Over the years, there has been controversy about the territory of the four tribal groups in Delta State, especially the Urhobos, Ijaws, Itsekiris, and Isokos. These controversies have led to conflict in the state, where the Urhobos, who are the All Progressives Congress members of Warri South Local Government Area of Delta South Senatorial District, argue that Urhobo is the major ethnic group of Delta State and it consists of two kingdoms; Agbarha Warri and Okere Urhobo.
In response to their submission, the people in the Delta South Senatorial District insisted that Delta state, especially in their local government area, consists of just Ijaws, Itsekiris, and Isokos, which are the major ethnic groups that are dominant in the area.
However, according to research gathered, Urhobo is the major ethnic group in Delta State, and it is sometimes referred to as a group of people rather than a mere territory. They make up about 2 million of the population in Delta State, with a social and cultural identity with the Bini people.
The Urhobo people live in a territory between the East of Delta State and Bayelsa State, with Isoko to the southeast, the Itsekiri and Ijaw to the west, the Bini and Bini to the north, the Ijaw to the south and the Ukwuan to the northeast, as their neighbours.
In this piece, Naijabiography explores the history, culture, religion, and trades of the Urhobo people of Delta State.
The Urhobo people are one of the rare tribes whose history is unrecorded. However, the reason for this is that there are hardly any records of Europe in the past. But according to oral tradition, the Urhobo people’s history actually started in Edo territory, which at the end of the Ogiso dynasty, they began to migrate to the many places they now call home.
There has always been a single, uniform Urhobo language. Also, a variation on many different levels has coloured Urhobo since the beginning of time. Thus, the numerous Urhobo kingdoms exhibit these variances. One branch of the Urhobo language has separated into its own ethnic nation (Isoko). Prospecting for this possibility in a different dialect (Okpe).
Isoko is an Urhobo dialect. Isoko has long been considered to be merely a dialect and cultural subset of Urhobo, according to the majority of historians, linguists, and cultural anthropologists. The British really confirmed that these two ethnic groups had previously been referred to as the “Sobo” people. The Isokos were later referred to as Eastern Urhobos. Some people still hold the view that these two ethnic groups are one due to their shared culture, language, cuisine, and almost every other aspect.
The majority of things have names that are similar in both Isoko and Urhobo. They greet in the same way—Urhobos say Migwor and Isokos say Digwor—marry in the same way, according to the same customs, and even dress similarly. There are twenty-four subgroups that make up the Urhobo nation, with Okpe being the largest.
The four days that make up the Urhobo Okpo (week) are based on regulated market cycles, religious ceremonies, marriages, and other aspects of communal life. Edewo, Ediruo, Eduhre, and Edebi are the four names of the days. The days of Edewo and Eduhre are holy to gods, ghosts, and ancestors. These days are when most marketplaces are held. On Edewo, ancestors are respected. The majority of conventional religious rites take place on Eduhre.
It is thought that spirits are active in the forests and farmlands of Edewo and Eduhre. Therefore, in order to avoid upsetting the spirits, farmers rarely work these days. Also, emiravwe, or Urhobo months, are made up of 28 days. Furthermore, the Asa, Eghwre, Orianre, and Urhiori months are when the majority of the yearly celebrations take place.
However, since farming work is at its lowest during these months of harvest, most farmers are free to participate. These are also the months to pay homage to the natural deities as well as the supernatural powers responsible for a bountiful crop.
The Culture of the Urhobo People
The Urhobos inhabit an area very near to and occasionally on the Niger river in boats. Water is a key theme in many of their histories, mythologies, and philosophies. Annual fishing celebrations with activities including dancing, fishing, swimming competitions, and masquerades have become a staple of Urhobo culture. The southernmost region of the Urhobo area, Evwreni, hosts the yearly two-day Ohworu festival. The Ohworhu water spirit and the Eravwe Oganga are on display during this celebration.
The annual fishing festivities, which feature masquerades, fishing, bathing, and dancing, are also part of the Urhobo people’s heritage. The Urhobo clan, or kingdom’s ruler, is referred to as the Ovie. His children are called Ovieya, and Ovieya is the name of his wife, the queen-child of the king, also known as prince and princess).
The Okpes call their traditional ruler “Orodje,” Okere-Urhobo calls theirs “Orosuen,” Agbarho uses “Osuivie,” and Orogun uses “Okpara-Uku,” but there are a few exceptions to this rule, which is mainly due to their proximity to the Ukwuani people.
However, as a result of the fact that they are from the same descendants and ancestors, they share many customs and traditions, such as the breaking of the kola nut and the donation of money to wedge the kola nut presentation, the proclamation of prayers and blessings prior to the sharing of the kola and drinks, the payment of the bride price; the burial rite, among others.
Marriage of Urhobo
The marriage tradition is known as one of the best traditions in Nigeria, as a result of the process of the marriage; from when the groom and bride met to the point they get married, which is usually a memorable festival for couples.
