Urhobo people,Warri,Delta state,Nigeria
The Urhobo people are Urhobo-Edoid Kwa language-speaking people of larger Benue (Niger)-Congo language family located in the present Delta State of Nigeria. They occupy the southern portion of the Benin lowland and the floodplains and swamps of the petroleum-rich Niger delta. Many live in the Ughelli local government region and in Warri and Ethiope,and in Okpe and Sapele Local Government Areas. With a population of some two million people, the Urhobo people are the 5th largest ethnic group in Nigeria and constitute the largest single ethnic group in Delta State. The population density in Urhoboland is about 660 persons per square kilometer.
The Urhobo nation is made up of twenty sub-groups, including Okpe which many believe is the largest of all Urhobo sub-groups. The Urhobos are noted for having their own unique style of speaking Nigerian Pidgin English. Since their language is very demonstrative that translates into their style of speaking English and Pidgin English. As a result of their unique language style, their names are also unique. An example of a unique Urhobo name would be the name Onaodowan, belonging to the Onaodowan family from Warri and the Onomakpome, belonging to the Onomakpome family from Sapele.
In 1963 census in Nigeria Urhobo were classified among the first ten major ethnic groups in Nigeria (Awolowo, 1968 241–242). The word Urhobo refer to a group of people and not geographical territory. For example Agbon Urhobo. The Urhobo have social and cultural affinity to the Edo speaking people of Nigeria (Northcote Thomas, 1910).
Urhobo tribe man and Nigerian Nollyhood superstar and politician Richard Mofe-Damijo and his family
The Urhobo now live in a territory bounded by latitudes 6°and 5°, 15° North and Longitudes 5°, 40° and 6°, 25° East in the Bendel State of Nigeria. Their neighbours are the Isoko to the South East, the Itsekiri to the West, the Bini to the North, Ijaw to the South and Ukwani (kwale-Aboh) to the North East. The Urhobo territory consist of evergreen forest with many oil palm trees which provide the lucrative palm produce industry for which the Urhobo have some technological preserve. The territory is covered by a network of streams whose volumes of water and flow are directly concerned with the climatic season; wet season (April–October) and dry season (November–March).
The Urhobo people of southern Nigeria speak Urhobo one of the sub-group of Edoid languages that belong to the Niger-Congo family. The Urhobo and Isoko are related in language and culture, leading to the missionaries erroneously labelling both peoples as Sobo. This name was strongly rejected by both tribes.
Urhobo has a rather reduced system, compared to proto-Edoid, of seven vowels; these form two harmonic sets, /i e a o u/ and /i ɛ a ɔ u/.
It has a conservative consonant inventory for an Edoid language. It maintains three nasals, and only five oral consonants, /ɺ, l, ʋ, j, w/, have nasal allophones before nasal vowels.
(1) "Die ye ode we?" Pronounced like: "Dee-ay- yay- odeh- weh" ?
Meaning: "What is your name?"
(2) "Die wo rue ?" Pronounced like: "Dee-ay-woe-roo-eh" ?
Meaning: "What are you doing?"
(3) "Die wo cha re ?" Pronounced like: "Dee-ay-war-char-ray"
Meaning: "What do you want to eat ?"
(4) "Die wo cha da ?" Pronounced like: "Dee-ay-war-char-dar ?"
Meaning: "What do you want to drink?"
(5) "Die wo ruru ?" Pronounced like: "Dee-ay-woe-roo-roo ?"
Meaning: "What did you do?" (or What have you done?").
Now for the answers to the above questions:
(1) "Ode me Shadie" Pronounced like: "Odeh-meh-Shadie"
Meaning: "My name is Shadie"
(2) "Mi i riemu" Pronounced like: "Me-ee-ree-ay-mu"
Meaning: "I am eating". (or "Mi i se ebe" Pronounced like: "Me-ee-say-ebb-ay") Meaning: "I am reading" (or "Mi i gbeha" Pronounced like: "Me-ee-gbay-her" Meaning: "I am dancing" etc. depending on what you are doing).
(3) "Me cha re igari" Pronounced like: "May-cha-ray-igar-ree"
Meaning: "I want to eat gari"
(4) "Me cha da ame" Pronounced like: "May-cha-dar-amay"
Meaning: "I want to drink water"
(5) "Me hwe re" Pronounced like: "May-whe-ray"
Meaning: "I laughed" (or "Me vie re" Pronounced like: "May-veer-ray"
Meaning: "I cried/wept"). The answer can also be something like: "Me yan ra ne ti yi" Pronounced: "May-yearn-rah-nay-tee-yee" Meaning: "I walked away from there" (or "I left there").
Egharevba (1968) in his book “A Short History of Benin” confirms the Benin lordship over these cultures. He claims that…the early peoples of Ishan and Afenmai Divisions, the Eka and Ibo – speaking peoples of the west bank of the Niger, Aboh, the Urhobo, Isoko and the people of Onitsha are all emigrants from Benin.
Urhobo cultural group. Circa1950s
Speaking on the Urhobo, Otite (2003) however believes that at the end of the Ogiso (rulers) dynasty, many Urhobo and other Edo groups left Udo in different directions. Ikimi (1984) attests to the Benin origin of some Urhobo settlements such as Ughelli, Ogor, Agbon, Agbarho, Agbarha, Abraka, Oghara, Okpe, Olomu,Uvwie, Effuruntor and Uwhenru. This view is also supported by Adjara and Omokri (1997). Ekeh
(2006) went ahead to classify into three stages the likely periods of Urhobo history. They include: Ancient Times, Middle Ages and Modern Times.
Urhobo (Okpe) tribe man of
The history of the Urhobo generally began from an Edo territory supposedly around where the ancient town of Udo and Benin City are currently located. At the end of the Ogiso dynasty, many Urhobo and Edo-groups left Udo in different directions, each at its own pace, in search of more peaceful territories. It was natural that in those compelling circumstances, peace loving and less powerful Edo-groups had to leave the territory to seek fortunes in less populated but more economically resourceful territories.
The Urhobo left under separate leaders in different directions to found separate governmental organization. Egharevba (1960:14), When some of the emigrant left Benin, they found in their destinations in Urhobo territory some Edo-speaking settlers. Each 22 socio-political unit was called a "clan" by earlier writers especially by British Colonial Officers in their various intelligence/assessment reports. The word Urhobo is used to describe the Urhobo group.Like many people of the world, the Urhobo people are undergoing a cultural and political renaissance. The need for the various Urhobo people to assert their nationhood and to preserve their culture led to the creation of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) in 1931. Similar realties of the modern world led to the formation of The Urhobo National Association (TUNA) in 1993 as an umbrella organization of the over 10,000 Urhobo people resident in North America. In 1999, TUNA was split into two factions called TUNA and UPUNA due to internal administrative problems. However, in the year 2003, TUNA and UPUNA reunified after a reunification meeting convened by Urhobo Association in Chicago and Environs. The reunified national body adopted a new name called Urhobo Nation Association of North America (UNANA).
[Urhobo] woman The [Urhobo] are hinterland people & the producers. [southern Delta State, Nigeria]. Jonathan Green, 1890s.
Read more about Urhobo History by clicking on this link:http://books.google.com.gh/books?id.
Living in the tropical rain forests has helped to shape the economic choices of the Urhobo. They practice slash and burn farming that requires frequent crop rotation for soil preservation. Fishing and hunting are also important sources for subsistence. They also gather palm nuts and process them into oil, a commodity which is eventually traded on the international markets.
The discovery of petroleum in Urhoboland in the 1960s has been a mixed blessing. While the oil has enriched the modern Nigeria nationstate, it has hardly benefited Urhoboland and people. Rather, it has brought about massive ecological devastation which has, in turn, hampered the Urhobo traditional occupations of farming and fishing. This has resulted in the neglect of agriculture and mass emigration of our people to urban areas and to other rural areas, especially Benin and Yoruba lands of western Nigeria, where hundreds of Urhobo villages could be found. Today, the Urhobo migrant farmers in these villages form the backbone of the food production in those areas.
In those clans where the age grade system is recognized, the men are categorized into 4 age grades, namely: Ekpako, Ivwragha, Otuorere, and Imitete age grades, based on age, life achievements, and contributions to the community. The women are also categorized into three age grades, namely: Ekwokweya, Evweya, and Emete age grades, based on child-bearing status. The Ekpako and Ekwokweya age grades assist in the day-to-day administration of the clan and serve as custodians of the Urhobo culture. While the Imitete and Emete age grades clean and sweep the streets, run errands and perform domestic duties, the Otuorere age grade performs heavy duties like bush clearing, building of shrines, construction works, burial and other social services. The working class and warriors belong to the Ivwragha age grade.
Urhobo are currently organized as political kingdoms, gerontocracy and plutocracies. Gerontocracy is the government by elders based on the age grade-system in the community while plutocracies is government by the rich and wealthy, an evolutionary state but retaining the elements of gerontocracy. Although it is not clear which kingship is older among the kingdoms, these kingship development reached their climax in the 1940s and 1950s.
Urhoba Chief. Circa 1905
Urhobo politics and government structure occur at two levels (a) kingdom level (b) town level. Men and women in Urhobo are organized either by elders based on the age-grade system (gerontocracy) and based on rich and wealthy (plutocracies). An outline of Urhobo indigenous government and politics have the titles: Ovie (king) which is the highest political figure in the kingdom. He is the symbol of his kingdom, culture and of his royal predecessors.
The Ohworode of Olomu Kingdom His Royal Majesty, Ovie Richard Layeguen. Ogbon, Ogoni-Oghoro I and Maj-Gen. David Ejoor (Rtd) at an occasion.
His councillors are Otota (Speaker), Ohoveworen or Okakoro,addressed collectively as Ilorogun (singular: Olorogun). Other title holders are the executioners (Ikoikpokpo) and warriors called Ogbu.There are other political titles peculiar to the different kingdoms. The judicial aspect of government among the Urhobo places a clear distinction between civil and criminal offences which ensure justice to the parties concerned.
Urhobo 22 Kingdoms And Headquarters
As Well As Official Administrative Affiliations
(Local Government Areas [LGA]) As of 2004
As Well As Official Administrative Affiliations
(Local Government Areas [LGA]) As of 2004
|KINGDOM||HEADQUARTERS||L. G. A|
Urhobo Traditional Marriage (Emueruo r’Aye)
In Urhobo culture marriage is a spiritual and cultural union between two families. This is so because families play a central role in ensuring the success marital relationship from time of courtship through marriage negotiations to the contracting of the marriage.
Urhobo bride under a Shade with Her Bridemaids being sent to meet the groom
What Do We Mean By Traditional Marriage The Urhobo Way?
Urhobo traditional marriage by definition bears some semblance to the above definitions above. The similarity is only as far as the process of marriage revolves around man and woman. Urhobo traditional marriage is unique to Urhobo culture and traditions. Indeed, marriage in Urhobo worldview is an enduring institution. It is sacred. It looms large enough to tie two independent families together forever.
It is imperative to note that the Urhobo marriage extends beyond the couples directly involved; it embraces the extended families of the spouses. Indeed, Urhobo marriage is a marriage of two families. This is so because the families play very central roles in ensuring the success of the marital relationships from the time of courtship through the marriage negotiations to the contracting of the marriage.
Divorce is rare; Urhobo traditional marriage endures beyond the life of the husband. In fact, it is the wife’s life span. This is due to the fact that on the death of the husband, the wife is passed on to a member of the husband’s family for continued marriage. This custom provides emotional and financial stability, and continuity of the marriage.
A Bride under a Decorated Umbrella with Her Bridemaids
The families are also expected to intervene or mediate when there are problems or conflicts between husband and wife, and when the marriage relationship is threatened in any way – this is in total contrast to the western marriage system where family intervention is seen as interference.
The nucleus of Urhobo traditional marriage takes various forms. From time, there have been some distinct processes of marriage proposals or types of traditional marriages. Any of these marriage forms are recognised by our society, as they form key aspects of our customs and traditions.
Urhobo couple in their traditional wedding dress
“Esavwijoto” occurs when parents propose marriage on behalf of their son or daughter at an early age. Pledges of this nature are also made and redeemed, as a result of observed exemplary character of a young girl or boy. It could be made as a reward for exceptional valour. The uses or instances of this concept are infinite. Normally, with this type of marriage, love develops between the couple only after marriage has been officially contracted.
"Ose” - Admitting language limitations in describing one concept by another language. Ose is a form of marriage recognised as binding, but in which the traditional dowry has not been paid and accepted as prescribed. Couples may live together or apart, but enjoy full de facto conjugal rights and exclusiveness but limited customary (legal) rights of husband and wife. Some notable distinctions of this type of marriage are that such husband will not be allowed to bury and mourn his would-be parents in law, like a fully married man.
“Arranged Marriage in absentia”- In this case, the male who is usually abroad or outside the Urhoboland or even Nigeria, would request his parents or family to marry a wife of their choice for him. Both potential husband and wife may not have seen or met each other previously. During the marriage ceremony of this type of marriage, the man’s brother or a nominated relative would represent him as husband of the bride.
