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Published On: Mon, Jul 30th, 2018

Cultural Analysis Of Ten Common Perquisites For Creation Of New Kingdom In Urhoboland

By Young Erhiurhoro
LAGOS JULY 30TH (URHOBOTODAY)-In this article according to the topic of discussion, I want to unravel ten common prerequisites or cultural requirements needed to create new kingdoms from the old ones in Urhobo land.
Firstly I want to analyze these ten prerequisites from the cultural perspective and not on legal or political grounds. Secondly, whatever view I will postulate in this paper are personal and should not be referenced or tied to any person or group within or outside Urhobo land. Thirdly, my major motive of writing this article is to bring cultural and social cohesion and unity among the Urhobo people and its culture as the fifth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. Therefore, the Urhobo elite and the literate group especially our leaders and youths that are agitating for the creation of new kingdoms should give wide attention to this article.

Though there are countless reasons and causes why such agitations are coming up at this materiel time in the history of the Urhobo people ; but they must be managed in such a way to remove crisis, enmity and ridicule among us as respected, reliable and responsible people in Nigeria. Also, such agitations should not only be pursued by legal or political means but the cultural requirements should equally be considered. That at the end, both the legal or political and the cultural processes must be balanced to avoid grievous cultural implications or calamities.
We can define a kingdom in this usage to mean a geographical entity or location inhabited by human beings, other living things and material resources which is being ruled or governed by a king or queen. Because the Urhobo culture is patrilineal, there is virtually no kingdom in Urhobo land that is today ruled by a queen (woman traditional ruler). All the Urhobo kingdoms are ruled by kings (men traditional rulers). That apart, Urhobo is a pluralistic and heterogeneous society in terms of population and traditional leadership. What I mean by this is that, in Urhobo land, we have different people and different kingdoms which are founded or established at different times and seasons by different forebears or ancestors. Our internal migrations and peopling to form this geographical entity known as the Urhobo nation were not done at the same time or from the same direction or route, as documented by Urhobo scholars like Onigu Otite, M. Y. Nabofa, S. U. Erivwo, P. P. Ekeh and host of others in their various academic works. Though the Urhobo historical roots and origin is today traced to the Benin and Ife kingdoms but it is undisputable that the entire Urhobo land was founded at the same time and by one forebear. This is unlike homogenous and single societies that can trace their origin and forebear to a particular and single ancestry. For instance, Yoruba kingdom, Benin kingdom, Itsekiri kingdom, Asaba kingdom etc. These are ethnic groups like the Urhobo but they have one single kingdom, controlling the traditional and cultural affairs of the entire ethnic group.
Urhobo as an ethnic group in Nigeria have twenty-four legally, politically and culturally recognized independent and indigenous kingdoms each with its own traditions, culture and traditional institutions which are administered or ruled by a king. The twenty-four recognized kingdoms in Urhobo land are Oghara, Mosogar, Idjerhe, Okpe, Ephron (Uvwie), Ephron-Otor, Okere-Urhobo, Agbon, Avwraka, Oria-Avwraka, Agbarho, Agbarha-Otor, Agbarha-Ame, Orogun, Udu, Ughievwen, Ughelli, Ogor, Evwreni, Uwheru, Olomu, Eghwu, Okparabe, Arhavwarien. Each of the above listed kingdoms are headed by its own king or traditional ruler unlike the Benin or Itsekiri that have one supreme king. Though in those homogenous or single societies, there can also be subordinate kings that help the supreme king to run the day to day traditional administration of the various towns and villages that made the entire kingdom.
