THE ABC OF URHOBO LAND, SOUTHERN NIGERIA

Traditional wrestling match: a test of strength of young men who have attained manhood.

 

The People

Urhobo is one of over 300 ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria. It is one of the 10 largest in the country, and the largest in Delta State, South South Nigeria. In Nigeria, Urhobo land occupies an important location in the oil-rich Niger Delta, which makes it one of the largest producers of crude oil. 

Urhobo people are made up of numerous clans that are close-knit, and which make up the larger Urhobo land. The clans are themselves made up of a group of villages, all of which trace their origin to a common ancestral root. 

There are three different stories as regards the origin of Urhobo people and these include: 

·    The claim that Urhobo people moved to their present location in Delta State from Benin in  Edo State (Clans like Iyede, Uzere, Uvwie, Emevo, Ozoro, Aviara, Abraka, Olomu, Okpe and  Agbon). 

·    Another claim is that Urhobo people moved to their present location from what is now Ijaw land (also in the Niger Delta, South South, Nigeria). And the clans that share this belief include Ehwu, Ughienvwe and Ughelli. 

·   The third claim is that Urhobo people have an Ibo origin. Evwreni, Igbide, Enwe and Olomu clans share this belief because they believe that Ibo elephant hunters from somewhere near present day Port Harcourt discovered their present location. 

However, the claim with the most support by Urhobo people is the belief that they moved from Benin to their present location. 

It is interesting to note that Urhobo people and their Isoko-speaking brothers in Delta State share common values, which are mostly manifest in their socio-cultural traditions because they share the same ancestral background. 

In time past, there was a prominent kingdom in Urhobo land known as Owowa Kingdom. This kingdom was later to split into four individual kingdoms, which today make up Ughelli, Ogor, Agbara, and Orogun kingdoms respectively.

Occupation

Agriculture forms the main occupation of Urhobo people. Perhaps this may be as a result of the tropical rain forest where they are situated. Although fishing also plays a part in the life of an average Urhobo family, farming is a more known occupation, especially in areas where floods are not a serious threat. And subsistence crops such as yam, plantain, cassava, corn, pepper, and banana are among the main crops grown. A cash crop like rubber is also grown, which takes care of the raw materials needed by the local rubber and plastic products industry in the country. The people are also skilled in the production of oil palm products like palm oil and palm kernels.

The outline indicates the entire area of Urhoboland in the Delta State, South South, Nigeria.


The Geographical Area of Urhoboland

Urhobo people occupy nine out of a total of twenty-five local government areas in Delta State.

 These include:

 

v  Okpe                                            

v  Uvwie

v  Warri South

v  Ethiope West

v  Sapele

v  Ughelli North

v  Ughelli South

v  Patani

v  Ethipoe East 

Except for Warri South Local Government Area, which is multi-ethnic, the other local government areas are predominantly dominated by Urhobo people. 

There is also a large settlement of Urhobo people in Ologbo area of neighbouring Edo State. But their presence in this place is as a result of movement from their native land. 

Traditional Administration

There are about twenty-two kingdoms in Urhobo land. All the kingdoms, though dependent on each other, have a high level of freedom in their administration without loyalty to any central or overall king. Unlike some other ethnic groups in Nigeria, where there is a central king with other smaller ones pledging their loyalty to the monarch, the Urhobo people do not have this in their monarchical system. 

The administrator of each kingdom is an Ovie, as they are commonly called, although other titles may be used. Of the twenty-two kingdoms, those of Ughelli, Okpe, Uvwie, Agbon are most prominent.

An Ovie (King) in company of his chiefs.


