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Ijaw people (also known by the subgroups "Ijo" or "Izon") are people in Niger Delta in Nigeria, inhabiting regions of the states of Ondo, Bayelsa (their original Homeland), Delta, Edo, Akwa Ibom and Rivers state.[2] Many are found as migrant fishermen in camps as far west as Sierra Leone and as far east as Gabon. Population figures for the Ijaws vary greatly,[3] though most range from 13 million to 15 million.[4][5][1][3] They have long lived in locations near many sea trade routes, and they were well connected to other areas by trade as early as the 15th century.[6]

Language

Map showing Ijaw (Ijo) area in Nigeria

The Ijaw speak nine closely related Niger–Congo languages, all of which belong to the Ijoid branch of the Niger–Congo tree. The primary division between the Ijo languages is that between Eastern Ijo and Western Ijo, the most important of the former group of languages being Izon, which is spoken by about five million people.

There are two prominent groupings of the Izon language. The first, termed either Western or Central Izon (Ijaw) consists of Western Ijaw speakers: Tuomo Clan, Egbema, Ekeremor, Sagbama (Mein), Bassan, Apoi, Arogbo, Boma (Bumo), Kabo (Kabuowei), Ogboin, Tarakiri, and Kolokuma-Opokuma.[citation needed] Nembe, Brass and Akassa (Akaha) dialects represent Southeast Ijo (Izon).[7] Buseni and Okordia dialects are considered Inland Ijo.[8]

The other major Ijaw linguistic group is Kalabari. Kalabari is considered an Eastern Ijaw language but the term "Eastern Ijaw" is not the normal nomenclature. Kalabari is the name of one of the Ijaw clans that reside on the eastern side of the Niger-Delta (Abonnema, Buguma, Bakana, Degema etc.) who form a major group in Rivers State, Other "Eastern" Ijaw clans are the Abua, Andoni, Okrika, Ibani (the natives of Bonny, Finima and Opobo), and Nkoroo. They are neighbours to the Kalabari people in present-day Rivers State, Nigeria.

Other related Ijaw subgroups which have distinct languages but very close kinship, cultural and territorial ties with the rest of the Ijaw are the Epie-Atissa, Engenni (also known as Ẹgẹnẹ), and Degema (also called Udekama or Udekaama).[9] The Ogbia clan, as well as residents of Bukuma and Abuloma (Obulom).[10]

It was discovered in the 1980s that a now extinct Berbice Creole Dutch, spoken in Guyana, is partly based on Ijo lexicon and grammar. Its nearest relative seems to be Eastern Ijo, most likely Kalabari.[11][12][13]

Clans

The Ijaw ethnic group consists of 51 closely affiliated clans. These clans are based along kinship lines under the Benin Empire. Shared cultural and religious traditions.