Urhobo people

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Urhobo People
Ihwo r' Urhobo
SophieOkonedo08TIFF.jpg
Bruce Onobrakpeya.jpg
Alibaba Akporobome.jpg
Ben Okri.jpg
James Ibori.jpg
Felix Ibru.jpg
Tanure Ojaide.jpg
Isidore Okpewho.jpg
Total population
c. 2 Million+
Languages
Religion
Related ethnic groups
Isoko, Bini
An Urhobo mask
An Urhobo Man in Traditional Regalia
An Urhobo Man in Traditional Regalia

The Urhobos are people located in Southern Nigeria, near the northwestern Niger delta. The Urhobo people are the major ethnic group in Delta State, one of the 36 states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Urhobos speak the Urhobo language, and their culture is related to several in the Niger-Delta, including Isoko. Because of this close relation, missionaries erroneously labeled the Urhobo and Isoko cultural groups as Sobo, a name that was strongly rejected by both tribes. However, some still believe that Isoko is a dialect of Urhobo. The Urhobo nation is made up of twenty four sub-groups, including the largest, Okpe[1].[2] Isoko used to be regarded as a part of Urhobo nation until they were granted autonomy in the late 1950s.

The word Urhobo refers to a group of people rather than the geographical territory. There are approximately two million Urhobos, and they have a social and cultural affinity to the Edo speaking people of Nigeria. The Urhobo people today live in a territory bounded by latitudes 6°and 5°, 15° North and Longitudes 5°, 40° and 6°, 25° East in the Delta and Bayelsa States of Nigeria. Their neighbors are the Isoko to the South East, the Itsekiri to the West, the Edo people, Bini, to the North, the Ijaw to the South and the Ukwuani people (to the North East). The Urhobo territory consists of evergreen forests with many oil palm trees which provide the lucrative palm produce industry for which the Urhobo people have some technological preserve in. The territory is covered by a network of streams, whose volumes of water and flow are directly concerned with the climatic seasons; wet season is traditionally from April to October, and dry season ranges from November to March.

Indigenous government and politics

The Urhobos are currently organized into two different political kingdoms, gerontocracies and plutocracies. A gerontocracy is a government run by elders, based on the age-grade-system in the community, while a plutocracy is governed by the rich and wealthy, but still retains the elements of a gerontocracy. Although it is not clear which kingship is older among the kingdoms, their developments reached a climax in the 1940s and 50s.

The Urhobo government structure occurs at two levels, kingdom and town. Men and women of Urhobo heritage are organized either by elders, based on a gerontocracy, or by the rich and wealthy, based on a plutocracy. Urhobo indigenous governments have an Ovie (king), which is the highest political figure in the kingdom. The Ovie is the symbol of the kingdoms' culture and royal predecessors. His councillors consist of the Otota (speaker), and the Ohoveworen or Okakoro, addressed collectively as Ilorogun (singular: Olorogun). Other title holders are the executioners (Ikoikpokpo), and the warriors called Ogbu. Although there are other political titles specific to the different kingdoms, the judicial aspect of government among the Urhobo places a clear distinction between civil and criminal offenses, which ensure justice to the parties concerned.

Location

Professor Peter Palmer Ekeh, founder of the Urhobo Historical Society, later wrote in his book, Studies in Urhobo Culture, that:

"Urhobo is physically embedded in the Atlantic forest belt that stretches from Senegal in West Africa to Angola in central Africa. Historically, this region was the most pristine in all of Africa. Until the Portuguese burst into its territories in the late fifteenth century, its forest peoples cultivated their own forms of civilization, untouched by outside influences. This forest belt of western Africa was reached neither by ancient Christian influences, which had a large foothold in North Africa, nor by Islamic forces that came as far south as Hausaland by the eleventh century. While East Africa and even Central Africa were touched by Asian and Arab influences from across the Indian Ocean, as the amalgam of Swahili language bears out, no similar trans-Atlantic influences breached the forest belt until the Portuguese arrival in the late fifteenth century."[3]

A bulk of the Urhobo people reside in the South Western states of Delta and Bayelsa in Nigeria, also referred to as the Niger Delta. Ofoni is an Urhobo community in Sagbama, Local Government Area, in the Bayelsa State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Ofoni is about 40 kilometers by water to Sagbama. Many Urhobos live in small and major cities in regions or local government areas in Ughelli, Warri, Abraka, Orerokpe and Sapele. Some Urhobo major cities and towns include Okparabe, Arhavwarien, Warri, Sapele, Abraka, and Ughelli.

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

Festivals

The Urhobos live very close to, and sometimes on the surface of, the Niger river. Therefore, most of their histories, mythologies, and philosophies are water-related. Annual fishing festivals that include masquerades, fishing, swimming contests, and dancing, are part of the Urhobo heritage. There is an annual, two-day, festival, called Ohworu that takes place in Evwreni, the southern part of the Urhobo area. It is during this festival that the Ohworhu water spirit and the Eravwe Oganga are displayed.

Royal family

The king in an Urhobo clan or kingdom is called the Ovie. His wife, the queen, is called Ovieya, and their children are knowns as Ọmọ Ovie. Presently, these names are also given to children without royal heritage. A number of Urhobo cultural divisions have other titles other than Ovie. For example, the Okpe call their traditional ruler "Orodje", Okere-Urhobo cals theirs "Orosuen", Agbarho uses "Osuivie", Orogun uses "Okpara-Uku" (mainly due to their proximity with Ukwuani people), and the Urhobos in Olomu Kingdom call their king "Ohworode". Some Southern Urhobo clans and communities also practice the Odio system, which is widespread in the Isoko region.

