This paper examined the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the Igbo-Niger Delta Relation; 1800-1960. There were signs to show that there were social and economic interactions among the Igbos and their Niger-Delta Neighbours in the pre-colonial and colonial eras. These eras of Interaction were prominent in the areas of trade, marriage, cultural ties, religion, warfare, common ancestral ties/origin and migrations. The coming of the Europeans suddenly changed the pace, tune, volume, pattern and directions of these interaction by producing new ways of trade, commerce, social exchange, governments and technology. The methodology in this study is library research. This paper attempts to examine the relationship and the structure of the situation or the condition(s) in which the Igbos and their Niger Delta neighbor related or interacted during and after the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which obviously determines the nature of their intergroup relations. The paper recommends that to strengthen the socio-economic and political relationship between Igbo and their Niger-Delta neighbours, there is the need for a restructuring and redirecting of the system of material production and appropriation.

Keywords: Intergroup relations, Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, Igbos and Niger Delta City Status.




Trans Atlantic Slave Trade was a significant part of the historical experience of the Nigerian people. It influenced political change, religions practice, farm production and other aspects of daily life.

It was also a main cause of the growing European presence in West Africa, and it influenced the global connections which many West African rulers developed over the course of four centuries.

During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the riverine nature of the Niger Delta status brought the Europeans into contact with them. This led to the development of Calabar, Bonny and Asaba seaports and cities.

The Niger Deltans were the middlemen in the slave trade between the Igbos of inter-land areas and the Europeans (Ukpabi, 2005).

However, with the abolition of the slave trade, Niger Delta city status like Bonny had a high population of Igbo slaves.

The Igbo population affected the language of some of the Niger Delta City Status. (Ukpabi, 2004). 



As A. E. Afigbo (1987) stated, intergroup relationship is a multifaceted and dynamic concept. Among its more common facets are the political (which might be war like or peaceful), the economic and technological, the cultural (which later included art, dance and music, marriage, customs, modes of dress etc).

Other facets include interaction between legal and judicial systems, language and folklore, religion, philosophy and cosmology (p. 19).

Intergroup relations refer to interactions between individuals in different social groups. It’s the totality of human interactions to meet their economic, socio-cultural and political needs.

However, as population increases and demand for scarce resources increases, there are bound to be conflict. Conflict is an unavoidable aspect of human interaction.

Intergroup conflict is caused by an incompatibility of goals regarding material resources, it is the struggle over such material resources as land, oil, gold and labour that is the source of intergroup conflicts. (Iwandi Ofili, 2016).

However, tribes related with one another particularly on areas of commerce, technology and inter-tribal marriage. These relationships gave birth to common interest, values, social and political similarities that gave them one common and general identity.

Often, these interactions led to economic breakthrough while at some other times, they led to intertribal wars resulting in kingdom annexation or destruction. (Ukegbu, 2020).

The scope of inter group relations focuses essentially on the series of methods, strategies or approaches to the understanding of separate dynamics and that which focuses on diffusing tension between different groups and creating or building bridges across potential or actual conflict relationships, or directly promoting harmony.

As Nwabueze (2003) stated, a comprehensive approach to intergroup relations study should embrace seven areas of interest (p. 11). One of these is inter-ethnic relations. This is our concern in this study. Here, it means the interaction of one ethnic group and another which cooperates and completes with one another in economic, political and social fronts sometimes under well-organized group contexts with leaders playing prominent roles and at other times under less defined organization in which the sense of group is sustained by common interest and territorial city (p. 11).

Intergroup relations are often treated more before now as relations hinged on conflicts and wars, while the periods of peace and compromise are either neglected or given ancillary attention.

Sofela (2000, p vii) therefore contends that in human relations, however, there is no conclusive evidence to show that the lives of peoples most of the time are filled with periods of tension, wars and conflicts.

History, no doubt, is replete with wars, tensions and conflicts because the theme of conflict is one of excitement and action even when it is negatively stimulating. Paradoxically, the theme of peace and compromise in the relationship of the people is always jettisoned in most cases.

It is noteworthy that the pre-colonial world in which our ethnic ancestors lived was not a close approximation to the Hobbesian state of nature in which life is said to be inevitably solitary, poor, nasty and brutish and short. (Hobbles, p. 107).




The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade involved the transportation by slave merchants of various enslaved African people, mainly to the Americas (Onwubiko, 1982).

          The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade regularly used the triangular trade route and its “middle passage”, and existed from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

          In the 15th and 16th centuries, the history of (West Africa) Nigeria which had hitherto been mainly events committed in West Africa by the West Africans themselves was forced to change course and pattern. (Abiola, 1989).

