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.
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The idoma should remained the headquarters of all the spinoff spread around over 5 states, which is a sign of strength and recognition as a major languages in Nigeria just like the filanis, yorubas, and igbos. And they should keep expanding but make sure that they all have alot in common and common together, wen others are claiming to large population, should also do the same.
My humble opinion is that, there's no need for the Iyala to return back home to Otukpo or Benue State, the are better off in Cross River state were they have buried their dead over and over in their present locations in Iyala land.
The Iyalas live with other tribes in Iyala LGA like the Igede, Kukelle and Yache but the Iyalas are the majority for the little that i know about them.
So, the best thing to do is for the Och Idoma to pay Yala land a courtesy visit with dignitaries of Idoma sons and daughters of high esteem as a sign of love, peace and unity to cement a relationship that has been there for centuries ago between the two brothers and their present generation.
Together they can press for a state creation that will unite them ( Iyala and Idoma) as one people.
The Iyalas just like Idomas are peaceful people you can live with. And once an Iyala live close to an Idoma person there's no secret to hide in their languages as both will understand each other when the speak.