The wife may be required to spend some time with the absent husband’s family before being despatched to her new husband. Love may, or may not develop when they meet for the first time. If they like each other, the marriage may be consummated, and is likely to survive. In some cases, either party may refuse to go ahead with the marriage, and call it off.
“Boy-Meets-Girl and Modern Courtship”- This is more or less a modern concept and is not unique or particular to Urhobo culture or tradition of marriage terms.
This process has become one of the current approaches used by modern day boys and girls. In most cases, the parents may not know of the initial courtship until their son or daughter informs them. Both families then get involved. If they agree, marriage plans are then made. The process may first be to do the traditional marriage rites, before proceedings to either the Church marriage or the Registry.
“The Marriage Process - This is the final stage of the traditional marriage arrangements. Whichever of the above routes the process of courtship or engagement may have taken, family consent is imperative before the marriage process is finalised.
The marriage ceremony follows the meeting of both families. Both families would meet at the bride’s home. An advance notice is given to the bride`s family for the visit. On the said day, the groom’s family will arrive at the bride’s home. First the bride’s family will welcome them. Drinks and kola nuts supported with some money will be offered to the visiting family, as is customary in Urhobo tradition. A spokesman for the bride’s family will make the presentation of the drinks and kola nuts with the money to the visiting family. The visitor’s spokesman will accept the presentation on behalf of the groom’s family. After this initial customary entertainment, the visitors are asked the purpose of their visit.
The visitors would inform the bride’s family that they have come to marry their daughter for their son, who may or may not be present at this protocol. If the bride’s family accepts this explanation, they would go through a process of the identification of the bride they wish to marry. The visitors would be told that the family has many daughters; as such, its members do not know which of their daughters their son would like to marry. The bride’s family would then bring out a girl who is not the bride, and parade this girl in front of the groom’s family. The groom would reject this girl saying that she was not the one he wants. This formality would be repeated about three times. Each time a girl is paraded and rejected, the groom’s family would be asked to pay the rejected girl some money. Finally, the bride is presented to the groom to confirm the true identity of his chosen bride.
Once this process is concluded, the bride’s consent would then be obtained. That is, she will be asked if she is willing to marry the groom. The family of the bride can only receive the dowry if she consents to marry the groom. This process is only a formality on the day because in most cases, the dowry amount and all arrangements would normally have been agreed upon. That is, both families would have reached some understanding. The groom or his family would pay a dowry to the bride’s family. The dowry is the price money paid to the bride’s family on account of the bride.
It is worth mentioning here that, it is customary that before the stage of pouring the libation is reached, that the potential husband and his family would pay several visits to the family of the bride to be. The purpose of these visits is to negotiate and to meet certain pre-marriage requirements stipulated by the bride’s family. For example: the dowry would be negotiated and agreed beforehand; the bride’s uncles, aunts and the bride’s father and mother would be bought several gift items, such as walking stick and hat, etc, for the bride’s father; wrapper, tobacco, etc., for her mother, and other items for her uncles, aunts, and other relatives.
Urhobo man RMD and his wife
Upon acceptance of the dowry, the bride’s father pours a libation. The libation is poured using a native gin (ogogoro) or may be represented by Gordon gin and kola nuts. The bride’s father offers a prayer / blessing for the couple. At this point, the bride sits on the husband’s lap. The blessed drink is handed to the husband who drinks first; he then hands it to his wife to drink. The wife would drink and pass it back to her husband to finish, as a sign of respect. Then only are they declared husband and wife. Both family members present at the ceremony, would then shower the couple with money as gifts. The girl's parents will pray for the both of them and the bride groom will be warned by the bride's parents that he should never beat-up their daughter for any reason whatsoever. The parents of the bride will present her with lots of gifts to take to her new home. She will hug all her friends, her siblings and give them little gifts to remember her by. The bride is escorted to her husband's house, on the way to his house; certain people will stop them on the way and ask the groom to pay some money so that he can take his bride home.
Urhobo marriage dance
"Esuo” - This term describes the final stage of a full marriage according to Urhobo custom. It denotes the completion of all antecedent requirements necessary on the part of the husband. It is the escorting of the bride by her family with her properties, goodwill, to the head of the husband’s family, and handing over until death of the bride as wife to the groom’s family. A special ceremony is usually performed to invoke the husband’s ancestors to also receive her, and bind her over in fidelity to their son – the husband. The entire women receive the bride, eat and dance in the special room prepared for her till dawn of the following day.
The Marriage List - Settling and Payment of Bride Price and other Traditional Nuptial fees
1. Igho-rẹ- erhu, ubiọkpọ vẹ ogbru (fee to honor the bride’s father, usually intended for him to purchase for personal use erhu ( hat), ogbru (man’s wrapper) and ubiọkpọ(staff or traditional walking stick)
2. Igho-ugbe-rha-re (fee to recognize and to show appreciation for the mother’s labor pains during the birth of the bride)
3. Igho-ru-ughwa -raka (fee required to buy a bag of salt for the women of the bride’s family to compensate them for their services)
4. Emu-ra-aye (bride’s fee negotiated between representatives of the families of the bride and bridegroom’s families and presented by the Head of the bridegroom’s family.
Formalizing the Marital Union
1. The bride is led in surrounded by her bridesmaids to stand before her father or the Ọkpako-r’-orua, the Head of the bride’s family.
2. The Head of the bride’s family calls on the bride and bridegroom, and both of them move forward and knee down before him.
3. The Head of the bride’s family initiates the process of formalizing by presenting a brief account of the lineage of the bride.
4. The Head of the bride’s family now begins the process by holding up a glass of drink and invoking the name of God and the memory of the ancestors in prayers, calling on them to bless the new life now commencing for their descendant or child and the man who has asked for her hand in marriage.
5. The Head of the bride’s family concludes his prayers by pouring libation (offer of drink from the glass to God and in remembrance of the ancestors). He leaves some of the drink in the glass which he offers to the bridegroom to drink. The bridegroom after drinking some, in turn passes the same glass to the bride to drink whatever is left, to signify her consent to the marriage.
Drinking from the same glass is thus the bride’s acknowledgement that the Head of her family has indeed spoken for her, and the signal needed to Indicate that members of the groom’s family are now recognized as in-laws. The bride now returns the glass through the groom to her family Head, a process that essentially declares the couple’s willingness and commitment to live together as husband and wife.
6. The bride is handed over to the Head of the groom’s family, who henceforth assumes responsibility to ensure that the husband and his family will take good care of their new wife. The bride is directed to sit on the laps of her new husband in their first public display of life together as a married couple
7. The public reacts to the display by showering gifts on the newlywed as both remain sitted.
Wedding Dinner and other festivities
Dinner is provided by the bride’s family for the in-laws and their friends who witnessed the occasion before the bride is taken away.
Urhobo groom and his bride
Religion is man’s efforts to satisfy certain needs, including emotional and psychological ones, by establishing and maintaining cordial relations with the supernatural. (Y.Y. Nabofa in Otite 1980) The chief elements in Urhobo traditional religion are: the adoration of Oghene(Almighty God), the supreme deity and a recognition of Edjo and Erhan(divinities which they acknowledge as sons, daughters and messengers of Oghene. Some of these divinities could be regarded as personified attributes of Oghene. They act as intermediaries between God and man.
The veneration of ancestors and belief in diverse spirits are other elements found in the structure of Urhobo traditional belief system. These elements are inter-related in one way or the other because they all draw their reality and power from the same source. It should be emphasised that their worship involves the performance of incantatory poetry. Incantatory poetry is poetry used to plead with a deity to accept a sacrifice so that the deity may favour the person offering the sacrifice.
(Oladele Taiwo 1967:85) The Urhobo believe Oghene to be the orovw’akpo, the owner and the supreme controller of the whole universe. He is Oghene the supreme Deity, while Edjo, Erhan(divinities), ancestors and other spiritual forces, derive their existence and power from him only. They are all united under Oghene. The Urhobo also worship God with Orhen (white chalk). If an Urhobo feels oppressed by someone, he appeals to Oghene,who he believe to be an impartial judge, to adjudicate between him and his opponent Oghene is called different names. These names are generic, attributive and praise-appellative. Whenever there is serious thunder and lightening, the Urhobo believe that Oghene is annoyed hence he is shouting down on all his creatures, including human beings. In order to calm his temper the Urhobo address Him, using his sacred names: Oghene osonobrughwe, Oghene Ukpabe, Agbadagbru-ru biko Agbadagbru-ru, em wn he ot (Your children are here below).
Also when an Urhobo is aggrieved, and wants to revenge with a charm, he solicits the assistance of
Oghene by addressing him in the above sacred names and include Edebere which literally means ‘the day is broken or torn into pieces”. The use of this name suggests the practice of sympathetic magic, because normally, a day is not something concrete, which could be broken into pieces. The name is used figuratively to mean that Oghene never sanctions evil practices, but when one is aggrieved, he is requested to set aside his mercy on that day in order that a wrong might be avenged. Oghene is also called Ovwatan-ovware, which means a being who could willingly give or bless without being questioned or challenged by any other power.(Onigu Otite 1980)
Direct worship of Oghene is expressed in at least, three different ways. When an Urhobo is confronted with an imminent danger he spontaneously cries to him for help with such as expression as Oghene biko that means O God I implore you. When he has been relieved of a serious danger he expresses his gratitude to Oghene by saying akpevwe oghene that is, thanks be to God. The people also worship God with orhen (white chalk). Every morning the head of the family or lineage takes a little quantity of orhen, keeps it in his left hand, and breaks it down into powder with the thumb and index finger and expresses his desires to god while looking up into the sky. He then blows the powdered chalk into the air. The person performs this ritual while standing at the entrance to his house. Kola nuts and drinks are also first offered to God before they are directed to the earth-goddess, divinities and ancestors and thereafter consumed by those present. If an Urhobo man feels that someone has oppressed him, he appeals to ghene who is believed to be an impartial judge, to adjudicate between him and his opponent. Each Urhobo polity has its own divinities and it is believed that their powers are confined to the respective socio-political groups that acknowledge their reality. Although these divinities are known by different names in various parts of Urhobo land they perform identical functions. It is only their names and theogonies that differentiate them.
The Urhobo Concept of Man
Features of Urhobo traditional system include the doctrine of Erhi (man’s spirit double) and predestination. The Urhobo believe in the duality of man, having both Ugboma (tangible body) and Erhi(spirit double). It is Erhi that declares man’s destiny and pilots man toward the full realization of his destiny. It also ensures Ufuoma (total well-being) for man through its intercession with all the spiritual forces.
According to (Y.Y. Nabofa 1980) man’s destiny is ratified and sealed in Erivwin (spiritual world) before erhi incarnates. As regards the final destiny of erhi after transition, the Urhobo believe that while the physical body decays erhi is indestructible and goes back to join other members of the family who are in the spiritual realm. The elaborate and symbolic burial rites are meant to prepare the departed erhi for a happy re-union with the ancestors and his other companions in the spiritual world.
Ancestral Veneration, Prayers and Sacrifices
There are four days in Urhobo week (Okpo): Edewo, Ediruo, Eduhre and Edebi. In Urhobo mythology, both Edewo and Eduhre are sacred days to the divinities, spirits and ancestors and most market business transactions are held on these days. Ancestors are venerated on Edewo while ancestresses are taken care of on Eduhre. Divinities, ancestors and spirits are believed to be to be very active in the forests and farmlands on these sacred days, therefore in order to avoid disturbing these subjects of worship people rarely go to their farms on these two sacred days.
In many African countries sacrifices and offerings are directed towards the living-dead as a symbol of fellowship and recognition that the departed are still members of their human families.(Idowu 1962:118) At funerals prayers are said and these are intended to secure peace for the living-dead. For example:
Nyovwe, Atotise Hear me, Atotise
semo r’ode Great ancestor
Nyovwe Atotise Hear me, Atotise
Wo j’ ewevwen hwe vwee Let me not be hungry
Je me na bo to Let me live till old age
J’ ukpe she kevwe Let the yearfallfor my sake
J’ emo avware vw’ iroro Let our children have wisdom
J’ eya avware di’ emiovwon Let our wives be productive
J’ avware fe Let us be wealthy
J’ oma fu’ avware Let us have peace
The image of the year falling in line 5, refers to a bumper harvest. When a farmer has bountiful yield, the year is said to have fallen for the sake of the farmer. In other words instead of losing to the year, which has been personified, the year has been conquered by the farmer’s high yields. It should be noted there are no sacrifices without prayers. Sacrifices and offerings are the silent responses while prayers are the verbal responses. (Mbiti p.61)
Stages in Urhobo Burial Rites
Among the Urhobo, there are basically two stages in the burial rites of the deceased. The first consists of merely interring the remains, while the second, which is usually known as erhuere is the preparation of the deceased for acceptance by the ancestors. Significantly rites prepare the erhi(soul) of the deceased for presentation to his kin and fellow companions or family in the world beyond (erivwin).