          This change was to a large extent due to the sudden appearance of the Europeans mainly of Portuguese origin at the coasts of this part of the world.

          Evidences have shown that the Portuguese, who visited the coasts of West Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries, did so for a number of reasons. As (Onwubiko 1987) states, the Portuguese took their first cargo of ten Negro slaves from Rio-de Oro to Portugal in 1441, who were used as household servants just as in West Africa.

          However, the discovery of the West Indies and America by Spain in 1497 altered the nature, volume and scope of the slave trade.

          The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was necessitated by the discovery of the new world. Gold and silver mines were opened, and sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations were established by the Spaniards, and later by other Europeans nations. (Abiola, 1989).

          Initially, these European fortune-seekers employed the aborigines of the land (the Red Indians), but as the work in the various mines and in the plantations begin to increase, the need arose to employ more hands to supplement those of the natives

          It was therefore suggested that West Africa could supply the Labour Force required through the slave trade which was already flourishing between it and Europe (Onwubiko, 1982).

          This “useful” suggestion was given consideration by the European fortune seekers. This was how the slave trade started in West Africa, a trade which later covered a period of about four hundred years, and which caused Africa millions of lives and immeasurable losses in terms of properties and progress.

          It has been estimated that between 1450 and 1850, about ten million Negro slaves were exported to North America and the West Indies.

          Dr. K. O. Dike in his book “Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta”, however regards this number as an exaggeration and maintains that about five to six million would be nearer the mark.

          Niger-Delta city states participated actively and acted as the middlemen between the Europeans and the Igbos of the hinterland areas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

For over four hundred years, the trade ranged on with its attendant in human suffering. A lot of factors helped to bring a change of attitude in Europe towards the slave trade, and eventually led to the movement for its abolition.

   This paper will concentrate on the industrial revolution of the 19th century and how it led to the abolition of the trans- Atlantic slave trade. The outery of the humanitarians against the slave trade would have achieved little, if the industrial revolution had not taken place.

   As (K.O Dike 1956) states; The slave trade which had fitted perfectly into the scheme of mercantilist economics as being rendered absolute by the rapid technological advance in industrial production.

   As an industrial nation, it was in Britain’s best interest to abolish the slave trade. it was necessary for it to open market for the sale o its manufactured goods in West Africa and the slave trade was not conducive to the development of such a market (Onwubiko, 1982).

   Industrial revolution was a time of great change in Europe. Many of these changes were brought about by mechanical inventions that greatly increased efficiency by which raw materials were processed. New machines were invented with the inventions of machines that could do, ever better and faster what the Negro slaves were offering, the services of these Negro slaves were no longer needed.

   1807, British parliament passed a law (the act of 1807) which made the slave trade illegal for British subjects. With the legal abolition of the slave trade in 1807 by Great Britain and by the United States and other European countries between 1808 and 1817, the slave trade continued. (Onwubiko, 1982)

   It was however, discovered that as long as slavery was allowed in America and the west indices, the demand for slaves would continue and the slave trade will continue as well.

   So in 1833, slavery was abolished in the Britain in cost indices. British government paid twenty million pounds to slave- owners as compensation for freeing their slaves. Other European countries adapted the British example in their overseas dominions. Spain did so in 1847, paraguary in 1867 an France in 1848. In the United States the struggle to abolish slavery led to civil war between the southern states and the northern states. Slavery was stopped in the northern states in 1863, but the southern states still kept large numbers of the Negros slaves.

   As (Onwubiko, 1987) states; the northern states won the war in 1865 and so brought slavery to an end in the United States.

   With the closing of slaves markets in the now world and of the demand for slaves, the trans Atlantic slave trade gradually came to an end.

Geography/ History Origin and Classification of Igbo and Niger delta Groups

Igbo covered an area of fifteen thousand to eighteen thousand square mile with a population of over sixteen thousand today; they are one of the three largest groups in Nigeria. Igbo land lies in southern eastern part of Nigeria.

   The Igbo’s occupies that rain forest zone of the eastern Nigeria with Transtitutional savannah towards the north.Thier neighbors’ are Edo speaking people to the WOA, the Igala, the Doma and Tiv, to the north, the Yako, Bahomuno to the east, the Efik, Ibibio and Ijaw to the south (Aja 2006).

     These were the people with whom the Igbo on a regular bases in different areas of human endeavors – in war, peace, trade, inter marriage, culturally exchanges etc.

