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Published On: Sat, May 26th, 2018

Reviving Urhobo Cultural Festivals Through Modern Technology Part 1

By Young Erhiurhoro
LAGOS MAY 26TH(URHOBOTODAY)-The Urhobo as a people in Nigeria is naturally endowed with rich cultural heritage. Our cultural milieu cuts across chains of literary subjects like riddles and jokes, folktales and myths, cultural festivals and legends and other important subjects. However, our major focus in this article is on our cultural festivals.
To begin with, each of the twenty-four recognized kingdoms in the Urhobo ethnic region have a cultural festival they celebrate every year. For instance, Uwheru Kingdom celebrates Ade wrestling festival, Evwreni Kingdom celebrates Owhorhu masquerade festival, Ughelli Kingdom celebrates Iyeri fishing festival, Orogun Kingdom celebrates Idju festival and many others. Though the times and seasons of celebrating these cultural festivals vary from one clan or kingdom to another. Celebrations are not uniform and they in most cases depend on the Urhobo traditional calendar or lunar months.
Interestingly, let me correct this wrong impression or orientation among many Urhobo modern Christians especially church leaders and pastors that our cultural festivals are the same as idol or satanic worship. In the world over, in Europe, America, Asia, Africa, etc, one of the ways to identify our tribe and tongue is our cultural heritage. There are different sociological features people must possess before they are recognized or classified as a social or ethnic group. Such features include language, dressing, food, marriage, cultural festivals etc.
The over 200 ethic groups we have in Nigeria have their distinct sociological features as listed above. For instance, the modes of dressing for the Urhobo people are quite different from those of Itsekiri. The same way our language and methods of contracting marriages are different from those of the Ijaw people. The same way all over the African continent.
Therefore, modern day Christians should avoid using the name, “Idol festivals” on the rich cultural festivals of the Urhobo people. Cultural festivals are old as the people. Most of our cultural festivals were established by the forebears of our different villages or communities. And during their sojourn from their pristine abodes to foreign and virgin lands, they brought along guidance spirits or angels or epinonymous deities which they spiritually communicate with from time to time to have a peaceful and fruitful journeys.
At the end of their final settlement in a particular virgin land which now became villages and communities across Urhobo land, the forebears now instituted the celebration of these cultural festivals to honour their guidance angels for protecting them and show them a peaceful land. Another reason for the celebrating or instituting these cultural festivals as glaringly observed by Professor M. Y. Nabofa in the book, “Studies In Urhobo Culture”, edited by Professor Peter Ekeh was to enable the people prepare for the next farming season as itinerant farming or fishing was the only major occupation of the people at that time.
After harvest, the people need to rest and prepare for the next farming season. This resting period in most cases especially in Urhobo and Isoko lands always fell on the beginning of the rains from the month of April which would now ran into the peak of the floods around August and September. This was why many of the cultural festivals in Urhobo land were celebrated between the months of April to September. It was a season when those that sojourned to far away lands in search of greener pastures return home to meet their kinsmen and celebrate the moment and season together in love and unity. Corroborating the above postulations by M. Y. Nabofa, Professor S. U. Eriwo noted in the same book that without religious tolerance and harmony between modern religions like Christianity and our indigenous religions or cultural celebrations in Urhobo land, there could be a religious crisis in the land. I strongly believe that, the forecast of the learned professor of religious studies has come to stay because the Urhobo people are facing a kind of religious crisis at the moment.
Again, let’s look at the scenario from another perspective. All the Christian festivals like Christmas, Easter, Pentecost etc, are they not cultural festivals of some social or cultural groups of people? Why do we even like to cover up the truth with fallacies in the case of Urhobo cultural heritage? Though Christianity today is one of the major religions in the world but it has a deep cultural root or origin in a particular ethnic group in the world before it started spreading its tentacles like wild fire around the world.
What about Islam? The history is not much different from the one of Christianity. Naturally, the two were not our indigenous religions. They are foreign and alien to the culture of our people. They are newly incorporated in the lives of the Urhobo people. Today, different Christian groups had emerged as a result of different Biblical teachings on different subjects in the religion. In this case, they have divergent views and teachings on different subject areas. Some groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, God’s Kingdom Society, God’s Kingdom Mission, The Church of Christ have taught that Christmas and Easter festivals are pagan or idol festivals, accusing other Christian groups of worshipping the devil. Going by the teachings of these various Christian groups, then we can conclude by saying that, those Christian festivals that many of us cherish today as God’s own festivals were cultural festivals of some groups of people in other lands, races and tribes like the same way we the Urhobo people have our own different cultural festivals.
More importantly, in this article as I have pointed it out in similar articles before, the low acceptance or participation of the Urhobo people especially our youths in our cultural festivals in modern times resulted from the mis-conception and wrong teachings of some of our Christian leaders that Urhobo cultural festivals are idol festivals or satanic celebrations. This wrong teaching has been rooted and inculcated in our reasoning faculties that we see those participating in these festivals as pagans or idol worshippers. In fact, they more will spread this false gospel among our people, the quicker our cultural festivals would fade away or go into extinction. And by the time all our cultural festivals have faded away in due time, invariably, we cannot be sociologically and anthropologically classified as a social or ethnic group in Nigeria again.
Therefore, if we cannot be recognized or classified as a people in Nigeria, where do we go from here? Considering the fact that the Urhobo as a geographical entity is surrounded by neighbors that want our extinction at all cost. This is why many of them even till this day are encroaching on our different lands; finding away to remove our feet from our own lands. However, as it is now, Urhobo leadership and the various categories of Churches in our territory must meet to find a solution to the religious crisis that is rightly blowing in the land. There must be harmonization of religious beliefs with the cultural practices of the the people in order to create peace and harmony among the Urhobo people. Having succeeded in achieving this feat, then we can now believe that our people especially the youths would now accept to participate in our annual cultural festivals without the fear that they would be punished in the church by Church pastors or their peers making mock or jest of them for participating in such festivals. I see this as a kind of embargo being lifted from cultural development in Urhobo land. When this is finally settled in the right way; that is, the natural way, then the issue of promoting or organizing our cultural festivals with modern technology shall now come in. This shall therefore form the bulk of the discussions in the part two of this very topic. Let’s end it like this today first. Thanks for reading!
Young Erhiurhoro; Kjc,
A reporter and a member of the Urhobo Historical Society.

