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, the 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.
The Urhobo people are Urhobo-Edoid Kwa language-speaking people of larger Benue (Niger)-Congo language family 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. Many live in the Ughelli local government region and in Warri and Ethiope,and in Okpe and Sapele Local Government Areas. 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.
The Urhobo nation is made up of twenty sub-groups, including Okpe which many believe is the largest of all Urhobo sub-groups. The Urhobos are noted for having their own unique style of speaking Nigerian Pidgin English. Since their language is very demonstrative that translates into their style of speaking English and Pidgin English. As a result of their unique language style, their names are also unique. An example of a unique Urhobo name would be the name Onaodowan, belonging to the Onaodowan family from Warri and the Onomakpome, belonging to the Onomakpome family from Sapele.
In 1963 census in Nigeria Urhobo were classified among the first ten major ethnic groups in Nigeria (Awolowo, 1968 241–242). The word Urhobo refer to a group of people and not geographical territory. For example Agbon Urhobo. The Urhobo have social and cultural affinity to the Edo speaking people of Nigeria (Northcote Thomas, 1910).
The Urhobo now live in a territory bounded by latitudes 6°and 5°, 15° North and Longitudes 5°, 40° and 6°, 25° East in the Bendel State of Nigeria. Their neighbours are the Isoko to the South East, the Itsekiri to the West, the Bini to the North, Ijaw to the South and Ukwani (kwale-Aboh) to the North East. The Urhobo territory consist of evergreen forest with many oil palm trees which provide the lucrative palm produce industry for which the Urhobo have some technological preserve. The territory is covered by a network of streams whose volumes of water and flow are directly concerned with the climatic season; wet season (April–October) and dry season (November–March).
The Urhobo people of southern Nigeria speak Urhobo one of the sub-group of Edoid languages that belong to the Niger-Congo family. The Urhobo and Isoko are related in language and culture, leading to the missionaries erroneously labelling both peoples as Sobo. This name was strongly rejected by both tribes.
Egharevba (1968) in his book “A Short History of Benin” confirms the Benin lordship over these cultures. He claims that…the early peoples of Ishan and Afenmai Divisions, the Eka and Ibo – speaking peoples of the west bank of the Niger, Aboh, the Urhobo, Isoko and the people of Onitsha are all emigrants from Benin.
Speaking on the Urhobo, Otite (2003) however believes that at the end of the Ogiso (rulers) dynasty, many Urhobo and other Edo groups left Udo in different directions. Ikimi (1984) attests to the Benin origin of some Urhobo settlements such as Ughelli, Ogor, Agbon, Agbarho, Agbarha, Abraka, Oghara, Okpe, Olomu,Uvwie, Effuruntor and Uwhenru. This view is also supported by Adjara and Omokri (1997). Ekeh (2006) went ahead to classify into three stages the likely periods of Urhobo history. They include: Ancient Times, Middle Ages and Modern Times.
The history of the Urhobo generally began from an Edo territory supposedly around where the ancient town of Udo and Benin City are currently located. At the end of the Ogiso dynasty, many Urhobo and Edo-groups left Udo in different directions, each at its own pace, in search of more peaceful territories. It was natural that in those compelling circumstances, peace loving and less powerful Edo-groups had to leave the territory to seek fortunes in less populated but more economically resourceful territories.
The Urhobo left under separate leaders in different directions to found separate governmental organization. Egharevba (1960:14), When some of the emigrant left Benin, they found in their destinations in Urhobo territory some Edo-speaking settlers. Each 22 socio-political unit was called a "clan" by earlier writers especially by British Colonial Officers in their various intelligence/assessment reports. The word Urhobo is used to describe the Urhobo group.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).
Living in the tropical rain forests has helped to shape the economic choices of the Urhobo. They practice slash and burn farming that requires frequent crop rotation for soil preservation. Fishing and hunting are also important sources for subsistence. They also gather palm nuts and process them into oil, a commodity which is eventually traded on the international markets.
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.
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.
Urhobo are currently organized as political kingdoms, gerontocracy and plutocracies. Gerontocracy is the government by elders based on the age grade-system in the community while plutocracies is government by the rich and wealthy, an evolutionary state but retaining the elements of gerontocracy. Although it is not clear which kingship is older among the kingdoms, these kingship development reached their climax in the 1940s and 1950s.
