2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: African Geography

The Defaka (sometimes called Afakani) are a small ethnic group of south-western Nigeria, numbering less than a thousand people. They live in the eastern part of the Niger Delta, Rivers State, Bonny District; part of them in the Afakani quarter of Nkoroo town in close relationship with the Nkoroo people, and another part of them on the isolated island of Iwoma Nkoro, near Kono. Present neighbours of the Defaka, apart from the Nkoroo people, are: at Iwoma, the Ogoni people (speakers of Ogoni/Kana/Khana), and to the east, the Obolo. The Defaka have a less cordial relationship with these peoples than with the Nkoroo.

The Defaka language is being gradually pushed to extinction as they are shifting to the language of the Nkoroo people. At most 200 speakers of Defaka, all elderly people, are left.


The Defaka have always been a people small in number, and their history is a long narrative of harassments by numerically superior neighbours and subsequent migrations. According to oral histories reported in Jenewari (1983), the original home of the Defaka was in the Iselema area (present-day Delta State). From there, they moved via the Central Delta into the Eastern Delta region, where they lived close to the Abuloma people in the Okrika territory. Later they lived close to the Udekama (Degema) people in the Engenni area, and subsequently they entered the Bonny territory to live at Abalama Olotombia, and later near Bodo in Ogoni. They moved to Iyoba in the Andoni country before establishing Olomama Nkoroo (Old town). From there, they finally moved to the present-day Nkoroo town. The Nkoroo people, neighbours of the Defaka and numbering about 4500, relate a similar tradition of migration. Thus, the Defaka and Nkoroo peoples have presumably been living together as neighbours prior to the establishment of Nkoroo town, perhaps even since the time that both of them were in the Okrika territory.


Spoken in: Nigeria 
Region: Rivers State, Bonny District
Total speakers: 200 (2003 Blench)
Language family: Niger-Congo
Language codes
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: nic
ISO/FDIS 639-3: afn 

Ethnically, the Defaka are distinct from the Nkoroo, but they have assimilated to Nkoroo culture to such a degree that their language seems to be the only sign of a distinct Defaka identity. Use of the Defaka language however is quickly receding in favour of the language of the Nkoroo. Nowadays, most Defaka speakers are elderly people, and even among these, Defaka is rarely spoken — the total number of Defaka speakers is at most 200 nowadays (SIL/Ethnologue 15th ed.). The decrease in use of Defaka is stronger in Nkoroo town than in the Iwoma area. All children grow up speaking Nkoroo (an Ijo language) as a first language. The next most used language among the Defaka is Igbo, owing to the political influence of the Opobo since the days of the Oil Rivers Trade. Igbo has been a language of instruction in many schools in the region and still functions as a regional trade language.

The Defaka language is related to the Ijo languages, showing quite a lot of lexical similarities, some shared regular sound correspondences and some grammatical similarities with proto-Ijo. While some of the lexical similarities can be attributed to borrowing (as Defaka has been in close contact with Ijo for more than 300 years), especially the sound correspondences and the grammatical similarities point to a (somewhat distant) genetic relationship. For example, both languages have a Subject Object Verb basic word order, which is otherwise extremely rare in the Niger-Congo language family, being found only in the Mande and Dogon branches.

  • a ebere ko̘ a okuna b̘ááma   (the dog SUBJECT the fowl kill:PAST)   The dog killed the fowl (Defaka)
  • obiri b̘é o̘b̘ó̘kō̘ b̘é b̘ám̄   (dog the fowl the kill:PAST)   The dog killed the fowl (I̘jo̘, Kalab̘ari̘ dialect)

Also, Defaka has a sex-gender system distinguishing at least between masculine and feminine, once again a rarity among South Central Niger-Congo languages other than Ijoid and Defaka. These similarities have led to the inclusion of Defaka in the Ijoid branch of Niger-Congo. Within Ijoid, Defaka constitutes a branch distinct from the main group of Ijoid languages, Ijo.

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