Onyeji Nnaji

For anyone who would want to have a fuller understanding of the warlike situation of the minor tribes in Nigeria in the pre historic periods, a great account of the lives of the Jukun in the Nigerian middle belt should be given attention to. The Jukun in their hay days had fought many of their neighbouring communities as they sought for expansion and retributions against those settlements that refused to pay tributes to her. Popular among these communities were the Igala, the Tiv, the Idoma etc. There had not been any kind of war between the Jukun and the Igbo. There was however a share chance when both had met; this was the period of war between the Jukun and the Idomas wuho hired the “Abam” warriors to fight the Jukun," K. O. K. Onyioha’s research works cited by A. Afigbo. The Jukun’s contributions in the history of the Benue-Plateau had ever been that of war.

Jukun’s history extoled the might of their monarch, “Aku Uka,” who was based at Wukari. By this virtue it becomes apparent that the presumed capitol for the ancient Jukun was Wukari, and thus, Aku Uka, was their monarchical attribution. The monarch became concretely obvious the moment the Jukun kingdom went against the Igala Attah kingdom. By this time it was the regime of the legend, Attah Ayegba. According to history, the Ida settlement under the Attah kingship was in constant allegiance to the Aku Uka of Wukari who had raided the entire area about that time. All the Attah of Ida that predated Ayegba paid allegiance to the Jukun kingdom and gave to them their tributes. This was the tradition through which the Jukun were held from tasting their military strength on the Ida. Attah Ayegba rejected this view and refused to toe the line of affiliation that his predecessors had established.

The Jukun monarch sent his emissaries to Ida to announce the impending wrath of the Wukari monarch should the Ida fail to do the supposed; but Ayegba was stiff naked an refused to subscribe to what he referred to as a subordination to the Wukari kingdom. The battle line was drawn and Ayegba still maintained his ground on the matter. Both kingdom went upon each other for days until the Jukun were the first to give up the war after suffering losses of their warriors. Ayegba won the battle and established the Attah dynasty. Ayegba was of much significance to the historical development and survival of Igala kingdom. One of these significances is his victory over the Jukun forces and military strength (Attahyi, 2012). Igala was formally vassal to the Aku Uka of Wukari through whom the Jukuns exercised influence on the Igala people and tried to control them. Ayegba summoned courage and waged war against the Jukuns and conquered them to establish the independent kingdom of Igala. By this declaration, Ayegba became the founder of the present Attah ruling dynasty. Oral sources proved that the success of Attah Ayegba in this war was borne out of his inestimable sacrifice. (Okakachi 2011). 

According to oral tradition, Attah Ayegba Oma Idoko offered his most beloved daughter, Inikpi to ensure that the Igalas win a war of liberation from the Jukuns' dominance.   
The Igala apart, the other settlement that gave the Jukun great air of trouble was the Tivs. The refusal of the Tivs to grant them domination of their territory led to the endless war which was fought sporadically until the middle nineteenth century when the Osman Danfodio led Islamic jihad encroached upon the inhabitants of the area. A new situation eventually arose and the attention of both the Jukun and the Tivs were turned towards survival, as the intention was to wipe away the inhabitants. That is the idea of ethnic cleansing that was championed by the Fulani jihadists. The Tiv’s war with the Fouta Djillon  Danfodio led movement held the jihadists bound from approaching the Igbo land and possible Southern Nigeria as earlier planned. The war lasted until the approach of the colonial masters in the area in the late 1860s and beyond.


So many controversies have occurred in the attempts to decipher the true origin of the Jukun. These controversies had led to many inconclusiveness and had also bred several untrue claims with no realistic air. The Jukun on their own part had contributed immensely to this faulty representation of their history in several ways. For instance, they could not really trace their name to the original lexicon that gave rise to the clipping which resulted into the term, ‘Jukun”.  Every name in Africa had a purpose that gave rise to it. Usually, Africa gives names base on the dominant circumstance surrounding the birth of an individual, a people or a community. That is why every native name born by a native speaker of any African language is either a complete clause or a phrase. The reason is simply, African names are psychologically informed. And for so, we vent the totality of our psyche, based on the prevailing circumstance around us or our propositions to life, into the names we give. Check your name if you are an African, you will see that it embodies a circumstance. The same applies to the name of your community or village. Where otherwise, then your community or village must have derived its name from your progenitor (ancestor).

The second reason is that the Jukun eventually lost the knowledge of their oral tradition. They lost their beginning; for according to J. Ki-Zerboin,

Oral tradition is not just a second-best source to be resorted to only when there is nothing else. It is a distinct source in itself, with a now well established methodology, and it lends the history of the African continent a marked originality (History, 11).
By losing the grip of their oral tradition, the Jukun did not only lost their history but also lost out in the reality of things whenever the fact about their relationship with others is called to mind. Rather than state vehemently, they become subjective and inconclusive. Nnaji also has this similar view in his essay on the origin of Africa.

