Nigeria, like other countries, has a diverse culture, traditions that span centuries, and a history that speaks a lot about the region. A city worth talking about would be Warri. In southern Nigeria, Warri has become a major hub for petroleum businesses and has a population of more than 500,000 according to the nation’s census last 2016. Despite it being a city by itself, a kingdom has been a perennial part of this location for hundreds of years. Lead by the Olu of Warri, the kingdom has flourished amidst the changes that inevitably happen as years pass by.
A king or “Olu” rules Warri and the Itsekiri people.
The Olu of Warri; of course, lives in a palace that not only serves as a resting place and seat of power but also plays as the host for multiple cultural presentations and festivals celebrated by the inhabitants of Warri.
However, some of their traditions and cultures have similar distinctions.
How the Kingdom of Warri started
The Itsekiri and Bini people have a legend about the origins of the kingdom.
In these legends, one will learn that the place has a different name – Iwerre.
In any case, in the year 1480, a Benin prince named Ginuwa founded the Iwerre kingdom.
He then built the Olu of Warri palace on the said location.
Now you know why the Bini and Itsekiri people have traditions slightly similar to one another.
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Basically, the people now known as the Itsekiri tribe branched out from the Bini tribe through prince Ginuwa.
Legend has it that the Oba of Bini sent the prince to the place that later on became known as Warri because of a plot to kill the prince.
Even though the reason for the prince’s departure has a grim note to it, everything turned out well because the even served as the reason for the founding of the kingdom of Warri, and the prince became its very first Olu.
Also, Ode-Itsekiri is the location where the palace was built.
A brief history about the title, “Olu of Warri”
The traditional ruler of the kingdom of Warri has another name – Ogiame.
In the Nigerian dialect, this name means “King of Water”. Very aptly named since numerous bodies of water surround the kingdom.
Needless to say, the Olu of Warri has the highest authority within the Itsekiri people.
Anything that the Olu says can become a law that the Itsekiri has to follow.
He also has the sole power to appoint all of the kingdom’s advisers and leaders.
Do take note though that the king used another title before being called the “Olu of Warri”.
Up until the 1950s, the king used the title “Olu of itsekiri”.
However, the western Nigerian government decided to change that title to the “Olu of Warri” after heeding the Itsekiri’s request.
Things did not transition smoothly at first because the other ethnic people in the region, like the Urhobo and Ijaw, among others, objected to the ruling.
They pointed out that the change suggested that the Olu now ruled all of Warri and not just the Itsekiri.
The design of the Olu palace in Warri
Surprised to see that the appearance of the Olu palace looks European-made?
More to that later in the article.
Like other palaces, not all parts of the building can be accessed by the general public.
After all, the Olu resides here, and some amenities of the palace can only be used by the king.
Various holy chambers in the palace are inaccessible as well.
Of course, the palace underwent multiple redesigns and upgrades after a new king went to succeed in the previous one.
This made the palace modern-looking and “goes with the times” as one would say.
Why does the Olu palace have a European feel to it?
A little time after the establishment of the kingdom, Warri became the host for some Portuguese missionaries in the 15th century.
This started the Christianization of some of the kingdom’s people, while others still stood by their traditional beliefs.
During the 17th century, the ruling Olu of Warri sent his son to Portugal.
When the crown prince returned to his homeland, he brought with him a wife of Portuguese heritage.
She bore him a son and named him Oyenakpara.
This crown prince and future Olu of Warri came to be known as Don Antonio Domingo.
More Warri-Portugal connections
Erejuwa, the Olu of Warri that ruled around the 1760s, aimed to gain more land for the kingdom using Portugal’s support.
He also wanted Warri to become more independent from Benin, so he made arrangements so that the kingdom would have more political influence and exude more value over other countries.
In the later years, Warri gained another foreign supporter when the people from the Netherlands, along with the Portuguese, made Warri as their station for the slave trade.
Warri as a port city
Due to the kingdom being surrounded by water, Warri became an important port city during the 19th century.
A port town like this one would only mean one thing: Becoming a hotbed for product trading.
These products include cocoa, rubber, skins, palm oil, groundnuts, palm products, and hides.
During the early years of the 20th century, Warri gained the British as a supporter when Great Britain made the kingdom their provincial capital.
During this time, the population of the kingdom experienced a growth spurt transforming the rural area to an urban one.
About the Olu of Warri palace
Aside from being the home of the king, the Olu of Warri palace also serves as the Olu’s head office.
Even though the palace has been around for more than 500 years, the air of elegance that surrounds it remains up to this day.
Every Olu that lived in the palace made adjustments to the palace that would suit their needs.
That way, the palace shows a modern and sophisticated look while still keeping its traditional aura.
The Olu of Warri palace also serves as the following:
People from around the world visit the palace because of its elegance and beauty.
Not only that, but they also want to know more about the traditions and culture of the Itsekiri.
Knowing the history behind the palace’s construction and the kingdom as a whole would also be in the visitors’ bucket list as well.
Since the palace has lots of inaccessible areas, the visitors check out the sights with tour guides.
2. The appointment of traditional chiefs
Only the Olu of Warri holds power to appoint the chiefs that would serve the kingdom.
These appointments attract many visitors to the area because this has become a yearly event.
3. Resolution of disputes
Like any other location, disputes and issues also happen in Warri.
If these issues could not be resolved by the chiefs, they bring it to the palace so that the Olu himself would preside over it.
Whatever the Olu decides on would be final and irreversible.
His decision would serve as the resolution for the disputes.
4. The Awankere festival
A yearly event that happens within the Olu of Warri palace, the Awankere festival aims to bring together all the descendants of Warri.
Known to be the biggest festival in Warri, the Awankere festival started almost at the same time as the founding of the kingdom.
The Itsekiri people celebrate this festival through masquerades, dancing, eating, drinking, and other fun activities involving performances done by Itsekiri children.
More information about the Awankere festival
The festival also came to be known as the “Okere Juju Festival” since this happens in the Okere area.
Besides, there is no specific date for the start of the festival.
It typically starts between June and August.
The main theme of the festival centers on fertility, and the Itsekiri people believe that celebrating the festival would bring continuous prosperity for the kingdom.
The festivities officially start in the middle of the rainy season because the Itsekiri people believe in a deity named Okioro, who they revere as a god of water.
After the festival, the Itsekiri people pay homage to their Olu.
Who is the king of Warri?
The present Olu of Warri is Ikenwoli I, also known as Godfery ikenwoli Emiko. He succeeded the throne last December 12, 2015. He is the son of a former Olu, Erejuwa II. The present Olu was born in 1955 and graduated in 1990 with a Business Administration course.
Which kingdom is ruled by Olu?
The Olu rules over Warri kingdom located in Delta State, Nigeria. This kingdom has been in existence since 181480 and continues up to this day.
What is Warri known for?
Aside from being a major hub of petroleum-based businesses in Nigeria, Warri also became popular because of its usage of Pidgin English. It also became a port city that serves as a rendezvous point for traders around the world.