Slaves and proceeded to sell them in the ‘ELMINA TERRITORY’.
Early Portuguese contacts with the Benin, Ijoh and ITSEKIRI peoples therefore were related to the Slave trade and the rivers in which traders operated were called the SLAVE RIVERS.
The Captains explored and charted the Coast and in 1485 an attempt was made to penetrate the interior of Benin.
In that year a Portuguese Knight, Affonso d’ Aveiro, proceeded to the City of Benin through the Benin Port of Ughoton and concluded an agreement for trading in Benin Pepper.
The agreement assumed that all the small settlements along the Slave Rivers were under the jurisdiction of the King of Benin.
In order to facilitate trade with the places, the Portuguese King ordered the settlement of the Island of SAO TOME whose settlers were granted permission to trade freely with the inhabitants of the Slave Rivers.
Later tazhe Portuguese King gave the Monopoly of trade along the Slave Rivers to Bertholameu Marchione Florentim upon payment of 1,000,000 Reis a year from 1486 to 1495.
The Benin River itself was important to the Portuguese because, apart from the fact that it led to Benin Kingdom, it was connected by a Creek to MAHIN, and LAGOS and IJEBU.
The landfall was described as follows: ” The mouth of the Rio Formoso is very large, over a league across from point to point. The Country to the South-East of it has a grove of trees so even in height that no one tree seems higher than another; inside its mouth on the right is a very tall, branching tree which greatly overtops the rest, and beyond this tree are two other trees equally tall.
The mouth of this River is shallow and full of hidden rocks; the depth is nowhere greater than two fathoms and two spans; the bottom is all loose mud, so that a Ship can stay at half a fathom without receiving injury.
This Shallow extends to the Sea two leagues, and the entrance and the channel are along the Shore to the Left; when you are inside the points where the channel is narrowest, beyond a Sandy Beach on the Right, you can anchor at the mouth of a Large Canal.”
Only one Large Settlement, TEBU, existed at the mouth of the BENIN RIVER at this time. Others were Small Villages.
Today, TEBU, then the limit of navigation for Larger Ships, is still an ITSEKIRI VILLAGE. Contemporary Portuguese information makes it clear that Settlements existed along the BENIN RIVER before the Sixteenth Century.
The Portuguese found the ESCRAVOS RIVER too dangerous for navigation because it ” has shallows of Hard Sand running out nearly a league into the Sea, with two and half fathoms of water over them and three fathoms at the deepest”.
The FORCADOS, on the other hand, although difficult to recognize from the Sea, had a mouth wide enough for Ships.
The name FORCADOS is said to have been given to the River mainly because of the Large Birds (AFIKA) found there with tails forked like those of Swallows, though the River itself is sufficiently forked to make this explanation unnecessary.
The FORCADOS was marked by two very tall trees but because of the difficulty of knowing when the Ships should make the turn into the River, it became the practice to enter the Benin River and to reach the FORCADOS by way of one of the connecting Creeks.
The Portuguese described the River as forking right and left. They Voyaged into the Left hand branch which any Modern Map will show to have been the WARRI RIVER. About five leagues up this River was the place where they traded with the Inhabitants whom they called HUELA (IJALA).
According to the tradition recorded by William Moore, the Portuguese met the ITSEKIRI people under GINUWA at IJALA. HUELA may well have been IJALA which would have been difficult for the Portuguese to pronounce properly.
On the other hand, the ITSEKIRI people may have moved by this time to ALE IWERRE, and this place which is also on the Warri River may have been the place of barter.
The articles of trade consisted of “Slaves and Cotton Cloths, with some Panther Skins, Palm Oil and some Blue Shells which they call ‘Coris’.
The Portuguese bought these with Brass and Copper Bracelets. The Shells found an easy market on the GOLD COAST where they were exchanged for Gold”.
The King of Portugal did not often find it easy to collect annual dues from those to whom the contract for trade along the Slave Rivers was given and repeated demands were made by the treasury for payment.
The situation was further complicated by the concessions granted to the Settlers in SAO TOME to trade in the same area. In order to regularize affairs along the BENIN, ESCRAVOS and the FORCADOS RIVERS, Royal Ships were sent from the GOLD COAST FORT of San Jorge de Mina for direct trade.
The high mortality rate among the Portuguese Sailors, however, made this venture hazardous and the trading from SAO TOME was presently resumed.
Most of the Settlers of this Island as well as those of O Principe had Children by African Women and these acclimatized Mulattoes had greater immunity to Malaria than the Portuguese.
“From the year 1522, Portuguese records show that the important Port of IWERRE was being regularly used and there can be little doubt that the Portuguese were trading with the ITSEKIRI People who acted as Middlemen.” They took with them such articles as Indian Cowries, Copper Manillas, Glass Beads, Linen and Red Caps which the People in IWERRE particularly liked.
All these articles had to be reduced to the Local Currency of Cowries which were counted into Monetary Units for the purposes of buying and selling. There were two main denominations:
910 Cowries – 1Goat
40 Cowries – 1 Hen
The Pilot who recorded his purchase of a girl aged eighteen for seven Goats of Cowries therefore paid the equivalent of 6,370 Cowries.