Before the interment, the owaran (eldest son of a deceased) prays and pleads on behalf of all other children. Special requests are made to the deceased especially those, who are believed to ensure peace and prosperity for all those left behind. Sometimes we have a tone of complaint and the ancestor is approached directly but the poetic effectiveness is created through the use of concrete and visual images from the everyday world. The speaker addresses the ancestor in whose honour the incantation is made. By the time the grave is ready all other side rituals performed during the wake must have been completed.
The in-laws at this juncture come out for a ritual known as oghwa eghorie that is rolling the load or coffin. The belief is that the deceased would be carrying a lot of things home, therefore the in-laws must come forward to assist him in his job by helping to roll it from the spot and thus symbolically make it lighter. The in-laws fire guns while dancing. The coffin is lowered into the grave where it is received by two gravediggers. The gravediggers open it up and a complete maize cob is placed in the right hand of the deceased before it is finally sealed. The maize symbolises fullness of life. The deceased is urged that in his next incarnation he should be predestined in such a manner that his life should be accomplished or as full as the full cob of the maize he carried away. A bottle of gin is given to the two gravediggers for cleansing themselves before coming out of the grave. The in-laws and all other people present finally cover up the coffin with earth while highly poetic songs are sung or chanted:
Ukeke muke Ukeke muke
E ukeke muke Oh here is the indicator
Omote r’ ovie r’ erivwin The daughter of the spiritual world
Okpore ehe She is now going home
E ukeke muke Here is the indicator
Urhobo great men
Men perform the above dirge during interment, as they are the only ones culturally allowed to inter the dead. Through dirges we are given an insight into Urhobo myth of how death came about. According to N.Y. Nabofa, the Urhobo traditional belief is that God Oghene created death as an impersonal force. It was not created purposely for man, but God’s creatures brought it upon themselves, and various myths are narrated to explain its origin and purpose. The most popular one concerns the toad oghwokpo referred to in line 3 of the dirge below. From the myth, it is believed that originally oghene created man to live forever. His aim was that when a man grew old, he would regenerate by sloughing off his old skin like a snake, and assume the skin and vigour of a young man. This process was to be repeated, and so man was to live forever. As time went on, the population of human beings increased and the earth became overpopulated. There arose a controversy among the men and animals on earth on what should be done to control the teeming population. The dog argued strongly that man should live forever and suggested that Oghene should be implored to extend the frontiers of the earth to accommodate the increasing population. His intimate association with man prompted dog’s stand. Consequently it never supported the final death of man, as that would deprive him of man’s care.
After the dog, the toad arose and argued that “oghwu okpo” that is anyone who dies should go home finally. It gave its own reasons against man’s continued existence perpetually on earth. When there was a stalemate on the matter, both animals were designated to take their views to Oghene in heaven. It was agreed that the views of the one who arrived there first would be accepted, as Oghene has ratified the natural law about death after it. They started on their race to Oghene and Dog convinced that it would get to heaven before the toad, relaxed to feed itself.
It overfed itself and fell into a deep slumber. While still sleeping, the toad continued its race and got there first and said ghwokpo (he who dies should go home finally). Dog woke up later only to find that Toad had already arrived, delivered the message and that its opinion had been accepted as binding on all creatures. Thus death came to the world and in Urhobo language toad takes its name oghwokpo from this myth:
De de de Travel Home Gently
Dede de Travel home gently with dignity
Uho ho r’erivwin You ethereal body
Oghwu okpo Any one who dies should go home finally
Uhun, uhun, de de de Hmm hmm, gently, gently with dignity
There is the belief that until a person is accorded the full burial rites his spirit would not be admitted into the group of the ancestor or any other group it might want to belong in the "after world". Such erhi has its abode in erhurhu (refuse dump).
What has been discussed so far is the general situation when an aged person dies a normal death. However, certain deaths are regarded as accursed hence victims of such deaths are not accorded full rites,
because the victims'are not wished back into the family in their next incarnation. When people who suffer accursed deaths are treated with disdain, their souls would decide to go away from the family in
their future incarnation.
One of these categories of death is that of a young person. This is regarded as a tragedy; consequently no elaborate burial rites accompany it. The body is merely interred without a coffin. In most cases a diviner is consulted to find the cause. In this case when the corpse is lowered into the grave, other things are included; a dog, dane-gun, a cutlass and a firebrand. Many other prayers and incantations are recited by the mourners at the graveside. Sometimes curses are issued against whoever must have been responsible for the untimely death. The incantations rendered are believed to be magically effective in manipulating culprits into confession.
Urhobo Matriarch late Janet Omotogor Ibru
Reincarnation and the Hereafter
According to Dr. Y. Nabofa the spiritual qualities of a deceased are believed to reincarnate but
not his erhi, which remains in erivwin as an ancestor. In this following dirge this belief is spelt out:
Akp vw’obaa Life is without an end
J’ adia akpo r’ ekpo To predestine betterin the next life
Otarhe r’ akpo fa oyovwi vre ona To predestine betterin the next life
Akpo na vw’ obaa The world has no end
Great care is taken of a corpse because of the belief that if anything happens to it he would
reincarnate in an ugly form and no family wants such a disfigured person.
There is a general consensus among the Urhobo that after death, the erhi passes into another
world, which is known as erivwin. This view about the final destiny of the dead is not peculiar to the
Urhobo, for it is also found among other African communities. There is the concept of a three-tier world,
which has it that heaven, is up above and it is the abode of God while erivwin, the abode of the dead is
under the earth. When the dead is buried, he goes there with both his physical body and erhi. The surface
Great care is taken of a corpse because of the belief that if anything happens to it he would
reincarnate in an ugly form and no family wants such a disfigured person.
There is a general consensus among the Urhobo that after death, the erhi passes into anotherworld, which is known as erivwin. This view about the final destiny of the dead is not peculiar to the Urhobo, for it is also found among other African communities. There is the concept of a three-tier world, which has it that heaven, is up above and it is the abode of God while erivwin, the abode of the dead is under the earth. When the dead is buried, he goes there with both his physical body and erhi. The surface of the earth is believed to be the abode of mortal men, nature spirits and the divinities. This may explain why libations are poured on the ground for the departed. Those who were accorded full burial rites are happily received into the folds of the ancestors. The Urhobo philosophy of life has it that when a person dies he joins the other members of his family in erivwin. All the elaborate funeral rites accorded the dead by the living members of the family are meant to demonstrate to the ancestors that the newly dead was a good person among them and as such they should accept him into their fold. The funeral rites could be likened to both passports and letters of recommendation.
Beautiful Urhobo Ibru women
To the Urhobo what happens to a person at death is a separation of the erhi from ugboma, which is buried. Erhi and the symbol of his personal achievement “obo” are never buried with ugboma, which remains under
the earth. For the Urhobos therefore, erivwin is geographically here but separated from this visible sphere by a mystical cloud hence it is invisible to human beings.
Between this sphere and erivwin is a gate known as urhoro ( world of the dead through which the dead must pass after judgement). Unless the keeper of this gate opens it, one would not be admitted into the land of the dead. Urhoro thus plays a dual role in human life: through it erhi must pass and have scheme of life sealed while coming to life, and it must also pass through it to enjoy bliss with those who had gone before it, if it is adjudged to be worthy of it.
In Urhobo belief, man faces judgement before the ancestors both while still alive and in the hereafter. The general belief is that the ancestors and other spiritual beings put one on trial at Urhroro.
Those who suffered bad death and died prematurely and consequently were not accorded proper burials are not allowed to pass through Urhoro while those who died normal deaths but have not been incorporated into the group of ancestors through full burial rites pass through Urhoro but do not immediately link up with any group but stay in ogbo (refuse dump).
Those who were accorded burial rites are happily received into the fold of the ancestors. The Urhobo philosophy of life has it that when a person dies he joins the other members of his family in erivwin. Therefore anyone who died and was received by the advanced party of the family is believed to be in a happy place in erivwin but for the door of Urhoro to be barred against a deceased is to be in perpetual hell. Mbiti (1969) also makes a similar observation in most parts of traditional Africa.
The Urhobo use the word ega" to serve" when they give offerings to pour libations for their ancestors. Ega also refers to a servant’s service to his master in return for protection and payments. The filial services that the Urhobo is expected to render to his parents, whether still living or not are known as ega and it is quite different from the attitude of worship men assume when they go before God or the divinities. The position in Urhobo could be summed up in the general observation that J.A Driberg
(1976:56) made about the Africans when he says:
No African prays to his dead grandfather anymore than he "prays" to his living father In both cases the words employed are the same: He asks as of right, or he beseeches, or he expostulates with or reprimands but he never uses in this context the words for "prayer" and "worship" which are strictly reserved for his religious dealings with the absolute power and the divinities. The Latin word Pietas probably best describes the attitude of Africans to their dead ancestors as to their living elders.
Urhobo funeral of great Urhobo son Alex Ibru
The ancestors are made up of the Irhi of the departed. They are looked upon as active members
of the family, which is extended to erivwin. In Urhobo belief they are not far away and are in fact
believed to be keenly watching over the affairs of the members of the families who are still living on the
earth. Ancestral veneration features prominently in Urhobo dirges. Before an Urhobo takes a sip of gin,
he will first of all pour out of it to his ancestors while offering spontaneous prayers and asking for
guidance and blessing:
Iruo wn lo Your deeds shine
Ose r’ avware nyo vwe Our father hear us
Okewo vw’ akpo When you were on earth
Iruo we lori asa ne je Your deeds shone everywhere
Wo vwo kpo ra Now in the land of the dead
Iruo we j’ilo Your deeds still shine
Urukpewe ka sa vw’ avware aboo Your light will not diminish in ourtime
Urukpe na ka la vw’ emeshare We shall keep it alive with sons
Urukpe na ka la vw’ emete We shall keep it alive with daughters
There is no marriage in Urhobo that is regarded as properly contracted without offering prayers to the ancestors. Children are specially requested of the ancestors. The ancestors are also propitiated on many other occasions such as sickness and constant communication is maintained with the dead:
1.Or’ ovwe owe r’ Ughene
2.Nye arodovwe me
3.Wo j’ ehun me je vwe fiaa
4.Wo j’ ota ru nu me hwe vwee
7.Obo r’ oma fu we
8.J’ oma ji fu vwe
9.Mi n’ erovwo r’ otovwe
10.Wo j’ ekwe ame r’obevwen kwe uwevwin mee
1.Owner of fishing pond in Ughelli
2.Have mercy on me
3. Let not my waist disappoint me
4.Do not let the words of my mouth be my ruin
5.Okpole it is to you thatI pray
6.Ogbaeki the wealthy one7.As you rest in peace
8.Let me have a peaceful time
9.I pray let me live till old age
10.Make sure they do not throw the water of poverty into my house
In Urhobo land, the newborn is often treated with great reverence because it has only just come
from the other sphere where it was in contact with the revered ancestors, where in a sense it was an
ancestor. According to Chief T. Maduku of Ephron-Otor; so conscious is the Urhobo man of this perpetual cycle of life and death that some-times a very oldman is referred to as a child who speaks erivwin (the incomprehensible). It is also because of this beliefin the great cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that the idea of death holds no horror. Death is familiarbecause every one talks of the country from which he has come and has to return.
In summary, erhi came from erivwin to be born in the flesh; it must go back to erivwin at demise. While the body decomposes in the grave, the erhi leaves it there for erivwin. Where it goes and the group it joins depends upon how it comported itself while it was on earth. If it were incorporated in a body, which lived well, died well and was accorded funeral rites, the gates of urhoro would be thrown open for it to join other irhi who form the nucleus of the extended family in the world beyond. There they all act as ancestors to take care of the living.
Epha divination, similar to the Yoruba Ifá and practiced by many West African ethnic groups, is practised with strings of cowries. Urhobos also practice Christianity, with many belonging to Catholic and new evangelical denominations. There are 1,261 ejo (deities), including the one-handed, one-legged mirror-holding whirlwind-god Aziza.
Urhobo epha divinition diasporan people at aUrhobo festival at Warri,Nigeria
The Urhobos live very close to and sometimes on the surface of the Niger river. As such, most of their histories, mythologies, and philosophies are water-related. They have an annual fishing festival that includes masquerades, fishing, swimming contests, and dancing. There is also an annual, two-day, Ohworu festival in the southern part of the Urhobo area at which the Ohworhu water spirit and the Eravwe Oganga are displayed. The king in an Urhobo clan or kingdom is called the Ovie. His wife the queen is called Ovieya and his children Ọmọ Ovie (child of the king also known as prince and princes). Often nowadays, these names are also given to children without royal heritage by their parents. A number of Urhobo sub-groups have other titles other than Ovie, for example, the Okpe called their traditional ruler Orogie and Olomu called theirs Ohworode and Okere-Urhobo theirs Orosuen.
The "Huge Beast" (eravwe gangan), is the largest and most elaborate masquerade piece that appears on the second and final day (Ohworhu-Ode) of the Ohworu festival at Evwreni. Photographed by Perkins Foss and Susan Moore in September 1972, this creature is danced by three people, two inside and one holding the tail. It represents the animal forces that are part of the water spirit Ohworhu. This masquerade tradition, common to many southern Urhobo and Isoko village groups, is believed to have been brought north by itinerant Urhobo fishermen from Izon (Ijo) fishing camps perhaps 300 years ago.
