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A Study in Inter-group Relations Between Ukwuani and the Urhobo People Until 1900

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A Study in Inter-group Relations Between and the Urhobo People Until 1900



This work is on the between and Urhobo peoples up to 1900. One aspect of and Urhobo history that has not received much attention from historians in recent times, is the effect of between them. Many have written on the various aspects beginning with the origin, culture and annual festivals of the ’s and the Urhobo’s. Yet, the more recent events – the between them, which virtually have affected nearly all aspects of and Urhobo lands has not caught the attention of many historians despite the fact that many of these people are now living witnesses to the events. It is therefore, the aim of this study to construct the history of and Urhobo in relation to their experiences and analyze the events as they occurred and show how they were affected in terms of their political, social and economic activities up to 1900.

GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND OF THE UKWUANI’S is an ethnic group in part of Delta State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and it is administratively divided into three government areas, namely; Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West and Local Government Areas of the same state1 with the administrative headquarters located at Aboh, Utagba-Ogbe (Kwale) and Obiaruku respectively. land is located between longitude 6061 and 6042 East, latitude 6031 and 5025 North2 and they constitute a political division in Delta State of Nigeria. With a population of about 500,000 inhabitants in 1963.3 land is bordered on the North by the Division, on the south by the Ijaw Division, on the South-West by Urhobo and Isoko Divisions, on the East by the Niger River, on the North-East by Ika and Asaba Divisions, and on the South-East by Ahoada Division of the Rivers State.

The geographical position of , places the country within two belts and they include the Deltaic Swampy Forest, which covers the southern and south eastern coastal towns as well as the tropical rain forest situated in the Northern part of the territory.5 In the swampy region, numerous creeks and impassable dense forest abound which also experience flood during certain period of the year. The area also has adequate rainfall all year round and the vegetation is a mixture of evergreen forest and the savannah grassland with very fertile soil.6 is a language spoken in parts of Delta and Rivers States in Nigeria, notably: Abbi, Aboh, Afor, Akoku, Amai, Ndoni (Rivers), Isukwe (Rivers), Onuaboh, Ashaka, Ebedei, Emu, Ejeme Aniogo, Ezionum, Eziokpor, Utagba-Ogbe (Kwale), Ndemili, Obiaruku, Obetim Uno, Obikwele, Owa Alidima, Umuaja, Ossissa, Utagba-Uno, Umutu, Onicha-, Obinomba, Iselegu, Umukwata, Owa Abbi, Utchi, Abgragada, Ushie, Ogume, Azagba and Umuolu.7

Garri which is produced from cassava forms one of the major export communities in this region and both palm oil and kernels are extensively produced for internal use and for export. Certain cash crops like cocoa and rubber are also cultivated while the latter forms one of the main export cash crop in the territory.8 In addition, other cash crops like maize, melon, tomatoes, okro, beans and groundnut are also cultivated and produced in abundance both for subsistence and for commerce with the neighbouring towns and villages. It is no wonder that many of the people in the region are traders while a few are weavers. Additionally, Kwale and Aboh are very often referred either to the inhabitants of the country or the territory itself. But in either case, the terms or names so employed are basically unsuitable for the word ‘Kwale’ goes back to the days of British pacification of land. Consequence upon this initial hostile attitude of the towards the British, the first political officer had to fall back on a town which was then predominantly Urhobo speaking (although some speak a bit of ) and now part of the Urhobo Division. This provincialism which existed in the area made them pronounce -Ukwuale or Kwale.

According to an oral account given by Chief Obodiowe Edike,9 the choice of Abraka as temporary British headquarters was motivated by a number of factors; firstly, the town was friendly to the administrators. Secondly, it was situated on a level plain as against the swampy impassable path of . Thirdly, it was sighted on the main road leading to Warri – the provincial headquarters, and so facilitated communication and re-enforcement of troops. And fourthly, Abraka was very close to River Ethiope, the only source of pure water in the division. Because of the choice of Abraka as a station, the British were much more familiar with Urhobo-speaking elements, in and around Abraka than they were with the people. As these Urhobo people called their neighbours “Ukwuale” or “kwale”, their own rendering of , this name gained currency. The British thus adopted the word ‘Kwale’ as a simplified word for Ukwani and called the headquarters ‘Kwale’. Thus, the new station built in Utagba-Ogbe on a Government Reserved Area became known as ‘kwale’.10 This name was used in all official correspondence until 1950 when at the instance of the people, the proper name ‘’ was officially adopted.