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  1. The Urhobo Historicall Society has been at the forefront in promotion and creation of awareness of our heritage with excellent statistical historical records which thankfully can be accessed through their website.
    Having undoubtedly identified such , I think what is also being agitated by the writer of this article is worthy of considerqation by UPU incollaboration with respective traditional Council in our different Urhobo Kingdoms.

    What I would like to point out which may differ with the perception of the writer is my firm belief that each of our kingdoms still judiciously pratice /promote their culture and festival , however such have not effectively been enhanced in terms of global patronage with awareness due to poor marketing /Advertising Srategy which in my opinion could be taken on board by UPU who frankly ought to see such as key function.
    I dont agree with the writer that our Land is being invaded nor acquisition by others is a threat to our cultural extintion , particularly when such acquisition is legitimate and with consent of owners.
    Our Culture and Religious belief are Traditional rich heritage which need protection but such rest with our Traditional Rulers of respective Kingdoms vested with such but the Urhobo Progress Union should ensure it not only appreciate what the Urhobo Historical Society have tremendously been doing Globally but ensuure such is supported by their [UPU] Annual International Conventions do designate special programme for exhibition/ promotion of Urhobo Culture. through Plays.
    Similarly, all UPU Branches in Diaspora should key into same activities during their respective Conventions.

    In all fairness,both UPU UK Branch and UPUA in the United States have started engaging in such . UPU hqtrs should please draw up Strategic programmes that will deal with some of the key concerns raised by the writer and ensure a close working relationship with Urhobo Historical Society is effectively promoted with positive objective in protecting extintion of our heritage .

    Congratulations to UHS for another Annual International Event 2018 with my greetings to Prof Akpofure Ekeh for his enviable Contribution .

    I am not a Member of any of the following mentioned Associations ,but their enormous contribution in promotion of of our Urhobo Brotherhood, Culture ,Development and Political Assertions deserve collective patriotic commendation.They are Urhobo Historical Society, Urhobo Social Club and Atamu Club.
    UHS is indeed the OCHUKO RU URHOBO

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