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KING JAJA CAME TO TOWN

Caldwell Taylor

The Icarus, a British ship, dropped anchor in the port of St George on the morning of June 8, 1888. News of  ship’s arrival – and more crucially ,of its very important passengers- galloped about the town and from town all the country at the speed of rumour.

But this was no rumour. The Icarus was there for all to see and its passengers included King Jaja (1820-1891) of Opobo (now part of the country called Nigeria), his wife Patience, the couple’s son, and a posse of royal officials from the House of Opobo in north-eastern Nigeria.

This was not a state visit and so the king and his entourage were not met with the boom of a gun salute;  there was no welcoming party at the docks; no red carpet had been installed.

King Jaja was actually a prisoner.

He was booted out of his country following a brief “trial”  conducted in Accra (Ghana). At trial Jaja was accused of breaching the terms of the British Protectorate Treaty, a treaty imposed on “Nigeria”.

The charge was of course an ugly canard: Jaja’s real crime was his stubborn and vexatious opposition to British imperial ambitions in his country. The hasty trial found Jaja guilty and  the king was sentenced to exile.

Therefore, he arrived in Grenada on June 8, 1888.  But was Grenada to be his place of exile?

We do know. What we do know is that the King’s arrival caused quite a stir in Town. Indeed, it is believed that that stir forced the authorities to send Jaja on to St Vincent.

King Jaja remained in St Vincent until March 1891, when  he was sent to Barbados. He was then in poor health and he begged to be allowed to return home to Africa to die. His wish was finally allowed and Jaja left Barbados on May 11, 1891. But he never made home to Nigeria; he died at Tenerife.

King Jaja’s memory is entombed in a 1998 play (“Jaja King of Opobo”) written by Alvin Cummins; and also in a Bajan folk song about the king’s love affair with a Bajan lady named “Dovie”. The song gossips:

King Jaja won’t leh Dovie ‘lone
King Ja ja won’t leh Dovie ‘lone
King Jaja won’t leh Dovie ‘lone
What Dovie got um is all she own.


Yes, King Jaja came to Town

             

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