Original

Igbo names and spellings for various settlements
Abakaliki is Abankaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzö; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owere; Oyigbo is Obigbo... any more will be added.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Western-style school established in 1870s Opobo

Photo: King Jaja of Opobo, The New York Public Library.

The Western-style school established in 1870s Opobo by King Jaja and other Africans before British colonisation.

The aspect of modernization that deeply interested Jaja was the acquisition of secular education, which he considered essential if his people were to profit from their commercial enterprise. Because he could barely read and write he had to employ a private secretary, a Sierra Leonean known as D. C. Williams, who became responsible for maintaining his correspondence with the British. In 1873 Jaja sponsored the opening of a school at Opobo with another Sierra Leonean, Mr. Gooding, as the teacher. Twelve years later the population of this school stood at sixty boys and girls, under the instruction of an American Black woman, Emma Johnson. According to one visitor, the standard of education attained by the children was comparable to that of English children of the same age.

– Sylvanus John Sodienye Cookey (1974). “King Jaja of the Niger Delta: His Life and Times, 1821-1891.”

Canoe of King Jaja of Opobo, c. 1882. Museum Volkenkunde.

King Jaja of Opobo was the first king of Opobo, founded in the 19th century. He was sold as a slave from the Igbo hinterland to Bonny where he rose up as a prominent member of the Bonny houses. King Jaja went on to break from Bonny to found Opobo, becoming a wealthy coastal merchant king whose dominance became a threat to Opobo’s rivals, including Bonny, and the British who were closing in on the Niger Delta during the palm oil trade. King Jaja was captured and exiled to the Caribbean by the British. He died en route back to Opobo in 1891.

Deeply attached to traditional religion, he was hostile to missions, but not to education. He sent one of his sons to Glasgow to be educated, and set up a secular school in Opobo, under the tutelage of a remarkable black American, Emma White. Emma White, born in Kentucky of slave parents, left the States to settle in [Liberia], ultimately coming to Opobo [where she was also hired to write King Jaja’s commercial correspondence], where she changed her name to Emma Ja Ja.

– Elizabeth Isichei (1976). “A history of the Igbo people.” p. 98.

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