Now, without wasting much of our time, let’s try to analyse culturally in a sequential order those common prerequisites or requirements needed to create a kingdom in Urhobo land. They are:
1. CONGLOMERATE OF TOWNS/VILLAGES: I considered this to be the number one and most important cultural prerequisite that is needed to create a kingdom in Urhobo land. To be frank and sincere, no geographical entity can be classified as a kingdom without the conglomerate of villages, hamlets and towns. A place is referred to as a kingdom if such a place has other villages and towns biologically and culturally attached to it. All the villages and towns in this respect are closely knitted by bond of brotherhood or related to each other by blood through a single or common progeny or ancestry. You will agree with me that the twenty-four kingdoms of the Urhobo nation we listed above all have different villages and towns attached to each of them. For instance, in my kingdom of Uwheru, there are over twenty villages, hamlets and towns that are attached to it. To remove doubt, some of the towns and villages in Uwheru Kingdom are Egbo, Oro-Ohoror, Erovie, Ehere, Urede, Agadama, Ohoror, Ode, Owarovwo, Oreba, Ovwriche, Ovwororo, Avwon, Ighwre-Egbo, Ighwre-Ana and many others. Some of those villages and towns in Evwreni Kingdom are Urevwe, Okpawha, Uneni, Unenurhie, Ivwre-Orha, Ivwre-Orude, Ivwre-Onuvworoma, Ivwre-Idifre, etc. I believe that all the other kingdoms have their own different towns and villages as these ones.
Therefore, it is a cultural prerequisite to be seriously considered by those agitating for the creation of new kingdoms from the original or ancient kingdoms if such a “would-be kingdom” or new kingdom has villages and towns they can boldly claim their ownership.
2. COMMON ANCESTRY/CULTURAL AFFINITY: Another important prerequisite for the creation of new kingdoms in Urhobo land is common ancestry and cultural affinity. Agitators for the creation of these new kingdoms must ask themselves if those conglomerate of villages and towns can historically affirm to common ancestors or forebears as their founding fathers. To politically bring together villages and towns to form the new kingdom is not enough. All the chosen or selected towns and villages must surely back their conglomerate up by tracing their origin and historical roots to a common ancestry. For instance, in Evwreni Kingdom, their common ancestors are Ewurhu and Usu. All the towns and villages in the kingdom affirmed their ancestry to these forebears. Their oral history had it that, Ewurhu and Usu were brothers from Benin like what almost every clan or kingdom in Urhobo land also claimed to have migrated from. The brothers (Ewurhu and Usu) sojourned to Elele-Amiri in Rivers state; may be as a result of internal crisis or in search of food and security. Ewurhu was a hunter while Usu was a farmer. As they were sailing from their secondary abode in Elele-Amiri through the Niger river to Patani river, they got to a place where they first anchored and they named the place Enhwe (meaning, rest in Urhobo language). Enhwe is a kingdom in Isoko ethnic group. From Enhwe, the crew sailed westwards and came to a place where they anchored again. They called place Unenurhie (meaning, along the river in Urhobo language). After a while, Ewurhu being a hunter moved southwards in search of animals. In one of his hunting expeditions, he had a big catch of elephant, and because elephant was such a huge animal, he just decided to pack his family to the new place to enable them butchered it and to also catch more. This was how Evwreni, which means, “the village of elephants” was founded by Ewurhu. In fact, time will not allow us to present the detailed oral traditions of origin of each of the twenty-four kingdoms in Urhobo land. Let’s leave that for another special discourse.
3. COMMON LANGUAGE/DIALECT: In Africa generally and other parts of the world, language is a major attribute or cultural feature to identify a particular culture or ethnic region. Nigeria as a sovereign nation, has over 200 indigenous languages of the over 300 ethnic groups in the country. From the languages, Nigerian people can easily identify one another. We can easily know those from Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Urhobo, Isoko, Kalabari, Ndoma and many others. In the same way, Urhobo as an ethnic group in Nigeria have her own distinct language different from other ethnic groups in the country. Again, coming down to the Urhobo language, we the indigenes of Urhobo know how we can identify ourselves. The major way to identify each of the aforementioned twenty-four kingdoms in Urhobo land is from our dialects. Each of the kingdoms have their own separate dialect different from each other in Urhobo land. The phonetic pronunciations (vowels and consonants) of many words are not the same in every kingdom in Urhobo land. For instance, Uwheru and Evwreni people pronounce starch “Orhi” while Ughelli, Agbarha and Ogor pronounce the same starch “Usi”. In the same way too, Uwheru and Evwreni people call umbrella “Asasa” while Ughelli and Agbarho call it “Egharha”. What I want to establish here is that, all these different dialects joined together to make the Urhobo language. All the different kingdoms understand each other when speaking. We don’t need an interpreter to explain to us what is being said by our people. That is why, the Urhobo people are one indivisible ethnic region. Therefore, agitators for the creation of new kingdoms in Urhobo land must make sure they have a distinct dialect different from the one of the old kingdom.