Urhobo Okpo (week) is made up of four days which regulates market cycles, religious worship, marriages and other community life. The four day's of the Urhobo week are:Edewo,Ediruo,Eduhre,Edebi. In Urhobo mythology, Edewo and Eduhre are sacred days to divinities, spirits and ancestors. Most market days are held on these days, ancestors are venerated on Edewo. Most traditional religious rituals are held on Eduhre.
Divinities(spirits) are believed to be very active in the farmlands and forests on Edewo and Eduhre. Therefore, farmers in most Urhobo communities rarely go to farm so as not to disturb the spirits. The twelve months of the Urhobo calendar year are equally significant.
Urhobo great man.Gamaliel Onosode, Nigerian technocrat; a leading boardroom player in Nigeria's corporate environment and Nigerian administrator and politician with his wife
Ururuowe' ---------------December Most of the annual festivals are held during the months of Asa,Eghwre, Orianre and Urhiori because these are the months of crop harvest and farming activities is at its lowest. Most farmers are free to partake in festivities. These are also periods to honour the spiritual forces that brought good harvest and the gods of the land. Religion controls life style in traditional communities in Urhoboland.
Urhobo man Richard Mofe-Damijo in his traditional Urhobo dress
As with most tribes in Nigeria, a certain food is considered to belong to or originate from a particular tribe as in pounded yam and egusi soup from the Igbos, Eba and Ogbono soup (sometimes referred to as Ogbolo soup by people of Esan or Etsakor descent). For the Urhobos there are two foods considered Urhobo in nature. They are: Ukhodo (a yam and unripe plantain dish sometimes cooked with lemon grass and potash) and Starch (actual name of this staple is not often used) Ogwho soup (palm oil soup). The starch is made from cassava plant. It is heated and stirred into a thick mound with palm oil added to give the starch its unique orange-yellow colour. The Ogwho soup is composed of smoked or dried fish, unique spices, potash and oil palm juice. Other palm nut oil soups include amiedi pr banga, which is also eaten with starch and or garri. Banga soup is also a delicacy made from palm kernel.
URHOBO OKPE KINGDOM
THE ORIGIN OF THE OKPE PEOPLE
Who are the Okpe? In tracing the origin of peopleS, ethnic groups or nations, it is not unusual to encounter contending theories or perspectives. That of the Okpe fits into the mould of this historical imperative. The subject has been investigated by several Okpe and non Okpe scholars. The latter group includes Isaac Mebitaghan: A Brief History of Okpe Kingdom; Joseph O. Asagba: The Untold Story of a Nigerian Royal Family; and Charles E. Osume: The Okpe People. In the former group we find fragments of the subject in the works of a British scholar, R.E. Bradbury, The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria; and M.P. Okumagba: A Short History of Urhobo. Professor Onigu Otite devoted significant portions of his scholarly writings to the Okpe People. See his major publication, Autonomy and Dependence: the Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe in Modern Nigeria; and “Okpe” in his edited book on The Urhobo People. Our discussion on the origin of Okpe derives from these various sources.
The Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Major Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (Rtd).
That the ancestors of the Okpe people migrated from Benin is generally accepted by all scholars. The migration of the ancestors of the Okpe people from Benin to their present location was in several stages. First, the progenitor of the Okpe, Prince Igboze migrated from Benin and founded the settlement of Olomu. Second, his senior son Okpe, in order to avoid continued conflict with his nephew, Olomu (the son of Okpe’s sister that was married to an Ijaw), moved his relatives and close associates to found Okpe r’Ikpere (Okpe-Isoko) in contemporary Isoko territory. Third, the eldest son of Okpe, Orhue with two of his brothers, Evbreke and Esezi migrated from Okpe r’Ikpere to found Orerokpe. His third brother, i.e., the second son of Okpe, Orhoro, who had stayed behind and founded Orhoro settlement (contemporary Ozoro) in Isoko territory, joined them in Orerokpe much later. These four brothers, Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke and Esezi, all children of Okpe and grandsons of Prince Igboze, established Okpe Kingdom, and hence, the four ruling houses that bear their respective names.
Prince Igboze of Benin, the progenitor of the Okpe nationality, migrated from Benin early in the Christendom millennium and established his kingdom in Olomu. It is fairly well established that a series of migrations from Benin to the present central senatorial district in Delta State had occurred between 1170 and 1400. While Otite claimed that “Okpe ancestors and predecessors were descendants of a man called Urhobo”, (“Okpe”, in Urhobo People, p. 12) who had migrated from Benin in 1170, Osume challenged this view pointing out that none of the migrations from Benin identified Okpe as among this particular wave of migration referred to by Otite. He averred that “One needs to exercise extreme caution before --- identifying Okpe as an Urhobo person or citing 1170 as the date of an assumed early tradition of Okpe migration”. This early date, Osume opined, “might be true for Urhobo migration, NOT for the Okpe”. Osume took issues with the date cited in the installation brochure of Orhoro I in 1972 which stated that: “The Okpe people are the descendants of the four princely brothers… Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke and Esezi, whose ancestor migrated from Benin in about 1170.
That the Okpe are the descendants of the four princely brothers identified above is valid. The four princely brothers were the sons of Okpe and grandsons of Prince Igboze. However, the date of 1170 as opined by Otite and others is contestable. As indicated by Osume, the date of 1170 was “imposed on the history of Okpe”. He stated that the “ancestors of the four princely brothers, Igboze by name, left Benin anytime between 1550 and 1650”, and that Prince Igboze could not have departed from Benin in 1170 “as an Urhobo speaker, but as one of the princely sons of the Oba of Benin”. He declared: “The date of ‘1170’ as the date Okpe ancestor, IGBOZE migrated from Benin is therefore an anachronism, because at that time, he was not even BORN yet. So who was that Okpe ancestor alluded to by the 1170 date”? Osume postulated that the 1170 date “was probably smuggled into Okpe history by those elements that vigorously wish to identify the Okpe as part of Urhobo”. However, the 16th and 17th century dates quoted by Osume is equally contestable. Is the Okpe community as well as the Kingdom so youthful? At best, more research is needed for the dating of Okpe Kingdom. There is even the problematic issue of distinction between Okpe Kingdom and Okpe people. However, Otite (“Okpe”, in The Urhobo People, p. 121) acknowledged that : ”the Okpe are descendants of an ancient ruler in Ife. Who was that “ancient ruler in Ife” that Otite was referring to? Was he the ruler with royal linkages to the Benin kingdom? Joseph Asagba also asserted this position. (See his The Untold Story of a Nigerian Royal Family, p. xxx). This acknowledgement lends credence to the Okpe version of their history tracing their progenitor to Prince Igboze of Benin who had linkages with Ife, but which separates the Okpe from the Urhobo. According to R.E. Bradbury in his book, The Benin Kingdom and the Edo Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria, p. 128, the classification of the Okpe among the Urhobo by the British was influenced by geographic contiguity and the expediency of colonial administration “rather than on a linguist basis”, just as the British had grouped the Isoko as Urhobo. To classify Okpe as Urhobo, Osume argued, “is a historical anomaly”, for the Okpe language “is more akin or closer to the Edo of the Benin Kingdom than the Urhobo dialects”. He declared: “Okpe is not Urhobo”. When a people disregard or oblivious of the authenticity of their own history, they face the danger of allowing other people to write their history for them!
Founding of Orerokpe
The migration of Prince Igboze, and that of his son and grandchildren leading to the founding of Orerokpe occurred in four stages. First, Prince Igboze founded his kingdom in Olomu. Second, his son, Okpe migrated from Olomu to found Okpe r’Ikpere (Okpe-Isoko) in contemporary Isoko territory. Prince Igboze died in Olomu, shortly after the drowning of his most senior wife in a canoe accident. In order to avoid a civil war with Olomu, the grandson of Prince Igboze, Okpe and his relatives elected to migrate from Olomu; (Olomu was the son of Okpe’s sister who had married an Ijaw man). Third, Orhoro, the second son of Okpe, founded Orhoro (Ozoro) in contemporary Isoko territory. Fourth, following the lead of Orhue, the eldest son of Okpe, Evbreke and Esezi accompanied Orhue to found Orerokpe, the headquarters of the Okpe Kingdom. Orhue’s expedition in search of fertile and more spacious land took him to the present Orerokpe. Upon his return to Okpe r’ikpere he told his brothers about his expedition and asked them to accompany him to Orerokpe. Evbreke and Esezi went with him, while Orhoro joined his brothers at Orerokpe at a much later date.
Establishment of Okpe Kingdom
Shortly after their settlement in Orerokpe, the four brothers – Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke and Esezi – decided to expand their territory by founding settlements and villages. These settlements were grouped under four quarters named after each of them – Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke and Esezi. The central location is known as Adane-Okpe (Okpe Four Quarters) and constituted the present four ruling houses of the Okpe Kingdom: Orhue, Orhoro, Evbreke and Esezi. Given the growth of their territory, and the need to establish a kingdom, the brothers decided that one of them should assume the kingship as the Orodje of Okpe. Being the most senior, Orhue would have assumed the kingship but he disqualified himself because of his advanced age. He also did not want either Orhoro, his brother next to him in age or Evbreke the second brother to him to assume the kingship because of their perennial quarrels. They therefore asked Esezi, the youngest and third brother to Orhue to be the first Orodje of Okpe. He was, accordingly, crowned by Orhue, and thus ascended the throne as Esezi I, Orodje of Okpe. Thus, the principle and quality of the Okpe people of avoiding quarrels and seeking peace became a characteristic feature of the Okpe people as it was established by the founding four brothers of the Okpe Kingdom.
The Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Major Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (Rtd).
Sacred Groves and Tree Worship among the Urhobo
By Ochuko Tonukari
There has been, of late, enormous interest in the study of nature conservation by traditional societies. The protection of patches of forest as sacred groves and of several tree species as sacred trees belong to the religion-based conservation ethos of ancient people all over the world. Although such practices became extinct in most parts of the world, basically due to changes in religion, and during recent times due to changes in resource use patterns, sacred groves and sacred trees continue to be of much importance in the religion and culture of many parts of the world.
Urhobo man Bruce Onobrakpeya, Africa's foremost visual artist, Sculptor and painter
According to a very elderly and learned Urhobo man, “the concept of the sacredness of trees, from the Urhobo historical past enters into every facet of Urhobo traditional religion. It rests on the earliest conceptions of the unity of life in nature, in the sense of communion and fellowship with the divine centre and source of life. The sacred tree is said to be deeply rooted in the primitive religious ideas of earliest Urhobo people. In the history of Urhobo religious evolution, it lies behind the primitive era.”
Urhobo great son, David Ejoor, retired Nigerian Army and governor of the now-defunct Mid-Western Region
In Urhobo totemism, we find that plant species may be totems just as animal species or rivers are. On the other hand, the protection of plant species or groves or their planting on grounds of sacredness could be considered a more advanced stage in the evolution of Urhobo religion. Such groves and sacred trees are associated more with agricultural societies.
Thus in most parts of Urhoboland, each community had its own sacred grove. Especially worshipped were sanctuaries built among enormous age-old trees which were never to be cut down. The traditional Urhobo people worshipped the spirits of nature, especially of woodlands. They also had their own sacred forests, which were the venue of public offerings and various rituals. When they began uniting, these sites became centres for various sorts of religious worship. For the Urhobos, the sacred groves served the purpose of sanctuaries and temples.
The many landscapes in Urhoboland in the distant past were dotted with hundreds of sacred places. Sacred enclosures formed one of the major categories of land use. These usually contained groves of trees and springs of water; within them the environment was preserved, as a rule, in its natural state. As one Urhobo traditionalist noted, "If you come upon a grove of old trees that have lifted up their crowns above the common height and shut out the light of the sky by the darkness of their interlacing boughs, you feel that there is a spirit in the place, so lofty is the wood, so lone the spot, so wondrous the thick unbroken shade."
Another elder remarked, "Here stands a silent grove black with the shade of one mighty Okpagha tree and numerous Ogriki; at the sight of it anyone could say, “there is a spirit here!” He also indicated that trees were the first temples of the gods, and "even now simple Urhobo people dedicate a tree of exceptional height to a god. Gods favour wild trees unsown by mortal hands"
One aged woman spoke of certain Igbe devotees gathering regularly to pray under the trees on a little sacred grove fenced all round at Orhoakpor. According to her, this grove was ten miles in circumference. Another grove near Isiokolo stretched all the way down a low mountainside to the river. She traces the beginnings of sacred groves in Urhoboland to the hunting and gathering era of Urhobo historical past (Awharen). Among the Agbon people, she says, "Groves of this tree are sacred. In them no axe may be laid to any tree, no branch broken, no firewood gathered, no grass burnt; and wild animals which have taken refuge there may not be molested. In these sacred groves cocks, sheep and goats are sacrificed and prayers are offered for rain or fine weather or on behalf of sick children".
