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The British were not the first to infiltrate Nigeria. They weren’t the second either. First of all, people within Africa have been migrating all over the continent, including Nigeria, way before there was even written record. Also, there has been so much mixing of ethnic groups over the course of time. However, it isn’t all that hard to trace back and find the first evidence of outside infiltration.
External penetration of Nigeria started as early as the 9th century AD when Muslim merchants from western Sudan, Maghreb, Tripolitania and Egypt started traveling across the Sahara with camel caravans in search of trade. Over the course of the next six centuries, Islam became accepted widely in the north, especially among the Hausa and Fulani, and not only as a religion. It also imposed a central government, segregated the sexes, influenced language and script, and established a hierarchical class system that was not there beforehand. Islam did not spread south because of the dense tropical forest that divides Nigeria into north and south. This also caused the two regions to “develop” at different rates because while the south was still alien to Europeans, the north was expanding culturally and economically because of its deep involvement with the trans-Sahara trade routes.
The peoples of the south remained untouched by foreigners until the 1470’s when Portuguese explorers, under the inspiration and guidance of Henry the Navigator, showed up and traded spirits, cloth, guns and gunpowder in return for slaves. The Portuguese did not really have any sort of cultural effect on the indigenous people besides the slowly diminishing population. This is because they rarely traveled farther than the coast, if they even left the ships.
Eventually the British showed up after they realized the profits Portugal was making and what they could get from slavery. By 1712 they had established a slave monopoly along the west coast. Chiefs and African slave traders brought slaves to ship side in exchange for European trinkets. Most of the leading European nations were involved with the slave trade, especially after the discovery of America and the establishment of Spanish colonies in the West Indies, which greatly increased the demand for slaves. Nigeria became known as the “Slave Coast” until the middle of the nineteenth century. Characteristics traceable to Yoruba culture have been found in communities of African descent in Brazil, Cuba and in the West Indies.
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While all this was going on, Britain was trying to gain more control over the people and the economy of the country. Naturally, they ran into some resistance. In the south they had to fight many wars, especially with the Ijebu (a Yoruba group), the Aro of eastern Igboland and the Aniocha of western Igboland. The British used forceful tactics and heavy armament against the resistance and destroyed homes, roads and farms. A lot of people resorted to migration instead of dealing with the British as well.
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