Following his kidnap, he was taken to Bonny Island, Rivers state, where he was renamed Jubo Jubogha by his initial master and finally sold to Chief Alali, the head of the Opobu Manila Group of Houses. It was at this time that the British who couldn’t pronounce his name properly gave him the name “Jaja”.
Starting from the 15th to the 18th century, Opobo, just like other city-states, acquired its wealth from the earnings of the slave trade. This successful business was all it took to make one rich, and also give him popularity. Nonetheless, the stopping of the Slave Trade in 1807 was displaced by the trade in palm oil. Palm oil, in itself, was so vibrant that the region was named the Oil Rivers area.
Being a master of business and politics, Jaja soon emerged as the head of the Anna Pepple House, spreading its activities and influence by swallowing other houses, increasing operations in the hinterland, and augmenting the number of European contacts.
Subsequently, a power struggle would develop among rival factions in the houses at Bonny, led by Pepple House’s High Chief Oko Jumbo leading to the division of the faction led by Jaja. He inaugurated a new village, which he named Opobo in 1869 where he became King Jaja of Opobo. This new status led to his declaration of himself independent of Bonny.
In no time, Opobo was in control of the region’s profitable palm oil trade and ended up as the home of fourteen of what were formerly Bonny’s eighteen trade houses. Part of this success is linked to the fact that Jaja made put measures in place to block the access of British merchants to the interior, giving him an effective monopoly. At times, Opobo even shipped palm oil directly to Liverpool, independent of British middlemen.
Afterward, the Oil trade business in Opobo land began to spread its tentacles and the ambitions of the Europeans to oversee this market increased, hence creating a conflict between Jaja and British top sales and business tycoons. A prominent one was John Holt of Liverpool. While Jaja avoided attempts by Holt to infiltrate Jaja’s market in Qua Ibo River, Liverpool members of the African Association were aiming for strong action against Jaja over what they described as “falling rates of profit”.
In the course of “national interest”, King Jaja shook up the Qua Ibo people in 1881. He raided about seven of their villages, captured many, and executed about 100 people for engaging in direct trade with the Europeans. Even when the British came up with funny tricks and laws to outrun Jaja in the quest for control of the Oil region, like a game of chess he always checkmated them and this angered the British the more.
At the 1884 Berlin Conference, still, the other European powers appointed Opobo as British territory, and the British soon moved to claim it. When Jaja refused to put a halt to taxing British traders, Henry Hamilton Johnston, a British vice-consul, invited Jaja to negotiations in 1887.
In September 1887, Johnson brought a “Warship” named HMS Goshawk to Opobo and invited Jaja on board. He assured Jaja that he will be fine. When he went on board, he was given two bad choices by Johnson. One was that if he would not allow the Europeans access, he could go back and face immediate bombardment from the British navy, and the other that he goes into exile.
Jaja being a man, strong in his values and principles choose not to give up, the British arrested him and tried him in Accra in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) then took him to London for a while, where he met Queen Victoria and was her guest in Buckingham Palace.
No one knew what went down between him and the Queen but after some time, he was finally deported to the West Indies. While in exile in the Caribbean, his presence was reported to be the cause of immense civil unrest among the people of Barbados.
Fight For Freedom
After several years of fighting for his freedom, Jaja was transported to the island of São Vicente, Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa, to limit the possibility of a revolt. Jaja finally won his liberty after years of fighting against his wrongful abduction, and it was settled by the Parliament that he could be repatriated to his Kingdom State of Opobo.
Jaja, now attaining old age, longed to see his beloved Opobo land again.
Now, the deceit. The people of Barbados, mostly people of African (Nigeria) descent had heard rumors that an African King was being taken captive and is now on his way to the Island. They all regrouped themselves together to give him a befitting reception. It was quite an interesting episode of his life in Barbados. The British brought him and wanted to try him on the Island for his “crimes”.
The people of the Island felt insulted about how an African King had been subjected to such mockery and disgrace. Just when the ship made berth at the waterside, the people of the Island rushed and made tents at the waterside to avoid the British bringing Jaja to the Colonial courthouse, which was in the middle of the Village’s square. They basically camped at the waterside throughout the night.
The following day, which happened to be a Sunday, the people of the Island held their church service on the waterside, right by the ship. Jaja was seen peeping through as the service goes on. Before the service was over, he came out and there was a loud cry amongst the women, welcoming him; a King from their ancestral motherland. The crowd became emotional. The British became scared that they may plan an escape plan for him, got their bags, and sailed back to St. Vincent.
He has traveled around from one place to the around the West Indies so that his family lineage can be traced in St. Vincent (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). It was said even at a time that he got married and had children.
“Jaja” in the West Indies (Barbados and St. Vincent) is common slang for someone who is arrogant and carries himself or herself with an air of pride and dignity. Coined after the way King Jaja himself held his head up high while he was on the island.
In 1891, Jaja was allowed to return to Opobo but died en route, supposedly poisoned with a cup of tea in June. His body was shipped instead to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where he was buried. Following his exile and death, the power of the Opobo state drastically dropped, the land was plagued with slave raids, riots and the British exploited the land for his natural resources.
After years of clamor and protest, his body was properly exhumed and sent back to his beloved Opobo Kingdom where he was laid to rest. His leftovers are now a sacred (grave) shrine behind the Palace of the Amanyanabo of Opobo.
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