Urhobo people

The Urhobos are people located in Southern Nigeria, near the northwestern Niger Delta. The Urhobo 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.

The word Urhobo refers to a group of people rather than a territory. Approximately two million people are Urhobos. They have a social and cultural affinity to the Edo people of Nigeria. The Urhobo people live in a territory bounded by latitudes 6°and 5°, 15° North and Longitudes 5°, 40° and 6°, 25° East in the Delta and the Bayelsa States of Nigeria. Their neighbors are the Isoko to the Southeast, the Itsekiri and Ijaw to the West, the Edo people, Bini, to the North, the Ijaw to the South and the Ukwuani people (to the Northeast). Urhobo territory consists of evergreen forests with many oil palm trees. The territory is covered by a network of streams, whose volume and flow are directly affected by the seasons. The wet season is traditionally from April to October, and dry season ranges from November to March.

Urhobo People
Ihwo r' Urhobo
Bruce Onobrakpeya
Alibaba Akporobome.jpg
Ben Okri
Felix Ibru
Tanure Ojaide.jpg
Isidore Okpewho
Total population
c. 2 million
Related ethnic groups
Isoko, Bini
An Urhobo mask

Indigenous government and politics

The Urhobos are organized into two different political kingdoms, gerontocracies and plutocracies. A gerontocracy is a government run by elders, based on the age-grade-system, while a plutocracy is governed by the rich and wealthy, with some elements of 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. The people are organized either by elders or by the wealthy.

Urhobo indigenous governments have an Ovie (king), who is the highest political figure. 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 (Ogbu). Other political titles are specific to the different kingdoms. The judicial system places a clear distinction between civil and criminal offenses.

The queen, is called Ovieya, and her children are known as Ọmọ Ovie. Presently, this name is given to children without royal heritage. Some Urhobo cultural divisions adopted titles other than Ovie. For example, the Okpe call their traditional ruler Orodje, Okere-Urhobo call theirs Orosuen, Agbarho uses Osuivie, Orogun use Okpara-Uku" (mainly due to their proximity with Ukwuani people), and the Urhobos in the Olomu Kingdom call their king Ohworode. Some Southern Urhobo clans and communities also practice the Odio system, which is widespread in the Isoko region.


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 Hausa land 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."[1]

— Professor Peter Palmer Ekeh, founder of the Urhobo Historical Society, Studies in Urhobo Culture

The bulk of the Urhobo people reside in the Southwestern 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 Bayelsa.[2] 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 and Bayelsa:

  • Ethiope East
  • Ethiope West
  • Okpe
  • Sapele
  • Udu
  • Ughelli North
  • Ughelli South
  • Uvwie
  • Warri South
  • Patani
  • Sagbama (in Bayelsa State)
  • Ikpoba Okha (in Edo State)

Urhobos also have large settlements in Ore, Owo and Okitipupa in Ondo State, Ajegunle and other places in Lagos State, Oro in Kwara State, as well as other clusters across Nigeria.




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


Marriage in Urhobo culture requires prayers 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.

The groom goes with his relatives and friends to the bride's father's home, bringing gifts of drinks, salt, kola nuts and occasionally food requested by the bride's family. Formal is given by the bride's parents, or whomever is representing the bride's family, as are the traditional rites of pouring gin, brought by the groom, as a tribute to the father's ancestors in order to bless them with health, children and wealth. After this marriage rite the husband can claim a refund of the money (bride price) should the marriage fail. It is believed that the ancestors witness 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 the ancestral home of the man, the wife is welcomed into the family by the eldest member. She is expected to confess all of her love affairs during and after her betrothal to her husband, if any, and is then absolved from of them. 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 why wives are faithful to their husbands.

Urhobo and Isoko

Urhobo has never been an homogenous linguistic entity. Since time immemorial, Urhobo has been colored by variation that occur on various levels. These variations manifest in the various Urhobo clans and kingdoms. A specific dialect of Urhobo has even broken off and become an individual ethnic nationality (Isoko). Another dialect is prospecting at this option (Okpe). The main reason for this break-off is that these dialects see themselves as individual groups. The Isoko Dialect of Urhobo is so broad and large that it is effectively a language of its own. Isoko is a proto-Edoid language and hence it is closer to how Urhobo once was when the people said goodbye to their Benin progenitors. Isoko has its own sub-dialects such as Iyede, Erhowa, Enwhe, Olomoro, Oleh, etc. The main dialectal difference between Urhobo and Isoko include; Use of Degwo instead of Migwo for greeting, repetition of utterances and words.i.e. “Yanzobone Yanzobone (Come here, Come here)”, different names for various objects, etc.[4]

