Brief History Of Kalabari Tribe

The Kalabari are a tribe of the Ijaw people living in the western Niger Delta region of Nigeria.[1] Originally, they were known as the Awome. The name Kalabari was derived from their ancestor Perebo Kalabari who was a son of Mein Owei. Their original settlement was spelt as Calabar by the Portuguese which was pronounced Kalabari. This settlement (town) was abandoned as the people moved to other fishing settlements. Portuguese settlers continued to maintain the name Calabari which became surrounded by Efik people of Duke town. When the British came the word Calabari was pronounced as Calabar (Kalaba) instead of Kalabari. At this time the original Ijoid Kalabaris had moved to a new location which became the new Calabar territory since the old Calabar is occupied by different people. Old Calabar became an Efik town with time which has the name Calabar.

Elem Kalabari (New Calabar) became a large kingdom that has about 35 settlements including Buguma, Abonnema, Bakana, Tombia and others.[2] In current day Nigeria, the Kalabari people can be found in Rivers State (South South Nigeria.)

The Kalabari people are Ijaw speaking settlers who came from the Bini fringes of Ijaw land from the lineage of a man called Mein Owei. The people were originally fishermen before the coming of the Portuguese to the West African coastline.

The Kalabari, like most Nigerian coastline tribes, were wealthy as a result of their interactions with the Europeans. There are some Ijaw who consider the Kalabari as a different ethnic group and vice versa.

The kalabari is a tribe of the Ijaw people of Rivers state living in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. They migrated from the Benin fringes of Ijaw land and became a large kingdom of about 35 communities/settlements including Buguma, Bakana, Tombia, ke, Soku, Bille, Bukuma, Degema, Obonoma, Sama, Abalama, Ilelema and others. The people were originally fishermen before the coming of the Portugese to the west African coastline. The Kalabari like most coastline tribes were wealthy as a result of interactions with Europeans.

The kalabaris share similar culture/language to the Okrikas, Bonny, Opobo, Bayelsa Ijaws (Nembe in particular as the language is almost the same), Delta Ijaws, Ondo Ijaws and some parts of Edo state. It was discovered that in the 1980s, that a nearly extinct Berbice Dutch/KALABARI LANGUAGE was spoken in Central America. Guyana to be precise (click on the link to watch).

The kalabaris do bear European names (Briggs, Horsfall, Jack, Harry, West, Braide etc) due to their inter- racial relations with their slave masters. Kalabari, Opobo and Bonny were the first to trade with the whites in Rivers state alongside Okrika and Andoni. Many of them do have light skin due to European mixtures.. They engaged in overland trade with the Portugese in the 1400s, later Dutch, then British whom arrived by sea for trade and missionary work. They also traded clothes from India. Since the early 1800s, The Europeans noted that the Kalabaris refused to trade their goods on credit. Their industrial prowess coupled with their lovable demenor has won the admirations from surrounding communities of the Niger delta.

The Kalabari constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in Rivers State with 3 LGAs and they are the largest Ijaws in terms of population in the state.. They constitute almost a million (90% of people based in Akulga, Asalga and Degema are indigenes, so the 2006 population census results states..(AKULGA:156,006 , ASALGA:220,110 , DEGEMA:249,773)..626000 altogether excluding the population of kalabaris based in Phalga LGA, Obioakpor LGA, LGAs in the state, indigenes outside Rivers State and diaspora.. Majority of Kalabari people stay at the PHALGA (Portharcourt old township, Borokiri, marine base, Dline, Diobu, Iwofe, Aggrey, Eagle island etc.) axis of Port Harcourt.

The kalabaris are highly educated and have the love for western education. They are known to have a high concentration of Professors, Lawyers and Doctors in Nigeria.. Because of their civilized and generally peaceful behaviour, the kalabaris were called English men in the past..


Agbani Darego… First black African to win miss world

Jimi Rex Lawson… High life musician.

Dabota Lawson… Ex beauty queen(Miss Nigeria UK)

Asari Dokubo.. Human right activist

Tonye Graham Douglas… Politician

Albert Horsfall… Former SSS Boss

Dumo Lulu Briggs.. politician

Late Chief Dr Hutton.. Antropologist

Taribo West… Ex footballer

Prof. Tam David West… politician and many others..


This occurs in 3 forms namely; IYA, IGWA and WARRIBIOBESIME. The IYA is the most lawful and highest form of kalabari marriages. In this marriage, divorce is not permitted and the offspring belongs to the man’s house. An IYA marriage is not complete until the BIBIFE ceremony(buying the mouth) is undertaken. The BIBIFE signifies 3 things. First, a stage in a lawful marriage which gives the bride the right to eat in the husband’s house. Second, it signifies the man’s responsibility towards the wife and his willingness to feed her for the rest of her life.

Finally, it signifies and crowns the new communion between the 2 families. It involves serving the bride with innumerable courses of food., usually in the evenings. Thus, the bride is dressed with coral accessories, crown and chunky coral beads.


This is a festival of unity in Buguma and it draws visitors from far and near to the Kalabari kingdom in Rivers State. It is performed by the Ekine Sekiapu society and it’s the famous and most outstanding masquerade in the history of the kingdom. Previous editions were held in 1908, 1927, 1973 and 1991 and 2009.


TOMINA FULO: This is a kalabari soup prepared using fresh fish and sea food. Cocoyam is usually used to thicken the soup.

ONUNU: This is another delicacy prepared by pounding boiled plantain with yam. It is then finished off with palm oil.
References;Wikipedia, Nairaland.

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