History of Nupe Kingdom of Nigeria

The Nupe speaking people are located mainly around the Niger-Kaduna confluence.

From the beginning, their major occupation included trading, agriculture and fishing.

It is said that their earlier seat of central administration was Muregi, located at the junction between the rivers Niger and Kaduna.

The earliest form of political organisation in Nupe area was based on village autonomy.

An important sub-group of the Nupe were the Beni-Nupe.

This group also lived in small autonomous villages but later came to form themselves into a confederacy.

The Beni villages were twelve and included Tafia, Bids, Doko, Esa, Nupeko, Eda, Towagi, Egbe, Ewu, Yesa, Gaba and Panjuru.

Earlier in their sociopolitical development, each of these villages had evolved an independent administration under one ruler, but later, they saw the need to come together for a common purpose, they formed a league, the Beni confederacy, in which Tafia was a senior village and enjoyed unchallenged primary.

Nupe oral tradition believes that earlier than the period of Tsoede, Nupe had important kings whose fame and authority covered almost all parts of Nupeland.

Map of the Nupe Kingdom
Map of the Nupe Kingdom


These kings included Jega, Jigba, and others.

However, for a long time, Nupe villages remained disunited, being incessantly harassed and raided by the Igalla from the south and east.

In time, the Nupe villages came to establish one central dynasty to rule over all the towns.

That remarkable event was carried out by Edegi or Tsoede.

His time was revolutionary in the political history of the Nupe-speaking people.

He united the sedentary Beni Confederacy, and the riverine Kyedye who "ruled the water".

Tsoede is said to have been the son of an Igalla Prince at Idah, and a Nupe mother from Nku, near Bida.

When his fahther died, he fled to Nupeko in Nupeland.

From Nupeko, his headquarters, he mustered a strong cavalry force with which he conquered the preexisting confederacy of the Benin-Nupe.

Under the leadership of Tsoede, campaigns aimed at territorial expansion were undertaken against the neighbouring groups of Yagba, Bunu, Kakanda, Akobo to the South and Ebe, Kamberi, Kamuku and in fact up to Oyo Empire.

Also under the pre-jihad Nupe, various towns served as the seat of the Etsu - (King of Nupe) at various times.

These included Nupeko, Gbara, Mokwa, Jima and others.

The military power of Nupe was at it's peak during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Royal descent was traced both patrilineally and matrilineally.

However, patrilineal descent was considered more important for eligibility to the throne.

The royal insignia of the Nupe included drums, brass bells, iron chairs and trumpets.

All these were believed to have been used for the first time by Etsu Tsoede, the first Etsu (King) of Nupe.

Tsoede is said to have reigned in the early part of the sixteenth century but references to the Nupe in Hausa sources date back to the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Tsoede is also believed to have introduced to Nupe the arts of canoe building, smithery and bronze technology.

He reigned for sixty years and died at the age of 120 years.

He is said to have been succeeded by his four sons who reigned one after another.

The fifteenth successor, Etsu Jubril, who reigned around 1750 is said to be the first King to embrace Islam.

Nupe reached its apogee under Etsu Ma'azu, the nineteenth King of Nupe.

Under his reign, a Fulani from Kebbi, named Mallam Dendo established himself as an itinerant preacher, diviner and seller of charms.

Dendo was to lead the Jihad in Nupeland using his followers from Gwandu for the contest.

From Ma'azu's death in 1818, Nupe history became linked with the Fulani to this day.

Opportunities for contest was created soon after the death of Ma'azu by the internal dynastic struggle that broke out.

The claims of Ma'azu's son, Jimadu, to the throne was disputed by his cousin, Majiya.

This dispute led to a temporary division of Nupe kingdom.

Jimadu reigned at the ancient capital at Gbara while Majiya built himself a new capital at Raba, on the Niger.

However, with Mallam Dendo's support, Majiya triumphed and killed Jimadu and became the King of Nupe around 1820.

Soon, Dendo's growing fame turned Majiya's gratitude into jealousy.

Dendo then changed sides, supported the cause of Jimadu's son, Idrisu, and Majiya was decisively defeated in a battle near Ilorin.

Dendo installed himself Sarkin Fulani at Raba while Idrisu became only a puppet Etsu Nupe.

Dissatisfied with only nominal power, Idrisu revolted but was killed in 1830.

Again, Dendo, invited the defeated Majiya and installed him puppet Etsu Nupe in the little town of Zuguma, while himself was the real ruler of Nupe at the capital Rabah.

After Dendo's death in 1830, Usman Zarki, son of Dendo dropped his father's title and made himself the Etsu Nupe in 1836.

From this period, Nupe history under Fulani was plagued with series of wars and revolts.


Nupe economy

As stated earlier, Nupe people were good traders and agriculturists.

The land itself was in an excellent situation for trade.

Various commodities were found in the important Nupe markets at Raba, Eggs and Funda.

Among the most important Nupe crafts found in their markets were bronze, glass, shoes and clothes.

People from far and near attended Nupe markets.

These foreign traders included Hausa, Yoruba, Benin, Igalla, Jukun and other southern neighbours like the Igbo and Calabar (Efik and Ibibio).

Other commodities found in large quantities in the Nupe markets, particularly in the nineteenth century, were yams, corn, millet, and rice; horses, sheep, goats, cows and camels; kolanuts, dyed cloths and robes; ivory, skins, and sandals; manillas and slaves; and other items from North Africa.


Decline and fall

A number of factors contributed to the decline and fall of Nupe kingdom.

One of these was the reign of weak rulers who succeeded Etsu Ma'azu.

Ma'azu's successors were very selfish and had little or no interest in the military readiness of the state.

As a result, many vassal and neighbouring states seized the opportunity to either declare their independence or make Nupe a happy hunting ground for slaves, and loots.

Related to this factor of weak rulership was the harassment of Nupe by her neighbours.

These neighbours included Zaria, Jukun, Oyo and Igalla.

Another factor was the vastness of the kingdom and its extreme cultural diversity.

The Empire was so vast and made up of groups of people of various cultural leanings that it needed a strong ruler to hold it together.

But under the weak rulers after Ma'azu, it was difficult to administer the empire from a coomon centre.

Internal dissension therefore became rampant and led to the establishment of more autonomous kingdoms within Nupe kingdom.

Again, the geographical location of the empire contributed to its decline.

It was situated on an open grassland region which offered no defensive barriers to the Nupe people against the invading enemies.

This situation made it easier to her neighbours to conquer her quickly.

However, what played the most important destructive part in Nupe history was internal dissension which followed the dynastic struggles.

It is doubtful whether Nupe would have formed part of the Fulani but for the dissension.

The seizure of power by the Fulani in Nupe intensified the simple dynastic struggles in Nupe.

The follow-up turbulence set a chain of problems for the Etsus.

The Nupe-Fulani jihadists carried the Fulani imperialism to the south and later into Yorubaland.

By 1867, Nupe had lost most of its southern colonies.

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