Marriage

Before marriage in Urhobo culture is properly contracted, prayers 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 bride or a patrilineal relation of the bride is approved by the family.

On an agreed day, the fiancé goes with his relatives and friends to the fiancée's father's home, bringing gifts of drinks, salt, kola nuts, and occasionally food requested by the bride's family for the ceremony. Formal approval for marriage is given by the bride's parents, or who ever is representing the bride's family, as are the traditional rites of pouring the gin, brought by the fiancé, as a libation to the father's ancestors in order to bless them with health, children, and wealth. It is only after this marriage rite that the husband can claim a refund of money (bride price) should the marriage fail. It is believed that the ancestors are a witness to the marriage, and only the physical body that is sent to the husband in the marriage, the Erhi (spirit double), remains in the family home. This explains why a woman is brought back to be buried in her family home when she dies in Urhobo culture.

In the ancestral home of the man, the wife is welcomed into the family by the eldest member of the family. There, she is expected to confess all of her love affairs during and after her betrothal to her husband, if any, and only then can she be absolved from all her wrongdoings. She becomes a full member of her husband's family after this ritual, and is assumed to be protected by the supernatural (Erivwin). This ritual symbolizes an agreement between the wife and the Erivwin.

If the wife later becomes unfaithful, it is believed that she will be punished by the Erivwin – this is believed to be the reason why married Urhobo women are very faithful to their husbands.

Urhobo calendar

The Urhobo Okpo (week) is made up of four days based on regulated market cycles, religious worship, marriages, and other community life. The four days of the Urhobo week are Edewo, Ediruo, Eduhre, and Edebi. In Urhobo mythology, Edewo and Eduhre are sacred days to divinities, spirits, and ancestors. Most markets are held on these days. On Edewo, ancestors are venerated. 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 work on these days so as not to disturb the spirits.

Urhobo months are called Emeravwe, and are made up of 28 days. Most of the annual festivals are held during the months of Asa, Eghwre, Orianre, and Urhiori. These are the months of harvest, and also when farming activity is at its lowest, so most farmers are free to partake in festivities. These are also months to honor the gods of the land, as well as spiritual forces that brought a good harvest.

Food

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 come from the Igbos (Eba), and Ogbono soup, made from Irvingia gabonensis and sometimes referred to as Ogbolo soup, comes from 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), Oghwevwri (emulsified palm oil soup), and starch (Usi), made from the cassava plant. It is heated and stirred into a thick mound with added palm oil to give the starch its unique orange-yellow colour. Oghwevwri is composed of smoked or dried fish, bush meat, unique spices, potash and oil palm juice. Other delicacies of the Urhobo tribe are palm nut oil soup and amiedi or banga soup, often eaten with usi and or garri. Banga is made from palm kernel. Other culinary delicacies include Iriboto, Iriberhare, and Okpariku.

Religion

The main focus of Urhobo traditional religion are the adoration of "Ọghẹnẹ" (Almighty God), the supreme deity, and recognition of Edjo and Erhan (divinities). Some of these divinities could be regarded as personified attributes of Ọghẹnẹ. The Urhobo also worship God with Orhen (white chalk). If an Urhobo feels oppressed by someone, he appeals to Ọghẹnẹ, who he believes to be an impartial judge, to adjudicate between him and his opponent. The fundamental factor and manifestation of all divinities in Urhobo religion is Oghene. Urhobo divinities can be classified into four main categories, which probably coincide with the historical development of the people. These categories are Guardian divinities, War divinities, Prosperity divinities, and Fertility and Ethical divinities.

Erivwin, which is the cult of ancestors and predecessors (Esemo and Iniemo), is another important element in the Urhobo belief system. The dead are believed to be living, and looked upon as active members who watch over the affairs of the living individuals in 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 incarnates into the world. Erhi also controls the overall well being (Ufuoma) of the man. Ọghẹnẹ (God) is like a constitutional Monarch who sets 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 Ehri is indestructible, and goes back to join 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.

Despite this age-old and complex belief system, 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 practiced with strings of cowries. Urhobos also practice Christianity, with many members belonging to Catholic and new evangelical denominations.[4] There are 1,261 ejo (deities), including the one-handed, one-legged mirror-holding whirlwind-god Aziza.[5]

Urhobo notable people

See also

References

  1. ^ "A Royal History of the Okpe-Urhobo of Nigeria by Prince Joseph Asagba". Waado.org. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  2. ^ "Urhobo kingdoms and political staff of office - Vanguard News". Vanguard News. 2013-11-25. Retrieved 2016-12-24. 
  3. ^ Ekeh, Peter (2005). Studies in Urhobo culture. Buffalo: Urhobo Historical Society. p. 2. 
  4. ^ Urhobo Historical Society. "Epha: An Urhobo System of Divination and Its Esoteric Language By M.Y. Nabofa and Ben O. Elugbe". Waado.org. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  5. ^ "Aziza: King of the Urhobo Forest By Ochuko J. Tonukari". Waado.org. 2003-05-20. Retrieved 2014-04-03. 
  6. ^ https://www.bellanaija.com/2017/02/i-am-proud-of-the-woman-you-have-become-richard-mofe-damijo-celebrates-his-daughter-nichole-on-her-birthday/
  7. ^ Michael Christopher Onajirhevbe Ibru, Urhobo Historical Society. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  8. ^ Grillo Pavilion honors Bruce Onobrakpeya, Vanguard, 10 March 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  9. ^ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Urhobo Historical Society. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
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