It does not matter how unappealing a particular history may seem to any people, it must be told as the story of a people. It is in the bid to make certain historical facts acceptable to some assumed favourable audiences that people attempt to falsify history. But like my people would say, “the truth must be told, it doesn’t matter whom it touches;” history is history and can never be separated from real life stories told through mouths which must have certain evidence on the bearers’ culture, language, myths and other facets of life obtainable within the setting of the people (Reality, 28).
This is the problem. The Jukun now attempt to claim certain origin that was not originally their history. 

The third problem is their hetero-linguistic situations. The Jukun do not have a core centralized language apart from their beleaguered claim of Kwararafa language family. The study carried out on the Benue Basin in 1920s by the British anthropologist, C. K. Meek reveals that majority of the Jukun lived in scattered groups. This made it difficult for centralized tongue. The areas of the Jukun habitations were bounded by Abisi to the west, Kona to the east, Pindiga to the north and Doga to the south. These assign impetus to the reason why their languages are experienced separately. There are, for instance, six separate dialects among the Jukun in the early 8th century: Wukari, Donga, Kona, Gwana and Pindiga, Jibu, and finally Wase Tofa.  Tracing their consanguinity, Meek remarks that there is little similarity in the dialects of ‘Kona, Gwana and Pindiga’ which may compel researchers to conclude that they are closely related. That is what Nnaji noted above.

Using the Kwararafa language family to define the Jukun is almost the same as insisting that they do not history. Kwararafa language family does not specify people’s historical origin. What it does is to show relationship among languages that are affiliated to the ‘Kwa’ mother language of the marked Niger-Congo. Every language in the world is directly or indirectly traced to this. Segmentally, we have the Swahili that mark their affiliation as ‘Kwaswahili’, yet it does not mean that they are direct descents of the Niger-Congo population; rather they are indirectly related to them. Kwararafa involves all those remarkable ‘Kwa’, ‘Rara’ and ‘Fa’ language feature which include the Onisha, Arochukwu and certain other areas of the Igbo settlement and the entire Benue-Plateau regions. All these contributed to the suggestive approaches in the discussion of the Jukun’s history.    

The forth reason is that the Jukun could not remember their routes. The ancestors of the Jukun were wild travellers. They had travelled a long distance before returning to their present setting. They are not alone in this beguiled situation. The Akan communities and the Zulu of South Africa suffered this same situation until when ajuede team of history foragers turned attention to these areas. The appreciation received and the views these historical documentary receive on a daily bases are clear indications that they are once lost but found at last. The only helpful difference is that the Zulu and the Akan still have flickers of their oral tradition; though very succinct and disjointed.   


Centuries of hobo made the Jukun to lost sight of their original source in the beginning. Yet, had they been able to trace their path to their point of secondary emigration it would be proper and easier for someone to directly point towards a direction where he may say, by evidence, which they had originated from. One costly mistake researchers from this area make is the attempt to associate the Jukun with the West. Many of the people researching on the history of the Jukun had descended very low to accept the claim that the Jukun had originated from Yemen; even the inhabitants thought and still think the same way. Yet, in doing this they still confusedly claim origin of the legendary ‘Kwarafa’ language family. One question very important is, does ‘Kwararafa’ language family originate from outside West Africa? Their answer to this question will help them locate their bearing back to base. One good advocate of this Yemen origin applauded by greater population of the Jukun is Samuel Y. Shish. Of course he could be excused since, as a pastor gasping to locate his ancestry to the biblical point of view, Yemen is more Christian and righteous (since it is in the Arabian Peninsula) that the barbaric and fetish Africa.
In the dissertation submitted by Gani, Bako Ishaya, a 2014 Master Degree student of English Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka the following was said about the origin of the Jukun,
According to Kano and Borno chronicles, which is also confirmed to some extent by oral tradition, the Jukuns are the descendants of a people called ‘WAPAN’ who are progenitors/forbears of the present-day Wukari. Their once powerful empire, the Kwararafa Empire, was among the empires that flourished and later collapsed in the Sudanic Belt of Nigeria between the 11th and 18th centuries. According to history, the Jukuns (WAPAN) migrated from a place called Yemen in the Arabic Peninsula and settled near Lake Chad at Kukawa, which later became the capital of Kanem in Borno.
One false information in the excerpt above is the idea of Kwararafa being an empire at any period. No history book supports this idea. Of course, Yemen as claimed to be the home of the Jukun was never an empire nor had she had any known civilization in the global history. All that is known about Yemen ancient history came to the light of history from her relationship with the Ethiopians in the days of the reign of Ezana the Aksumites, (330–356 AD). Habeshats living in Ethiopia up until today were traced to have originated from Eritrea. There has not been a trace of any migration from Yemen to the boundary neighbour, Ethiopia from where the Jukun had traveled.     

