Story of a Nigerian King who ceremoniously ate 43 British Hostages in 1896

Nigeria as a country was colonized by the British from 1885-1960. Not many of you have come across the subject matter or knew this in history. I would like you to know that during the period of British colonial rule in Africa and Nigeria, a King stood up to their tyranny and almost defeated them. He is no other than King Fredrick William Koko, (1853-1898), known as King Koko and King William Koko in the Niger-Delta area of Nigeria. Let me tell you more details about this King below.

Story of a Nigerian King who ceremoniously ate 43 British Hostages in 1896

King Fredrick William Koko, (1853-1898), known as King Koko and King William Koko, was a Nigerian Ruler of the Nembe Kingdom (also known as Nembe-Brass) in now Southern part of the country.

King Fredrick William Koko had an early encounter with the Christian missionaries and was an ardent Christian worshipper, who when chosen as King of his town called Nembe in 1889 attacked a trading post of the British Royal Niger Company. This led to reprisal attack by the British in which his capital was sacked!

Following a report on the Nembe uprising by Sir John Kirk which was published in March 1896, which reveal that 43 of King Koko’s hostages had been murdered and ceremoniously eaten. King Koko was offered a settlement of his grievances but found the terms unacceptable, so was deposed by the British. He died in exile in 1898.

Early life of King Fredrick William Koko

King Fredrick William Koko was from the ijaw tribe. He was also a convert to Christianity who later returned to the local traditional religion. One thing to note about King Koko was that before becoming King (what the ijaw people would refer to as the amanyanabo), he had served as a Christian school teacher, and in 1889 this helped him rise to power. The leading chiefs of Nembe, a town in the Oil Rivers Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, such as Spiff, Samuel Sambo, and Cameroon, were all Christians, and after having ordered the destruction of Juju houses, a large part of their reason for choosing Koko as King in succession to King Ockiya, was that he was a fellow- Christian. However, there was at the same time a coparcenary King, the elderly Ebifa, who ruled at Bassambiri and was Commander-in-Chief until his death in 1894.

With the settlement of European traders on the coast, Nembe had engaged in trade with them, but it was poorer than its neighbours Bonny and Calabar. Since 1884, Nembe had found itself included in the area declared by the British as the Oil Rivers Protectorate, within which they claimed control of military defence and external affairs. King Koko town of Nembe was the centre of an important trade in palm oil, and it had refused to sign a treaty proposed by British, opposing the Royal Niger Company’s aim of bringing all trade along the Kingdom’s rivers into its own hands.

King Fredrick William Koko and the Akassa Raid

The Akassa Raid was the most important occurrence during the reign of King Fredrick William Koko in the year 1895. The cause of it was the trade monopoly in the Niger claimed under the Royal Charter, granted to the National African Company in the year 1886 by the British Government; and as the best part of that Nembe trade was done in the Niger in the olden days, their sphere of action in reference to trade intercourse became much limited in consequence.

Also, the Royal Niger Company, Chartered and Limited, went as far as to molest and seize all trading canoes of Nembe people they chanced to see as far as the lower ijoh (Southern ijaw, in present day Bayelsa state, Nigeria) markets, firing, and killing many of the people, even as far as to the Akassa creek which leads to the Brass Twon River. This meant that palm oil trade would be completely controlled by the British, denying the people of Nembe access to the palm oil markets.


Immediately after this unfortunate incidence, King Koko, the Mingi of Nembe being the supreme King invited the king of Bassambiri and the principal chiefs of both sides, with those of Okpoama and Twon to intervene in a general gathering and discussed about what to be done to better the situation.

And after deep and serious consideration at the meeting, all present unanimously concluded that, “To die by the sword is far better than to die of hunger” and under these circumstance, the King, Chiefs and people took the law into their own hands and raided Akassa, the then Headquarters’ of the Royal Niger Company, Chartered and Limited, on the morning of 29th January 1895.

King Koko then renounce Christianity and led over 1,500 men and 22 war canoes to raid the Royal Niger Company’s headquarters at Akassa in 1895.

The Royal Niger Company’s property was looted, vandalized and burnt down. Many white men were held hostage. King koko tried to negotiate their release in exchange for free trading conditions but the Royal Niger Company refused. Several clerks and Kroo boys were killed whose heads were carried off to Nembe as trophies; Many were brought as captives to Nembe, the majority of whom were executed in cold blood the next day as Sacrifice Island and feasted upon.

An 1896 report to the British Parliament claimed that King Koko killed and ceremoniously ate 43 hostages. How do you think the British reacted?

Through the outcry of the Royal Niger Company, Charted and Limited, the British Government was so furious and views such action as a direct threat to its claimed over the territory as obtain in the Berlin conference.

Then on 20th of February 1895, the British Royal Navy attacked Nembe Killing about 300 people and burning the town. The same day, King Koko attacked with his war canoes and sunk 3 British ships. Many British forces were killed. King Koko eventually ordered his war canoes to surrender to avoid further casualties and burning down of Nembe villages.

In April 1895, peace and business activities returned to Nembe. Brass was fine 500 pounds by the British. King Koko then returned several cannons and a machine-gun looted from Akassa. There was then an exchange of prisoners between the King and the British.

Then, the following year in April 13 1896, after King Koko refused the terms of a British settlement that allowed Brass people into the markets, he was declared an outlaw. He fled to Etiema, a remote village in the hinterland, where he died in a suspected suicide in 1898.

Lastly the charter of the Royal Niger Company was revoked by the British Government, an act seen as partly a consequence of the short war. Do you think King koko really ate those 43 white men or was that part of the report submitted by the British parliament a made up story?

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