Urhobo politics and government structure occur at two levels (a) kingdom level (b) town level. Men and women in Urhobo are organized either by elders based on the age-grade system (gerontocracy) and based on rich and wealthy (plutocracies). An outline of Urhobo indigenous government and politics have the titles: Ovie (king) which is the highest political figure in the kingdom. He is the symbol of his kingdom, culture and of his royal predecessors.
Ogbon, Ogoni-Oghoro I and Maj-Gen. David Ejoor (Rtd) at an occasion.
His councillors are Otota (Speaker), Ohoveworen or Okakoro,addressed collectively as Ilorogun (singular: Olorogun). Other title holders are the executioners (Ikoikpokpo) and warriors called Ogbu.There are other political titles peculiar to the different kingdoms. The judicial aspect of government among the Urhobo places a clear distinction between civil and criminal offences which ensure justice to the parties concerned.
In Urhobo culture marriage is a spiritual and cultural union between two families. This is so because families play a central role in ensuring the success marital relationship from time of courtship through marriage negotiations to the contracting of the marriage.
Urhobo traditional marriage by definition bears some semblance to the above definitions above. The similarity is only as far as the process of marriage revolves around man and woman. Urhobo traditional marriage is unique to Urhobo culture and traditions. Indeed, marriage in Urhobo worldview is an enduring institution. It is sacred. It looms large enough to tie two independent families together forever.
It is imperative to note that the Urhobo marriage extends beyond the couples directly involved; it embraces the extended families of the spouses. Indeed, Urhobo marriage is a marriage of two families. This is so because the families play very central roles in ensuring the success of the marital relationships from the time of courtship through the marriage negotiations to the contracting of the marriage.
Divorce is rare; Urhobo traditional marriage endures beyond the life of the husband. In fact, it is the wife’s life span. This is due to the fact that on the death of the husband, the wife is passed on to a member of the husband’s family for continued marriage. This custom provides emotional and financial stability, and continuity of the marriage.
The families are also expected to intervene or mediate when there are problems or conflicts between husband and wife, and when the marriage relationship is threatened in any way – this is in total contrast to the western marriage system where family intervention is seen as interference.
The nucleus of Urhobo traditional marriage takes various forms. From time, there have been some distinct processes of marriage proposals or types of traditional marriages. Any of these marriage forms are recognised by our society, as they form key aspects of our customs and traditions.
“Esavwijoto” occurs when parents propose marriage on behalf of their son or daughter at an early age. Pledges of this nature are also made and redeemed, as a result of observed exemplary character of a young girl or boy. It could be made as a reward for exceptional valour. The uses or instances of this concept are infinite. Normally, with this type of marriage, love develops between the couple only after marriage has been officially contracted.
"Ose” - Admitting language limitations in describing one concept by another language. Ose is a form of marriage recognised as binding, but in which the traditional dowry has not been paid and accepted as prescribed. Couples may live together or apart, but enjoy full de facto conjugal rights and exclusiveness but limited customary (legal) rights of husband and wife. Some notable distinctions of this type of marriage are that such husband will not be allowed to bury and mourn his would-be parents in law, like a fully married man.
“Arranged Marriage in absentia”- In this case, the male who is usually abroad or outside the Urhoboland or even Nigeria, would request his parents or family to marry a wife of their choice for him. Both potential husband and wife may not have seen or met each other previously. During the marriage ceremony of this type of marriage, the man’s brother or a nominated relative would represent him as husband of the bride.
The wife may be required to spend some time with the absent husband’s family before being despatched to her new husband. Love may, or may not develop when they meet for the first time. If they like each other, the marriage may be consummated, and is likely to survive. In some cases, either party may refuse to go ahead with the marriage, and call it off.
“Boy-Meets-Girl and Modern Courtship”- This is more or less a modern concept and is not unique or particular to Urhobo culture or tradition of marriage terms.
This process has become one of the current approaches used by modern day boys and girls. In most cases, the parents may not know of the initial courtship until their son or daughter informs them. Both families then get involved. If they agree, marriage plans are then made. The process may first be to do the traditional marriage rites, before proceedings to either the Church marriage or the Registry.
“The Marriage Process - This is the final stage of the traditional marriage arrangements. Whichever of the above routes the process of courtship or engagement may have taken, family consent is imperative before the marriage process is finalised.
