Jaja of Opobo … Resilience of a slave boy turned king
King Jaja of Opobo (Jubo Jubogha) was a merchant prince and founder of the Opobo city-state now in Rivers State.Born 1821 in Umuduruoha, Amaigbo in Igboland, as Mbanaso Okwaraozurumba, he was sold into slavery at the age of 12. His first master gave him the name Jubo Jubogha, shortened to Jaja. He was later resold to Chief Alali, the head of Opubu Annie Pepple Royal House.
Jaja showed great entrepreneurial skills that he rose from a slave boy to become one of the greatest leaders of the Annie Pepple House. When the head of the House died, Jaja became the head; having cleared all debts the family owned some British traders. Through this means, Jaja bought his own freedom and rose to become the leader of the House.
Under his headship of the Opubu House, later known as Opopo, Jaja dominated the region’s lucrative palm oil trade, controlling 14 of the18 formerly Bonny’s Houses.
In 1869, he broke away and established the Opobo city-state. At the 1884 Berlin Conference, when other European powers designated Opobo as British territory, Jaja did not stop taxing British traders coming to the region. Furious about this, British Vice Consul, Henry Hamilton Johnston, in 1887 invited him for negotiations.
Jaja honoured the invitation only to be arrested and taken to Accra, Ghana, for trial before taken to London to see Queen Victoria. After that he was exiled to Saint Vincent Island in the West Indies.
The Opobo city-state retained most of the sociopolitical and cultural institutions of Bonny, such as the house system and traditional religion. Jaja, however, rejected Christianity, but embraced Western education. He established a secular school and employed African-Americans to run it.
King Jaja died in 1891 en route Tenerife, Canary Islands. It was alleged that he was poisoned through tea. He was buried on the Canary Islands, but his people protested and his body was exhumed and reburied in Opobo.
• Compiled By Omiko Awa