It is imperative to point out here that communities as has been outline in previous paragraph and these communities share common boundary with each other. In addition, the land occupies a very strategic position in Nigeria as all the major roads in the country converge in land, accounting for her rapid development. For instance, the New Sapele-Agbor Road popularly referred to as the “New Road” passes through land. The Warri-Umutu-Ekuku-Agbor Road enrout to Onitsha also passes through land as well as the Agbor-Ogwashi Road to Onitsha. Source of water supply in land is through rivers and rainfall and most recently taps and bore-hole. It is also worthy of note that has never recorded any earthquake or earth tremor and there is no major mountain or rock in the different communities that make up the Ndokwa nation.


The Urhobo, also a very prominent part of the Delta State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, constitute the largest ethnic group in same state and are spread over nine (9) Local Government Areas which includes Ethiope East, Ethiope West, Okpe, Ughelli South, Ughelli North, Sapele, Udu, Uvwie and part of Warri South.12 The Urhobo occupy a contiguous territory bounded by latitude 50151 and 60 North and longitudes 50401 and 60251 East.13 They have about twenty two polities which includes: Agbarha-Ame (Agbassa), Agbarha-Otor, Agbarho, Agbon, Arharwarien, Avwraka, Ephon-Otor, Eghwu, Evwreni, Idjerhe, Oghara, Ogor, Okere (Urhobo), Okparabe, Okpe, Olomu, Orogun, Udu, Ughelli, Ughivwen, Ughowerun and Uvwie.14 The area is bounded on the North by the River Ethiope (except at the Northwest corner where it stretches into a strip of land on the right bank of the river). On the south, it shares a boundary with the Western Ijaw Local Governments of Bomadi and Patani while on the East by the and Ndokwa West Local Governents as well as Isoko North and on the West by the Warri South Local Government.15 Thus, their immediate neighbours are the Binis to the North, the Ijaw to the South, ’s and Isoko’s to the East and Itsekiri to the West.

Located in the evergreen forest of southern Nigeria, the Urhobos are predominantly farmers. Such as yam, cassava, maize, plantain, banana and cocoyam constitute the core of subsistence farming embarked upon by almost every family. It was however, for the abundance of oil palm that early European interest in Urhobo land was generated as we see in subsequent chapters in the course of this work. Although not as popular as oil palm, rubber is a primary cash crop that survives the economy of the people.

Fishing is another occupation through which the Urhobo people make their living and this is not surprising as a number of rivers and creeks flows through the land. Among these are the River Ethiope which flows through Sapele and parts of Abraka clan, the Warri River which seeps through land areas in Ughievwen (Okwagbe), Agbarho, Agbon, and Abraka clans. Also, a tributary of the Forcados River, known as Okpare, runs through Obomu clan into Ekakpamre creek and Kiagbodo River.16 Apart from fishing which is made possible by the presence of these rivers, the Urhobo’s who live along these rivers produce the gin also known as ‘Ogogoro’ from raffia palms.17 Pottery and raffia mats also form a lucrative source of revenue for the people especially the Ughievwens in Ughelli South Local Government Area.

Additionally, with respect to the population, the al Census count of 1932 gave the Urhobo division a population of about 359,000. But during the census counting of 1952, the government of the then Mid-Western Region of Nigeria gave Urhobo Division a population of 323,000.18 That means the Division recorded a drop of 36,000 in population which is an absolute absurdity. In all parts of Urhobo land, the average annual temperature is about 270C with no marked seasonal or monthly variations. Mainly on account of the fact that the Niger Delta lies across the part of the South-West moisture-laden winds blowing from the Atlantic Ocean. All parts of Urhobo land experience heavy rainfall, in that annual rainfall average of 2500mm or more in characteristic of most areas.19 It is also important to point out here that some of the different communities that make up the Urhobo land share common boundary with each other and the land occupies a very strategic position in Nigeria as some major roads in the country passes through the Urhobo land, also accounting for her rapid development. Source of water supply is through rainfall, rivers, taps (and borehole in contemporary times) and most importantly, Urhobo land has never recorded any earthquake or earth tremor and there are no mountains or rocks in the different communities of Urhobo land.