The marriage ceremony follows the meeting of both families. Both families would meet at the bride’s home. An advance notice is given to the bride`s family for the visit. On the said day, the groom’s family will arrive at the bride’s home. First the bride’s family will welcome them. Drinks and kola nuts supported with some money will be offered to the visiting family, as is customary in Urhobo tradition. A spokesman for the bride’s family will make the presentation of the drinks and kola nuts with the money to the visiting family. The visitor’s spokesman will accept the presentation on behalf of the groom’s family. After this initial customary entertainment, the visitors are asked the purpose of their visit.
The visitors would inform the bride’s family that they have come to marry their daughter for their son, who may or may not be present at this protocol. If the bride’s family accepts this explanation, they would go through a process of the identification of the bride they wish to marry. The visitors would be told that the family has many daughters; as such, its members do not know which of their daughters their son would like to marry. The bride’s family would then bring out a girl who is not the bride, and parade this girl in front of the groom’s family. The groom would reject this girl saying that she was not the one he wants. This formality would be repeated about three times. Each time a girl is paraded and rejected, the groom’s family would be asked to pay the rejected girl some money. Finally, the bride is presented to the groom to confirm the true identity of his chosen bride.
Once this process is concluded, the bride’s consent would then be obtained. That is, she will be asked if she is willing to marry the groom. The family of the bride can only receive the dowry if she consents to marry the groom. This process is only a formality on the day because in most cases, the dowry amount and all arrangements would normally have been agreed upon. That is, both families would have reached some understanding. The groom or his family would pay a dowry to the bride’s family. The dowry is the price money paid to the bride’s family on account of the bride.
It is worth mentioning here that, it is customary that before the stage of pouring the libation is reached, that the potential husband and his family would pay several visits to the family of the bride to be. The purpose of these visits is to negotiate and to meet certain pre-marriage requirements stipulated by the bride’s family. For example: the dowry would be negotiated and agreed beforehand; the bride’s uncles, aunts and the bride’s father and mother would be bought several gift items, such as walking stick and hat, etc, for the bride’s father; wrapper, tobacco, etc., for her mother, and other items for her uncles, aunts, and other relatives.
Upon acceptance of the dowry, the bride’s father pours a libation. The libation is poured using a native gin (ogogoro) or may be represented by Gordon gin and kola nuts. The bride’s father offers a prayer / blessing for the couple. At this point, the bride sits on the husband’s lap. The blessed drink is handed to the husband who drinks first; he then hands it to his wife to drink. The wife would drink and pass it back to her husband to finish, as a sign of respect. Then only are they declared husband and wife. Both family members present at the ceremony, would then shower the couple with money as gifts. The girl's parents will pray for the both of them and the bride groom will be warned by the bride's parents that he should never beat-up their daughter for any reason whatsoever. The parents of the bride will present her with lots of gifts to take to her new home. She will hug all her friends, her siblings and give them little gifts to remember her by. The bride is escorted to her husband's house, on the way to his house; certain people will stop them on the way and ask the groom to pay some money so that he can take his bride home.
"Esuo” - This term describes the final stage of a full marriage according to Urhobo custom. It denotes the completion of all antecedent requirements necessary on the part of the husband. It is the escorting of the bride by her family with her properties, goodwill, to the head of the husband’s family, and handing over until death of the bride as wife to the groom’s family. A special ceremony is usually performed to invoke the husband’s ancestors to also receive her, and bind her over in fidelity to their son – the husband. The entire women receive the bride, eat and dance in the special room prepared for her till dawn of the following day.
Formalizing the Marital Union
1. The bride is led in surrounded by her bridesmaids to stand before her father or the Ọkpako-r’-orua, the Head of the bride’s family.
2. The Head of the bride’s family calls on the bride and bridegroom, and both of them move forward and knee down before him.
3. The Head of the bride’s family initiates the process of formalizing by presenting a brief account of the lineage of the bride.
4. The Head of the bride’s family now begins the process by holding up a glass of drink and invoking the name of God and the memory of the ancestors in prayers, calling on them to bless the new life now commencing for their descendant or child and the man who has asked for her hand in marriage.
5. The Head of the bride’s family concludes his prayers by pouring libation (offer of drink from the glass to God and in remembrance of the ancestors). He leaves some of the drink in the glass which he offers to the bridegroom to drink. The bridegroom after drinking some, in turn passes the same glass to the bride to drink whatever is left, to signify her consent to the marriage.