4. CLOSENESS OF GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION: What we mean by this prerequisite is that, all the towns and villages that must form a new kingdom must be closed to each other. Such towns and villages must be accessible either by water or land and must not be far from each other. It is culturally unfair that an Urhobo village in Delta state wants to form a kingdom with another Urhobo village in Bayelsa state, even though they share a common ancestry or cultural affinity. What we are considering in this regard is the distance. In this case, the two villages are not linked together by geographical closeness. For instance, by cultural standard, Odorubu, Uduophori and Ofoni supposed not be under Ughelli Kingdom since by geographical location, they are far away from Ughelli. Though Ughelli is their mother and ancestral kingdom by their oral history. But such villages supposed to create or establish their separate and independent kingdoms. This is why Ephron (Uvwie LGA) couldn’t share the same kingdom with their forebears in Ephron-Otor (Ughelli South LGA). The same way Agbarha-Otor (Ughelli North LGA) couldn’t share the same kingdom with Agbarha-Ame (Warri South LGA). All these kingdoms are tied together by a common ancestry or related by one cultural affinity or the other but each of them have its own independent and indigenous kingdom governed by a recognized king other than their parent kingdoms.
5. COMMON SUPREME CLAN HEAD: The twenty-four recognized kingdoms in Urhobo land have their own recognized traditional rulers. We should not forget the definition we gave to kingdom in the onset of this article. We defined a kingdom to be a geographical entity or location inhabited by people or other living things and material resources which is being ruled or governed by a king or queen. A kingdom is not a kingdom if it doesn’t have a recognized king by the people of that kingdom and the government of the day. This is why, after the traditional installation processes of a king in this part of our world, we must equally seek government recognition by a way of presentation of staff of office, which is the political symbol of authority to enable such a king receive monthly salaries and other fabulous emoluments entitled to traditional institutions in the state and to also exercise his authority as a king to his people. However, in Urhobo case as I earlier observed, we are in a heterogeneous and pluralistic society. The Urhobo as an ethnic group doesn’t have one supreme traditional ruler why others would be his subordinate. This system is unattainable and unacceptable by our cultural standard. This is unlike the Oba of Benin, Olu of Itsekiri, Asagba of Asaba, Alafin of Oyo and many others where these traditional heads are regarded as supreme traditional rulers. In all these examples, their subordinate traditional heads, even though they could be recognized by the government by way of paying them salaries; but they must be loyal to the supreme clan head. In Urhobo case, each kingdom have its own traditional ruler which is regarded as the supreme clan head like those of the Oba, Olu, Alafin etc. Though Urhobo kings may also have subordinate to help them man the day to day traditional administration of all the various towns and villages in the kingdom but our kings in most cases, do not allow the government to legally recognized their subordinates. This may be as a result of fear that such subordinate traditional rulers can plan to overthrow them by creating new kingdoms for themselves or usurp powers from them. For instance, in Uwheru Kingdom, each of the major towns in the kingdom have “Odion” which assist their supreme clan head, the “Odion’Ode” in the traditional government of the entire kingdom. In this way, Evwreni Kingdom has “Odion’Rode” and “Odion’Esiri” that support their supreme clan head, “Ovie”. While the “Odion’Rode” is perpetually stationed at Unenurhie town, the “Odion’Esiri” is based at Okpawha town. In Ephron (Uvwie) Kingdom, they have “Etches” as their subordinate traditional heads in each of their major towns or villages.