A very important document that had not been reached by researchers is the Kano Chronicle bothering on the history of the Kona. If not for much reasons, it is relevant because it explains the meaning of the word, ‘Jukun’ and since Kona is a descendant of the Jukun, certain shred of her history will be beneficial in the trace of the those of the Jukun. Kona history could only be traced back to the 13th century.

Firstly, the term Jukun, by which the Jukun speaking peoples of the Middle Belt region are generally known today is derived from the Jukun compound word for men or people -apa- juku. The Jukun are one of the earliest occupants of the Benue-valley having come before the Tiv, Chamba etc.
The period is about the same time when the book, History of Wars associated with the dispersal of a people referred to as the ‘Afa-Juku’ took place.

Ezana the Aksum king fought wars with the surroundings. The Kamba… overtaken by fear of the Aksumites due to their military strength. The Kamba (also called Kambata) was set to make peace with Ezana; but the Afa-juku refused.
The Aksum tribe was organized under the leadership of an Ezana (king of the land). And just like the Pharaoh culture in the ancient Egypt, every king in each generation was addressed as Ezana. Around 340s Ezana took up a task to install himself as King of kings. He fought the rest of the tribes in Ethiopia, save Kambata, and conquered them. After conquering neighboring kingdoms and territories on both sides of the Red Sea, Ezana declared himself the King of Kings.      
Ezana, king of Aksum, and of Himyar, and Kasu, and Saba, and Habashat, and Raydan, and Salhen and Tsiamo, and Beja, the King of Kings (Cultural History; 49).
If the Kamba and the Afa-Juku could hold a conciliatory talk over impending inversion of a notorious king as Ezana, it is relatively apparent that the Afa-Juku must have had certain relationship with the Kamba; if not that of consanguinity then they must have had a common boundary. Now, considering the geographical position of the Kambata in Ethiopia, there is no connection whatsoever with the Eritrans nor the far Yemen. The Kambas settle at the Afar region in Ethiopia. It was this movement from Afar down to West Africa that the interpreters suggested to mean a Yemen origin for the Jukun.

Looking at the similarities in the cultural display of the Jukun and the Kambata as shown above, it looks convincing that they may have shared affinity in the past. Again, the Jukun refer to themselves as the ‘Apa- Juku’ while the book, History of Wars referred to the kamba neighbour as the ‘Afar-Juku’ it may be that the Jukun reference to the ‘Afar’ has undergone certain linguistic mutation or shift over the years; and being that the Kona whose oral tradition reveals the reference is also a section of the Jukun settlement, yet they speak a different dialect, it is apparent that the Jukun lost their reference to ‘Afar’ for ‘Apa’. The issue of the time the Jukun finally arrived the Benue could be correctly 13AD as the Kona oral tradition reveals. The unearthed effigy below looks no different from what obtained in the Ethiopian region. The brazed neck and the tribal marks on the statue’s chins are attributive to the Nok region and the rest of the Benue-plateau respectively. But the cape around the effigy’s shoulder is typically Ethiopian than any other culture. Yemen does not have any of these cultural features.

The etymology of the word ‘Juku’ or ‘Jukun’ is traced to the word, ‘Jukwu’. Of course, though the orthography is inscribed thus, ‘Jukun’, sampling the ascent of the Jukun, the last affricative, ‘k’ is pronounced as ‘kw’ instead of the normal ‘k’. So, instead of JuKun, they refer to themselves as ‘JuKWun’.  We all know that the inclusion of the nasal ‘n’ was the activity of the White men who, probably Meek, used it to identify the people belonging to the Juku history. The word, ‘Jukwu’ was derived from the source of the early people that left the east to found places in the far North Africa in the days of the early men as stressed  in Reminiscence.