The Urhobo people of Agbon extraction, in ancient times had many sacred groves. Such areas ranged from a quarter of a hectare to three hectares; in them tree cutting was taboo. Some of these groves survived up to the 1980s, providing excellent sites for examining the vegetation that had existed a century earlier, as several species of trees were rare or not seen at all elsewhere.
Urhobo man Michael Ibru
Also there are a lot of trees that are considered sacred among Urhobo people. For instance, the Okpagha is considered sacrosanct. Streams are often found around mature Okpagha trees. Most traditional Urhobos believe that spirits reside in these trees. Those from Avwraka believe that sacred spirits dwell deep within forests. One Igbe woman has a picture that illustrates the Urhobo forest ecosystem in which plants, animals, human beings, spirits and devils live together .
There could be many reasons why the groves vanished from Urhoboland. A kind of multiple uses was allowed in groves. Although they were strictly protected in most places, religious use of their resources was allowed. As much wood might be taken as was necessary for sacrifices. Animals, such as goats, might be captured and offered to the deity. Trees in the grove could be used in building a temple inside it or even away from it. Wood from the sacred trees was believed to keep its magical powers when fashioned into other objects and was used for making a variety of objects like statues of gods, staffs, sceptres, etc. Wood was even supplied to private persons at a fixed price for sacrifices.
It seems the groves also suffered from the pressures of urbanization, as baths, roads, hospitals, churches, stadia, gymnasiums, schools, etc., were established. At times they also had to cater to the timber needs of the ever-increasing population.
What caused the final downfall of the groves in Urhoboland?
The groves lasted as places of religious importance down through the Christianization of the Urhobo country. As centres of pagan worship, they became the objects of Christian zeal. Some over-zealous pastors issued that the groves be cut down unless they had already been appropriated for some purpose compatible with Christianity.
No doubt, due mainly to the rise of dogmatic religions like Christianity which advocated faith in one God and was explicitly for the eradication of â€˜pagan practices, the tradition of maintaining sacred groves and sacred trees vanished from most areas in Urhoboland. Urhobo tradition itself has grown out of the amalgamation of scores of local cults which are often nature-based. Therefore the worship of plants, groves, animals and natural objects like rivers, mounts, ant-hills and rocks continues to have some place in it. Outdoor sanctuaries were the first temples of the gods. A sacred place demarcated for a deity was called Ogua.
Urhobo has rich folk traditions that centers on the veneration of the “ecosystem people.” The protection of whole communities as sacred ponds and groves is a remarkable feature of Urhobo landscapes. One of the most widespread of the traditions in Urhobo is the protection given to certain trees, which dot the countryside and are often the only large trees in the midst of towns and villages.
The sacred groves of Urhobo are "sacred places where trees and plants were allowed to grow undisturbed and where reptiles, birds and animals could have free living without fear of poaching or interference by man". These sacred groves are of two kinds. Some are in the midst of human habitation and in most cases attached to households or not far away from them. These sacred groves used to have Edjo of various categories as deities; but of late these distinctions got blurred due to different beings worshipped in the same sacred groves. The other types of sacred grove, the Eghwarode, on the other hand, exist in the ranges engulfed in forests.
Urhobo maskSacred trees like Ogriki, Okpagha, remnants of sacred groves, or intact groves with rare plants and sacred ponds, are associated with the Mother Goddess temples. Behind the facade of certain villages, the colourful cultural festivals of the beautiful temple complexes, with their caparisoned elephants, men masked as demons or deities, sword-wielding oracles dressed in red and dripping blood, the exhilarating Omiovwor the music from seven instruments, with the drum in the lead are the rapidly fading folklore about entangled groves and their mysterious deities.
Most times, sacred trees and small groves encompass larger sacred forests in Urhoboland. Such groves and forests are often the only remains of the original vegetation, whose presence in the landscape is dramatically observable on large deforested and terraced slopes.
Not only did sacred groves exist in more favourable climatic conditions, but their presence is noticed even in compounds of certain Urhobo traditionalists, herbalists and some Igbe devotees.
The Okpagha and Ogriki trees have had a conspicuous position in the cultural landscape of Urhobo people’s collective memory for more than 500 years. It was alleged that Aziza himself found enlightenment under Okpagha and Owe trees. In fact, a lot of Urhobo women in the past, who experienced difficulties in child deliveries were reported to have put to bed in sacred groves.
Urhobo woman, Blessing Okagbare, Olympic bronze medalist
Okpagha tree, for instance, was highly venerated by traditional Urhobo people. This huge tree is a sacred tree of Urhobo and grows in the shade of humid tropical evergreen forests. The writer has seen other trees growing in many locales in Urhoboland which are sacred to the people. Somewhere around Agbon Primary School, there is one area that is untouchable till date. Its woodland is nothing other than primeval, uncleared forests which was believed to be haunted by ancestral spirits and woodland spirits just as most sacred groves are the abodes of spiritual deities in other parts of the world even till today.
In the association of gods with particular plant species we have a parallelism with ancient Urhobo people. Okpagha or Owe tree was said to belong to Aziza, Ogriki to Edjo Ughere, Omiovwor tree to the goddess Omiovwor, Akpobrisi tree (though nobody dare near it) for the Akpobrisi god, and so on. However, inside the grove the deity was not identified with any special plant species.
An elder stated that, most Urhobo deities that are worshipped under sacred groves could be found in the forest, in a place surrounded by water, rivers, meeting places under trees, new-grown groves, etc. The Akpobrisi tree is likened to Akpobrisi himself. Some aspects of Urhobo tradition hold that he is the owner of all the forest land that surrounds its abode. Aziza is essentially considered by the Urhobos as a deity of the woods, whose province is to guard the fields, crops and herds of the peasantry and to drive away their enemies.
Most gods and goddesses whom the indigenous population of Urhobo worshipped were not accustomed to dwell in the secluded atmosphere of temples; they loved the open air. Even today, for the Edjo Orerhe (village deities) there are no temples in many villages. The deity may be in the shadow of a big tree. Generally they are lodged in small shrines. In a good number of villages no object is placed to represent the deity and the tree itself is regarded as the embodiment of the deity.
Urhobo great man.Gamaliel Onosode, Nigerian technocrat; a leading boardroom player in Nigeria's corporate environment and Nigerian administrator and politician
Bountiful rainfall and relatively low population promoted the growth of luxuriant forests which, though subjected to heavy commercial pressures during the last 10 years or so, still cover nearly 70 per cent of Urhoboland’s surface. It is a meeting place of several ecosystems, namely marine, estuarine, riverine and a variety of land-based ones. The forests belong to the tropical evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist deciduous and dry deciduous types.
The waters support rich fisheries and cultivation is confined to 73 per cent of its land surface; there is a bewildering variety of cultivated crops which include cassava, plantain, okra, palm tree, cocoyam, yam, and fruits like mango, coconut, banana, pineapple, pawpaw, cashew, guava, and so on. Small patches of sugarcane, pepper, tomatoes and vegetable are found all over the neighborhood.
Since population was thin and forest patches cleared for cultivation small, the forests must have recovered in most places except in lands maintained as savannas through periodic burning. Therefore the vegetation of sacred groves, the relics of which remain to this day, disputes the theory of climatic change as the reason for forest decline and spread of savannas in Urhoboland.
Burnt ash enriches the soil with nutrients and has a neutralizing effect on soil acidity. Unlike the fire-sensitive and tall primary forest trees of evergreens, the secondary vegetation which sprouted on the cultivation fallows would provide more usable biomass like easily harvestable leaf manure and coppice shoots and hardwoods and bamboo for a variety of purposes. At the same time, the loss of evergreen forest would result in a decrease in scores of useful plant species. Streams and springs are adversely affected and fire-proneness increases in the ecosystem. The Urhobo village communities would therefore learn to set aside substantial area of forest close to their settlements as safety forests. Before the arrival of organized religions, when paganism, with deities in the groves or mountain cliffs or water sources would be more common, the safety forests would naturally turn into sacred places as well. Tree cutting here would be taboo, which is true to this day in many parts of the Urhoboland.
In the past the Urhobo forests are patches of often climax evergreen forest protected by shifting cultivators primarily on religious grounds. A lot of trees in Urhoboland are rich in biological diversity, and are also places of worship for Urhobo peasant societies. All along the places, shifting cultivation was a very important form of land use which involved the clearing of primary forests, at least initially. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that the shifting cultivators followed certain ethics while dealing with the forest ecosystems. The most important aspect is the retention of often sizeable patches of forests from few hectares to a few hundred hectares as inviolable sacred groves.
According to one elder, the forests are the property of the gods of the villages in which they are situated, and the trees ought not to be cut without having leave from the Osedjo of the village, whose office is hereditary, and who here also is priest to the temple of the village god. The idol receives nothing for granting this permission; but the neglect of the ceremony of asking his leave brings his vengeance on the guilty person. The taboo on cutting trees in the sacred groves continues to this day in certain parts of Urhobland.
Another elder’s statement referring to village gods is relevant here:
Each Urhobo village has a different god, some male, some female, but by the Urhobos they are called Edjo as requiring bloody sacrifices to appease their wrath.
From this statement, we may infer that the forests were virtually under the control of village communities with well-defined territories. Thus the common property resources of a village, like forests, were used by a small number of people under a well-regulated social system without the need for policing. The sacred groves, with their deities requiring bloody sacrifices, were evidently under the control of Urhobo peasant societies.
The groves undoubtedly were and still continue to function as temples of worship all along the tracts of Urhoboland. In spite of the Christianization process that has swept through most parts of Urhoboland, the interior villages continue to be the centres of primitive cults, where religion in its early form is still in vogue.
We in Urhoboland have always felt the magic of the trees. They represented natural enigmas where many things happened as constituent of an overall cosmic order and under which lay the source of enlightenment. Hence we never felt the need for much enclosure, comfortable with the idea of a simple parasol that could shield us from heat and rain whilst allowing the breeze to flow over our bodies. The most profound social images such as those of worship and education were not that of a closed building, but a place under the spreading boughs of a tree confirming our affinity to the natural, and our propensity to an open-to-sky place. So in traditional Urhobo society where the forest was as ubiquitous as the breeze, it was natural that wood rather than stone or earth was the secular and sacred building material.
According to one erudite Isiokolo leader, the abundance of trees on Urhoboland coupled with the philosophical and religious notions of the culture engendered a unique receptivity towards timber. There was a saying in traditional Urhobo society - trees and plants always have something to say - confirming the Urhobo traditional belief that trees had a soul and were the abodes of spirits. It is said that Urhobo traditional religion partly was founded on this belief of the divinity of trees. The tree was Idjere Akpor ve Odjuvwu, the road by which heaven and earth meet; and thus old trees struck by lightening were often revered objects, considered evidence that the Gods had indeed landed. Almost every building type, be it a house, shrine, temple or palace used wood as its major structural material bearing the extremes of climatic conditions. It was amidst these arduous and sensitive rhythms that evolved Urhobo's culture of wood.
What thus remains most noticeable in this dialogue is the ever-dwindling voice of Urhobo culture with regard to the worship of trees, not because there is no single culprit this culture can point to and accuse, but because the culture itself is dying. For is it not a post-industrial inevitability that one no longer hears the hammers joining timber beams; and only natural that the electric drill dominates a steel-driven urban frequency? With every rare and remnant traditional townhouse razed to the ground, does not Urhobo express a helplessness, an involuntary desperation to keep alive its modernity, at the cost of renouncing its past? The sacred grove and the worship of tree is nostalgia, a slice frozen in Urhobo myth. The culture of wood is dead!
But in observing today's Urhobo towns, it occurs that buildings are designed in the expectation not that they will stand the test of time, but that they will be torn down sooner rather than later and replaced by something more appropriate to the economic and technological demands of the future. The annual degree of change within the densely built urban zones is about 30%, encompassing facade improvements to entire new structures. In Warri more than a 6 square feet of building is demolished every day, more than six times that number constructed on a daily basis. On its scarce and notoriously expensive land the list is long of the many small and large structures - obscure and prominent, dilapidated and fresh - that challenge any simple understanding about the normal course of aging, necessitating a substantial reinterpretation of the meaning of durability and ephemerality in architecture. This peculiar outlook to apprehending the city as a series of fleeting events rather than an object of substance echoes the age-old profundity of transience, change and renewal. In Warri, which so constantly seems under construction - urban skylines crowded with forests of cranes - the ghost of its ancient culture of wood still possesses the 'brand new city' built everyday.
And so like the 'Angelus Novus' in Paul Klee's painting, Urhobo seems like the angel of its own history looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. His face is turned towards the past where he sees a deep-rooted culture. He perceives a chain of events, a single catastrophe that keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, keep alive what is being wrecked. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has caught in his wings with such violence that he can no longer close them. It irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. The storm is Urhobo’s progress.
Urhobo Names and Their Meanings
(Revised: August, 2005)
By Aruegodore Oyiborhoro, ED.D., F.A.A.A.