events with dates have been very difficult in writing about the history of and this problem stems from the fact that very few literature are available on the history and origin of . Hence, one has to rely on oral traditions from the Okpala’s, Okwa’s, Onotu’s (Inotu’s), Eze’s, Ada’s and some other experienced men in whose source of knowledge was also through oral tradition. Again, there are so many traditions of origins of and this has been a subject of great controversy. The controversy arose from the fact that there are vested interest on the topic with each clan, village or family component trying to exert influence and superiority over others.

The word ‘’ stands for the people as well as their language and so its usage therefore encompasses both the people and their language. For record purposes, the word “Ndokwa” was coined from the names of two former district councils in former Aboh Division, namely: Ndosumili and District Councils. The word ‘Ndokwa’ therefore consists of the first three letters of Ndosumili and the second, third and fifth letters in .20 As was earlier stated, the people are found in Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West and Local Government Areas(s) of Delta State. However, some people are found in other parts of Delta State and Rivers State respectively. Although most writers and historians on the other hand, who have written on history did not include these ones as part of the ‘Ndokwa ’ or ethnic group (for they confined the ethnic definition of people to only those found in the above mentioned Local Government Areas) it is important to note here that the speaking people in these other parts of Delta and Rivers State also form part of the ‘Ndokwa ’ because for one thing, they speak language just like their counterparts in the above mentioned L.G.As. In addition, they have similar traditions of origin like them in the sense that most of them trace their origins to some of the recognized Ndokwa/ communities in Delta State.

The people, just like every other tribe or ethnic group in Nigeria has their own traditions of origin. It is difficult to explore the whole gamut of traditions of people because the range is almost endless as a result of the fact that the various clans that make up the ethnic group do not have a single tradition of origin. Be that as it may, efforts will be made here to examine those traditions that have common relevance to this ethnic group and also are prominent among the people. In consequence of the heterogeneity of clans, divergent views were held with regards to the historical origins of the people. However, from the varying account of the elders, three waves of migration appeared to account for the present population of the people.

The first wave comprises the independent settlers, which are represented by the clans of Umu-Akashiada, Ebedei and Akarai who claim to have migrated from . As they were the first clans to arrive, they occupied the best part of the country. These clans were followed by a second wave of independent settlers whose ancestors migrated from Eastern Nigeria. The settlements consists of Abarra Clan, Utu-Oku, UMu-Barautchi, Ndoni, Onya and Adai Clans. They settled along the banks of the Niger and were the first groups of Igbo extraction to establish isolated settlements in lands. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, a third wave: in the form of a well-organized expedition of Edo conquerors arrived land. The Aboh clan and its offshoot clan of Abbi, Amai, and Umukwata represent them.21 Among the first wave of migrants who were all of Edo extraction, the Umu-Akashiada claim to be the earliest clan to settle in Country. The clans consist of the Eziokpo, Ezionum, Umuebu, and Obiaruku clans. (Abraka, having now emerged with the Urhobos).

According to Chief Oshilim Nwazuosa22, the ancestors of the clan, Akashiada migrated from and settled at Umuoshi quarter of Eziokpo. Tradition states that Akashiada ahd two wives and the first wife gave birth to three sons: Okpor, Ezie and Ebu, while the second wife had a son called Ovili. As members of the various families increased rapidly after the death of Akashiada, the first settlement became too congested for the migrants, as a result, the brothers decided to separate their families from one another and found new settlements. Okpo, the eldest son became the direct heir of the original settlement at Umuoshi and his descendants named the settlement Eziokpo (after Okpo). Ezie, the second son moved southward with his family and founded a site, which his descendants named Ezionum, after their ancestor. Ebu, the youngest son then migrated westward with his family and settled at first in Obi-Agbulugu, he later moved to One-Oto or Obi-ata, and finally settling at the present site, which his descendants called Umuebu (the descendants of Ebu). Ovili, the only son of the second wife moved further west and founded the village of Ovili (Abraka-Inland). Between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many other independent settlements were founded by the clans of Ebedei (at the present site of Ogume in the hinterland of ) and Akarai (at the present site of Aboh, between the Ase Creek and the Niger River). These clans were of extraction.

