Obolo: Its Connotations
The term Obolo is significant as a nucleus to this narrative. Etymologically, it is a noun derived from bolo, a verb root denoting being civilized, developed or expanded; being alert or vigilant, awake or quick hearing. Historically, Obolo is the name of an outstanding Niger Delta lord who existed about the twelfth century. He was the progenitor of a race of warriors culturally identified as Ebi Obolo (Obolo people). Geographically, the name refers to Ijọn̄ Obolo (Obolo land) the homeland his people later founded and where his entity, Ido Obolo (Obolo nation) is domiciled. It is also a linguistic reference to the language his people speak, Usem Obolo (Obolo language). In sum, Obolo is a patriarch, a race, a geographical entity and a language. Interestingly, no Niger Delta forebear has his name as founder, homeland, people and language respectively. Though neighbours and colonial records refer to the people, their homeland and their language as Andoni, the linguistic significance of the term Obolo as it affects OLBTO is the main focus here.
Obolo homeland occupies an estimated area of about 360km2 with a projected population of about 260,000 people. It lies about 4o31N latitude and 7o301E longitude falling within the south-eastern flank of the Niger delta, a region rich in oil and gas. Its land mass transverses the chains of islands between the Qua Iboe River in the east and Andoni River in the west. It is bounded by Bonny to the west, Okrika and Ogoni to the north, Ibibio to the North-east and the majestic Atlantic waters to the south. Its proximate position to the sea and location within the Niger delta belt, account for the intricate network of salt-water creeks once teaming with marine life. Obviously, the people’s mainstay and basic industry is fishing. Unfortunately, oil pollution is drastic, reducing their income per capita below sustenance level thus crippling their industrial and economic reliance.
Politically, Obolo remains disintegrated as opposed to her cultural integration. The political situation, however, is forced on her by circumstances of the Nigerian politics. The creation of states and subsequent boundary adjustment of the seventies coupled with the presence of oil in its territory adversely affected its political unity. The area became a booty for two States. Eastern Obolo Local Government Area with headquarters at Okoroete is in Akwa Ibom State. Western Obolo, the bigger block, the present Andoni Local Government Area with headquarters at Ngo is in Rivers State. Though administratively separated, they are culturally indivisible.
Originally, the religion of the people was traditional until the successful advent of Christianity towards the close of the nineteenth century brought radical changes. Today there are over forty denominations with over three hundred congregations in Obolo with Christians accounting for over seventy percent of the population. An important change of remarkable significance is education resulting in the current move to study, develop and document Obolo language and translate the Bible.
By linguistic classification, Greenburg (1955) categorized Obolo language as a member of the Cross River Two group of the Niger Kordofanian (Benue-Congo) languages. But Kay Williamson (1987) classified it as belonging to the Lower Cross Sub-branch of the Delta Cross Branch of the Eastern Division of the South-Central Niger-Congo languages. Later in 1989, Bendor-Samuel reclassified it under the Western cluster of the Lower-Cross Sub-branch of the Delta Cross main branch of the Cross River block.
Interestingly, statistical provisions clearly mark Obolo out as originating from greater antiquity than its other neighbours of the region. It was one of the four languages early European explorers met in the Niger delta area about six centuries ago, making it unique, a uniqueness arising from its survival in the face of super-ethnic influences to emerge along with time. Its survival inspired awakening at documentation especially at a time Western culture including language seriously threatens every cultural value. It is more threatening when viewed from literary angles. Considering the velocity at which Nigerian culture and foreign values advance, a language without literature or documentation faces prospects of extinction.
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