Drinking from the same glass is thus the bride’s acknowledgement that the Head of her family has indeed spoken for her, and the signal needed to Indicate that members of the groom’s family are now recognized as in-laws. The bride now returns the glass through the groom to her family Head, a process that essentially declares the couple’s willingness and commitment to live together as husband and wife.
6. The bride is handed over to the Head of the groom’s family, who henceforth assumes responsibility to ensure that the husband and his family will take good care of their new wife. The bride is directed to sit on the laps of her new husband in their first public display of life together as a married couple
7. The public reacts to the display by showering gifts on the newlywed as both remain sitted.
Religion is man’s efforts to satisfy certain needs, including emotional and psychological ones, by establishing and maintaining cordial relations with the supernatural. (Y.Y. Nabofa in Otite 1980) The chief elements in Urhobo traditional religion are: the adoration of Oghene(Almighty God), the supreme deity and a recognition of Edjo and Erhan(divinities which they acknowledge as sons, daughters and messengers of Oghene. Some of these divinities could be regarded as personified attributes of Oghene. They act as intermediaries between God and man.
The veneration of ancestors and belief in diverse spirits are other elements found in the structure of Urhobo traditional belief system. These elements are inter-related in one way or the other because they all draw their reality and power from the same source. It should be emphasised that their worship involves the performance of incantatory poetry. Incantatory poetry is poetry used to plead with a deity to accept a sacrifice so that the deity may favour the person offering the sacrifice.(Oladele Taiwo 1967:85)
The Urhobo believe Oghene to be the orovw’akpo, the owner and the supreme controller of the whole universe. He is Oghene the supreme Deity, while Edjo, Erhan(divinities), ancestors and other spiritual forces, derive their existence and power from him only. They are all united under Oghene. The Urhobo also worship God with Orhen (white chalk). If an Urhobo feels oppressed by someone, he appeals to Oghene,who he believe to be an impartial judge, to adjudicate between him and his opponent Oghene is called different names. These names are generic, attributive and praise-appellative. Whenever there is serious thunder and lightening, the Urhobo believe that Oghene is annoyed hence he is shouting down on all his creatures, including human beings. In order to calm his temper the Urhobo address Him, using his sacred names: Oghene osonobrughwe, Oghene Ukpabe, Agbadagbru-ru biko Agbadagbru-ru, em wn he ot (Your children are here below).
Also when an Urhobo is aggrieved, and wants to revenge with a charm, he solicits the assistance of Oghene by addressing him in the above sacred names and include Edebere which literally means ‘the day is broken or torn into pieces”. The use of this name suggests the practice of sympathetic magic, because normally, a day is not something concrete, which could be broken into pieces. The name is used figuratively to mean that Oghene never sanctions evil practices, but when one is aggrieved, he is requested to set aside his mercy on that day in order that a wrong might be avenged. Oghene is also called Ovwatan-ovware, which means a being who could willingly give or bless without being questioned or challenged by any other power.(Onigu Otite 1980)
Direct worship of Oghene is expressed in at least, three different ways. When an Urhobo is confronted with an imminent danger he spontaneously cries to him for help with such as expression as Oghene biko that means O God I implore you. When he has been relieved of a serious danger he expresses his gratitude to Oghene by saying akpevwe oghene that is, thanks be to God. The people also worship God with orhen (white chalk). Every morning the head of the family or lineage takes a little quantity of orhen, keeps it in his left hand, and breaks it down into powder with the thumb and index finger and expresses his desires to god while looking up into the sky. He then blows the powdered chalk into the air. The person performs this ritual while standing at the entrance to his house. Kola nuts and drinks are also first offered to God before they are directed to the earth-goddess, divinities and ancestors and thereafter consumed by those present. If an Urhobo man feels that someone has oppressed him, he appeals to ghene who is believed to be an impartial judge, to adjudicate between him and his opponent. Each Urhobo polity has its own divinities and it is believed that their powers are confined to the respective socio-political groups that acknowledge their reality. Although these divinities are known by different names in various parts of Urhobo land they perform identical functions. It is only their names and theogonies that differentiate them.
Features of Urhobo traditional system include the doctrine of Erhi (man’s spirit double) and predestination. The Urhobo believe in the duality of man, having both Ugboma (tangible body) and Erhi(spirit double). It is Erhi that declares man’s destiny and pilots man toward the full realization of his destiny. It also ensures Ufuoma (total well-being) for man through its intercession with all the spiritual forces.