6. COMMON TRADITIONAL HEADQUARTERS: Another important prerequisite for creating a new kingdom from old one is for such a “would-be kingdom” to have a traditional headquarters. The common traditional headquarters as used here mean, the culturally acceptable seat of government of the supreme clan head. To have a clan head is not enough to establish a kingdom but such a clan head must have a seat of government. The seat of government which in this case, is the palace of the king must not be sited in any other place than the traditional headquarters of the kingdom. Anything that makes a palace of Urhobo king to be built in another town or village other than the traditional headquarters of his kingdom is a cultural shortfall to the king and the people of such a kingdom. The traditional headquarters is common because it must be culturally acceptable and recognized by all towns and villages making such a kingdom. A king of a kingdom in Urhobo land cannot reside outside his traditional headquarters. The traditional headquarters is another symbol of authority of the king to his subjects. Every important traditional meeting must be held in the traditional headquarters for such meetings and decisions to have the backings of the ancestral spirits. Each of the twenty-four kingdoms in Urhobo land have their own traditional headquarters. For instance, Otovwodo is the traditional headquarters of Ughelli Kingdom, Oto-Orere is the traditional headquarters of the Olomu kingdom, Ephron (Effurun) is the traditional headquarters of Uvwie Kingdom, Otor-Udu is the traditional headquarters of Udu Kingdom, Otor-Ughievwen is the traditional headquarters of Ughievwen Kingdom etc. Therefore, any person or group of people aspiring or agitating to create a new kingdom must make sure they have a culturally acceptable traditional headquarters in such a new kingdom.
7. COMMON CULTURAL FESTIVALS: This is another binding force in every recognized kingdom in Urhobo land. These cultural festivals are part of the people’s cultural heritage and formed part of their religious beliefs and practices. For any place or people to be known as a kingdom, they must have cultural festivals to showcase annually, quarterly, bi-annually. We always say that Urhobo is an ethnic region in Nigeria with rich cultural heritage because of the combination of the various cultural festivals or events of the different kingdoms across Urhobo land. Year in, year out especially in the flooding seasons, each of the Urhobo twenty-four kingdoms showcases its rich cultural heritage to the world. For instance, Uwheru Kingdom celebrates Ade wrestling festival every April, Evwreni Kingdom celebrates Owhorhu masquerade festival every September, Ughelli Kingdom celebrates Iyeri fishing festival, Orogun Kingdom celebrates Idju festival etc. Therefore, agitators for the creation of new kingdoms must be culturally certified to have one of these cultural festivals. There is nothing like modern kingdom in this case or Christianity proned-kingdom.
8. COMMON CULTURAL BELIEFS AND TRADITIONS: Beliefs and traditions are inseparable parts of every kingdom in Urhobo land. Each kingdom in Urhobo land have its own cultural beliefs and traditions. Though many of these cultural beliefs and traditions are today swept under the carpet as a result of Christian teachings against some of those beliefs and traditions and also, as a result of global socialization and modern acculturation. However, the truth remains that each of the kingdom in Urhobo land still have a junk of these cultural beliefs and traditions. For instance, in Urhobo, once a person is enthroned as a king, such a person is therefore bound by the traditions of the throne not to knee down and greet elderly ones, not even his own biological mother in the Urhobo way of “miguo”. It is a taboo and abomination. But in this case, modern reasoning may say, it’s morally wrong for a young man who was enthroned a king to stop greeting his elderly ones. On the other hand, it’s not wrong because the Urhobo regards their kings as the spiritual fathers of the land. They are the only people according to the Urhobo culture that are permitted to speak to the ancestors and gods of the land on behalf of the people. They are also the selected few that are so privileged to appease the ancestors and the gods whenever they are offended and to also appreciate them whenever they do something of happiness to the people. So kings are regarded as the most elderly ones in our various kingdoms across Urhobo land. To hold to this tradition, in Orogun kingdom, they usually enthrone the most elderly man in the kingdom as its king. Each of the kingdom in Urhobo land have their own peculiar cultural beliefs and traditions similar or different from others. Time will not permit us to name such cultural beliefs and traditions of each of the kingdom one after the other.
