Monday, December 4, 2017

The Urhobo: A nation that is not an ethnic group

Written by Chibuzo Ihuoma

A brief description of this nation and what is known at face value. The Urhobo constitute the largest linguistic group in Delta State Nigeria. They are traditionally farmers, with some into fishing. Their language is Urhobo, an Edoid dialect. Neighboring ethnic groups to the Urhobo are the Igbo, Itsekiri, Ijaw, and the Esan. Some notable Urhobos are Samuel Mariere - the first governor of the former Midwestern Region Nigieria and Nigerian actress Ufuoma Ejenobor. But who or what really are the Urhobo? They seem to not have a defined culture or a language which is stand-alone and cannot be defined as a dialect of the language of another group. Who are the Urhobo?

The Urhobo are actually not an ethnic group but a conglomeration of ethnic groups: Ijaw, Bini, Igbo, Itsekiri, and Esan who settled in an area that was formerly under the Benin Kingdom. Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman, a historian and polemicist of Ahmadu Bello University gave a brief historical background of the Urhobo as captured in the book, "Igbo History And Society" by late renown historian and author Adiele Afigbo, on Pg.430:

It is in the ancient city-state, Benin, that these various ethnic groups converged to engage in various crafts and trade. The lingua-franca of the area was the Bini language. Ancient Benin was similar to America in the sense that people from different backgrounds came to reside there but communicated in the local language, which in this case was Bini language. In addition to America, its cosmopolitan make-up can be compared to modern day Lagos and Abuja. Due to centuries of mixing of vocabulary from the various ethnic groups into the Bini language in this section of the kingdom, a type of Pigin-Edo language was developed: Urhobo. This is a common phenomena in human language development, Haitian-French is an example. Other examples are Lagos and Warri Pigin-English, which are almost completely different and owe their differences to the groups that dominate those areas. However, it must be stated that the Urhobo are not Edo people, as shown by their various ethnic origins: Ijaw, Igbo, Bini, Itsekiri, and Esan, although they speak an Edoid dialect.

The Urhobo, as stated early, are a conglomeration of ethnic groups. They are not an ethnic group themselves. That apart, lets get into the nitty-gritty of the origins of the the Urhobo nation, which in this case includes the Isokos. The Urhobo group consists collectively of 35 tribes and chiefdoms: 18 on the Urhobo side and 17 on the Isoko. Below are the traditions of origins of the Urhobo nation captured in a 1957 book, "The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-speaking People of Southwest Nigeria" by P.C. Lloyd. Just to add, some communities are offshoots of other Urhobo communities but if you go through the list you will also see the origin of the communities that they came from:

From these oral traditions told to the colonists by the Urhobo themselves, it is safe to conclude that the Urhobo are indeed not an ethnic group and that there is no "Urhobo DNA" as there is for the Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Bini, and other ethnic groups. If today an Urhobo person was to take an Ancestral DNA test, there would be nothing to show that he is an Urhobo. It would simply show concentrations of DNAs from ethnic groups. There is no Urhobo-Isoko DNA just as there is no American DNA. The Urhobo are not an ethnic group just as Americans do not belong to an ethnic group. In this length, I charge the Urhobo to reach out to their various ethnic groups of origins, as well as I encourage every ethnic group that the various Urhobo and Isoko tribes descended from to reach out to them, and embrace them as your own.

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