In 1800 the Itsekiri kingdom of Warri in the north-western corner of the Niger delta had a highly centralized government. In 1848, the king died, followed shortly by his two principal heirs, and a state of anarchy developed in which order was maintained largely through the balance held between the two largest descent groups or ‘Houses’. The latter part of the century saw the rise, and defeat by the British of Nana Olomu, possibly the greatest of the delta traders, whose power over the Itsekiri derived from his trading monopoly. One cannot divorce these striking changes in Itsekiri social and political structure from the trade in slaves and later in palm oil, for the Itsekiri were by profession the middlemen between the interior peoples—the Urhobo and Isoko and to some extent the Benin—and the European traders.
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