James W. Welch once asserted that Isoko is a dialect of Urhobo. For many years, most historians, linguists and cultural anthropologists are of the opinion that Isoko is just a dialect and a cultural unit of Urhobo. In fact, this was upheld by the British that these two ethnic groups were once referred to as the "Sobo" people. Later on, the Isokos were called the Eastern Urhobos. Till now, some people are of the belief that these two ethnic units are one due to similarities in culture, language, food and virtually everything. The Isoko and Urhobo names for most items are mostly the same. They greet the same way ( Urhobos say Migwor and Isokos say Digwor ), marriages are in the same tradition, traditional religion and philosophy is akin and even dressing is the same.[5] The Urhobo nation is made up of twenty-four sub-groups, including the largest, Okpe.[6][7]

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 are Edewo, Ediruo, Eduhre and Edebi. 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.

Spirits are believed to be active in the farmlands and forests on Edewo and Eduhre. Therefore, farmers rarely 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, when farming activity is at its lowest, so most farmers are free to partake. These are also months to honor the gods of the land, as well as spiritual forces that brought a good harvest.


As with most tribes in Nigeria, certain foods are considered to belong to or originate from a particular tribe. For example, pounded yam and egusi soup come from the Yoruba's (Eba), and Ogbono soup, made from Irvingia gabonensis and sometimes referred to as Ogbolo soup, comes from people of Esan or Etsakor descent. Urhobos claim 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.


The main focus of Urhobo traditional religion is 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. Oghene is the fundamental factor and manifestation of all divinities. Urhobo divinities can be classified into four main categories, which probably coincide with historical development. 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. The dead are believed to be living, and looked upon as active members who watch over the affairs of their family. Urhobos believe in the duality of man, i.e., that man consists of two beings: physical body (Ugboma) and spiritual body (Erhi).

It is the Erhi 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 is like a monarch who sets his seal on the path of destiny.

In the spirit world, Erivwin, man's destiny is ratified and sealed. In the final journey of the Erhi, after transition, the Urhobo believe the physical body, Ugboma, decays while the Ehri is indestructible and joins the ancestors in Erivwin. The elaborate and symbolic burial rites are meant to prepare the departed Erhi for happy re-union with the ancestors.

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. Many belong to Catholic and new evangelical denominations.[8]

Epha divination, similar to the Yoruba Ifá and practiced by many West African ethnic groups, is practiced with strings of cowries. There are 1,261 ejo (deities), including the one-handed, one-legged mirror-holding whirlwind-god Aziza.[9]


See also


  1. ^ Studies in Urhobo culture. Buffalo: Urhobo Historical Society. 2005. p. 2. Unknown parameter |last 1= ignored (|last1= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |first 1= ignored (|first1= suggested) (help)
  2. ^ "Ofoni Community | Tarakiri Cluster Development Foundation". www.tarakiriclusterfoundation.org. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  3. ^ performer., Trainer, Meghan, 1993- composer, Title, ISBN 2016629149 Check |isbn= value: checksum (help), OCLC 889187761 |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. ^ . http://urhobotoday.com http://urhobotoday.com/?p=19663. Retrieved 2015-10-23. Missing or empty |title= (help); External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ "News Update". Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  6. ^ "A Royal History of the Okpe-Urhobo of Nigeria by Prince Joseph Asagba". Waado.org. Retrieved 2014-04-03.
  7. ^ "Urhobo kingdoms and political staff of office - Vanguard News". Vanguard News. 2013-11-25. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Aziza: King of the Urhobo Forest By Ochuko J. Tonukari". Waado.org. 2003-05-20. Retrieved 2014-04-03.
  10. ^ ""I am proud of the woman you have become" Richard Mofe-Damijo Celebrates his Daughter Nichole on her Birthday - BellaNaija". www.bellanaija.com. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  11. ^ Michael Christopher Onajirhevbe Ibru, Urhobo Historical Society. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  12. ^ https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9319634/
  13. ^ https://www.pulse.com.gh/entertainment/movies/daniel-edah-too-much-hatred-in-ghanas-movie-industry-says-producer/rd0glq2
  14. ^ Grillo Pavilion honors Bruce Onobrakpeya, Vanguard, 10 March 2010. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  15. ^ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Urhobo Historical Society. Retrieved 19 December 2011.

15. ^http://economicplatform.ng/urhobo-people-occupy-following-local-government-areas/ Urhobo people occupy the following local government areas.

Agbon Kingdom

The Agbon Kingdom (also Agbon ẹkpotọ, Agbon clan) is one of twenty-four subunits of Urhobo culture that have been in existence since before the rise of the Benin Empire in the 1440s and before the arrival of the Portuguese in the Western Niger Delta in the 1480s. It is located in the Delta State of Nigeria which occupies a large space of about 375 square kilometres. This kingdom is surrounded by other Urhobo communities in the locality. The traditional seat of government in this kingdom is at Isiokolo.