Long Island, New York, USA
Every Urhobo name given to a child has a meaning attached to it. The Urhobo believe that a child lives up to the likeness or meaning of the name that she or he bears. For instance, there is a general belief that if a 'thief' is the name of a child that child may grow up to be a 'rogue.' If, on the other hand, your child is given a name that suggests a 'rich person,' there is the belief that such a child invariably grows up to be a wealthy individual. Urhobo parents are therefore very careful of the names that they give to their children.
For the most part, grandparents or close older relatives have the privilege of giving names to new-borns. This is usually an honor. However, unlike some of their ethnic neighbors, Urhobo people do not have any special
naming ceremonies that require performing certain rites. Apart from the parents and grandparents, traditionally Urhobo rarely allowed new-borns to be touched or sometimes seen directly by others until the age of three months. Mother and child are usually strong enough to have an outing at this age. This involves visiting the in-laws and other close relatives. At this time, the child should have an established given name. A birth registry is a recent notion in Urhoboland. Traditionally, Urhobo parents do not “count” the number of their children. Parents are not permitted by Urhobo cultural practices to count their children. The number of fingers often represents a count of one's children.
Urhobo names have deep meanings. Names are not mere labels, as they are in some other societies. Many Urhobo names invoke SPIRITUAL or religious significance. Sometimes we give names to connote a
CHALLENGE to self or others. Urhobo people thrive best when challenged. We also give names as a celebration and APPRECIATION of the gift of a child itself. Several Urhobo names reflect honor and
ACHIEVEMENT. Certain names are simply PHILOSOPHICAL, while others are GENDER specific. The Urhobo also give names that emphasize the importance of PEOPLE as an important RESOURCE.
Sometimes names are given to denote SPECIAL DAYS, especially if the individual was born on that specific day. The Urhobo are a very republican people. They work very hard to acquire wealth and fame in an old-fashioned way. Your wealth is as good as its source. Urhobo will investigate the source of your wealth. If it is suspect, you stand to lose your respect, dignity and fame. A good number of Urhobo names have to do with WEALTH AND MONEY. Names are also given to denote COLORS, WEATHER conditions, NATURAL RESOURCES and PLACE of origin or where born. The list that follows contains a sample of some common Urhobo names. It must be pointed out that a few of the names under GENDER are not so
common any more. The names are placed in categories. Each category contains the long form, short form, gender, and meaning attached to each name. Urhobo names are sometimes sentences or even phrases. The ‘long forms’ may in fact be the 'short forms' of the actual long names. The ‘short forms’, therefore, are in some cases doubly short forms of the real names.
However, the actual meanings of the names are never in doubt. Some of these names may belong to cross categories warranting repetition in some cases. This is deliberate. Most Urhobo names start with vowels in the initial position except where abbreviated.
NAMES SHORT FORMS GENDER MEANINGS
Akpenvwoghene Akpenvwe Unisex Praise God
Anaborhi Naborhi UNISEX Be born with good destiny
Edewor Dewor Male Sacred day of worship in traditional
Ejiroghene Ejiro Unisex Praise God
Ejokparoghene Jokpa or Oghene Unisex Let's trust in God
Ejomafuvwe Jomafuvwe or
Jomafu Unuisex Let peace reign in my life
Enohor/Elohor Nohor or Lohor Female Blessing
Erhiaganoma Erhi or Rhiaganoma Male Guardian spirit overpowers the body
Erhimeyoma Oyoma Unisex My guardian spirit (God) is good
Erhinyoja Rhinyoja or Onyoja Unisex Guardian spirit (God) meets our challenges
(hears our prayers)
Erhinyuse Use Unisex Guardian spirit (God) answers prayers
Erhiroghene Erhi or Oghene Unisex The spirit of God
Eseoghene Ese Unisex God's gift
Eserovwe Ese or Ovwe Unisex God’s grace or Free gift
Oghenebrume Brume Unisex God decided in my favor
Oghenechovwe Chovwe or Oghene Unisex God aided me
Oghenefejiro Ofejiro or Oghene Unisex God is praiseworthy
Oghenegaren Garen or Oghene Unisex God is great
Oghenekevwe Kevwe or Oghene Unisex God gave (provided for) me
Oghenekohwo Oghene or Kohwo Unisex God provides
Ogheneme Ome or Oghene Unisex My God
Oghenemine Mine or Mimi Unisex I look up to God
Oghenenyore Nyore or Oghene Unisex God answers prayers
Ogheneruemu Oghene Unisex God makes things possible
Oghenerukevwe Rukevwe or Ruks Unisex God did this for me
Ogheneruno Oruno or Runo Unisex God has so much (great)
Oghenetega Tega or Oghene Unisex God is worship-worthy
Oghenevwede Oghenede or
Oghene Unisex God owns the day
Oghenevwogagan Gaga or Oghene Unisex God provides all strength
Oghenochuko Ochuko or Oghene Unisex God provides my support
Okeroghene Okeoghene or
Oghene Unisex God’s own time
Omamerhi Mamerhi or Oma Unisex Good guardian spirit
Onakpoma Ono Unisex Who creates life?
Onomavwe Ono Unisex Who is my creator?
Onomine Ono or Mimi Unisex Whom do I look up to?
Onovughakpor Ono or Onovughe Unisex Who can predict what life can bring?
Oyovwikemo Kemo or Yovwike Unisex May our children be blessed
Oyovwikerhi Kerhi or Yovwike Unisex May my guardian spirit (God) be blessed
Urhobo tribe woman.Blessing Okagbare, Olympic bronze medalist
Names with CHALLENGE Connotations
Achojah Achojah Male Rise up to challenge
Aruegodore Egodo Male We have come (established) home
Edojah Dojah Male Day of challenge
Efemini Efe Male Let's see how wealthy you can be
Efetobo Efe Unisex Wealth is achieved
Efetobore Tobore Male Wealth has now been achieved
Etanomare Tanomare or Nomare Unisex Freed from blame (despair)
Ighomuedafe Igho or Dafe Male Money intoxicates the wealthy
Miriodere Miriode Unisex I now have a name
Mitaire Mitai Unisex I have achieved (reached) their match
Mivwodere Mivwode Unisex I now have a name
Oboganriemu Obogan Male Be strong to survive (eat)
Ogbamremu Ogba Male The brave meets a lot of challenges
Ojakorotu Jakorotu or Orotu Male This is a group challenge
Ojanomare Janoma Unisex I have met the challenge
Onajite Ojite Unisex This is sufficient
Onanojah Onojah Male This is a challenge
Onogaganmue Ono or Ogagan Male Who is intoxicated with power?
Onoharhese Noharhese Unisex Who blames good deeds?
Udumebraye Udume or Dumebraye Male My presence gives them heartache (challenge)
Names with ACHIEVEMENT Connotations
NAMES SHORT FORMS GENDER MEANINGS
Edafetanure Tanure Male The wealthy have spoken
Follow this link for more:http://www.urhoboga.org/images/Urhobo_Names_and_Their_Meanings.pdf
On the Matter of Clans and Kingdoms in Urhobo History and Culture
By Peter P. Ekeh
Chair, Urhobo Historical Society
Presented as a lecture at an Assembly of Urhobo Community, Abuja, Nigeria, Saturday, April 26, 2008. Several members of Urhobo Historical Society contributed their thoughts to the construction of this paper. I want, in particular, to thank Mr. Onoawarie Edevbie, Dr. Isaac James Mowoe, Dr. Emmanuel Ojameruaye, and Chief Simpson Obruche for their extensive comments on the paper. I should add that the concern of this paper is shared by the membership of Urhobo Historical Society.
As a term for describing a basic unit of Urhobo culture, the word “clan” came into existence at the onset of British colonial rule in Urhoboland in the beginning decades of the 20th century. From prehistoric times, and even during that era of colonial rule, the Urhobo people employed their own native expressions, including ẹkpotọ (that is, ẹkpo r’ otọ in full phrasing), to describe these units of Urhobo culture. Other words that were so used to describe Urhobo’s cultural units were ẹkuotọ and ubrotọ. However, that colonial term of “clans” dominated Urhobo studies and everyday analysis of Urhobo ways of life until its authority was undermined in the late 1990s.
Late Nigerian actor Justus Esiri is Urhobo man from Abraka.
Its current rival term of “kingdom” was first applied to the special case of Okpe by Onigu Otite in his 1969 Ph.D. thesis for London University, which has since been published as Autonomy and Dependence: The Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe in Modern Nigeria (1973). Otite’s academic use of the term “kingdom” was specialized and was largely circumscribed by the unique events of Okpe history. The publication of Otite’s book in the early 1970s did not diminish the use of the term “clans” for describing Urhobo’s subcultures nor did it lead to any upswing in the use of “kingdoms” in Urhobo studies and everyday life.
The recent widespread upsurge in the use of the word “kingdoms” in the cultural life of the Urhobo people followed from the publication of a book of a different genre. Titled Urhobo Kingdoms: Political and Social Systems and published in 1997, its authors were notable: they were the Ovie1 of Ogor, His Royal Highness O. I. Adjara III,2 and his co-author Andy Omokri. Although this book cannot be said to have made any academic impact beyond Urhoboland and its Diaspora, its import on Urhobo social life has been considerable. While it is hardly known outside the leading circle of Ivie3 and high chieftains in Urhoboland, its influence in this dominant group of aristocrats appears to have been immediate and positive.
Today, the term “clan” has largely been swept off Urhobo political vocabulary. However, it is uncertain whether “kingdoms” has effectively replaced the British term “clans” or indeed traditional indigenous Urhobo terms, such as ẹkpotọ, for which the British had coined the word “clans” a century ago. Indeed, this note of disquiet may well be phrased differently, as a query: Is it possible that the introduction of “kingdoms” has done more harm to Urhobo’s cultural circumstances than any appearance of prestige that it has bestowed on our royal institutions? What one can say with some certainty is that there is considerable confusion in the usages and meanings of “kingdoms” in modern Urhobo cultural life. Certainly, the term “kingdoms” has left out of its semantic sway whole areas of culture that are of traditional concern to the Urhobo people. Into this deepening confusion has now strolled the Delta State Government waiving what appears to be an all-embracing new claim that it has an inherent power to decree Urhobo “kingdoms” into existence by way of government gazettes. Without a doubt, a dark cloud of cultural crisis now hangs over the Urhobo horizon. In these circumstances, there is need to clarify the historical and cultural meanings of “clans” and “kingdoms.” To be silent and allow this confusion to be waged in ignorance serves no one well – not Urhobo culture, not the Delta State Government, and certainly not Urhobo chieftains.
Pre-Historic Origins of Urhobo Cultural Units
For now, permit me to put aside the two controversial terms of “clans” and “kingdoms.” In their place, I will use the politically neutral expression of “Urhobo Cultural Units” or more simply “Urhobo’s Subcultures.” These are sociological notions for which the word “clans” or “kingdoms” had been suggested as a shorthand. Note that I have not employed another popular expression, polities, in characterizing these subunits of Urhobo culture. That is because the word polities is limited by its political anthropological baggage to matters political whereas the units of Urhobo culture that are the subject of our discussion here have vast historical and cultural nuances and interpretations.
These basic subunits of Urhobo culture were prehistoric. That is, their existence predated modern historiography that assigns dates and ascertainable time periods to historical events. Today, Urhobo scholars and culture artists have arrived at a sum total of twenty-two of these units of Urhobo culture. By saying that they are prehistoric, we mean to say that all of them -- Agbarha-Ame, Agbarha Otor, Agbarho, Agbon, Arhavwarien, Avwraka, Ephron, Evwreni, Eghwu, Idjerhe, Oghara, Ogor, Okere, Okparebe, Okpe, Olomu, Orogun, Udu, Ughelli, Ughievwen, Uvwie, and Uwherun – were well settled before the rise of significant historical epochs that defined the boundaries of medieval and modern Urhobo history. Thus, it is presumed that all these twenty-two subunits of Urhobo culture were in existence before the rise of Benin Empire in the 1440s and before the arrival of the Portuguese in the Western Niger Delta in the 1480s.
To say that Urhobo’s subcultures were ancient and prehistoric is not to suggest that they are of the same age and generation. On the contrary, a group of these subcultures was of great antiquity, giving birth to newer subcultures. In general, the older subcultures were geographically separated from the less ancient ones. There is ample evidence from internal Urhobo folk knowledge and rituals that suggests that the oldest cultural subunits of Urhoboland are in the low-lying swampy southeastern region which is bounded by Patani River and Ijawland in the south and Isokoland in the east. These primeval subcultures of Urhoboland include Uwherun, Evwreni, Arhavwarien, Okparebe, Eghwu, and Olomu.
It is noteworthy that in precolonial times, Iyede in modern Isoko was counted among the earliest subcultures of Urhoboland. It has since been re-assigned to Isoko, suggesting that the cultural walls that separate Urhobo from Isoko are thin.4 The migrations into Urhoboland that are variously claimed to have occurred, with points of origin in lands once ruled by the Ogiso dynasty in areas now named Benin, most probably followed the creeks into this swampy region of southeastern Urhoboland and Isokoland; rather than through the impenetrable rainforests of northwestern Urhoboland.