      However the Bulk of the Igbo’s lies in Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo State of Nigeria. The Igbo’s also live in Agbor, Asaba, Ahoh, Kwale or West Niger Igbo of Delta State.

       The Dominant physical features of most Igbo States are thick tropical forest. This environment has greatly influenced the history of Igbo people. The forest provided excellent natural defense against invasions from external enemies

       The Igbo’s are classified into a number of groups; As (Afigbo, 1987) States; Northern Igbo, Northern eastern Igbo, Eastern Igbo of cross river, Niger River rine Igbo, Northern western Igbo, Southern Igbo and Western Niger Igbo. Tradition and Origin of Igbo’s Immigration and settlements.

         The mystery surrounding Igbo origin generated schools of thoughts. One of the school of thought postulated that the Igbo have been whom they are from time immemorial. This school is called the Epum, meaning ( Igbo bi Ebi) theory of Igbo origin (Nze Aja, 2006) in her book titled a “ History of Igbo people”, Elizabeth Isidi; States; we came from nowhere. Igbo tradition are replete with instances of the igbo, being created where they are which reinforces what the Epum theory postulates Eccon Nr. tradition claims it. This could be regarded as a mere guess or lost of memory.

   The next school of thought is called oriental theory. Those who believe in this theory were called the oriental hypohosis. The oriental theorists feel that the Igbo’s came from the East of the world especially the holy land called Jerusalem in Israel, Mecca or Egypt. They states that the Igbo’s act of Egyptian origin. In fact one Dr. MDW Jeffrey’s who wrote an ethnographic history of the Igbo’s of Nri –Awka area in 1946 was of the opinion that Egypt hold the key to Igbo origin and history.

Auther oriental hypothesis held the view that the Igbo’s act of Jewish or Hebrew stock, their agurment is highed on contain characteristics which both the Israelites and the Igbo’s share in capon. These includes;

  1. Having no king, as such like the Hebrews
  2. having extended family system like the Hebrews
  • Having a particular descent system like the Hebrews
  1. Having a strong believe on one supreme God
  2. Not eating rangeled animals like the Hebrews.
  3. Both bear similar names like; Ada, omoh,Aniah,etc (Ajah 2006).

Olandah Equiano, 1794 states; the igbos were of jewish origin. The word Igbos Qs the corruption of that word Hebrew protagonist of this theory argued that the igbos were infact “the lost race of Isreal.”

(AE Afigbo, 1981.) stated that the igbos originated in the area of niger Benue confluence wherev they said to have occupied with other members of the Kwa sub group of the Niger Congo family of languages, because it is the view of linguists that bears in mind the distribution and alignment of language in the Kwa sub group of the Niger Congo family of languages, it is most likely that the members of these Kwa group ssseperates in the region of Niger Benue confluence. The Igbos and members of the kwa group.

Prof. Armstrong, a linguist has suggested that most of the member languages of this sub group started separating from their original or ancestral stock between 5000-6000 years ago.

The igbos broke off from their kwa brothers in the region of the niger Benue confluence and from there they migrated south wards to their present location around 5000 to 6000 years ago. (Armstrong 1982).          



The Niger has the third-largest drainage area of Africa’s Rivers. The delta into which it drain is a huge flood plain in South- eastern Nigeria consisting of sedimentary deposits flowing do win from the Niger and the Benue rivers and covering 25, 640 square kilometers of the country’s total land area. This flood plain is home of some seven million people, grouped into several nations and ethnic groups; Ijo, Urhobo, Itsekin, Isoko, Efik, Etche, Ibibio, Andoni, Ikwere, Ogoni isoko, Edo and kwale-igbo. Some of the ethnic groups all further divided into dans with their own distinctive language. (Dike, 1956).

    Before the arrival of European traders in what is now modern Nigeria, the niger Delta was in halited mainly by the ijo peoples, who lived in small creekside fishing villages ranging from two hundred to about a thousand inhabitants. The head of the village was the Amanyanabo (or Amakasowa), who in turn was elected by the heads of the various wards patrilineage with the advent of the slave trade, however, there was a rapid expansion of the population of the Delta. the hitherto small and idyllic to fishing villages grew into powerful trading states like Bonny, Owome (New Calabar), Okrika, and Brass (Nembe), some of whose origin can be traced to the early sixteenth century. The Efik trading states of old Calabar at the entrance of the cross river, and the Iteskiri Kingdom of Warri in the Western Delta, also emerged at this time. (Crowther 1978).