Amiedi is a soup eaten by the Urhobo people of Nigeria. It is made with palm oil (Elaeis guineensis) extract.

Aziza (African mythology)

The Aziza (African) are a type of beneficent supernatural race in West African (specifically, Dahomey) mythology. Living in the forest, they provide good magic for hunters. They are also known to have given practical and spiritual knowledge to people (including knowledge of the use of fire).

The Aziza are described as little hairy people and are said to live in anthills and silk-cotton trees.While the Aziza are usually described as a people, some traditions also refer to a single individual by name "Aziza", with similar traits. For example, Jeje oral tradition has a divinity called "Aziza" (described as a small, single-legged man smoking a pipe).According to Ochuko Tonukari, Aziza is also a god of the Urhobo people of the Western Niger Delta of Nigeria.

Ben Okri

Ben Okri OBE FRSL (born 15 March 1959) is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions, and has been compared favourably to authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.

Gamaliel Onosode

Gamaliel Oforitsenere Onosode (22 May 1933 – 29 September 2015) was a foremost Nigerian technocrat, administrator and a former presidential candidate of the All Nigeria People's Party of Nigeria. Educated at the Government College, Ughelli and the University of Ibadan, he emerged in the 1970s as one of Nigeria's leading educated chief executives, when he was at the helm of NAL merchant bank of Nigeria. Over the years, he rose to become a leading boardroom player in Nigeria's corporate environment. He was also a former presidential adviser to President Shehu Shagari and a former president of the Nigerian Institute of Management.In 2013, he founded the Gamaliel & Susan Onosode Foundation (GAMSU), to help improve education in Nigeria, and provide support for educational and societal development causes in Nigeria.

Jereton Mariere

Samuel Jereton Mariere (1907 – 9 May 1971) was the first governor of the former Midwest State of Nigeria from February 1964 to January 1966. He was also the first chancellor of the University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos and the first president of the Christian Council of Nigeria.In 1935 Mariere was elected secretary-general of the Urhobo Progressive Union, an association created in 1931 to articulate and chart a direction for the Urhobo people. He was subsequently created a traditional chieftain by them, becoming the Olorogun of Evwreni in 1953.

He was elected a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives for the Urhobo East and later Central district.

Mariere was a leader of the agitation for creation of a new region out of the old Western Region, which was dominated by the Yoruba. The Mid-Western Region was created in 1963 after a plebiscite in which all the Urhobo divisions voted unanimously in favor, and Mariere was later appointed the first governor. Following this he was given two other aristocratic titles, that of the Onisogene of Aboh in 1964 and that of the Ogifueze of Agbor in 1965.

Mariere died in 1971.

A students residential hall is named after him in the University of Lagos, with a life-size statue at the entrance.

John Dungs

John David Dungs (3 February 1952 – 2 May 2014) served as Military Administrator of Delta State from August 1996 until August 1998 during the military regime of General Sani Abacha.

In August 1990, Lieutenant Colonel Dungs was a member of the multinational force in Liberia when a gunboat was seized, capturing 27 rebels.Warri in Delta State is the location of an oil refinery, petrochemical plant and deep-water river port. As governor, in March 1997 Dungs moved the headquarters of the Warri local government area from Ogbe-Ijoh, an Ijaw town, to Ogidigben in the Itsekiri area. The decision caused an outburst of violence among the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo people of the area, known as the Warri Crisis.

Defending his record as Delta State governor in an October 2009 interview, Dung said "... we did the little we could do. What we had we used it to develop the area" and mentioned his unrealized plans to develop the region into a tourist area. He expressed optimism about the recent problems of the Niger Delta, saying that the governors were becoming more realistic.Dungs was a candidate to become the People's Democratic Party candidate in the 2007 governorship elections for Plateau State.

In April 2009, Dung was an unsuccessful contender to become traditional ruler of the Berom people in Jos.Dungs died on 2 May 2014 en route to a hospital after collapsing at his residence in Rayfield, Jos. His death came within the week following the death of his father, Chief Dung Jok, the district head of Riyom.

John Odigie Oyegun

John Odigie Oyegun (born 12 August 1939) is a Nigerian politician who is serving as the first national chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Nigeria. He was also the Executive Governor of Edo State between 1992 and 1993, during the aborted Nigerian Third Republic.

Michael Ibru

Michael Ibru (December 25, 1930 – September 6, 2016) was a Nigerian businessman from Agbara-Otor, Delta State. He was the head of the Ibru Organization, one of the largest conglomerates in Nigeria. As a traditional chieftain of his homeland, Ibru bore the tribal honorific Olorogun and often used it as a pre-nominal style. This title is also borne by many of the members of his large family in the same way.