According to the oral account of Pa Enehume Nmor23, the ancestors of Ebledei was one Udei. He claimed to have migrated from and settled in the present site of Aboh wehre he had two children – Okpu and Ezie-Ogoli. These two sons were the founders of Ebedei clan. They migrated from Aboh and settled at the present site of Ogume on the Southern site of Okumeshi stream. Due to lack of farmland, Okpu crossed to the northern side of Okumeshi where he discovered some fertile land as he was hunting. He planted ‘Ani Divinity’ (Earth Covenant Divinity) indicating right of ownership on this spot and invited his brother Ezie-Ogoli to join him. Both brothers settled in the present site of Umunyalum. Later, Ezie-Ogoli moved to Ogbe Ata from where his descendants moved further to the present site of Umuezie-Ogoli quarter because of a fight between Umunyalum and Umuezie-Ogoli. During this fight, Umunyalum quarter was burnt to ashes and in fear of biter reprisal, Umuezie-Ogoli had to move away because if they had remained at Ogbe Ata, they would have to pass through Umunyalum quarter while going to their farm. Prior to this disruption, other migrants had joined the two brothers and constituted themselves into various quarters of Ebedei. These included the quarters of Ogbe Uzu who migrated from Akarai, Umu-Osele who migrate from , Isemelu and Ukwu-ole quarters who moved in from Ogume.

The clan of Ndoni, comprising the villages of Ndoni and Oniku on the other hand, claims to have migrated from Utafi in Ahoada Division of Rivers State. According to the oral testimony of Elder Ikpeoha Onyeso24, the leader of the emigrants from Utafi settled at Oniku while his followers moved to Ndoni. This is why Oniku claimed to be the ancestral village of the Ndoni clan. For example, the priest of Ani (earth covenant divinity) for the whole clan is always the Oke (the oldest man) of Oniku. This priest also fixed the date for the festival of Udieri, which is jointly celebrated by the two villages. Furthermore, when an Ndoni man loses a wife by death, he must go to Oke of Oniku to offer sacrifice to Ani’.


By the middle of the fifteenth century, the young independent settlements in country had begun to experience series of invasions from . Oba Ewuare the Great (1440) in particular was said to have attempted to subjugate Akashiada Clans and to force them into accepting the overlordship of . Ewuare was reputed to be a great magician, physician, traveler, and warrior.25 He was also powerful, courageous and sagacious. He fought against and captured 201 towns and villages in Ekiti, Ikare, Afenmai and Western Igbo, taking their petty rulers captive and causing the people to pay tribute to him.

According to the interview with Chief Okpor Nduka, the Oba was regularly sending his soldiers to intimidate the various clans, as such clans were expected to entertain them. Failure to provide hospitality was regarded as contempt and visited with instant annexation. In one of their routine exercise, Edo troops tried to force Akashiada clans to pay tribute but Unuebu, the most powerful and populated Akashiada clan, withstood the Edo soldiers and forced them to flee. However, the sixteenth century ushered in a well organized Edo conquering party, which the could not resist. This was the Aboh party that resulted not only in the establishment of Aboh kingdom, but also in the foundation of many towns in . As they travelled southwards, their numbers dwindled because families decided to settle at various points enroute. Thus, clans like Obetim, Ossissa, Ashaka and Amai were founded in the process.

