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Federation of Kwararafa (13th – 18th Century)

(April 25 2023 at 20:45pm)


The federation of Kwararafa, or Kororofa, is a defunct federation that existed from the mid-13th century up until around the late 18th century. Its region was along the Benue River valley in today’s central Nigeria. Its boundary changes over time are hard to reconstruct, probably because of the many wars it fought. It intermittently laid siege to some northern Hausa territories.

The federation was a confederation of different culturally and linguistically diverse populations, out of which the Jukun people were the most influential. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the federation was at its peak. The Kwararafa federation was a very complex society. The complexity was a result of the large number of ethnicities present. This multicultural diversity of the Kwararafa federation was primarily due to the waves of migration of people of different ethnicities into the Benue basin who were acculturated into the native population.

Some of the major ethnicities include, but are not limited to: Jukun, Tiv (Munshi], Kuteb, Chamba, Idoma, Mumuye, Alago, Aho, Shiki (Kollo or Mighili), Mada, Aho, Kambari, Beriberi (Kanuri), Hausa, and Basa. These groups were not just culturally heterogeneous but also lacked a common political, cultural, and religious homogeneity. They were all inhabiting a common region, and traditional boundaries were very fluid, but they still regarded themselves as one people.

It is not entirely clear exactly which town or location operated as its capital. There was a concentration of power in different places within the federation; Pindiga, Kalam, Gerikom, Santolo, Tangara, Biepi, Uka, Wuse, and finally, Wukari, even Kunde south of Bauchi region at one point might have maybe performed roles of capital. However, Wukari stood out as being the most prominent and was widely regarded to as the ultimate seat of power in the state.

Another area of uncertainty is ascertaining whether Kwararafa was a confederacy or just a general name given to them by their Muslim foes for some of its pagan populace.
Although it is widely acknowledged that the present-day people of Jukun ethnicity are the direct descendants of the Kwararafa federation, this does not necessarily imply they were the founders. There was another group of people referred to as the Abakwariga who another school of thought believes were the founders, they were a group of non-Muslim Hausa and were thought to have emigrated from the northeast and Wadai. People who support this notion believe the Jukun instead represented the last dynastic-minded group of the federation. According to Webster, the Jukun migrated into the area around 1600; they only adopted the institution of “divine kingship” from the already established domain. This is different from the local theory that, rather than the Jukun, the Tiv’s came from the Kongo, not the Jukun.

The Jukun influenced and dominated many homogenous and heterogeneous ethnic groups within the federation, their culture and traditions became widely accepted as those of the Kwararafa federation. After the decline and fall of the kingdom, they ruled and dominated its succeeding “Kingdom of Wukari”.


Jukun is synonymous with Kwararafa, as a matter of fact, among all the ethnicities that constitute the federation, one can arguably say there will still be Kwararafa without the inclusion of one of the other ethnic groups, but there can be no Kwararafa without the addition of the Jukun group. That is how relevant Jukun was in the federation. Most people believe Jukun were central to the land.

Jukun is used to refer to all the Jukun speaking people of the middle belt region. They have 6 known different dialects; Wukari, Donga, Kona, Gwana(Pindiga), Jibu and Wase Tofa

There are two major accounts regarding the origin of the Jukun people. The first and more popular suggestion suggests that they originally migrated from Yemen into Egypt sometime between 350 AD and 360 AD. There, they settled at Ngazagarmu for a while after which they later migrated to Nigeria via the Mandara hills and Lake Chad where they settled in the upper Gongola valley. They had some internal scuffle and part of them, i.e. the Kanuri moved to the upper east. There they formed the Kanem-Bornu Empire around 700 AD, while the Jukun moved to the Middle Belt and by the 13th century had become well established. It is said they built the Kwararafa federation from there.

The second theory was that the Jukuns were initially from the south from where they migrated from Cameroun into Kwararafa at about 1600. They did not dominate its political structure until the 17th-century.

The Jukun is headed by the Aku UKA or Aku with his council of nobles led by the Achuwo; it seems his subjects also had a role in his institution and can give advice when required. His office had mostly spiritual power because he was believed to be God’s representative on earth. Hence the Aku was regarded as a priest. Although powerful, his power was limited, and he had no absolute authority, for instance, he could be judged if the affairs of the federation deteriorated, for example, if there were a poor harvest year or defeat in battle.

The history of leadership of Kwararafa is vague, but it seems the center of authority was the Jukun priest Aku Uka.

There are documented works on the military exploits of the Jukun/Kwarafara military, which were feared by their neighbors. The federation expanded by waging military campaigns in order to subjugate neighboring people and smaller, loosely bound confederacies. The Jukuns started raids against their neighbors between the Benue Basin and the eastern slope of the Jos Plateau. They conquered important trade routes and were in total control of trade in the Benue basin.
The Kwararafa militia was feared even in the north. This was evident when sometime in the 17th century after a prolonged war between Kano and Katsina, both feared the intervention of Kwararafa and were forced to sign a treaty. The Kano chronicles also indicate that Kwararafa invaded Kano in 1653 and again later in 1673, they eventually took Kano. There are also records of attacks in Bornu.

Culture and Religion

The Kwararafa federation, as we already know, is comprised of many tribes of a heterogeneous nature. Inevitably, the federation had diverse religious and cultural traditions. The dominant group – the Jukun – has a distinctive culture and seems to have an ardent inclination to spirituality. This is evident in the various names by which they were also referred to; “Pi”, “Api”, “Biepi”.