Oghwevwri is an emulsified palm oil soup eaten by the Urhobo people of Southern Nigeria. It is often composed of unique spices, smoked or dried fish, potash and oil palm juice.

Okpara Inland

Okpara Inland is a community located in the Ethiope East local government area of Delta State Nigeria. This community is a progeny of the Agbon Kingdom. Local history has it that it is the first son of Agbon whose traditional seat of leadership is Isiokolo. The previous king of the community, now deceased, HRH Chamberlain Oyibocha Orovwuje, Ogurimerime I, used this community as his centre of leadership bypassing the ancient satellite of Isiokolo.

Okpe language (Southwestern Edo)

Okpe is an Edoid language of Nigeria spoken by the Urhobo people.

Onigu Otite

Onigu Otite (January 21, 1939 – March 14, 2019) was a Nigerian sociologist. He was among the first set of students to attend the first indigenous Nigerian university - University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He wrote several books including The Urhobo People, On the Path of Progress, Ethnic Pluralism and Ethnic Conflicts in Nigeria, and Introduction to Sociology which he co-authored with William Ogionwo. He belongs to the class of highly respected Urhobo scholars that include popular Urhobo personalities such as Omafume Friday Onoge, Peter Palmer Ekeh, Bruce Onobrakpeya, David T. Okpako, Andrew Onokerhoraye, Simon Umukoro, G.G. Darah and Isidore Okpewho. The Urhobo Studies Association USA Chapter regard him as one of the earliest Urhobo scholars to focus attention on the culture and history of the Urhobo People of the Niger Delta.

Polygamy in Niger

Polygamous marriages are recognized in Niger under customary law. The practice was present among indigenous populations but was greatly popularized after French Missionaries explored the region in 1901. Today, it is estimated that over one third of Nigerien women are in polygamous unions.

Sapele, Delta

Sapele is a city in Delta State, Nigeria.

The origin of the name is believed to be an anglicised derivation of the Okpe (Urhobo) word Uriapele, named after a local deity, the shrine of which can still be found in the centre of the city. It is believed the British colonial authorities changed the name of the then hamlet to Sapele as it was easier to pronounce.

By the mid-19th century, Sapele was established as a trading centre, occasionally visited by Europeans. In 1891, the British government established a vice-consulate at Sapele. The population grew to 33,638 by 1952, because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city people from many Nigerian ethnic groups, have settled there, alongside the majority Okpe (Urhobo) these incl the Itsekiri and ijaws, as well as Urhobo people from surrounding towns and villages

Today, the city has one of Nigeria's major ports and also non-salty. Its industries include the processing of timber, rubber, and palm oil, as well as furniture, tamarind balm and footwear manufacturing. As of 1995, its population was 135,800. And as of 2005/2006, the population of this advancing city was 242,652.

The surrounding forest is made up predominantly of Entandrophragma cylindricum or Sapele, the tree to which the city lends its name. Sapele was one of Africa's largest timber producers. The African Timber and Plywood (AT&P) a division of the United Africa Company factory based in the city was once reputed to be the largest timber manufacturing complex in the world, in its prime it was the city's largest employer with an estimated 6000 employees

The Ogorode district of the city houses two of Power Holding Company of Nigeria power generation plants one of six majors in the country and the nation's second largest with an installed capacity of 1000MW as well as an NIPP power plant


Ukodo is a yam and unripe plantain dish of the Urhobo people of Nigeria. The Itsekiri people of the Niger Delta also make a similar dish called Epuru. It is essentially a pottage, a stew of meat and vegetable with its base as the Nigerian pepper soup.

It is sometimes cooked with lemon grass and potash.It is usually used for marriage and bural ceremonies or as breakfast, particularly during the cold season. A poem by the Nigerian Chovwe Inisiagho-Ogbe describes both the ingredients and the process of cooking Ukodo in a light-hearted way.


According to the language family tree classification by Ethnologue, Okpe, Urhobo and Uvwie, alongside Eruwa and Isoko, make up the five Southwestern Edoid languages of the Benue-Congo group. Quoting Johnstone (1993), Ethnologue puts the population of Urhobo people at 546,000, Okpe 25,400 (2000) and Uvwie 19,800 (2000). These three languages have geographically neighbouring languages: Izon and Itsekiri to the west and south, Ukwuani and Isoko to the east and Edo to the north. Thus, Isoko and Urhobo are similar languages that belong to the same linguistic family.

Urhobo language

Urhobo is a South-Western Edoid language spoken by the Urhobo people of southern Nigeria.

Usi (food)

Usi, also referred to as starch, is a starch dish of the Urhobo people of Nigeria. The starch is from cassava.

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