Some of the kingdoms are:

 Kingdom                 Monarch

1.     Uvwie              Ovie of Uvwie

2.     Okpe                Orodje of Okpe

3.     Agbon              Ovie of Agbon

4.     Ughelli             Ovie of Ughelli

5.     Ogor                 Ovie of Ogor

6.     Olomu              Ovie of Olomu

7.     Agbarha           Ovie of Agbarha

1.     Orogun             Okpara-Uku of Orogun

8.     Abraka              Ovie of Abraka

9.     Ehwu                 Ovie of Ehwu

10.   Ughievwen       Ovie of Ughievwen

11.   Agbarho            Osuvwie of Agbarho  

Fashion and Style

Young females usually have a style of dressing that is different from the older ones. During a rite to usher girls into womanhood, (usually between the age of 14 and 18, which varies from clan to clan), they wear a single wrapper (made from a material called George) wrapped round their body, with beads to decorate their hair, neck and wrist. They do not wear blouses, like their older counterparts. Though even this is now going out of fashion, the passage into womanhood is symbolic for the purpose of introducing the girls to what it takes to be adults, mothers and also teaches them the need to be independent women. 

Ever since, the Urhobo traditional attire has developed to become what it is today. And as is common in the South South Nigeria, the traditional attire worn by the Urhobo people is made from the George material and lace (another material brought in by foreigners). 

The women make the lace into a tight-fitting blouse, which they wear on two layers of George wrappers that they wrap round their waists. The men have the lace material made into a turtleneck, knee-length flowing gown and usually worn on one George wrapper wrapped round the waist. This is complemented with a hat worn on the head (which locals say was inherited from the white colonialists) with a walking stick as an additional accessory. 

Accessories like red beads worn on the neck and on the wrists are common among both men and women. This has come be part of their style of dressing over time. 

The attire described above is worn at all traditional occasions, such as community meetings, wedding ceremonies and festivals.

Traditional attires of Urhobo people.

Note:

Before the coming of the George wrappers, Urhobo people were known to have worn clothes like efenodu, leleji or obada. However, when the colonial masters brought with them the present George materials from Europe, the locally woven clothes seemed to be too coarse in texture, thus they gradually went into extinction. 

Entertainment

The music of Urhobo people is peculiar to them. It is called Ovwurotor-rurhobo, and is basically percussion-based. The musical instruments are locally made to give a unique feel to the performance of the songs. Although modern musical instruments like the keyboard now feature in Urhobo music, but the main instruments are isorogun or agidigbo. It is made of a box with either a circular or rectangular hole made in the centre. Over the hole are short blades made from metals. 

The blades, cut into various lengths are nailed to the edge of the hole in such a way that it gives a keyboard sound. Other accompanying instruments are akise, made from calabash with a net of beadlike seeds woven over it. There are also gongs (agogo) of different sizes built into a xylophone-like structure, which actually plays like the xylophone. Drums (igede) also feature among the instruments. 

There are several local musicians, including Okpa Akinbo (popularly called Urhobo Reggae Exponent), Sally Young (who plays Urhobo highlife), and Lucky Okhue. 

However, the most popular one appeared to be the late Chief Omoko-Omoko, who dominated the Urhobo music scene for over 30 years and was respected in Urhobo contemporary music. But recently a much younger musician known as Kefee, in her mid-20s has rekindled the spirit of the Urhobo music. Unlike Chief Omoko-Omoko, Kefee has been able to take Urhobo music beyond Urhobo land to the larger Nigerian society.

Urhobo local musicians.


Akise (left) and agogo are common musical instruments used by Urhobo musicians.


 Urhobo Delicacies 

Here are some known meals of Urhobo origin: 

Ohwo soup

Urhobo people are noted for the love of their special delicacies not found elsewhere in Nigeria. The Ohwo soup is usually served with starch made from cassava*. No ceremony in Urhobo land is considered complete without ohwo and starch served. And the Urhobos see the cuisine as an extension of their heritage. 

Recipe

v  Palm oil

v  Fish (fresh or smoked)

v  Pepper

v  Salt Seasoning (if desired)

v  Banga soup


Starch with banga (palm fruits) soup is a common delicacy enjoyed by an average Urhobo.