In Urhobo culture, being married necessitates praying to God and the ancestors known as Erivwin and Oghene, respectively. Here, the bride’s ancestral home or the home of a patrilineal relative of the bride is the location of the marriage ceremony, known as Udi Arhovwaje.
An Urhobo virgin is traditionally courted by a suitor who is interested in her. And the marriage starts as soon as she consents to wed him. However, in contrast to other ethnic traditions, where the bride would initially inform the father of the groom’s intentions, this is not the case in Urhobo culture. Instead, She would first contact her mother, who is naturally her primary guardian, and the mother would then go to the father and advise him of the current situation after gathering the required information.
The parents would then request an invitation from the young man. According to tradition, the prospective groom must arrive alone with a bottle of gin on his first visit to make a proper introduction. The groom would then return at a later time, as arranged with the father, but this time he would bring his parents and a group of other close relatives who would speak on his behalf.
This, according to tradition, is referred to as “Ghore-Etse” in Urhobo tradition and simply means “to knock.”
The groom visits the bride’s father’s house with his family and friends and brings drinks, salt, kola nuts, and occasionally food that the bride’s family has requested. The bride’s parents, or whoever is speaking on their behalf, officially approve the union. The groom also performs the customary procedures of pouring gin as a tribute to the father’s ancestors in order to wish them good health, progeny, and riches. Should the marriage not succeed after this marriage rite, the husband may request a refund of the money (bride price).
However, should the marriage not succeed after this marriage rite, the husband may request a refund of the money (bride price). Only the physical body that is sent to the husband in the marriage, the Erhi, is believed to remain in the family house after the marriage, which is witnessed by the ancestors. This explains why a deceased woman is transported back to her family’s residence for burial.
The man’s eldest relative welcomes the wife into the family in his ancestral house. If she has any love affairs, she is required to confess them all to her husband and is then free of them. After this procedure, she becomes a complete part of her husband’s family and is believed to be under the protection of the supernatural being called Erivwin. This ceremony represents a contract between the wife and the Erivwin. It is thought that the Erivwin will punish the wife if she later commits infidelity; this may be why Urhobo women have a longstanding reputation for being devoted and faithful spouses.
The religion of the Urhobo
The adoration of “ghn,” the supreme deity, and the acknowledgement of Edjo and Erhan are the primary tenets of Urhobo traditional religion (divinities). Some of these deities can be seen as personified manifestations of ghn. Along with Orhen, the Urhobo also worship God (white chalk).
Thus, an Urhobo will ask ghn, whom he regards as a fair arbitrator, to decide a dispute between him and his adversary if he feels oppressed by that person. All divinities have Oghene as their core component and manifestation. Four broad categories can be made for Urhobo deities, which likely correspond to historical progression. Guardian deities, War deities, Prosperity deities, Fertility deities, and Ethical deities fall under these categories.
Another crucial component is Erivwin, which is the cult of the ancestors and predecessors (Esemo and Iniemo). The deceased are perceived as active family members who keep an eye on their family’s affairs and are thought to be alive. The Urhobos hold that there are two aspects to human existence: the physical body (Ugboma) and the spiritual body (Erhi).
Before a man becomes physically present in the world, the Erhi determines his destiny and oversees his self-realization. The man’s general wellbeing (Ufuoma) is likewise under the control of Erhi. Ghn is comparable to a king who places his seal on the course of history.
Man’s fate is confirmed and sealed in the spirit world, Erivwin. The Urhobo believe that the physical body, Ugboma, decomposes during the ultimate voyage of the Erhi, whereas the Ehri is indestructible and travels with the ancestors to Erivwin following the transition. The complex and symbolic funeral rites are intended to get the deceased Erhi in the right frame of mind for a joyful reunion with the ancestors.
Despite this long-standing and intricate belief system, Christianity is quickly gaining acceptance as a legitimate religion in the majority of Urhobo communities. Many are members of the Catholic and new evangelical movements. In addition, many West African ethnic groups use epha divination, which is akin to the Yoruba ifá and uses strings of cowries.
Foods of the Urhobo People
The Urhobo tribe is where the extremely well-known Banga Soup, also known as Amiedi, was created. It is a palm kernel-based soup. You can pair this renowned soup with cassava-derived starch (Usi). To give the starch its distinctive orange-yellow hue, palm oil is added, and the mixture is heated and mixed into a thick mound. Banga soup and starch have developed into favourites across the continent.
Other prominent foods from the Urhobo tribe include starch known as Usi, emulsified palm oil soup called Oghwevwri, and Ukhodo (a yam and unripe plantain dish cooked with either beef, poultry, or fish and seasoned with lemon grass and potash). Condiments such as smoked or dried fish, bush meat, unusual spices, potash, and oil palm juice make up Oghwevwri. Iriboto, Iriboerhanrhe, Ugbagba, and Okpariku are also delicacies.