Nupe did Not Originate from the Igala – by Ndagi Abdullahi

The story of Tsoede which we have discussed in great details above is usually narrated by local griots and palace praise-singers in a brief and summarised form that lack details. This lack of details usually reduce the story to that of an Igala, that is Gara, prince havinf an affair with a Nupe princess to produce a child called Tsoede who eventully became the founder of the Nupe Nation. This brief version of the Tsoede story, of course, is far from the truth; it is literal case of being economical with the truth.

A reason for the presentation of the Tsoede story in this brief form or version is also due to the fact that the period in which Tsoede lived is so far away from modern times that the true detaisl of his story have been lost to history. Professor Michael Mason pointed out long ago that the period in which Tsoede lived and reigned is far away, into the past, than the 15th or so century that Professor S.F. Nadel and modern Western scholarship wrongly assigned to Tsoede. The truth of the matter is that Tsoede may have lived a couple of centuries before the 15th century.

Then there is also the fact that the advent of Islam in KinNupe and the Central Sudan in general led to a systematic extermination of many of the folklores and traditional stories of the ancient tribes and ethnicities of ancient Nigeria. This, of course, included the true story of Tsoede among the ancient Nupe peoples. What remained after that was an adulterated story that was subsequently corrupted with so many interpolations that almost distorted the true story out of its original form. By the time that the explorers, missionaries and academicians from the West started arriving in KinNupe what was left of the story of Tsoede was a far cry away from the true and original version.

To make matters worse, and as pointed out by Professor Michael Mason, by the time that Professor S.F. Nadel arrived KinNupe and asked the Bida palace historians to tell him the story of Tsoede he was told a story that was practically invented in the 18th century by modern Nupe dynasts. The story of Tsoede as told Professor Nadel at the Bida palaces was a total distortion of the original Tsoede story which, unfortunately, is almost lost to modern history.

Furthermore the palace story-tellers and griots at Bida emphasised that the father of Tsoede was a Gara man. But this national name Gara can be applied to a wide variety of ancient Nigerian people. It can refer to the ancient AtaGara Nupe people whose AtaGara kingdom was located right here on the banks of the River Niger here in Central KinNupe; or the national name Gara can also be applied to the modern Igala people clustered on the Idah capital city in Kogi State; and so on and on.

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But then in the 1930s when Professor Nadel arrive KinNupe the Nupe people have lost memory of the ancient Nupe kingdom of AtaGara. Few, if any, local historian in KinNupe was aware that there once flourished the AtaGara kingdom in Central KinNupe very ancient times. So, when the Nupe palace story-tellers and griots narrated that the father of Tsoede was a Gara man, everybody thought the Gara mentioned in the modern version of the Tsoede story were the modern Igala people in Kogi State and not the ancient AtaGara Nupe people of KinNupe.

Accordingly, when this story was narrated to both Professor Leo Frobenius and Professor S.F. Nadel in this scanty format they both prematurely reached the wrong conclusion that the Gara, Igara or Igala Nupe people mentioned in the story are the same as the present day Igala people and they immediately and precipitous declared that the Nupe people originated from the Igala people.

Professor S.F. Nadel may not be completely to blame for the fact that he was merely echoing what Professor Leo Frobenius and others have assumed in the past before him. Some two decades before the time of Professor Nadel in KinNupe, Professor Leo Frobenius have reached the wrong conclusion that the Gara people mentioned in the Tsoede story are the same as the Igala people of today’s Kogi State. Some other European workers also reached similar conclusion even before the time of Professor Nadel and it is therefore not surprising that by the time Professor Nadel got to KinNupe, and after reading through the works of other Europeans on the issue, he reached the same conclusion to the effect that the Gara people mentioned in the Tsoede story are the modern Igala people of Idah in Kogi State.

The momentous implication of assuming that the Gara people of the Tsoede story are the modern Igala people of Kogi State is the logical conclusion it directly leads to, namely, that the Nupe people originated from the Igala people. This is because the Tsoede story categorically stated that the father of Tsoede was a Gara man, he was the AtaGara or the king of the AtaGara kingdom.

And based on the publications of Professor Leo Frobenius, Professor S.F. Nadel and many other Western researchers and workers it has become commonly accepted today that the Nupe people originated from the Igala people. Furthermore, the widespread distribution of Professor Nadel’s A Black Byzantium has popularised this wrong notion that the Nupe people originated from the Igala people.

