The Urhobo People
Geography of Urhoboland & 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: Petroleum and Natural Gas
Population: 2.0 - 2.5 million people in Nigeria
Main Towns: Abraka, Effurun, Sapele, Ughelli, Warri
Main Rivers: Distributaries of River Niger including Kiabodo, Ethiope and Warri
The origin of the Urhobo people is rooted in oral tradition. While accounts may vary, one fact proliferate: The 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.
Urhobo has always strived to maintain good relations with her neighbors. Urhobo neighbors to the North-East are Ndokwa, to the South-East are Isoko, to the North are Bini, the West are Itsekiri and the South are Ijaw. Most, if not all, of these neighbors share a common origin according to tradition.
The 22 clans of Urhobo with their cultural headquarters and official administrative affiliations are shown on Table A below.
Urhobo 22 Kingdoms And Headquarters
As Well As Official Administrative Affiliations
(Local Government Areas [LGA]) As of 2004
|KINGDOM||HEADQUARTERS||L. G. A|
References: Emotornews - www.urhobonation.org
The Urhobo people are 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. The population density in Urhoboland is about 660 persons per square kilometer.
In traditional African political organization, the Urhobo nation 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 most of 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.
While the kingship system maintained a highly centralized type of government with the king assisted by a council of chiefs, the clan head (in the rule by the elders system), is assisted in the day-to-day administration of the polity by titled officers selected from the various age grades recognized in the clan. Due to political expediency and the social visibility of the king in modern day Nigeria, the number of Urhobo clans adopting the kingship system has increased. Today, the traditional political system operates side by side with the Western system.
In those clans where the age grade system is recognized, the men are categorized into 4 age grades, namely: Ekpako, Ivwragha, Otuorere, and Imitete age grades, based on age, life achievements, and contributions to the community. The women are also categorized into three age grades, namely: Ekwokweya, Evweya, and Emete age grades, based on child-bearing status. The Ekpako and Ekwokweya age grades assist in the day-to-day administration of the clan and serve as custodians of the Urhobo culture. While the Imitete and Emete age grades clean and sweep the streets, run errands and perform domestic duties, the Otuorere age grade performs heavy duties like bush clearing, building of shrines, construction works, burial and other social services. The working class and warriors belong to the Ivwragha age grade.
The natural terrain of Urhoboland afforded the Urhobo people their traditional occupations of farming and fishing. During the colonial era, the production of palm oil and palm kernel from the stands of oil palm trees which are native to Urhoboland was highly encouraged by the British colonial government. The British also found the area and climate ideal for the cultivation of rubber and cocoa as cash crops.
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. Rather, it has 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.