According to (Y.Y. Nabofa 1980) man’s destiny is ratified and sealed in Erivwin (spiritual world) before erhi incarnates. As regards the final destiny of erhi after transition, the Urhobo believe that while the physical body decays erhi is indestructible and goes back to join other members of the family who are in the spiritual realm. The elaborate and symbolic burial rites are meant to prepare the departed erhi for a happy re-union with the ancestors and his other companions in the spiritual world.
There are four days in Urhobo week (Okpo): Edewo, Ediruo, Eduhre and Edebi. In Urhobo mythology, both Edewo and Eduhre are sacred days to the divinities, spirits and ancestors and most market business transactions are held on these days. Ancestors are venerated on Edewo while ancestresses are taken care of on Eduhre. Divinities, ancestors and spirits are believed to be to be very active in the forests and farmlands on these sacred days, therefore in order to avoid disturbing these subjects of worship people rarely go to their farms on these two sacred days.
In many African countries sacrifices and offerings are directed towards the living-dead as a symbol of fellowship and recognition that the departed are still members of their human families.(Idowu 1962:118) At funerals prayers are said and these are intended to secure peace for the living-dead.
Among the Urhobo, there are basically two stages in the burial rites of the deceased. The first consists of merely interring the remains, while the second, which is usually known as erhuere is the preparation of the deceased for acceptance by the ancestors. Significantly rites prepare the erhi(soul) of the deceased for presentation to his kin and fellow companions or family in the world beyond (erivwin).
Before the interment, the owaran (eldest son of a deceased) prays and pleads on behalf of all other children. Special requests are made to the deceased especially those, who are believed to ensure peace and prosperity for all those left behind. Sometimes we have a tone of complaint and the ancestor is approached directly but the poetic effectiveness is created through the use of concrete and visual images from the everyday world. The speaker addresses the ancestor in whose honour the incantation is made. By the time the grave is ready all other side rituals performed during the wake must have been completed.
The in-laws at this juncture come out for a ritual known as oghwa eghorie that is rolling the load or coffin. The belief is that the deceased would be carrying a lot of things home, therefore the in-laws must come forward to assist him in his job by helping to roll it from the spot and thus symbolically make it lighter. The in-laws fire guns while dancing. The coffin is lowered into the grave where it is received by two gravediggers. The gravediggers open it up and a complete maize cob is placed in the right hand of the deceased before it is finally sealed. The maize symbolises fullness of life. The deceased is urged that in his next incarnation he should be predestined in such a manner that his life should be accomplished or as full as the full cob of the maize he carried away. A bottle of gin is given to the two gravediggers for cleansing themselves before coming out of the grave. The in-laws and all other people present finally cover up the coffin with earth while highly poetic songs.
Men perform the above dirge during interment, as they are the only ones culturally allowed to inter the dead. Through dirges we are given an insight into Urhobo myth of how death came about. According to N.Y. Nabofa, the Urhobo traditional belief is that God Oghene created death as an impersonal force. It was not created purposely for man, but God’s creatures brought it upon themselves, and various myths are narrated to explain its origin and purpose. The most popular one concerns the toad oghwokpo referred to in line 3 of the dirge below. From the myth, it is believed that originally oghene created man to live forever. His aim was that when a man grew old, he would regenerate by sloughing off his old skin like a snake, and assume the skin and vigour of a young man. This process was to be repeated, and so man was to live forever. As time went on, the population of human beings increased and the earth became overpopulated. There arose a controversy among the men and animals on earth on what should be done to control the teeming population. The dog argued strongly that man should live forever and suggested that Oghene should be implored to extend the frontiers of the earth to accommodate the increasing population. His intimate association with man prompted dog’s stand. Consequently it never supported the final death of man, as that would deprive him of man’s care.
After the dog, the toad arose and argued that “oghwu okpo” that is anyone who dies should go home finally. It gave its own reasons against man’s continued existence perpetually on earth. When there was a stalemate on the matter, both animals were designated to take their views to Oghene in heaven. It was agreed that the views of the one who arrived there first would be accepted, as Oghene has ratified the natural law about death after it. They started on their race to Oghene and Dog convinced that it would get to heaven before the toad, relaxed to feed itself.
It overfed itself and fell into a deep slumber. While still sleeping, the toad continued its race and got there first and said ghwokpo (he who dies should go home finally). Dog woke up later only to find that Toad had already arrived, delivered the message and that its opinion had been accepted as binding on all creatures. There is the belief that until a person is accorded the full burial rites his spirit would not be admitted into the group of the ancestor or any other group it might want to belong in the "after world". Such erhi has its abode in erhurhu (refuse dump).