Urhobo's Subcultures and the Conquest of Western Niger Delta’s Rainforests
Urhobo folk history suggests that it was from the swampy southeastern Urhobo region that the conquest of the bigger and more ample rainforests of northwestern Urhoboland was launched and accomplished. Those who achieved this extraordinary feat of conquest were fresh units who founded new sub-cultures in areas that they conquered, spreading Urhobo language and culture across these virgin tropical rainforests. Some of these sub-cultures were established in groups. Thus, the so-called Oghwoghwa Cultural Group (see Erivwo: 2003: 109-113) -- consisting of Ogor, Ughelli, Agbarha-Otor, and Orogun – probably launched their campaign in tandem, occupying contiguous vital lands in the rainforests of the Western Niger Delta. Other groups went farther away from the southeast homeland. Thus, having followed similar paths from Isoko (in the case of Agbon) and Erhowa (in modern Isoko, in the case of Okpe)) and having both registered settlements in Olomu in southeastern Urhobo, the ancestors of the Okpe people and of Agbon conquered and claimed vital territories closer to River Ethiope.
Great son of Urhobo Ben Okri, Nigerian poet and novelist
Another genre of campaign of expansion of territory by a group of Urhobo sub-cultures in the rainforests of the Western Niger Delta is noteworthy. Just as Olomu proved to be a fertile starting point and a gateway for secondary groups of sub-cultures for campaigns of conquests of large portions of rainforests of the Western Niger Delta, so has Agbarha-Otor turned out to be a veritable cradle in breeding new tertiary sub-cultures. It was from Agbarha-Otor that groups left to found Agbarha-Ame, in modern Warri, naming their subculture after their ancestral land as Agbarha. Then an even more arduous campaign was waged when two separate groups of Agbarha-Otor migrants crossed the River Ethiope and occupied virgin rainforests on the Western side of an untamed river. They named their new sub-cultures after their ancestral towns in Agbarha-Otor as Idjerhe and Oghara.
Historic Significance of the Conquest of Western Niger Delta’s Rainforests by Urhobo Cultural Units
It is probably unnecessary at this point of our analysis to attempt a blow-by-blow account of the founding of the twenty-two sub-groups of Urhobo culture. But it is important that we attach some significance to the above statement of the groups of founding subcultures that are now more controversially labeled as “clans” or “kingdoms.”
Modern Urhobos correctly boast that they represent the largest group in the Western Niger Delta. Moreover, Urhobo occupies a sizeable chunk of the dry lands of the Western Niger Delta. All these we owe to those whose courage and heroism enabled the Urhobo to occupy prime rainforests. We must not forget that we shared the same rainforests with the Isoko and the Ukwuani. That our share of these lands is enviable owes everything to the fact that our prehistoric ancestors were able to conquer them.
“Conquest” is an evocative term in historical scholarship. Conquerors often subdue their own people and then overcome others. Such conquerors of peoples are frequently crowned as kings. But the conquest upon which our ancestors embarked was of a different type. It was the conquest of an untamed and unoccupied rainforest that was deemed to be dangerous. Today, we cannot imagine how fearsome these lands were in their pristine form. They had wild animals in abundance. That they are all gone from our territory is probably due to the fact that part of the responsibility of our founding ancestors was to destroy wild animals. It is said that Evwreni was founded by a group of hunters who were hired by Iyede to kill menacing elephants. Elephants (eni in Urhobo), lions (okpohrokpo), tigers (ẹdjẹnẹkpo), gorillas (ọsia), and hippotemuses (ẹrhẹ) have all gone from our lands, but they were once here in Urhoboland in some abundance.
There is another point of significance to be stressed. Apart from the fact that the secondary and tertiary subcultures of northwestern Urhoboland have larger territories than those in the low-lying swampy southeast, it is noteworthy that -- with the remarkable exception of Olomu -- these primeval subcultures of the southeast are almost all single-town cultures. In contrast, the larger secondary and tertiary subcultures of the northwest are multiple-town cultures. The multiplicities of towns and villages in these cultures – in Ughelli, Agbarha-Otor, Orogun, Okpe, Agbon, Agbarho, Idjerhe, etc. – are striking. Such multiplication of settlements of towns and villages within each subculture enabled the conquest and occupation of as much territory as was accomplished in these lands that were once untamed.
Properties and Characteristics of Cultural Units of Urhoboland
These subcultures of Urhobo have borne the burden of Urhobo history. They also carry the weight of Urhobo culture and its political organisation. Together, they all bear certain markers and characteristics that set Urhobo and its people apart from other cultures and peoples. So that we may be sure that these subcultures define what Urhobo is, we should map out their properties and characteristics.
(i) Territory with Boundaries and Integrity
Every Urhobo subculture has a territory that has boundaries with other sub-cultures and occasionally with non-Urhobo cultural entities, such as the Isoko, Ijaw, and Ukwuani. A unique aspect of Urhoboland is that the Urhobo people were the first to occupy their own portions in the hinterland of the rainforests of Western Niger Delta. In most instances, therefore, bearers of each subculture of Urhobo occupy territory that their ancestors were the first to conquer and occupy. This attribute of Urhobo’s subcultures has imparted a sense of collective ownership of the territories of these units of Urhobo culture. The integrity of each of Urhobo’s subcultures derives from its ownership of its own territory that it has conquered and occupied through its own exploits.
(ii) Sub-Cultural Headquarters and Eponymous Ancestral Shrines
Each subculture has its own headquarters. It is usually located in the first place in which the founding ancestors settled. These headquarters have eponymous ancestral shrines, venerating the spirits of the founding ancestors whose names are associated with the entire subculture.
It is noteworthy that the high regard for these ancestral shrines is shared across all communities, including Christian families. In effect, these eponymous ancestral shrines are regarded as historic institutions.
(iii) Endowment of Individual’s Identity as an Urhobo Person
Every person who claims to be Urhobo does so only through his or her membership of a subculture or subcultures as their father’s or mother’s birth right. No one can claim to be Urhobo directly, without belonging to a subculture or subcultures of Urhobo. This attribute carries with it the claim of certain rights from members of the subculture who are expected to work for the survival and improvement of the entire subculture. But it is an attribute that also imposes important responsibilities on the subculture in its relationship to individual members. Until recent times, protection of the individual and care for his remains after death were responsibilities of the subculture or its further divisions.
(iv) Totems and Taboos of Sub-Cultures
For the sake of maintaining the spiritual welfare of its members, some subcultures instituted their own set of totems and taboos whose observance would be binding on their communities. The power of totems instituted by Ughelli and Orogun – even over those of their members who are now converted to Christianity – is legendary. Other sub-cultures have similar regimes of totems.
(v) Sub-Cultural Control of Urhobo’s Linguistic Dialects
In the realm of language, Urhobo is a land of great dialectic variability. Remarkably, each subculture has its own dialect of the Urhobo language. Native speakers of the Urhobo language can easily tell from what sub-culture a speaker of the Urhobo language hails.
(vi) Urhobo Sub-cultures and the Institution of King (Ovie)
One of the most powerful cultural tools that each of Urhobo’s subcultures has (or had) at its disposal was the institution of kingship. Called Ovie throughout Urhobo culture, an Urhobo king exists only at the sub-cultural level. Each subculture controls the rules that govern the ascension to the subculture’s throne. More importantly, each subculture could decide to exercise its right to have a king or not to have one. However, by common Urhobo usage, no subculture is allowed to have more than one Ovie at a time.5
It is noteworthy that until the explosion of royal institutions began in the 1950s, from instigation from various Nigerian governments, only a handful of Urhobo’s sub-cultures exercised their inherent rights to have kings. Ogor and Ughelli had stable regimes of kingship for a good portion – but by no means all – of their history. The Okpe had an historic instance of monarchy that went awry and thereafter the Okpe were reluctant to revive the institution, until 1945, centuries afterwards. The Agbon people chose for centuries of their history to make do with the maxim Okpako r’ Agbon oy’ Ovie r’ Agbon – meaning, Agbon sub-culture’s eldest is its King. Many other attitudes toward royal institutions emanated from the other subcultures of Urhoboland. The point is, it was their right to determine whether they wanted a king and if so on what terms.
(vii) An Axiom of Co-Equality among Urhobo Sub-Cultures
There is an underlying axiom in the relations among the units of Urhobo culture. It is that they are co-equal. For instance, although Okpe and Agbon are each many times larger in land and population than most of the Urhobo subcultures of the southeast, they cannot claim to be culturally superior to the much smaller sub-cultural units of southeast Urhoboland, such as Okparebe and Arhavwarien.
British Colonial Rule and the Naming of Urhobo’s Sub-Cultures as Clans
British colonial rule in Urhoboland began effectively in the first decade of the 20th century, following a delay lasting many years (1894-1899) on account of a dispute between the Royal Niger Company and agents of the Niger Coast Protectorate Government over what British interest had administrative jurisdiction in Urhoboland (see Salubi 1958). When British colonial rule commenced, it was clear that the British had little knowledge of Urhobo culture. This was largely because missionaries had not been as active in the Western Niger Delta as they had been elsewhere, say in Yorubaland and Igboland (see Ekeh 2005).
The British made up for lost ground in their understanding of Urhobo culture by relying heavily on “intelligence reports” provided by colonial administrative officers. For centuries, Europeans, including the British, relied on Atlantic coastal peoples for their information on the Urhobo. As it turned out, much of that information was either wrong or outright mischievous.6 Now, the colonial administrators’ intelligence reports sought to paint a correct picture of Urhobo ethnography. These efforts led the British to conclude that Urhobo culture was essentially based on a clan system. They identified the units that we have been calling Urhobo’s subcultures along with many of their properties that we described above.
How did the British colonial officers come up with the word “clans” to describe these subcultures of Urhoboland? By the early 1900s and 1910s, when the label was applied, Colonial Social Anthropology was not mature enough to be helpful to colonial officers in their efforts at understanding such entities as Urhobo. It is more likely that the label was picked up from Scottish history of Clans. In many ways, Urhobo sub-cultures were very much like ancient Scottish clans.
Urhobo Reactions to British Colonial Ethnography of Urhoboland
As can be imagined, Urhobos were the principal informants for those who composed the intelligence reports. These reports were of course not made public, but key decisions were made on the strength of the information provided in them. It was therefore the British policies, apparently based on the intelligence reports, which the Urhobo people could judge. While accepting and even appreciating many administrative policies of the British Colonial Government, a good number of them were rejected by the Urhobo people who fought against their implementation and indeed for their reversal.
Two instances will illustrate the point. The British wrongly assigned Orogun and Avwraka (which they misnamed as Abraka) to Kuale [that is, Ukwuani] Division in Warri Province for administrative purposes. Similarly, Idjerhe (misnamed Jesse by the British) was assigned to Benin Division in Benin Province for administration. The Urhobo people did not like these decisions and fought hard for their return from what they saw as their perverse allocation. All three of them were eventually returned to the Urhobo fold by being regrouped in administrative units that consisted entirely of Urhobo sub-cultures.
Urhobo Progress Union arose in the 1930s as a vehicle for conveying Urhobo concerns to the British Colonial Government. One of the first public responsibilities of Urhobo Progress Union was to convey Urhobo’s objection on the wrong rendering of their name to the British. Urhobos objected to unacceptable names given by the British to Urhobo and its sub-units, obviously owing to pronunciation problems that the British encountered with complicated Urhobo names. Thus, the British had difficulties with the “rh” in Urhobo. They simplified it, changing “Urh” to S” and thus yielding “Sobo,” a name that Urhobos found offensive.7 Urhobo Progress Union fought very hard to change Urhobo’s spoilt name and it succeeded when the British made a correction in a Gazette of October 1, 1938. Urhobo Progress Union was itself involved in making changes in its own sphere, changing its name from its previous version of Urhobo Progressive Union in the late 1930s.
We have pointed to these Urhobo reactions in order to highlight the point that the Urhobo people were not unaware of what the British were doing with their cultural institutions. Urhobo Progress Union certainly knew of the label “Clans” which the British used to describe Urhobo’s sub-cultures. It had no objection. Indeed, UPU employed the term clans in its official duties of working for Urhobo progress. Right up until the mid-1960s, when UPU was in its high phase of activities on behalf of the Urhobo people, it used the term clans frequently. Thus, in his 1965 address to the General Council of Urhobo Progress Union, the President-General of the Union, Chief T. E. A. Salubi, referred to the role of the clans in spreading development in Urhoboland, as follows:
I would love to hope, indeed expect, that the degree of oneness and unity so transparently exhibited at Sapele on the occasion [of Urhobo National Day Celebration] will diffuse down to our different clan areas and be reflected in our ordinary life and day-to-day dealings with one another in our towns and villages (Salubi 1965, emphasis added).
It should be added that Nigerian nationalist scholars, including especially historians, objected to the use of such anthropological terms as tribes and clans, considering them to be derogatory and offensive. However, the general rejection of “clans” was from outside Urhoboland. The much preferred term of “kingdoms” did not catch up with Urhobo nationalist sentiments until the late 1990s!
