Idoma People of Yala Land

First Published

Most often, the Yala people of Cross River State who share similar culture, names and a good percentage of language with the Idoma people of Benue State are referred to as Idomas and are believed to have their roots in Idoma land. Is this assertion true? And if it is, will they (Yala people) ever return to their ancestral home again after several attempts by our ancestors to bring them back? In the next few paragraphs, I will do my possible best to narrate the origin story of Idoma people of Yala and also the struggle by our ancestors to bring them back home.

According to oral history as told by Alekwu Epakada of Otukp’icho, one Okoh had several children amongst who were Onah and Odeh. Onah had five sons who later formed the present Otukpo kingdom. Odeh, who was a great hunter, had during one of his hunting expedition, gone as far as Yala kingdom and killed a very important animal called ogbo’wu. 

Knowing the importance of the animal, Odeh thought it wise to honour the king of Yala with the animal (in Idoma, kings are honoured with animals that are rarely seen or killed by hunters). The king of Yala in appreciation offered the hands of two of his daughters in marriage to Odeh to marry and pleaded with him to settle down in the kingdom but Odeh insisted on going back to his family. 

The king who was so keen in making Odeh a full member of his kingdom, offered two more daughters of his to Odeh and at this point, Odeh who could not refuse the king's offer decided to settle in Yala and was placed in charge of salt mining in Yala kingdom. Back home in Idoma land, his brother Onah, was worried about his brother's whereabouts and went in search of him but returned home without Odeh.

Years later, one of Onah's sons called Odeh (he was named after his uncle) decided to go in search of his uncle. He passed through Igede land and finally got to Yala. On getting to there, he discovered that his uncle had become someone of high standing in Yala and despite all his pleas, his uncle refused to return to Idoma land with him and the older Odeh lived the rest of life peacefully in Yala kingdom with his four wives and children.

The descendants of Odeh Okoh all over Yala land today and technically, are cousins to Otukpo people who are the descendants of Onah Okoh. So the question still remains, after all failed attempts to bring Odeh back to Idoma land centuries ago, will his descendants ever return to their forefather’s land?

There might be other versions of this story but this is the one that is most widely accepted in Otukpo. Please, do let us know if you have any other version of this story.