What has been discussed so far is the general situation when an aged person dies a normal death. However, certain deaths are regarded as accursed hence victims of such deaths are not accorded full rites, because the victims'are not wished back into the family in their next incarnation. When people who suffer accursed deaths are treated with disdain, their souls would decide to go away from the family in their future incarnation.
One of these categories of death is that of a young person. This is regarded as a tragedy; consequently no elaborate burial rites accompany it. The body is merely interred without a coffin. In most cases a diviner is consulted to find the cause. In this case when the corpse is lowered into the grave, other things are included; a dog, dane-gun, a cutlass and a firebrand. Many other prayers and incantations are recited by the mourners at the graveside. Sometimes curses are issued against whoever must have been responsible for the untimely death. The incantations rendered are believed to be magically effective in manipulating culprits into confession.
Reincarnation and the Hereafter
According to Dr. Y. Nabofa the spiritual qualities of a deceased are believed to reincarnate but not his erhi, which remains in erivwin as an ancestor.
Great care is taken of a corpse because of the belief that if anything happens to it he would reincarnate in an ugly form and no family wants such a disfigured person.
There is a general consensus among the Urhobo that after death, the erhi passes into another
world, which is known as erivwin. This view about the final destiny of the dead is not peculiar to the
Urhobo, for it is also found among other African communities. There is the concept of a three-tier world,
which has it that heaven, is up above and it is the abode of God while erivwin, the abode of the dead is under the earth. When the dead is buried, he goes there with both his physical body and erhi. The surface Great care is taken of a corpse because of the belief that if anything happens to it he would
reincarnate in an ugly form and no family wants such a disfigured person.
There is a general consensus among the Urhobo that after death, the erhi passes into anotherworld, which is known as erivwin. This view about the final destiny of the dead is not peculiar to the Urhobo, for it is also found among other African communities. There is the concept of a three-tier world, which has it that heaven, is up above and it is the abode of God while erivwin, the abode of the dead is under the earth. When the dead is buried, he goes there with both his physical body and erhi. The surface of the earth is believed to be the abode of mortal men, nature spirits and the divinities. This may explain why libations are poured on the ground for the departed. Those who were accorded full burial rites are happily received into the folds of the ancestors. The Urhobo philosophy of life has it that when a person dies he joins the other members of his family in erivwin. All the elaborate funeral rites accorded the dead by the living members of the family are meant to demonstrate to the ancestors that the newly dead was a good person among them and as such they should accept him into their fold. The funeral rites could be likened to both passports and letters of recommendation.
To the Urhobo what happens to a person at death is a separation of the erhi from ugboma, which is buried. Erhi and the symbol of his personal achievement “obo” are never buried with ugboma, which remains under the earth. For the Urhobos therefore, erivwin is geographically here but separated from this visible sphere by a mystical cloud hence it is invisible to human beings.
Between this sphere and erivwin is a gate known as urhoro ( world of the dead through which the dead must pass after judgement). Unless the keeper of this gate opens it, one would not be admitted into the land of the dead. Urhoro thus plays a dual role in human life: through it erhi must pass and have scheme of life sealed while coming to life, and it must also pass through it to enjoy bliss with those who had gone before it, if it is adjudged to be worthy of it.
In Urhobo belief, man faces judgement before the ancestors both while still alive and in the hereafter. The general belief is that the ancestors and other spiritual beings put one on trial at Urhroro.
Those who suffered bad death and died prematurely and consequently were not accorded proper burials are not allowed to pass through Urhoro while those who died normal deaths but have not been incorporated into the group of ancestors through full burial rites pass through Urhoro but do not immediately link up with any group but stay in ogbo (refuse dump).
Those who were accorded burial rites are happily received into the fold of the ancestors. The Urhobo philosophy of life has it that when a person dies he joins the other members of his family in erivwin. Therefore anyone who died and was received by the advanced party of the family is believed to be in a happy place in erivwin but for the door of Urhoro to be barred against a deceased is to be in perpetual hell. Mbiti (1969) also makes a similar observation in most parts of traditional Africa.