As the rest of the party moved northwards together with their families as nomads, they arrived the present site of Umukwata where they established their first camp. After staying together for many years, Amai moved westward and founded Amai; Eti migrated further west and founded Orogun and Amacha went southwest and founded Abbi. Ukwata, the oldest man among the leaders was left with his family to occupy the original settlement, which, his descendants named Umukwata (the descendant of Ukwata) after their father. Gradually, as they migrated further, other clans like Ogume, Akoku, Onicha, Emu, Umuolu, Utagba-Ogbe (Kwale), Utagba-Uno were founded. In all of these, it is important to admit that there are vested interest on this topic – the origin of , as was earlier stated. This is partly because each clan, village or family component try to exact influence and superiority over others and this consequently has made the subject of great controversy.


As with the people, the Urhobo people have their own traditions of origin. Although it is very difficult to explore the whole gamuet of traditions of Urhobo people for the range is almost endless owing to the fact that the various clans that make up the Urhobo ethnic group do not have a single tradition of origin. Efforts will be made here to examine those traditions that have common relevance to the Urhobo ethnic community and also are prominent among the people. There are about four main traditions of origin of the Urhobo people and these traditions, collected at different times in different places and by different researchers are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They include: (i) Autochthony, (ii) Emigration form an original Edo Territory, (iii) Traditions of Origin from Ife and (iv) Traditions of Origin from the Sudan and Egypt.27 To begin, it is best to look at these traditions one after the other.


Traditions among the Urhobo are replete with assertions of original dwellers and owners of their territory and those autochthonous people were believed to be Urhobo, with no known history of migration from anywhere else. They were the aborigines coming from no where but living in their territories from time memorable. This tradition is without documentary or archeological evidence, yet, it recurs among Urhobo respondents and it may not be brushed aside. This aboriginal strata referred to above must have been very strongly established because the diverse ‘stranger’ intervening elements have been ly absorbed into a common and distinguishable pool of cultural and organizational forms among all the Urhobo people. Emigration from an Original Edo Territory

Urhobo emigrants from their Edo territory consist of two categories: the masses (ordinary) people, and the ruling elite. An overwhelming number of Urhobo claim that they came from , but they emphasize that they were not Bini people who turned to be Urhobo on reaching their territories. Instead, they assert that they were already Urhobo’s before they left . This tradition is the one found in recorded works.28 Traditions of origin suggest two major migrations during the two dynasties in Bini history. In the first place, the Urhobo remember clearly the Ogiso Dynasty consisting of the 31 known rulers (Ogisos) before the alleged journey to Ife that gave rise to the Eweka dynasty. Also, such terms as ‘Igodomigodo’, the name by which the territory was known, are repeated and are well remembered in connection with cruelty, bitterness, deprivations, insecurity of life and property, and tyranny, and consequently too, in connection with a period when the Urhobo, apparently less powerful, left their Edo abode in search of peace and plentiful economic resources.29 The second major migrations occurred after 1770 A.D. during the second dynasty and in particular, reference is made to the reign of Egbeka at about 1370 A.D.30 when the Urhobo were said to have emigrated from .

Traditions of Origin from Ife

Traditions of Ife origin are also remembered by the Urhobo, but neither those at Ife nor those in Urhobo land can recall the nature of the connection and this is understandable, bearing in mind the strains and limits of memory in keeping unwritten records. Spots pointed to by the Urhobo’s in Ile-Ife as being the places from where Urhobo people migrated appeared better regarded as centres of Urhobo concentrations within living memory and admittedly, there are a large number of Urhobo in and around Ile-Ife but these are organized more like immigrants than as autochthonous. Yet, the traditions of Ife origin are strongly held.

Traditions of Origin from the Sudan and Egypt

The traditions of origin that link the Urhobo’s with the Sudan and Egypt are, at face value, near friction. However, they are important indicators of societal links existing amongst the Edo and Yoruba speaking peoples, providing the social and cultural contexts within which to analyze historical processes. At this point, it is important to mention that aside the above mentioned traditions of origin, there also exist Urhobo clans of Ibo origin.31 However, due to long interaction and cross migration, the entire group now has some general features which have constantly undergone modification to assume a generally acceptable culture in certain areas as marriage, burial rites, dressing pattern and social values which can be referred to as Urhobo culture. The clans that constitute the entity known as Urhobo are: No. Clan Headquarters Local Government Areas

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