Before the arrival of the European slave traders, the other people of the Delta traded with the people of hinter land- mainly the Igbo and the Ibibio. The former expected dried fish and salt to their neighbors in exchange for fruit and iron tools. The trade in slave brought an abrupt stop to this flourishing commerce. However, the slave brought with them dried fish, salt and new consumer goods were often cheap and not necessarily well made, but since the slave traders also brought salt along with them, the Ijo and the other inhabitants of the Delta gave up the trade in fish, salt, and iron tools with the Igbos and Ibibio. Altogether and Concentrated on the lucrative slave trade (Hugh, 1997).

  The bulk of the inhabitants of the Niger Delta lived in three states in present day Nigeria- Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa. Those states take up about 50 percent of the aika. The vest are scattered in such other states as cross river, Akwa- ibom and Ondo. The years of slavery, palm oil trade and subsequent colonial conquest brought with them massive migrations and informing living of ethnic groups in the Delta. The rapid growth of Port Harcourt, the Alta’s biggest city; in the decades leading to independence also encourage inter marriage and resettlement of whole communities. Asa result, today the Niger Delta is a fascinating collage of ethnic nationalities, clan and language groups, while still relatively distinct, nevertheless, have many cultural similarities.

Inter group relations between Igbo and Niger Delta city states before Genesis of the Trans Atlantic slave trade.

  Modern studies often tend to views that the pre- colonial setting in Nigeria lack important structure and values capable of sustaining intergroup relations. Such views which often spread by Euros- centric waters give the negative impressions that our “society was static and has no movement to exhibit”.

  But recent researchers have proved such views as un true and worthless, it has now be proved that social, cultural, economic and political interactions existed among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria and that this interactions predated the era of European colonialism.

   As (Alagoa,1976) states; the trade between the Igbo’s and their neighbors’ is very ancient. The trade went on between the Igbo and the Ijo, Idoma, Edo and Igala etc.

   Of all the factors that promoted inter groups relations between the Igbo and the Niger Delta neighbors, trade was the most important. To (Afigbo, 1987) trade was synonymous with inter -group relations.

   Before the era of the Trans Atlantic slave trade, Igbo group as and their Niger Delta neighbors’ had developed a good and functional trace relations.

   Economy and trade found in major means of inter groups relations between the Igbo’s and the Niger Delta city states,  But they also related in other alkas such as inter marriages, cultural; exchanges, secrets society and free exchange of ideal institution.

    The Niger Delta palace living in the coastal area brought sea food such as fish, oysters, lobsters, salt and periwinkle and exchange with the Igbo’s of the water land for palm oil, yam tubers, cassava and plantain (Upkabi, 2004).

   Another area that the Igbo’s and her Niger Delta Neighbors interacted before the era of slave trade was inter marriages. Marriage occurred between the Igbo’s and their Niger delta neighbors. it is important to state that in Africa marriage is not only a union between two persons but a union between two families and their families. Marriage helps to regulate relations among the various Niger Delta states and Igbo glonges in the pit- colonial, colonial era and post colonial era.

   In cultural and religious exchanges Igbo and the Niger Delta city states interacted. For instance the annual wrestling visit between Umuapu community of Ohaji and Ubima community of Ikwere in present day River State is stated back to early 19th century.

  according to Aloysius (2018) “Ubima people are our frinds and we must maintain harmonious relationship with them. Ohaji people visit Ubima  just as they visit us to strengthen our tides and friendship”.

  Secret society also promotes inter groups relations between the Igbo”s and their Niger delta neighbours. Those secrets societies includes: Ekpe, Okokom, Nmanwu. In the course of the interaction between the “Igbo and the Nuiger delta states, the Cross rivers Igbos Borrowed Ekpe Okokom Nmanwu which with secret society of the Ibibio and the Efik. This secret societies are ever influenced in social political organization of the Igbo’s.

   As (Kano, 1980) State; Secret societies acted as the world of everyone within the larger community to maintain their esotimic position between the larger group, members of the groups spoke languages understood  only by their members. The language used by Ekpe secret Society was called “Nsibidi”- picture languages in symbols.

To Christopher(2018), “Amadi-oha of Ozuzu in Etche was believed to be a father’s duty that gave birth to other smaller duties in the surrounding communities, Hence the people of Ulomby kingdoms such as Imo, Ohaji etc revisits Ozuzu for spiritual assistance”. This visit of Amadi – oha to sacrifice or renew their ancestral promote cultural exchange, inter- marriage and trade amongst the people.

  In Conclusion, the Igbos and the Niger city states had capability of sustaining later groups relation and interacts before the era of the Trans Atlantic slave trade.        



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