The Urhobo use the word ega" to serve" when they give offerings to pour libations for their ancestors. Ega also refers to a servant’s service to his master in return for protection and payments. The filial services that the Urhobo is expected to render to his parents, whether still living or not are known as ega and it is quite different from the attitude of worship men assume when they go before God or the divinities. The position in Urhobo could be summed up in the general observation that J.A Driberg (1976:56) made about the Africans when he says:
No African prays to his dead grandfather anymore than he "prays" to his living father In both cases the words employed are the same: He asks as of right, or he beseeches, or he expostulates with or reprimands but he never uses in this context the words for "prayer" and "worship" which are strictly reserved for his religious dealings with the absolute power and the divinities. The Latin word Pietas probably best describes the attitude of Africans to their dead ancestors as to their living elders.
The ancestors are made up of the Irhi of the departed. They are looked upon as active members of the family, which is extended to erivwin. In Urhobo belief they are not far away and are in fact, believed to be keenly watching over the affairs of the members of the families who are still living on the.earth.
There is no marriage in Urhobo that is regarded as properly contracted without offering prayers to the ancestors. Children are specially requested of the ancestors. The ancestors are also propitiated on many other occasions such as sickness and constant communication is maintained with the dead In Urhobo land, the newborn is often treated with great reverence because it has only just come from the other sphere where it was in contact with the revered ancestors, where in a sense it was an ancestor. According to Chief T. Maduku of Ephron-Otor; so conscious is the Urhobo man of this perpetual cycle of life and death that some-times a very oldman is referred to as a child who speaks erivwin (the incomprehensible). It is also because of this beliefin the great cycle of birth, death, and rebirth that the idea of death holds no horror. Death is familiarbecause every one talks of the country from which he has come and has to return.
In summary, erhi came from erivwin to be born in the flesh; it must go back to erivwin at demise. While the body decomposes in the grave, the erhi leaves it there for erivwin. Where it goes and the group it joins depends upon how it comported itself while it was on earth. If it were incorporated in a body, which lived well, died well and was accorded funeral rites, the gates of urhoro would be thrown open for it to join other irhi who form the nucleus of the extended family in the world beyond. There they all act as ancestors to take care of the living.
Epha divination, similar to the Yoruba Ifá and practiced by many West African ethnic groups, is practised with strings of cowries. Urhobos also practice Christianity, with many belonging to Catholic and new evangelical denominations. There are 1,261 ejo (deities), including the one-handed, one-legged mirror-holding whirlwind-god Aziza.
The Urhobos live very close to and sometimes on the surface of the Niger river. As such, most of their histories, mythologies, and philosophies are water-related. They have an annual fishing festival that includes masquerades, fishing, swimming contests, and dancing. There is also an annual, two-day, Ohworu festival in the southern part of the Urhobo area at which the Ohworhu water spirit and the Eravwe Oganga are displayed. 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 princes). Often nowadays, these names are also given to children without royal heritage by their parents. A number of Urhobo sub-groups have other titles other than Ovie, for example, the Okpe called their traditional ruler Orogie and Olomu called theirs Ohworode and Okere-Urhobo theirs Orosuen.
Urhobo Okpo (week) is made up of four days which regulates market cycles, religious worship, marriages and other community life. The four day's of the Urhobo week are: Edewo, Ediruo, Eduhre, Edebi. In Urhobo mythology, Edewo and Eduhre are sacred days to divinities, spirits and ancestors. Most market days are held on these days, ancestors are venerated on Edewo. Most traditional religious rituals are held on Eduhre.
Divinities(spirits) are believed to be very active in the farmlands and forests on Edewo and Eduhre. Therefore, farmers in most Urhobo communities rarely go to farm so as not to disturb the spirits. The twelve months of the Urhobo calendar year are equally significant.
As with most tribes in Nigeria, a certain food is considered to belong to or originate from a particular tribe as in pounded yam and egusi soup from the Igbos, Eba and Ogbono soup (sometimes referred to as Ogbolo soup by people of Esan or Etsakor descent). For the Urhobos there are two foods considered Urhobo in nature. They are: Ukhodo (a yam and unripe plantain dish sometimes cooked with lemon grass and potash) and Starch (actual name of this staple is not often used) Ogwho soup (palm oil soup). The starch is made from cassava plant. It is heated and stirred into a thick mound with palm oil added to give the starch its unique orange-yellow colour. The Ogwho soup is composed of smoked or dried fish, unique spices, potash and oil palm juice. Other palm nut oil soups include amiedi pr banga, which is also eaten with starch and or garri. Banga soup is also a delicacy made from palm kernel.