9. COMMON DEITIES/TOTEMS/TABOOS: Deities and totems are part of the religious beliefs of the Urhobo people. While taboos are the offences committed against these deities and totems. Each kingdom in Urhobo land have its own epinonymous deities and totems installed by the ancestors or forebears of each of these kingdoms. Worship and service are instituted by those that brought this deities and the totems are the physical symbols of identity attached to such deities. The worship and service of these deities are drawn on family lines. It is the sole duty of such a family that is in fellowship with such deity to produce a Chief Priest who would be in charge of the worship and service of such deities in the kingdom. Such deities and totems too could also be spread round the towns or villages making the kingdom. It doesn’t necessary mean that all the deities and totems in the kingdom must be centred around the traditional headquarters of the kingdom all alone. But what is more important to the indigenes of such a kingdom is to obey and protect the totems of such deities. In a situation where an indigene knowingly or unknowingly breaks the keeping of the totems, which is regarded as a taboo, the deity in this case would react by infesting the said person with a sickness which is always common to its identification for his/her kinsmen to know that he/she actually breaks the totems of such deities. Another important thing we must note here is that, such deities are instituted by the ancestors for protection of their people during tribal or inter-communal wars, to seek for bountiful harvest during farming seasons or as a result of a particular problem confronting the entire kingdom. We must know that the ancient people in those days were more spiritual than what we claimed to be today, even with our Christianity. These were people that always communicate with the spirits from time to time. Such deities were their guardian angels. Examples of such deities and totems in some of the kingdoms in Urhobo land are, Evwreni Kingdom recognized crocodile as the totem of their Owhorhu masquerade festival. Therefore, they forbids to eat crocodile. They strongly believe that any Evwreni man or woman that eats crocodile knowingly or unknowingly breaks the true worship and service which they usually accord the Owhorhu deity. It is a taboo for the Evwreni people to eat crocodile. Also, the same Evwreni people forbid to eat snails. The snail is the totem of one of their war deities in the kingdom. But we must note as I earlier explained that, many of these deities and totems are sometimes instituted through family lines. For instance, these two totems that are forbidden in Evwreni, are not forcefully extended to Unenurhie people of the same Evwreni Kingdom. In another example, the Orogun kingdom regards the alligator as a totem representing their ancestral spiritual mother of the entire kingdom. The Orogun people forbids to eat alligator. Even a stranger living in any part of the kingdom is not allowed to kill or eat the alligator in their presence. In their traditions and beliefs, seeing somebody eating it is equal to you eating it. This Orogun totem covers the entire kingdom. No town or village is exempted in Orogun kingdom. Also, the entire Ughelli Kingdom do not eat antelope. It is a totem in honour of a female deity in Ughelli Kingdom. Any indigene of Ughelli Kingdom that eats an antelope commits a taboo. In all the kingdoms in Urhobo land, there are deities, totems and taboos that must be honoured and protected. Therefore, any person agitating for the creation of new kingdoms should put such deities and totems in place as one of the cultural prerequisites established by our forebears.
10. COMMON TATTOOS/TRIBAL MARKS: This is but the last cultural prerequisite we shall look into in today’s discourse. Tattoos and tribal marks are done for identification. They are done by piercing sharp objects like knife, cutlass or razor blade through the skin. These tattoos and tribal marks are not so much common now as it was in those days. Among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria, there are natural ways of identifying each of such groups without any introduction. We know the kind of tattoos and tribal marks the Hausa people have. The same way we know those of the Yorubas and the Igbos. In the same way too, we want to regard our modes of dressing, kinds of food, patterns of housing, systems of marriage etc as part of tattoos and tribal marks. They are tattoos and tribal marks since all of them as mentioned above are used for cultural identifications. In Urhobo land, all the kingdoms almost have the same ways of cultural identifications. Our modes of dressing and kinds of food are not quite different from each other. Urhobo man or woman can easily be identified by his or her ways of dressing in any public or social gathering. The only area where we have differences among the twenty-four kingdoms in Urhobo land is the systems of contracting marriages. Contracting of traditional marriages vary from one kingdom to another in Urhobo land. Apart from this very one, the rest tattoos and tribal identifications are almost the same in all the recognized kingdoms in Urhobo land.

Young Erhiurhoro; Kjc is a reporter and a member of the Urhobo Historical Society.

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  1. Gomez Ofurhie Ezewu says:

    Many thanks again for thie educative lecture. More please

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