The Nanna Living History Museum’s aim is to hold collections representative of Chief Nanna’s Itsekiri cultural heritage and to ensure it is conserved for posterity.
Nanna was born in Jakpa in about 1840, the son of Chief Olomu and his wife Omamese, an Urhobo lady from Effurun. Nanna’soriginal name is Ereomala meaning rearing children is hard work. It was shortened to ‘Mala used by his family and that became Manna coined by an elderly relative who then morphed into the name Nanna which stuck.
The Ebrohimi expedition was a punitive expedition carried out by the British against Chief Nanna in early August 1894 and in October 1894 the town was razed to the ground.
Chief Nanna’s monopoly on the palm oil trade meant that there was resentment building amongst other Itsekiri traders. Between 1886 and 1892, Nanna stopped all trade in the Warri kingdom by blockading the rivers with his men in order to force merchants to pay higher prices. Opposition increased in response to the Chief’s actions and the strength of his trade monopoly, particularly from Chief Dore Numa, a literate Itsekiri chief who enjoyed a congenial relationship with the British Vice-Consul. Secondly, the British began to see Nanna as too independent. In April 1894, the British administration moved against Nanna. He was informed that he should no longer consider himself ‘chief’ of the Itsekiri people and now regard himself as Gofine.
In July 1894 relations irrevocably broke down between Nanna and the British. Firstly, Acting Consul Moor who was in charge whilst MacDonald and Galway were on leave announced a ban on war canoes moving in public waterways, this ban targeted Nanna specifically. Ebrohimi as a town was extremely well fortified and located for defensive purposes. Firstly the only way to approach the town was through one creek that could be defended easily by guns, secondly the mangrove swamps that surrounded Ebrohimi were difficult for the British. The sequence of events were as follows. The acting Consul-General Ralph Moor ordered Nanna to withdraw his war canoes from the Benin River. Nanna did not comply with these orders, to which the British responded with a blockade of the river and the seizure of Nanna’s canoes. Ralph Moor then ordered a blockade of Ebrohimi, the village Nanna had founded. This was done by the HMS Alecto. When Nanna’s men fired on the naval party at the point they tried to destroy the barriers across the creek. Further reinforcements were brought by HMS Philomel and Widgeon. Less than a month later on 23 September 1894, Ebrohimi was taken by the British. The blockade at Ebrohimi was widely reported by Nigerian newspapers whilst it was occurring.. Whilst Chief Nanna lost at Ebrohimi due to superior firepower of the British despite the proliferation of guns in Nanna’s arsenal.
The Ebrohimi expedition ultimately ended in defeat for Nanna, but his prestige only grew following the Expedition as his name was mentioned in print. Despite being in exile for twelve years, when he finally returned Nanna was able to create a comfortable living for himself and establish a new village of his own. Chief Nanna cemented his legacy through building his own village Koko and within that village he built himself a palace where he lived with his extended family until his death in 1916.
Extract Courtesy of Allegra Otsaye Ayida, historian www.allegraayida.com
Chief Nanna Olomu’s tenure as Gofine, (the governor), began 12th July 1884 at a meeting amongst Itsekiri traders with the British consul Hewett present for the proceedings. He was officially given the staff of office by Vice-Consul David Blair the following May 1885. The Vice-Consul stated that he looked to Chief Nanna as ‘ the executive power through which the decrees of the British Government and the Consul were to be implemented.” That Chief Nanna’s relationship with the British was important for his tenure as Gofine.
The position of Gofine predated the shift to legitimate commerce and was an important position in Itsekiri society. Customarily, the appointment of the Gofine was the responsibility of the Olu; but without an Olu because of the interregnum, the appointment of a Gofine and the status of that position transformed.
The governorship rotated within the group of prominent people with royal pedigrees. The Gofine did not have absolute authority; instead he was operating within the context of the establishment of British protectorates in the South. From 1850 to 1875, the Gofine had no standing army. Instead, individual traders fitted their war canoes with cannons supplied by European merchants.
Nanna came to power at the moment when the “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest. The Berlin Conference 1884-5 where European powers divided the African continent among themselves was an important moment when imperialism began in force.
Chief Nanna hoped to have the support of the British in his jurisdiction over the Itsekiri as well as the Urhobos and Ijohs whom he had some imperial control over. Nanna faced many crises as Gofine, including an economic crisis in 1886 when prices for palm oil paid by European raiders had fallen by 40 percent. Many Itsekiri traders wished for the prices to stay constant to stabilise trade with the interior, commercial conditions had become untenable so Chief Nanna blocked all trade in 1886. This was not an isolated incident but one of many interruptions to the supply of produce across the region, for example the Yoruba closed export markets multiple times.The British Consul in Calabar declared he would be deposed unless he allowed trade to resume, Chief Nanna acquiesced and lost prestige. Inevitably Chief Nanna would not acquiesce to demands made by the British and this would be a pivotal moment in his life that would put him on the international scene.
Chief Nanna Olomu was a wealthy and powerful trader who inherited great wealth but also wielded it to great effect. He possessed political power through his tenure as Gofine and his trade monopoly. His material wealth was vast, including guns, slaves and canoes. Chief Nanna had a good relationship with the British imperial government, and was admired for his social skills and trade acumen. However, ultimately increasing encroachment by the British following the Berlin Conference 1884-5, a consequence of this was the British influence being solidified in the Bight of Benin through treaties and a declaration of the Niger Delta region being part of British protectorate. combined with political manoeuvres of other Itsekiri chiefs culminated in the Ebrohimi expedition.
The Ebrohimi expedition was a punitive expedition carried out by the British against Chief Nanna in early August 1894 and in October 1894 the town of Ebrohimi was razed to the ground.
Like his father before him, Chief Nanna founded his own village of Koko when he returned from exile. This act demonstrates the significant degree of influence and power he still wielded despite his absence from the Niger Delta for over a decade. In fact, the village of Koko became so influential that the British would station a colonial administrator there for trade purposes. Historian P.C. Lloyd argues that “it was the aim of every wealthy Itsekiri to found his own village.”One important marker of authority was the founding of a new village.
In Nigerian historiography, Chief Nanna belongs amongst the names of 19th century indigenous African rulers who resisted European control. Nanna’s historical significance is evident in the secondary literature, to understand the narrative that has formed about him in the Nigerian historiography. Obaro Ikime’s book Merchant Prince of the Niger-Delta: The Rise and Fall of the Last Governor of the Benin River (1968) is the first and only full-length biography of Chief Nanna Olomu.
Extract courtesy of Allegra Otsaye Ayida, historian ww.allegraayida.com
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