History of Nigeria (1500–1800)

The history of the territories which since ca. 1900 have been known under the name of Nigeria during the pre-colonial period (16th to 18th centuries) was dominated by a number of powerful West African kingdoms or empires, such as the Edo Benin Empire and the Islamic Kanim Borno Empire in the north and west, and the Igbo kingdom of Onitsha in the southeast and various Hausa-Fulani kingdoms.

Past archaeological digs have uncovered the fairly advanced lifestyle of some of the Hausa civilizations. Some were able to work iron which helped with tool and weapon making. They also showed a vast advancement in cultural expression which was rare for civilizations in the area around that time. Many of the settlements also contained expertly coursed stone walls which showed the need for either protection from animals or other settlements. These various settlements would later clash, craving a rise in power which may explain these elements uncovered in the archaeological sites.[1]

These kingdoms developed in the context of the trans-Saharan slave trade, but they peaked in power in the late 18th century, thriving on the Atlantic slave trade due to the great demand for slaves by the European colonies. During and after the Napoleonic period, the western powers gradually abolished slavery, which led to a collapse in demand and consequently a decline of the West African empires, and the gradual increase of western influence during the 19th century (the "Scramble for Africa"), in the case of Nigeria concluding with the British protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1900.

Savannah StatesEdit

During the 16th century the Songhai Empire reached its peak, stretching from the Senegal and Gambia rivers and incorporating part of Hausaland in the east. Concurrently the Sayfawa dynasty of Kanem-Bornu reconquered its Kanem homeland and extended control west to Hausa cities not under Songhai authority. Largely because of Songhai's influence, there was a blossoming of Islamic learning and culture. Songhai collapsed in 1591 when a Moroccan army conquered Gao and Timbuktu. Morocco was unable to control the empire and the various provinces, including the Hausa states, became independent. The collapse undermined Songhai's hegemony over the Hausa states and abruptly altered the course of regional history.tzu people

Kanem-Bornu reached its apogee under mai Idris Aluma (ca. 1569-1600) during whose reign Kanem was reconquered. The destruction of Songhai left Borno uncontested and until the 18th century Borno dominated northern Nigeria. Despite Borno's hegemony the Hausa states continued to wrestle for ascendancy. Gradually Borno's position weakened; its inability to check political rivalries between competing Hausa cities was one example of this decline. Another factor was the military threat of the Tuareg centered at Agades who penetrated the northern districts of Borno. The major cause of Borno's decline was a severe drought that struck the Sahel and savanna from in the middle of the 18th century. As a consequence Borno lost many northern territories to the Tuareg whose mobility allowed them to endure the famine more effectively. Borno regained some of its former might in the succeeding decades, but another drought occurred in the 1790s, again weakening the state.Nigeria was in control of white people at that time and the country was less busy especially in Lagos.

The earliest signs of external contact in the Hausa area, which would lead to the development of the pre-colonial period, are found via carbon dating. These sites are classified by archaeologists as hills, large-scale occupation sites, and iron-working sites – although the former two are lacking stratified evidence. Objects retrieved from burial mounds in the region, such as Carnelian beads, potentially originate from as far as India. Along with this, a dig near Birnin Leka uncovered an Arabic-inscribed pottery vessel. The first main exposure to external contact would begin to change the hierarchy of the Hausa life.

Ecological and political instability provided the background for the jihad of Usman dan Fodio. The military rivalries of the Hausa states strained the regions economic resources at a time when drought and famine undermined farmers and herders. Many Fulani moved into Hausaland and Borno, and their arrival increased tensions because they had no loyalty to the political authorities, who saw them as a source of increased taxation. By the end of the 18th century, some Muslim ulema began articulating the grievances of the common people. Efforts to eliminate or control these religious leaders only heightened the tensions, setting the stage for jihad.

Akwa AkpaEdit

The city-state of Akwa Akpa was founded in 1786 by Efik families (a branch of the Ibibio) who had left Creek Town, further up the Calabar River. They settled on the east bank in a position where they were able to dominate traffic with European vessels that anchored in the river, and soon became the most powerful Ibibio merchants in the region.[2] The Europeans gave this city the name "Old Calabar" for unknown reasons.[3] The city became a center of the slave trade, where slaves were exchanged for European goods.[4] Most slave ships that transported slaves from Calabar were English; about 85% of these ships were owned by Bristol and Liverpool merchants.[5] The main ethnic group taken out of Calabar as slaves were the Igbo, although they were not the main ethnicity in the area. Many were taken there for sale from wars of the interior.[6]

Igbo StatesEdit

The Onitsha Kingdom, which was originally inhabited by Igbo, was founded in the 16th century by Igbo migrants from Benin. Later groups like the Igala, and Igbo traders from the hinterland, settled in Onitsha in the 18th century. Another Igbo kingdom to form was the Arochukwu kingdom, which emerged after the Aro-Ibibio wars from 1630–1720. The Aro Confederacy dominated southeastern Nigeria with pockets of influence in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

Igbo gods, like those of the Yoruba, were numerous, but their relationship to one another and human beings was essentially egalitarian, reflecting Igbo society as a whole. A number of oracles and local cults attracted devotees while the central deity, the earth mother and fertility figure Ala, were venerated at shrines throughout Igboland.

A popular theory that Igbos were stateless rests on the paucity of historical evidence of pre-colonial Igbo society. But, archaeological finds of Igbo Ukwu have revealed a rich material culture in the heart of the Igbo region in the 8th century, but there is little evidence to cover the period from then to the oral traditions of the 20th century. Benin exercised considerable influence on the western Igbo, who adopted many of the political structures familiar to the Yoruba-Benin region. Ofega was the queen.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sule, Abubakar (8 Dec 2014). "The archaeology of northern Nigeria: trade, people and polities, 1500 BP onwards". Azania. 49 (4): 439-.
  2. ^ Arthur Glyn Leonard (2009). The Lower Niger and Its Tribes. BiblioBazaar, LLC. pp. 21–22. ISBN 1-113-81057-2.
  3. ^ G. I. Jones (2001). The Trading States of the Oil Rivers: A Study of Political Development in Eastern Nigeria. James Currey Publishers. p. 15ff. ISBN 0-85255-918-6.
  4. ^ "The Middle Passage". National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Archived from the original on 2010-10-23. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  5. ^ Sparks, Randy J. (2004). The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-century Atlantic Odyssey. Harvard University Press. p. 39. ISBN 0-674-01312-3.
  6. ^ Chambers, Douglas B. (2005). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 22. ISBN 1-57806-706-5.