A Brief History of The Urhobo People of Nigeria

The Urhobo people are from southern Nigeria. The Urhobo is a major ethnic group in Delta State. Delta State is one of the 36 states of Nigeria. The Urhobos speak speaks Urhobo. They have a culture that is very similar to other cultures in the Niger Delta such as The Isokos. This was why the missionaries labelled the Urhobo and The Isoko cultural groups as Sobo. This name was strongly rejected by both tribes. However, there are those who still believe that Isoko is a dialect of Urhobo.

There are nothing less than twenty-four sub-groups that the Urhobo nation is made up of. Some of them are:

  • Okpe: The largest of all Urhobo sub-groups.
  • Isoko used to be regarded as a part of Urhobo nation until the late 1950s when they were granted autonomy.

Population and Geographic location

The Urhobo people are about two million. They can be mostly found in Delta and Bayelsa state. Their neighbours are the isoko to the South East, the Itsekiri to the West, Edo people to the North, ijaw to the South and Ukwuani people to the North East. The Urhobo people are blessed with evergreen forest with many palm trees. The territory is also covered by a network of streams whose volumes of water and flow are directly concerned with the climatic season which are: wet season (April-October) and dry season (November-March).

Political Structure

 

The King (middle) and his cabinet members

The political structure of the Urhobo people can be referred to as political kingdoms, gerontocracy and plutocracy. Gerontocracy is the government by elders. It is based on age-grade system. Plutocracy on the other hand is government by the rich and wealthy. This is an evolutionary state but they still retains the elements of gerontocracy. In Urhobo land, it is not very clear which kingship is older among the kingdoms.

Titles:

  • Ovie: This means king and the highest political figure in the kingdom.
  • The councilors are: Otota (speaker), Ohoveworem or Okakoro (Olorogun).
  • The executioners (Ikoikpokpo): they are called the Ogbu.

Communities of The Urhobo People 

A lot of the Urhobo people can be found in Delta and Bayelsa states; both in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. The communities are:

  • Ofoni is an Urhobo community in Sagbama Local Government Area in Bayelsa State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ofoni is about 40 kilometres by water to Sagbama.
  • Ughelli
  • Warri
  • Abraka
  • Orerokpe
  • Sapele.

Other Urhobo cities and towns includes:

  • Okparabe
  • Arhavwarien
  • Effurun
  • Aladja
  • Ovwian
  • Orerokpe
  • Amuekpe
  • Eku
  • Oghara
  • Evwreni
  • Agbarha-Otor
  • Agbarho
  • Okpara Inland
  • Egini
  • Kokori
  • Olomu
  • Kiagbodo
  • Isiokoro
  • Mosogar
  • Akpobome
  • Orhokpokpor
  • Jesse
  • Ogharaefe
  • Effurun-Otor
  • Ewu
  • eremi
  • Emadadja
  • Okwagbe
  • Ovu
  • Orogun
  • Owahwa
  • Otogor
  • Edjekota-Ogor
  • Ofoni
  • Otor-Udu
  • Ekpan
  • Jeddo
  • Uwheru
  • Urhowhorun, etc.

 

The following are local government areas where Urhobo traditional homes are located in Delta State and Bayelsa State

  • Ethiope East
  • Ethiope West
  • Okpe
  • Sapele
  • Udu
  • Ughelli North
  • Ughelli South
  • Uvwie
  • Warri South
  • Patani
  • Sagbama (in Bayelsa State)
  • Ikpoba Okha (in Edo State)

Culture

Most of the histories, mythodologies and philosophies of the Urhobos is water-related. Maybe it’s because they live very close and sometimes on the surface of the Niger river. They have annual festivals such as fishing, swimming contests, dancing, and masquerades.

The king is called Ovie, his wife is Ovieya and the children are Omo Ovie (child of king), also known as prince and princess. Presently, children without royal heritage bears these names.

Marriage

 

In the Urhobo traditional marriage, before marriage is contracted, prayers must be offered to the ancestors (Erivwin) and God (Oghene). The marriage ritual is known as Udi Arhovwaje. It takes place in the ancestral home of the bride or a patrilineal relation of the bride as agreed by the family.

A date is agreed upon, and the fiancé goes with his relatives and friends to his fiancee’s father’s home. They go with gifts such as drinks, salt, kola nut etc. A former approval is then given by the bride’s family. After the approval, a gin brought by the fiancé is poured. This serves as a libation to the father’s ancestors to bless their union with health, children and wealth.

After performing these rites, the husband can be able to request for a refund of bride price if the marriage breaks down in the future.