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But that was totally and completely wrong.

What most people are not aware of today is the fact that before the publication and widespread distribution of Professor Nadel’s A Black Byzantium there were no Nupe traditions claiming or alleging that the Nupe people originated from the Igala people. As a matter of fact there are no Nupe traditions, to this very day, claiming that the Nupe people originated from the Igala people. The Nupe people have never said that they originated from the Igala people until the book of Professor S.F. Nadel became popular in the 1940s onward.

Before the publication and widespread distribution of Professor Nadel’s A Black Byzantium the Nupe people never claimed that originated from the Igala people. There were no Nupe traditions of origin linking the Nupe people with the Igala people in those days. The Nupe people in those days used to say that Tsoede was the founder of Nupe and that the father of Tsoede was a Gara man but they never stated that the Gara of the days of Tsoede were the same as they modern Igala people of Idah in Kogi State. It was Professor Nadel’s A Black Byzantium that came and popularise the wrong notion that the Gara people of the days of Tsoede are the same as the modern Igala people and that, accordingly, the Nupe people originated from the Igala people.

Both Professor Leo Frobenius and Professor S.F. Nadel were wrong because the Gara or Igara or Igala referred to in the story was the ancient Atagara, Gwari, Gara, Igara or Igala Nupe empire that was located on the banks of the River Niger in Central KinNupe in the days of Tsudi and not the present-day Igala people who are located to the east of the River Niger in today’s Kogi State.

The Nupe tongue refers to both the ancient Gara Nupe people and the modern Igala people simply as Gara and this, to a great extent, explains the reason why Professor Nadel and others mistook the modern Igala people for the ancient Gara Nupe people.

But, and as we have also mentioned before, the modern Nupe griots have actually forgotten about the existence of, once upon a time, the great kingdom of AtaGara right here Central KinNupe.

Paradoxically enough the existence of the great AtaGara kingdom right here in Central KinNupe in very ancient times is independently documented in non-Nupe historical records including, most prominently, the Kano Chronicle which stated in no unmistakable terms that Queen Amina died at AtaGara which is located in the same place that we have the city of Bida located today.

The Hausa traditions also indicated that the Old Oyo kingdom was originally known as Katunga or Katagara which is just the same as Ka-AtaGara, the name for the land of the AtaGara empire. Note that this same name, Katagara, is the same that the Jihadist mercenaries under Umaru Nagwamatse pronounced, through their Hausa lingua franca, as Kontagora. And we should also note the fact that it is this same ancient national name of the Nupe Nation, Katagara, that was shortened into Kagara. All these, of course, go to independently confirm the existence of the great AtaGara kingdom in Central KinNupe in ancient times.

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In any case the Gara people mentioned in the Tsoede story cannot be the same as the modern Igala people for the simple fact that in the days of Tsoede there were not the modern Igala people. Even by Western scholarship chronological standards we see clearly that the era of Tsoede predated the foundations of the kingdom of the modern Igala people by at least a century, that is a hundred years. Modern Western scholarship assumes that Tsoede lived in the 15th century and the same Western scholarship maintains that the Igala kingdom was founded in the 16th century. If Tsoede lived in the 15th century and the Igala kingdom was established in the 16th century how could the Nupe people have originated from the Igala people?

More tellingly is how could a Nupe kingdom that became very powerful in the 15th century have been subject to and originated from an Igala kingdom that was only founded and established a century later in the 16th century?

And if we are to take into consideration the computation of other scholars and researchers who variously place Tsoede in the 13th or 14th century we will see that Tsoede might have even flourished and died some two or so hundred years before the foundations of the modern Igala kingdom were laid. In any case, and whether Tsoede lived in the 13th, 14th or the 15th century, the fact still remains that Tsoede lived long before the Igala kingdom was established and that, accordingly, the Nupe kingdom Tsoede established could not have been subject to or originated from the Igala kingdom that was founded a century or more after the death of Tsoede.

The ironic fact we are discovering here is that it is actually the Nupe kingdom that predated the Igala kingdom and that, if anything at all, it is the Igala kingdom that could have originated from the Nupe kingdom and not the other way round as Western scholarship is wrongly claiming today. As a matter of fact there are documentary, and otherwise, evidences and proofs to the effect that the Igala people originated from Nupe.

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