 There is also Banga (a Pidgin English+ word for palm fruits) or more appropriately, Amiedi (in the Urhobo language, meaning liquid from palm fruits). It is prepared from cooked palm fruits. The choice of other ingredients that go with it depends on the individual. 

Recipe 

v  Fresh palm fruits

v  Fresh or Smoked fish

v  Seasoning

v  Pepper

v  Salt

 Eriboto soup

This is another delicacy that the Urhobos flaunt with pride. It's an indispensable accompaniment of ohwo and starch at ceremonies, although individuals or families also prepare it for the home. It is not cooked but served after all the ingredients have been mixed. 

 Recipe

v  Water

v  Ground pepper

v  Crayfish

v  Smoked fish

v  Seasoning

v  Salt

v  Ukodo 

This is a local porridge made from a mixture of boiled unripe plantain (or amra in Urhobo language), fresh fish, and other ingredients. The Urhobo people's love for boiled unripe plantain is amazing, as there is a parable that Urhobo people  and unripe plantain are inseparable. 

Note: All these may be served with cassava starch or garri. 

Festivals

Urhobo people have various festivals, which they celebrate at different periods of the year both in commemoration of the exploits of their ancestors, and also for strengthening communal ties.

Some of the festivals are celebrated in the following intervals:

 

v  Annually;

v  Every three years;

v  Twice a decade

v  Every twenty-five years

 

      While some have no fixed period, some of the major festivals include: 

Okpe Local Government Area


Adane-Okpe Festival

The Adane-Okpe Festival is a cultural festival celebrated by the Okpe people. It is usually held on December 30 every year. The festival, which is celebrated with much ceremony, attracts Okpe indigenes from far and near to converge at Okpe town of Orerokpe, its local government headquarters. The festival's aim is to cleanse and purify the society, and it is strictly a male affair. 

There are lots of local cuisines available as well as music and dances during the festival. The festival also serves as a time when traditional titles are conferred on deserving sons and daughters of Okpe. Ancestral rituals also feature prominently for remembrance of ancestors. 

Ibiokpo Masquerade* Festival

This is another Okpe festival, which holds annually. The festival holds at the Okpe town of Djeddo, near Ekpan. It is however not of equal prominence with Ada-Ene Okpe festival.

Okpoitita Festival

Celebrated during the month of March every three years, Okpoitita, a deity, is celebrated by Iriama indigenes to purify and protect their society from evil spirit. It witnesses the dancing of masquerades, while sacrifices are also offered to ancestors.

Uvwie Local Government Area 

Edju-Uvwie Festival

This is an annual Uvwie festival held in Uvwierorho and Evwokpokpo (or Effurun) the headquarters of Uvwie. Like Ada-Ene Okpe, it draws Uvwie indigenes to the town of Effurun, near Warri, during the month of March every year to celebrate the festival. It has its origin in Arhowa or (Erhowa). 

The festival is believed to be for the protection and material progress of Uvwie community. It is also a period when people are judged for their behaviour, both moral and otherwise. This is accompanied with great funfair. 

The Edju-Uvwie, which is the ancestral deity of Uvwie people, has two sets of masquerades with the main one wearing a mask that resembles the hat of ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. The masquerade is usually decorated in red colours. The second is known as Igwe. 


Egbirimirhe Festival      

Another Uvwie festival, Egbirimirhe (or Maids Dance) is an interesting festival. It is an occasion for eligible bachelors to look forward at picking brides. Held at the Effurun market square, it witnesses the gathering of beautiful girls who wear beads with beautiful designs on their bodies and around their heads, dancing at the market square to the delight of spectators.


Ohworu-Okpa Festival

The Ohworu-Okpa festival also belongs to the Uvwie people, and is celebrated mainly by indigenes of Effurun and Ekpan. Celebrated between July and October every fifteen years, it is aimed at ensuring good yield of crops and livestock. Ohworu, which has its spiritual home at the Effurun River, was originally the personal shrine of an Uvwie herbalist.