In Urhobo culture, it is believed that the ancestors were a witness to the marriage. It is only the physical body of the woman that is sent to her husband in marriage. Her Erhi (spirit double) remains in the family home. This is the reason why a woman’s body is brought back to her family home when she dies.

The eldest member of the family of the man welcomes her into the family. This is where she’s expected to confess all her love affairs during and after her betrothal to her husband (if any) so she can be absorbed of any wrongdoings. She becomes a full member of the husband’s family after this rite.

If she later becomes unfaithful, it is believed that she would be punished by the Erivwin (supernatural). Maybe this is the reason why Urhobo women are very faithful to their husbands.

Food

 

Banga soup & starch

I have been waiting eagerly to get to this point. I believe it will interest you also, to want to know the various foods of the Urhobo people. As with the case in Nigeria, each certain food is considered to originate from a particular tribe. For example, pounded yam and egusi soup from the Igbos, Eba and ogbono soup from people of esan or Etsakor descent, etc.

For the Urhobos, they have Ukhodo (a yam and unripe plantain dish prepared with either beef, Poutry or fish and spiced with lemon grass and potash.

As with most tribes in Nigeria, a certain food is considered to belong to or originate from a particular tribe, for example, pounded yam and egusi soup from the Igbos, Eba; and Ogbono soup (made from Irvingia gabonensis and 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 prepared with either Beef, Poultry or fish and spiced with lemon grass and potash and emulsified palm oil. The very popular other Urhobo delicacy is the palm nut oil soup called amiedi or banga soup and the Owo soup (oil soup). In Urhobo land, it is usually said that a marriage ceremony is not complete without the owo soup.. They are both often eaten with Usi (starch) and or garri. Other delicacies are Iriboto, iriberhare, and Okpariku.

 

Owo soup with dried fish

Religion

The Urhobo people refers to God as “Oghene”. The traditional Urhobos also worship god known as Igbe.

Erivwin is regarded as the cult of the ancestors and predecessors (Esemo and Iniemo). They believe the dead still lives and watch over the affairs of the living members of the family. They also believe in duality of man, i.e. man consists of two beings which are the physical (Ugboma) and the spiritual body (Erhi).

When a man dies, the spirit man (Erhi) is believed to be indestructible and goes back to the ancestors in the spirit realm. While the body (Ugboma) decays.

However, the influence of the western civilization and Christianity is fast becoming an acceptable religion and way of life in most Urhobo communities.

Also Read: A Short Biography on Justus Esiri, A Nigerian Veteran Actor & An Urhobo

Notable Urhobo People

  • Akpororo, actor and comedian (originally from Ondo State)
  • Alibaba Akporobome, comedian
  • Fred Aghogho Brume, senator and industrialist
  • Richard Mofe Damijo (RMD), actor and politician
  • Harris Eghagha, career soldier and diplomat
  • M. G. Ejaife, Urhobo nationalist, first republic Senator and the first principal of Urhobo College
  • David Ejoor, retired Nigerian army and governor of the now-defunct Mid-Western Region
  • Justus Esiri (late), actor
  • Kefee (late), gospel singer and composer
  • Felix Ibru (late), Nigerian architect, senator and governor
  • Michael Ibru (late), Nigerian businessman
  • Mudiaga Odje, Senior Advocate and Officer of Nigeria
  • Tanure Ojaide, poet and writer
  • Blessing Okagbare, IAAC Silver medalist and Olympic bronze medalist
  • David Omueya Dafinone (D. O. D.), foremost chartered accountant
  • Ese Oruru
  • Isidore Okpewho, scholar and novelist
  • Ben Okri, poet and novelist
  • Bruce Onobrakpeya, visual artist, sculptor and painter
  • Gamaliel Onosode (late), administrator and politician
  • Stephen Oru, Minister of Nigeria
  • Igho Sanomi, businessman
  • Onigu Otite, Professor of Sociology (retired)
  • Pastor Chris Okotie
  • Ovie Okotie-Eboh, former finance minister in first Republic

We have come to the end of our brief history of the Urbobo people of the Niger delta region of Nigeria. Let it be known that this article is subject to further corrections. You can comment below if you have any observations.

3 thoughts on “A Brief History of The Urhobo People of Nigeria”

  1. David Omueya Dafinone (D. O. D.) not on your list. ‘Most chartered accountants in one family’ as recorded by the Guinness World Record. Six of them have qualified as members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales – not some phoney educational body in Nigeria. And that’s only the academic feat. I have never met any of them and I’m not a mouth piece for the family so disabuse yourselves of that notion. I’m only giving respect where it is due. Period. Urhobo Waado. Okpe agbamini.

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