Pi was derived from a very old and popular Jukun war “medicine” that had a certain spirituality about it. The medicine allegedly causes worms to destroy the base of the spears and arrows of their enemy making it easy for the Jukun to defeat them.

Api means grass or leaves. The name signifies their renowned use of herbs, leaves and roots in their religious activities.

Biepi means a place of grass and leaves or a place of manipulation of spiritual powers, which in its real sense was used to refer to the capital of Kwararafa.

Generally, the Jukun speaking people believe that spirits were the messengers, emissaries and the representatives of the Supreme God. They hold four primary notions about spirits.

The first was that Spirits coinhabit the human world. They can be seen, talk and be talked to. They can take any form and can possess humans especially spiritual people like herbalists, or priests for effective communication. The second was there are good and bad spirits. The good spirits help people and care for their well-being while the bad spirits haunt people. The third is that spirits can mediate in both the spiritual and physical realms. The fourth was that spirits are emissaries, ambassadors and messengers of the supreme God.

They had complex religious practices that were more of a theocratic self-understanding. They perceived their federation as a theocracy that was governed in a hierarchical order from the highest to lowest level:  “Chidon” or “Ama” (God or creator), “Ajo”(spirits or deities), “Yaku”(ancestors) and then “Aku”(king) with his Governing councils.

The Governing Council of the king includes the civil, palace, military and spiritual officials. They all worked together to ensure the politico-religious survival of the federation. They were of the belief that obedience to law and order was key to obtaining the favour of the spirits and deities that bring blessings like prosperity and territory expansion, while disobedience or failure to offer sacrifices brings misfortunes like defeat in battles.

The Jukun had many deities. The most notable were; “Kenjo” the bringer of victory in wars and battles and the Patron of war. “Akwa” the protector and provider. “Yaku Keji” the national goddess of protection.

According to Meek, the Jukun speaking households were a religious unit in the sense that each household had their sacred shrine where they worshipped and offered sacrifices to their preferred gods or deities. The most common family deities were Akwa and Kenjo. Yaku Keji supersedes the family deities and dwells in the capital Wukari. Villages and districts bring their produce to Yaku Keji at Wukari as a tribute to show appreciation for the peace and security they believe it provides and to avoid being afflicted with misfortunes. The tribute was also paid as a form of expressing loyalty to the headquarters of the federation. A typical Jukun Family unit is made up of The Head, his wives and children, his cousins with their wives and children. The head of each family unit was automatically a chief and also performed the role of a priest. His priestly duty involved maintaining the cultic functions of his household.

Meek also states that every Jukun speaking family had an enclosure which housed their sacred shrine together with the room or quarters where the head and matured males eat their meals privately, “beiko”. The beiko had two parts; an inner enclosure for ceremonies & celebration and an outer part where meals were eaten. He noted that in very large households certain members might have their own cults. In such cases, there was a common enclosure for all the shrines and one group can attend the rites of another.


The Kwarafara federation economy thrived mostly due to the internal trade among its ethnicities. The medium of trade was an exchange of goods or trade by barter. The federation traded with neighbouring regions, but the bulk of its economy was based heavily on trade within its confederates. Jukun lands had salt mines which prompted a focus on salt production. This improved their economic and political status. Brewing and selling of beer was a profitable business for them. They had blacksmiths. They were also actively involved in fishing, pottery and hunting.
Metals were exported from Jukun to Tiv. Other commodities like dye, cloth and salt were also exported to Tiv and neighbouring ethnicities. Tiv cloth known as Godo was sold to their Wukari neighbours. The Tiv, who were mainly farmers, supplied the other ethnic groups with their agricultural products. The Jukun were farmers too and cultivated certain crops like benniseed and yams however they did not engage in large-scale farming. The Tivs famously did that and supplied most of the food that was needed by the Jukuns.


Wukari was founded as a successor state and has long since been dominated by the Jukun. It is speculated that “Aku” Angyu Katapka established the Wukari community in the 17th Century around 1660 Before it became a fully-fledged federation, it was widely referred to as the capital of Kwararafa.

Today, it has been reduced to the status of a town in the present-day Taraba state of Nigeria. In Wukari the Aku Uka was and still is the leader whom during the Kwararafa era was also recognised as its authority.

Wukari status as a successor federation to Kwararafa was because of its influential role of capital during the Kwararafa era, but most especially because of the dominance and influence of the Jukun people.

Some scholars have suggested that the decline and disintegration of the Kwararafa confederacy which birthed the establishment of Wukari as a confederacy started in the 16th century. The fall of Kwararafa might not be unconnected to a dynastic tussle of which probably was even compounded by the ascendance of Jukun unto the corridors of power of the already confused political situation in the federation which ultimately climaxed to the internal disintegration of the empire and necessitated the establishment of the Wukari confederacy by the Jukun.

In more recent times, the Tivs have increased in dominance and influence in the Benue valley region. This rapid expansion of the Tiv people was partly due to their agricultural prowess; the older generation Tivs were always migrating in search of better and more fertile lands for their farming.

Another reason was the massive influx of the Tivs into Jukun territories which was encouraged and assisted by the colonial masters for their economic gain. This change in dominance has been a constant source of conflict within the region as the Tivs believe they deserve a significant stake in the political scheme of things having the numbers and resources. The Jukuns, on the other hand, feel threatened and believe their lands and heritage are gradually being ceded to the migrant Tivs.




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