Stone work was one of the evidences of the earliest civilization after the flood. They invented stone tools with which they were able to cater for their needs. Their lack of concentrated and consolidated lifestyle unanimously targeted at settling at a particular place as their home made this civilization not to be recognized. They were dominantly hunters and gatherers of fruits. By this condition, they moved from one place to another, exploring lands. Some settled in the later days when it appeared as though they had found resting places. Those places of settlement became their founding places which nothing could trace their ways back except the similar stone tools they deposited at various corners. The ancient Igbo society referred to these travellers as Ndi Ojukwu, “walker travellers”. They were the first to move away from their survival ground to inhabit other places (Reminiscence, 77).
The ‘walker travellers’ were the first set of migrants out of the east. According to recent discovery, they had come from Igbo heartland identified by fossil archaeologists and stone art scavengers as ‘Okigwe’. The earliest stone library was found in Okigwe and scantly at the region of Ikom settlement. The above excerpt led Nnaji to note thus:

According to the excerpt above, the first set of emigrants was in the group referred to as Ndi Ojukwu… “Walker Travellers”. This group was basically people who used wooden tools to hunt animals for survival. They fell in the group that got up early enough before others in the days when the flood was still early in its dryness. They left their habitations because of the need for food supply. They hunted animals throughout the day and rested under trees and in caves in the dark hours. Once the day became bright, they set out for their hobo. As days went by, they continued to advanced deeper and deeper to far distance from the east. The only sources of attraction they had were water and more animals to hunt for meat (Reality, 48).
The Jukun, having come from the Afa-Juku, must have been among those early migrants who settled in the Afar region of Ethiopia. What could not be easily ascertained was whether the Afa-Juku were in the same mobility-train with the Kambata or that they travelled later to the region, and perhaps because they belonged to a same historical setting they were able to live together. But the history was very clear. Those who travelled much later were not denoted by the same term, ‘Ojukwu’, instead they were called differently. There is the case of the ‘A Group’ that settled earliest in Nubia, for instance. They were not called the ‘Ojukwu’, instead they were marked by the term they used. By this reason it is clear that the Kamba and the Juku were the same population characterized as the ‘Ojukwu’ and had lived together until the 3rdc AD reign of the Aksum king, Ezana.

Now, having travelled for so long with some generation dying on the way and other generation springing forth, it is possible that within the progressive generations, certain aspects of their original teams would undergo changes. This situation may be accepted because language changes at a fast pace. The movement from Ethiopia to Nigeria must not have happened without wars.  So, as they travel, they wed the lexicon of their host nations alongside. Looking at the south southerners comprising the Ijo of Oru, Brass, Ibani, and New Calabar, and the Isuama it will be difficult to believe that they spoke Igbo sometimes in the past. Major A. G. Leonard, writing in 1906, made the following observations,
Comparing the language as it is spoken in all of these different localities, the dialectical variations are not very marked, the purest dialect being spoken, as already pointed out, in Isuania and neighbourhood, while the most pronounced difference is to be found between the Niger dialect, especially that which is spoken right on the river or on its western bank, and that of the more eastern sections, which lie nearer to the Cross river and in proximity to the Ibibio. It has been suggested by missionaries and travellers that the languages spoken by the Ibibio, Efik, Andoni, and others have all been derived from Ibo at some ancient period; also that there is a distinct dialectical affinity between the Ijo dialects of Oru, Brass, Ibani, and New Calabar, and the Isuama dialect of Ibo. Indeed, Dr. Baikie, in his Narrative of a Voyage on the Niger, expresses the opinion that all the coast dialects from 'Oru' to 'Old Calabar' are either directly or indirectly connected with 'Igbo' (Lower Niger, 43).
One may ask how it had happened so fast that some of these places mentioned do not have traces of Igbo in their languages. It is very simple; language is conditioned by the speaker’s environment and it undergoes the highest influence by the proximity of another language which eventually by economic, religious or political reasons gains and becomes central. The Jukun are without exception to this incursion. Therefore, the language the Jukun speak presently should involve her original language (if there is any left) and those of the communities they had encountered in the cause of their hobo.  That was how they acquired the Kwararafa claimed today. The Jukun’s map is shown below.

Instant Reference
Afigbo, A. E. “Prolegomena to the study of the culture history of the Igbo speaking peoples of Nigeria” in: F. C. Ogbalu and E. N. Emenanjo (edts), Igbo Language and Culture. Ibadan: 1975.
C. K. meek. . A Sudanese Kingdom: An Ethnographic Study of the Jukun-speaking Peoples of Nigeria. London: Kegan Paul, Trubner & Co.1931.
Leonard, M.A. The Lower Niger and Its Tribes. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1906.
Nnaji, Onyeji. Reminiscence: Comparative Study of Ancient Civilizations from Adam to the       Peopling of Ancient Egypt. Akwa-Ibom: Jerry Consept, 2016.
Nordstrijrn, L. 1966, "A-Group and C-Group in Upper Nubia," Kwh 14: 63.
Stuart Munro-Hay. Aksum: An African Civilization of Late Antiquity. 1991; p.73,


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