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Urhobo People and Culture


Encyclopedia » History
Delta

Urhobois a group that belong the people whose written history is largely undocumented. There is almost an absence of European record in their history. The early European were preoccupied with economic interest on the coastal communities. However, in 1505, Pereira observed that in the hinterland beyond the Forcados River, lived the Subou or Sobo a name that is corrected to Urhobo in 1938. It is significant to note that the traditions of origin of the various Urhobo groups do not contain any specific reference to their ancestor other than that ' we are or we know are Urhobo' . The history of  Urhobo people generally began from Edo territory 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.

Historically, Urhobo people's origin is rooted in their oral tradition.They believe in migration from Aka -present day Edo territory. Although all 22 kingdoms have distinct dialects and traditions that reflect slight variation in origin and migratory patterns, there is a universal Urhobo language.

GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND OF URHOBOLAND AND PEOPLE

Continent: Africa    Region: West Africa    Area: Western Niger Delta
Area: 5000 Square Kilometers Climate: Humid subequatorial
Natural Vegetation: Rain and swamp forest. A significant percentage of which has been destroyed by pollution and other petroleum related activities. 

Natural Resources: Urhobo people left  their Petroleum and Natural Gas  under separate leaders in different directions to find white colar jobs in different governmental organization. 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

Traditions among the Urhobo are replete with assertions of original dwellers and owners of their territory. These tradition is without documentary or archaeological evidience.The distinctive characteristics of the various Urhobo and Isoko tribes are a result of the super imposition of Ijaw, Ibo and later Edo immigration upon on aboriginal strata already speaking Edo-type dialects'  

Population: 2.0 - 2.5 million people in Nigeria while allowing for the absorption of immigrants and their language as well as for the impact of routes and group sojourns on the history of the Urhobo. Linguistic evidence provides a strong principle for integrating and validating other traditions of Urhobo origin. The absence of archaeological and prehistoric evidence give credibility to the above traditions of Urhobo origin. The structure of Urhobo ideas and language as well as their culture and other institutional forms imply historical links between them and their neighbours, particularly the Edo-speaking peoples, and other socio-linguistic groups in some yet undefined areas in the Sudan/Egypt

Main Towns: Abraka, Effurun, Sapele, Ughelli, Warri
Main Rivers: Distributaries of River Niger including Kiabodo, Ethiope and Warri 

Urhobo has always strived to maintain good relations with her neighbors from the North-East is Ndokwa, to the South-East is Isoko, to the North is Bini, the West is Itsekiri and the South is Ijaw's. All of them share a common origin according to tradition.

The 22 clans of Urhobo with their cultural headquarters and official administrative affiliations are shown on the Table below.

Urhobo 22 Kingdoms And Headquarters
As Well As Official Administrative Affiliations
(Local Government Areas [LGA]) As of 2004 

KINGDOM

HEADQUARTERS

L. G. A

Agbarrha-Ame

Otovwodo-Agbarha

WarriSouth

Agbarha-Otor

Agbarha-Otor

UghelliNorth

Agbarho

Orho-Agbarho

UghelliNorth

Agbon

Isiokoro

EthiopeEast

Arhavwarien

Arhavwarien

UghelliSouth

Avwaraka

Otorho-Avwaraka

EtthiopeEast

Effuruntor

Effuruntor

UghelliSouth

Evwreni

Evwreni

UghelliNorth

Eghwu

Otorho-Eghwu

UghelliSouth

Idjerhe

Idjerhe

EthiopeWest

Oghara

Ogharefe

EthiopeWest

Ogor

Otogor

UghelliNorth

Okere-Urhobo

Okere

WarriSouth

Okparabe

Okparabe

UghelliSouth

Okpe

Orerekpo

Okpe&Sapele

Okpe

Otorere-Olomu

UghelliSouth

Orogun

Orogun

UghelliNorth

Udu

Otor-Udu

Udu

Oghele

Otovwodo

UghelliNorth

Ughievwien

Otughievwien

UghlliSouth

Ughwerun

Otughweru

UghelliNorth

Uvwie

Effurun

Uvwie

PEOPLE

The Urhobo people is 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. 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. Their population density in Urhoboland is about 660 persons per square kilometer.

In traditional African political organization, the Urhobo people consists of twenty-two autonomous republics or "Kingdoms" with a common ancestral origin. The Kingdoms are: Agbarha, Agbarha-Ame (Agbassa), Agbarho, Agbon, Arhavwarien, Avwraka, Eghwu, Ephron-oto, Evwreni, Idjerhe, Oghara, Ogor, Okere, Okparabe, Okpe, Olomu, Orogun, Udu, Ughelli, Ughievwen, Ughwerun, and Uvwie. The earliest political system in Urhoboland is a mixture of the kingship system and the rule by elders. Depending on the clan and the system of administration, the king or clan head is called the Ovie or Orodje or Osuivie, Okobaro, Okpako or Okpara-Uku and such title may be hereditary in some clans.
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. It has also 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.

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).

