The Unique Culture And Tradition Of The Urhobo People

By Andrew Darah JP


The Urhobos are the majority ethnic group in Delta State. They occupy Delta Central exclusively but are also present in Delta South and have 9 local governments out of the 25 local governments in Delta State.

Their neighbours are the Isoko to the South East, the Itsekiri to the West, Ijaw to the South and Ukwuani people to the North East.

Oral tradition tells us that the history of the Urhobo people began from Edo territory. Their migration to the various locations they now call home started at the end of the Ogiso dynasty.

Their exodus was not like that of the Israelites where the movement was once and for all, no. In the case of the Urhobo peoples, it was various groups: each moving at its own pace, seeking homely territories.

Hence the twenty-four sub-groups that makes up the Urhobo nation, including Okpe – the largest of them all.

The Urhobo people share a common ancestry with Edo people.

It is even said that the Urhobos migrated from Edo. The language is very similar and there are cultural similarities as well. Some names and words are shared such as “Efe”.

The Urhobo people are also similar to the Isoko people of Delta State.

At a point in time, the white colonisers referred to both the Isoko and Urhobo people as the “Sobo” people. However this was fought against by both tribes. As of now, the Isokos manage to understand Urhobo at the elementary level and some Urhobos can understand the Isoko language as well

The Urhobo nation is made up of many sub-cultural unit and not a geographical unit. What binds all the various sub-cultural unit together is the commonness of Urhobo cultural worldview and tradition.

However, linguistically, there are a lot of differences. Some of these sub-grops include the Okpe people that reside in Orerokpe, Sapele, Amukpe, Aghalokpe, etc. The Uvwie people of Effurun and it’s environ, the Agbon people of Okpara, Kokori, Eku, Ovu-Oviore, etc, the Abraka people of Abraka, the Ughelli people of Ughelli, the Agbassa people, etc.

Owing to the nature of the environment they occupy, which is very close to the surface of River Niger, most of their histories, mythologies, and beliefs are water-related.

Thus the two-day annual Ohworu festival in Evwreni, the southern part of the Urhobo area where the Ohworhu water spirit and the Eravwe Oganga are displayed.
Also included in the heritage of the Urhobo people is the annual fishing festivals that include masquerades, fishing, swimming contests, and dancing.

The king in an Urhobo clan or kingdom is called the Ovie. His wife, the queen is called Ovieya and his children Ọmọ Ovie (child of the king also known as prince and princess).

But there are few exceptions to this, and examples of such are the Okpes that call their traditional ruler “Orodje”, Okere-Urhobo calls theirs “Orosuen”, Ughievwe uses Okobaro, Agbarho uses “Osuivie”, Orogun uses “Okpara – Uku” (mainly due to their proximity with Ukwuani people).

However, being descendants of the same ancestors, most of their customs and traditions are similar and in certain areas the same; such as the breaking of the kola-nut and the donation of cash to wedge the kola-nut presentation, prayers and blessing pronounced before the sharing of the kola and drinks, payment of bride prize, burial rite e.t.c.

The traditional marriage rite of the Urhobo people is unique in nature.
Traditionally, when a suitor is interested in an Urhobo maiden, he courts her. And once she agrees to marry him, the marriage begins.

Different from other ethnic traditions where the bride would first inform the father of the intentions of the groom, in Urhobo culture, the opposite is the case.
She would first inform her mother who, of course, is her primary guardian, and the mother would in turn after getting the necessary information, go to the father to inform him of the situation at hand.

The father would, in turn, ask the young man to be invited. On the first visit of the groom to be, tradition demands that he comes alone with a bottle of gin to introduce himself formally.
On a later date, as agreed by the father, the groom would come again; but this time around, he would be coming with his parents and with few other close relatives that will speak on behalf of their son.

Formal approval for marriage is given by the bride’s parents or whoever is representing the bride’s family and traditional rites of pouring the gin brought by the fiance as a libation to the father’s ancestors to bless them with health, children, and wealth.

“Ọghẹnẹ” (Almighty God) is the main focus of the Urhobo traditional religion. He is recognized as the Supreme One’ Edjo and Erhan (divinities) are recognized as well. And to them, these two deities are regarded as personified attributes of “Ọghẹnẹ”.

The Urhobo also worship God, with (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.

Classified into four main categories, Urhobo divinities, which probably coincide with the historical development of the people are Guardian deities, War deities, Prosperity deities and Fertility and Ethical deities.

However, it is important to note that the fundamental factor and manifestation of all deities in the belief system of Urhobo is “Ọghẹnẹ” (Almighty God).

Kingdoms of Urhobo nation:
There are 24 kingdoms in Urhobo nation namely; Olomu kingdom, Agbarho kingdom, Ogor kingdom, Idjerhe(Jesse) kingdom, Okpe kingdom, Agbarha-Otor kingdom, Okparabe kingdom, Okere-Urhobo kingdom, Uvwie kingdom, Effurun-Otor kingdom, Arhavwarien kingdom, Udu kingdom, Orogun kingdom, Umiaghwa-Abraka kingdom, Orhuarivie-Abraka kingdom, Eghwu(Ewu) kingdom, Ughelli kingdom, Evwreni kingdom, Agbarha-Ame kingdom, Ughievwen kingdom, Uwheru kingdom, Agbon kingdom, Oghara kingdom and Mosogar kingdom.

Values of Urhobo:
Urhobo tradition or culture has its own authentic institutions and patterns of behaviour and values. It is a tradition or culture that values highly the ideals of truth, liberty, social justice, and achievement.

The Urhobo people usually greet by saying Mee-gwooo /mi:gwɔ:/ which means “I am kneeling o” and the response is Vreen-Do /vrɜ:dÖ/ which means “Stand up. Thank you.” Whereas Mavor? /ma:vɔ:/ means “How far?”.

Main occupation of the Urhobo people:

The natural terrain of wetland and dryland afforded the Urhobo people their traditional occupations of fishing, hunting, farming, palm oil production, etc. Darah (2010) describes the Urhobo palm nut collectors as astronauts and the best in oil palm producers in the world

What are taboos in Urhobo?
A married woman from Urhobo extraction neither allow another man other than the husband to lap her nor laps another man, She does not board bike with another man sitting in front or behind another man, The married Urhobo woman does not eat in the same plate with other man.

Behavior of the Urhobo men:
Urhobo men are hard-working, loyal husband, responsible father and men with high regards for in-laws and friends of wife. Marrying Urhobo man could be one of the best thing any woman could enjoy, outside of the strong affection and protection, because average Urhobo man will always protect his home.

On a general note, the Urhobos are interesting simple welcoming and good people with interesting and entertaining culture. Most importantly they are very accommodating

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