Warri South Local Government Area


Okiroro Festival

The Okiroro festival is celebrated by the Okere-Urhobo people of Warri South Local Government Area. Celebrated between June and August annually, Okiroro is to show respect for the ancestors. The period is used to appease departed forefathers and mothers.

The highpoint of the festival is the appearance of a large number of the masquerades called Okere Juju from the site of the shrine. Afterward, the masquerades proceed to the heart of Okere town where there is a lot of fanfair.

Awankere Festival

This festival is celebrated between June and July annually to usher in peace and prosperity. Rituals are performed to appreciate the god of peace before the masquerade dance is held in public.


Ethiope West Local Government Area
 

Edjenu-Ekene Festival

This is one of the two most important festivals celebrated by the Oghara people of Delta State, which is home to the state governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori. The festival is an important occasion to which the people look forward because it is celebrated only four times in 100 years. Anxiety to witness the festival is usually higher among those in their late teens and early twenties because it will be their first experience. 

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The festival primarily ushers in abundant blessings for the general growth and development of Oghara people. Only young men and women participate, with the highpoint being the climbing of a tree beautifully decorated in assorted colours by a participant who is regarded as the “Up God”.

Ore Festival

The Ore festival is another festival celebrated by Oghara people. It holds between August and September every year, though it is of less prominence to the Edjenu-Ekene. It is a festival that is celebrated to give honour to the gods of harvest and war. The priest called Oghorughoru makes offerings to the war gods. A symbolic warrior cult features prominently at the festival. 

Ethiope East Local Government Area


Ovwuvwe Festival

The Ovwuvwe festival is celebrated in May annually at the university town of Abraka. It is meant for the protection of Abraka people who reside within and outside the town. On the festival day, young men who had gone for hunting for seven days bring in animals they have hunted down and dance around the town. Pieces of native white chalk (called orhe in the local dialect) are handed over to these men to chew as a sign of blessing.


Egba Festival

Celebrated in February annually, it symbolises the defence of both the Kokori territory and its people from external attacks. And even though inter-communal wars may not be a common feature today, the festival has endured over time. It witnesses celebrants displaying the use of cutlasses and guns as symbols of war with a lot of dancing and fanfair.

Sapele Local Government Area


Urhiepele-Ame Festival

For their love for peace and prosperity of the town, the people of Sapele celebrate the Urhiepele-Ame festival. The Urhiepele is a deity, which the Sapele people appease for the purification of the town. The festival has no fixed period of celebration.


Ibeni Festival

This is a festival celebrated by the Ibode-Eivme clan. Held in December annually, the main purpose for its celebration is to appease the gods for peace, progress and to usher in the New Year. It is a festival of masquerades, which usually has women performing the Oje dance. 

Ughelli North Local Government Area


Iyei Festival

Every September, the Ughelli people celebrate this festival to mark a new era of happiness and prosperity and also to appease the gods. During the celebration, indigenes of Ughelli visit the Ovie or the traditional ruler of the clan in his palace to show loyalty. The visit is usually celebrated with the ema and ovie dances. The highpoint of the festival is the traditional paddling of the canoe known as Umalokun on a lake, which is witnessed by the people. 

Erose-Efe Festival

This festival belongs to the Orogun people of Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State. Celebrated in April annually, its purpose is to remember the tradition of a people who were warriors. The festival is performed with procession of the people, led by Ochu (warriors) to the Erose shrine to receive blessings. Afterward, dances of war times are performed. 

Ughelli South Local Government Area


Ogba-Urhie Festival

This festival, celebrated by the Otu-Jeremi people of Ughelli South Local Government Area every July, is to usher the girls into womanhood. The festival is usually celebrated with great jubilation, dancing and funfair among the people.


 Igboze Festival

Among the Olomu people, this festival is celebrated in the month of November every five years. It is to honour Igboze, the son of Ofighogho from the Benin Kingdom. During the celebration, chieftaincy titles are conferred on deserving indigenes. It features dances and exchange of gifts. 

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