Portuguese contact with the rising ITSEKIRI Kingdom was mainly commercial and probably intermittent. They concentrated most of their attention both Commercial and Religious on the BENIN KINGDOM where they were more certain of obtaining what they wanted. Warri was still insufficiently developed to rival Benin in terms of trade.
By the middle of the Sixteenth Century, however, when it had become evident that the Benin People were not interested in the CHRISTIAN RELIGION in spite of the CHURCH which had been built there, and that Commercial Monopoly imposed by the Oba prevented free access to possible sources of trade, Portuguese traders turned their attention to the smaller KINGDOM of WARRI which they had formerly neglected.
Behind the traders came Missionaries to make WARRI a CHRISTIAN KINGDOM.
The first sign of this move to WARRI (IWERRE LAND) was the arrival of the Augustinian Monk, Francisco, a Mater Dei at the ITSEKIRI Capital to start a mission. He found a pantheistic People believing in all kinds of gods.
In particular there was a tree in front of the King’s House to which the people made sacrifices and which they revered because they thought that it had magical powers.
This was the tree representing the Earth Deity, Ale-Aja. This tree was believe to invoke the Deity’s protection.
The Augustinian Monk decided to show the people of Warri that they were worshipping a false god totally without the powers attributed to it.
He announced that he could cut down the tree without anything happening to him. Those who listened to him thought that this was an empty boast and the challenge was accepted. On the appointed day, a huge crowd gathered.
The Priest appeared and began to cut down the tree. When he had felled it he stood smiling while the crowd waited for the god to revenge itself.
They waited in vain; Francisco remained alive and well and the people accepted the fact that the God of the white man was more powerful than their own god who could not avenge the insult done him.
Within a few years, the Augustinian Monks had worked so hard and successfully that they were able to found a Christian Settlement near the Capital.
This was given the Portuguese name of SANTO AGOSTINHO.
The Priests however did not succeed in converting the reigning King who had sworn to follow the religion of his fathers. To show that he was not against the new religion, however, the Olu agreed that his Son should be baptized.
The Portuguese were very impressed by this Royal gesture and after some instruction in the Catholic Faith the young man was baptized and took the Portuguese Royal name of SEBASTIAN.
In spite of this success, the progress of the mission was very slow. The Kingdom was really too poor to sustain a mission and the climate and fever took constant toll of the European Missionaries.
Effect Of Portuguese Language On Itsekiri.
The following are some Itsekiri words that were derived from Portuguese language
1) English bone, Itsekiri esu, Portuguese osso.
2)English sleep, Itsekiri sun, Portuguese sono.
3)English buy, Itsekiri ra, Portuguese compra.
4)English scissors, Itsekiri tijo, Portuguese tesoura.
5) English lemon, Itsekiri leme, Portuguese limao.
6) English file, Itsekiri leeme, Portuguese lima.
7) English guava, Itsekiri gobe, Portuguese goiaba.
8)English saw, Itsekiri sera, Portuguese serra.
9) English button, Itsekiri botor, Portuguese botao.
10) English pineapple, Itsekiri lalaja, Portuguese orange is called laranja.
11) English coconut, Itsekiri kokoje, Portuguese coco.
12) English okra, Itsekiri kanbor, Portuguese quiabo.
13) English mirror, Itsekiri ugho-egbe, Portuguese espelho.
14) English jar, Itsekiri tsango, Portuguese jarro.
15) English kitchen, Itsekiri kolu, Portuguese cozinha.
16) English mango, Itsekiri mago, pls correct me if i am wrong. Portuguese manga.
17) English pear, Itsekiri pie, pls correct me if i am wrong. Portuguese pera.
18) English corn, Itsekiri miyo, Portuguese milho.
19) English rice, Itsekiri eroso, Portuguese arroz.
20) English potato, Itsekiri matata, Portuguese batata.
21) English cassava, Itsekiri midaka, Portuguese mandioca.
22) English nail, Itsekiri pere, Portuguese preao.
23) English hammer, Itsekiri metelu, Portuguese martelo.
24) English bucket, Itsekiri koroba, Portuguese cacamba.
25) English bottle, Itsekiri garafa, Portuguese garrafa.
26) English sugarcane, Itsekiri akana, Portuguese cana de-acucar.
27) English table, Itsekiri meje, Portuguese mesa.
28) English spoon, Itsekiri kuyere, Portuguese colher.
29) English shirt, Itsekiri kemije, Portuguese camisa.
30) English sword, Itsekiri uda, Portuguese espada.
31) English shoe, Itsekiri sabatu, Portuguese sapato.
32) English blood, Itsekiri sangi, Portuguese sangue.
33) English mug, Itsekiri kanakan, Portuguese caneca.
34) English mattress, Itsekiri koltsa, Portuguese colchao.
35) English window, Itsekiri ajijalala, Portuguese janela.
36) English silver, Itsekiri parata, Portuguese prata.
37) English gold, Itsekiri oro, Portuguese ouro.
38) English cap, Itsekiri ekoro, Portuguese goro.
39) English key, Itsekiri tsefa, Portuguese chave.
40. English saw, Itsekiri – sera , Portuguese Serra
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