Nigerian Governments’ Interactions with Urhobo’s Sub-Cultures
Various Nigerian Governments, at the Regional and State levels particularly, which followed British Colonial Government, have also dealt with the significance of these sub-cultural entities that the British labelled as clans of Urhoboland. It is fair to say that most Nigerian Governments have accepted and respected the fact that Urhobo is in essence a confederation of twenty-two sub-cultures whose bases and roots are ancient and prehistoric. Until the bizarre incident of 2006 in which Delta State Government sought to split an Urhobo sub-cultural unit into two, all previous Nigerian Governments had respected the integrity of each of the twenty-two units of Urhobo culture. Before dealing with the abnormality of that 2006 legislative episode by the Delta State Government that clearly violated the creed of Urhobo history and culture, it will be helpful to sketch how various previous generations of Nigerian governments, responded to Urhobo’s cultural system. Such an outline will probably help us all to see why the 2006 legislative affront on Urhobo history and culture is so remarkably different from the conduct of previous Nigerian Governments.
How Western Nigerian Government Dealt with Action Group’s Difficulties with the Urhobo People
The first Nigerian Government which the Urhobo had to deal with was led by the Action Group party of Western Nigeria, from 1952 to 1964. Unfortunately, Urhobos had a major problem with the Action Group and its leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, concerning the dispute on the title of the King of Itsekiri and the ownership of the city of Warri (see Edevbie 2007). The Urhobo’s response was an uncompromising and consistent rejection of the Action Group at the electoral polls. At a time when voting counted, the Urhobo’s antipathy towards the Action Group was hurtful for a party that lacked a clear majority in the Western House of Assembly. No amount of punishment of the Urhobo worked to persuade them to switch to the Action Group in their political preferences.
The Action Group did its utmost to insinuate itself into Urhobo political affairs. Its bluntest tool was invocation of a property of Urhobo sub-culture. It is that every sub-culture was entitled to have an Ovie. It so happened that in the 1950s few of Urhobo’s sub-cultures had their own Ivie. The Action Group Government therefore orchestrated the selection of candidates for the throne of Ovie in each sub-culture where there was no seating Ovie. The Action Group supported its own candidates for these thrones.
Although this ploy did not work in convincing Urhobos to vote for the Action Group at the polls, it opened up a new chapter in Urhobo history. Playing within the logic of Urhobo culture that allocated the right of kingship to its sub-cultures, it nonetheless expanded Urhobo’s royal institutions well beyond what the Urhobos themselves wanted. One reason why many sub-cultures of Urhobo neglected to exercise their right to have a king was that it was costly to maintain an Ovie. Now, members of the new class of Ivie were more dependent on Government subsidies than on their own people, opening up new dynamics in Urhobo public affairs.
Mid-West Government and Ordered Selection of Ivie
By the time the Mid-West Region was carved out of the Western Region in 1964, it was very well established that kingship was mandatory in Urhobo sub-cultures, still then called clans. What the Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs sought to do was to bring order to the selection of the Ovie of each sub-culture. Urhobo chieftains seemed to have warmed up to the idea of this widespread kingship, hoping that it was one way of gaining sponsorship from the Government.
Two facts followed from this inordinate expansion of royal institutions in Urhoboland. The first is that the resulting Ivie were now ever more dependent on the Government. But their sheer numbers meant that they could not be as well cared for as if they were fewer. The other fact is that the kings became less dependent on their own people. These are dynamics that were liable to affect an institution that was invented from the necessity and imperatives of survival in a dangerous rainforest. It was no longer quite clear what the functions of the Ivie were. No doubt, many Government functionaries saw them as agents of the Government.
Whatever views one holds of the institution of Ovie, the Government had come to play a major role in moulding its place and functions in Urhobo culture. The catastrophic events of the 2006 legislation that sought to create an Urhobo sub-culture from the thin pages of a Government Gazette probably represent the ultimate in the unintended consequences of Government take-over of an ancient Urhobo convention. But before we examine that notorious event, we must first weigh the semantic changes that occurred in the characterization of units of Urhobo culture.
Renaming Urhobo’s Sub-cultures as Kingdoms
There is a measure of trivialization that has recently crept into the naming of Urhobo institutions as they are rendered in a culturally alien English language. For an Urhobo -- particularly for an Ughelli person -- there is an emotional difference between saying: “Ovie r’ Ughele” (in Urhobo) or “Ovie of Ughelli” (in English). The trivialization gets worse, along with the rather serious grammatical infraction that should be evident, in a new popular rendering in English of the same appellation: “Ovie of Ughelli Kingdom."8 The infatuation with this new-found word “kingdom” descends down the chain of the modern Urhobo aristocracy. To give an example from another sub-culture of Urhoboland: In his exemplary curriculum vitae, which was crafted some time in the early 1980s, Chief T. E. A. Salubi cites one of his most valued titles as “Okakuro of Agbon.” Since the late 1990s, the same title is now cited by its holders as “Okakuro of Agbon Kingdom."9
Such banality of language regarding aristocratic titles in recent times has arisen from the introduction of the English word “kingdom” into modern Urhobo culture. Its rampant and gratuitous use has caused several problems for our understanding of Urhobo institutions. First, “kingdom” is virtually untranslatable into Urhobo language. Second, it has been used as a replacement – that is, supposedly, as the synonym -- for the English word “clan.” Remember that “clan” was introduced into Urhobo by British colonial administrators as a way of characterizing Urhobo’s sub-cultures.
The origin of this new usage of “kingdom” has been traced to HRH Adjara III and Andy Omokri’s (1997) Urhobo Kingdoms: Political and Social Systems. This is how the late Professor F. M. A. Ukoli sketched the rise of the term “kingdoms” in modern Urhobo culture:
The Urhobo constitute an ethnic group, but there is great diversity in the origins of the various clans as well as diversity in their culture. Indeed, the differences are so marked that H.R.H Adjara III and Omokri, in their recent book Urhobo Kingdoms, elevate the 22 clans which constitute the entire Urhobo tribe to the status of kingdoms (Ukoli 2007: 647).
Remarkably, Adjara III and Omokri did not discard the term clan in their analysis of Urhobo social and political systems. In fact, once one moves beyond the rather dramatic title of their book, they were fairly respectful of the term “clan.” They define Urhobo in terms of its clans, not kingdoms: “At present there are twenty-two clans in Urhoboland. Most of the clans are made up of groups of villages which trace their origin to a common ancestor” (p. 5). Similarly, they define the Ovie in terms of the clan: “The institution of clanheadship in Urhoboland is a most revered one. In some clans, the clan head is known as Ovie literally translated to be king” (p. 16).
Whatever Adjara III and Omokri intended to say in the pages of their book, it is the book’s title “Urhobo Kingdoms” that has won the day. Adjara III’s aristocratic colleagues have understood the book as recommending that the term clans be replaced by the apparently more appealing and more ponderous “kingdom.” And the Government of Delta State has readily adopted the new terminology, with consequences that are far removed from what any lovers of Urhobo history and culture will be pleased to accept.
Delta State Government’s “Creation” of an Urhobo “Kingdom” and Its Violation of Urhobo History and Culture
Throughout the course of Nigerian history, from the 1950s onwards at any rate, Nigerian Governments have accepted and then manipulated existing institutions of traditional rulership. They operate in that way probably in order to seek advantage for their political parties and to please powerful individuals in those parties. In doing so, they have deposed opponents and installed supporters as occupiers of such existing traditional institutions of rulership. Some prominent examples will illustrate this point. In the 1950s, Ahmadu Bello’s Government of Northern Nigeria removed Emir Sanusi of Kano from his throne and banished him from Kano Emirate. Similarly, in the 1950s also, Obafemi Awolowo’s Government of Western Nigeria removed the Alafin of Oyo from his office and banished him from his realm. In the 1960s, at the beginning of the existence of Mid-West Region, Festus Okotie-Eboh orchestrated the removal of the reigning king of Itsekiri, his long-time opponent, and facilitated the installation of a supporter of his as the new King of Itsekiri.
In all these instances, previous Nigerian Governments accepted the traditions of the people and the institution of rulership that they mandated. What these previous Nigerian Governments did was to exploit the logic of these traditions by placing their supporters on the seats of traditional rulership, while removing their opponents. None of them defied the traditions of the people by creating new realms. The Government of Northern Nigeria did not split Kano up and place its own candidate on a fraction of the Kano Emirate. Western Nigeria Government did not divide Oyo up, in defiance of Yoruba traditions and history. Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh and the new Mid-West Government of 1964 did not split Itsekiri up and install their favourite candidate as king of one section. In previous instances of Government’s intervention in traditional affairs of kingship, the people’s traditions have been well respected.
In such respects, the conduct of Delta State Government in 2006 in splitting up Urhobo’s Idjerhe sub-culture and in creating a new “Kingdom” of Mosogar from the ancient territories of Idjerhe is unprecedented in the annals of Urhobo history and culture. Moreover, it would be difficult to find similar examples of the Government’s defiling of a people’s traditions elsewhere in Delta State. Let it be clearly stated at the onset here: Urhobo history and culture were severely violated in what appears to be the uncontested act of “creating” an Urhobo “kingdom” by Delta State Government in 2006.
The British had active and intense contacts with the Urhobo people for at least fifty years, for much of the first half of the 20th century. Although they came as colonizers, they nonetheless respected the integrity of Urhobo history and culture. They correctly identified Urhobo’s ancient sub-cultures and acted within their framework and logic. Similarly, the Action Group Government that took over from the British respected the traditions of the Urhobo people, despite historic difficulties between them and the political party that controlled the Government at that time. And it is fair to say that the Mid-West and Bendel State Governments were largely respectful of Urhobo traditions.
So why has this grave violation of Urhobo history and culture occurred in a governmental regime that has no standing quarrel with the Urhobo people? Two explanations have been offered by some Urhobo leaders who have bothered to discuss this matter. The first is that people in Government do not bother themselves with the creed of Urhobo history and culture. They say that some politicians would be surprised that any worries about Urhobo history and culture have been expressed. The second reason that has been suggested for permitting this brazen act of violation of Urhobo history and culture to occur is that the term “kingdoms” has become so trivialized that people in Government now believe that they can create them. As one Urhobo leader put it, “People in Asaba would hesitate to create ‘clans’ but not ‘kingdoms.’”
It must be noted that the Delta State Government has no Constitutional powers to create local governments in Delta State. Nor does it have the power to alter their boundaries. Why is it then possible that the Delta State House of Assembly can legislate on the existence and boundaries of Urhobo sub-cultures – call them clans or kingdoms, if these terms please? It has been said that this matter has been gazetted and that once matters appear in a Government Gazette, there is not much one can do. Well, Urhobos have a right to question the validity of a Gazette that violates their history and culture. In the long run, this whole cultural fiasco has very little to do with Idjerhe and its sub-units. The problem is that it strikes at the heart of Urhobo’s cultural existence.
Unforeseen and Untoward Consequences of Delta State’s Creation of a “Kingdom” in Urhoboland
There are numerous reasons why the Urhobo people should be troubled by the spectre of Delta State Government taking over the control of Urhobo traditions, an instance of which was the so-called creation of a “kingdom” in Idjerhe sub-culture of Urhoboland. We will confine ourselves to only a few of these reasons.
First, the Idjerhe episode of “kingdom creation” is most likely to be imitated and repeated elsewhere – if it is allowed to survive. If every new installment of Delta State Government that comes to power has the right and authority to create “kingdoms” in Urhoboland, then we should expect a multiplicity of new “kingdoms” -- or “clans,” designating them by their other English label – to be created for Urhobos within several decades. There are everywhere short-sighted and ambitious politicians who will ask to be made kings of even small villages if the opportunity arises. Internal divisions within each of Urhobo’s sub-cultures may precipitate such clamour for kingship of new “kingdoms.” While there may be ready-made cases of divisions that will readily prompt any new Delta State Governments for new “kingdoms, the greater danger is that even the more stable and established instances of kingship in Urhoboland will not be safe from the spread of the cancer of Government’s “kingdom creation.”
Second, any increase in the number of Ivie in Urhoboland is a threat to the strength of our royal institutions. Many Urhobo leaders of thought already consider the twenty-two Ivie, who derive their authority from Urhobo culture, to be on the high side. It should be recalled that in the 1930s and 1940s, opinion leaders in Urhoboland and its Diaspora seriously weighed the option of initiating a single Urhobo kingship. If we cannot achieve such a goal, we must nevertheless not further weaken our circumstances by foolishly allowing the creation of artificial “kingdoms” in Urhoboland at the whim of Governments who may not always be well disposed towards the vibrancy of Urhobo cultural formations. The addition of a single Ovie to the system of twenty-two kings that we now have is a threat to our culture and to the dignity of those who currently occupy the thrones of Ivie in Urhoboland. (http://www.waado.org/organizations/UPU/president_general_reception_abuja/lectures/clans_kingdoms_ekeh.htm)