Though the Urhobo people speak a universal Urhobo language, some clans speak different dialects which may not be understood by other Urhobo people. Urhobo culture is unique and distinct from other Nigerian cultures. The beliefs of the Urhobo people are based on spiritual forces which govern the harmony of the universe and their culture is characterized by strong extended family ties, respect for elders, and taboos against stealing, incest, murder, dishonesty and so on. Many Urhobo customs have influenced other ethnic groups around them just as it has been influenced by them also through cultural interaction and inter-marriages. These ethnic groups around Urhobland include: Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko, Bini, and kwale.

CULTURE

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). 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.

MARRIGES

Marriage is the union between man and woman which is culturally and morally acceptable in a society. Before marriage in Urhobo culture is said to be properly contracted, prayer's must be offered to the ancestors(Erivwin) and God(Oghene). The marriage ritual known as Udi Arhovwaje takes place in the ancestral home of the girl or a patrilineal relation of the girl as agreed by the family.

 

On an agreed day, the fiance goes with his relatives and friends to the fiancee's father's home carrying drinks, salt,kolanut and things required from him by the girls family for the marriage ceremony. It is on that day that the girl's parents give their formal approval to the marriage and pour the gin brought by the fiance as libation to the father's ancestors to bless them with health, children and wealth. It is only after this marriage rites that the husband can claim a refund of money (bride price) if the marriage breaks down. It is believed that the ancestors were witness to the marriage. It is only the physical body that is sent to her husband in the marriage, her Erhi(spirit double) remain in family home. This explains why she is brought back to her family home when she dies. In the ancestral home of the man, the wife is welcomed into the family by the eldest member of the family.Here she was expected to confess all her love affairs during and after her betrothal to her husband (if any) and she can now be absolved from all her wrong doings. Henceforth, she becomes a full member of her husband's family and is now protected by the Erivwin. This rites symbolizes an agreement between the wife and Erivwin. If the wife later proves unfaithful she will be punished by the supernatural(Erivwin) and this is believed to be the reason why married Urhobo women are very faithful to their husbands.

ARTS EXHIBITION

Where Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art is the first comprehensive presentation of the arts of the Urhobo peoples of Nigeria, whose experience in today's Africa is emblematic of a rapidly changing world. The exhibition is organized into sections that consider the forms and underlying aesthetic values of Urhobo society: personal images that offer protection and advancement; images of women at various stages of life; masquerade arts; and at the grandest level, communal shrine art, awesome in scale and form. Integral to the exhibition are works by contemporary Urhobo artist Bruce Onobrakpeya. Inspired by his traditional culture, his art offers a particularly poignant perspective on Urhobo traditional art.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, Urhobo ceremonies, masquerades and sculpture establish realms for gods and mortals to meet. Their continuity and renewal in a contemporary context extend their relevance to the present day and project them into the future.This exhibition is organized by the Museum for African Art and curated by Perkins Foss.The exhibition has been made possible through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Urhobo calendar

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 calender year are equally significant.

  • Ovuikpe -----------------January
  • Ava ------------------------February
  • Arha ----------------------March
  • Ane -----------------------April
  • Arhiori -------------------May
  • Asa -----------------------June
  • Eghwre ------------------July
  • Orianre -------------------August
  • Urhiori -------------------September
  • Ehwe --------------------October
  • Ushovo ------------------November
  • 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.

Food

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.

Population

There are approximately 1,000,000 Urhobo people.Some sources put the number at approximately 1.5 million.

Religion

The main focus of Urhobo traditional religion are the adoration of Oghene (Almighty God) the supreme deity and recognition of Edjo and Erhan (divinities). Some of these divinities could be regarded as personified attributes of Oghene. The veneration of ancestors, believe in diverse spirits, apart from those of the major divinities and the ancestors. 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. Urhobo divinities can be classified into four main categories, which probably coincide with the historical development of the people. These are guidian divinities, war divinities, prosperity divinities and fertility and ethical divinities. It should boe noted that the fundamental factor and manifestation of all divinites in Urhobo religion is Oghene.

Erivwin which is the cult of ancestors and predecessors (Esemo and Iniemo) is another important element in Urhobo belief system. The dead are believed to be living and are looked upon as active members of the family and watch over the affair of the living members of their family. Urhobos believe in the duality of man, i.e. that man consists of two beings:

  • Physical body - Ugboma
  • Spiritual body - Erhi

It is the Erhi (spirit man) that declares man's destiny and controls the self realization of man's destiny before he incarnate into this world. Erhi also controls the total well being(Ufuoma) of the man.Oghene(GOD) is like a constitutional Monarch who set his seal on the path of destiny set by a man's spirit (Erhi).

In the spirit world (Erivwin) man's destiny is ratified and sealed. In the final journey of the spirit man(Erhi) after transition, the Urhobo believe the physical body (Ugboma) decays while the spirit man (Erhi) is indestructible and goes back to join s the ancestors in the spirit realm. The elaborate and symbolic burial rites are meant to prepare the departed Erhi for happy re-union with the ancestors in the spirit world.

However, the influence of western civilization and Christianity is fast becoming an acceptable religion in most Urhobo communities. 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 toCatholic and new evangelical denominations. There are 1,261 ejo (deities), including the one-handed, one-legged mirror-holding whirlwind-god Aziza.

 

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Updated 4 Years ago
 

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