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UKWUANI AND THE URHOBO PEOPLE UP TO 1900 – A STUDY IN INTER-GROUP RELATIONS

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UKWUANI AND THE URHOBO PEOPLE UP TO 1900 – A STUDY IN INTER-GROUP RELATIONS

 

CHAPTER ONE 

INTRODUCTION 

Before the European colonisation of the area that became Nigeria in 1914 the various peoples of Nigeria had been in existence. Many of these peoples had, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, lived in their present locations for centuries, and had had their own ways of life (Orugbani, 2005). They had, for example, practised their own traditional religions and had operated their own social and political systems based mainly on the principles of gerontocracy and primogeniture. Blood and family ties determined, to a large extent, the nature of relationships. Life in general was essentially communal; everybody was his brother’s keeper (Orugbani, 2005). In some places where conditions were favourable, well-organised states, kingdoms and empires sprang up and flourished. In the north for example, were the Kanem-Bornu Empire and the Hausa States of Kano, Katsina, Zaria, Nupe, Kebbi, and Kwararafa. In the forest region were the powerful kingdoms of Benin and Oyo, while in the extreme south, in the area popularly referred to as the Niger Delta, were the city states of Nembe, Elem Kalabari, Okrika, Andoni, Bonny, Opobo, Ode-Itsekiri etc. (Alagoa, 1970; Stride and Ifeka, 1971, Crowther, 1978). With regard to inter-group relations, the various peoples of Nigeria had freely met and traded together. The coastal peoples such as the Ijo, Andoni, and Itsekiri produced fish, crayfish and salt, which they exchanged for the agricultural products of their hinderland neighbours such as the Isoko, Urhobo, Ukwuani and so on. The major rivers such as the Niger, Benue, Forcados, Benin, Bonny, Escravos etc, for a long time served as trade routes and means of contact between the various peoples of Nigeria, especially in the south and the middle belt. In the north, pack animals such as camels, mules and donkeys were effectively used in the movement of goods and people from one place to another. These economic contacts, no doubt, led to social, political, and even religious relations amongst the peoples of the different geographical zones.

At the dawn of independence, African States hoped for political and socio-economic development. Unfortunately, this never materialized and many states were soon embroiled in conflicts. These conflicts took the form of internal wars (as in Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo) or coups (as in Nigeria, Ghana, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Ethiopia), often with ethnic and at times religious undertones, and were fuelled by political intolerance (Osei-Hwedie, 200). The result has been a devastating impact on political and socio-economic development. In fact, Obasanjo (1991) stated that Africa continues to witness socio-economic development decline and regression and the hope of development in the decade of independence has been replaced by a revolution of rising frustrations characterized by economic structural adjustments, rising poverty and withdrawal of government involvement in the social service sector Indeed according to Awe (1999) while governance in the pre-colonial period was largely the participation and the accommodation of the interest of all, the later periods witnessed the alienation of the ruled from the rulers; an elite group, the British and their Nigerian successors, made the interest of the majority subservient to their own. The long period of military rule only increased this alienation. Other potential factors of conflict such as ethnicity and religion intensified the subsequent crisis, which was further aggravated by the oil boom and the attendant consequences of corruption, economic mismanagement and challenges of resource allocation which it encouraged . According to Adejumobi (2002) in Nigeria, primordial identities of ethnic, communal and religious formations have taken the centre stage in social and political interactions. Ethnic socio-political organizations like the Afenifere, Ohaneze and Arewa are perhaps the most palpable on the political turf. These groups have penetrating networks and profound influence in the Nation's political parties. The corollary of these groups especially at the youth level are the · ethnic militias, such as Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Egbesu Boys of Africa (EBA), Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Niger Delta Volunteer Force, ljaw youths, Arewa peoples Congress (APC) and other religious militia groups in Northern Nigeria. These groups claim to represent specific ethnic or communal interest and adopt various tactics including violence in the conduct of their activities

This work is on the inter-group relations between Ukwuani and Urhobo peoples up to 1900. One aspect of Ukwuani and Urhobo history that has not received much attention from historians in recent times, is the effect of inter-group relations between them. Many have written on the various aspects beginning with the origin, culture and annual festivals of the Ukwuani’s and the Urhobo’s. Yet, the more recent events – the inter-group relations between them, which virtually have affected nearly all aspects of Ukwuani 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 Ukwuani 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.


THE URHOBO PEOPLE

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, 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 UKWUANI PEOPLE

The Ukwuani people (also called Ndokwa Ethnic Nationality) are located in PRESENT DAY Delta state of Nigeria. They are centrally situated inwithin the state. They share Boundaries with the Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw, and the other west Niger Igbo groups within Delta state. They also share boundary with the Bini in Edo state and the larger Igbo nationality east of the Niger. Up to the end of the twentieth century, most discussions on the Ukwuani were centered on the Aboh Kingdom, because of its commercial success during the pre-colonial era. But surprisingly the aboh kingdom is just a small percentage of the Ukuani community. As a matter of fact, the pre-colonial Ukwuaniland was a two sided communal society. Aboh was a military and a commercial kingdom, while the rest upland Ukeuani, excluding Emu Kingdom, was an acephalous community made up of sovereign autonomous communities. Currently Ukwuani land is divided into three geo-poliitcal units namely; Ndokwa West, Ukwuani LGA and Ndoka East.

Apart from the envisaged projection of cordial and peaceful relationships between the two ethnic groups which is a basic requirement for development this project is projected to provide people with the knowledge about their contiguous neighbours. 

TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN OF UKWUANI PEOPLE 

Matching events with dates have been very difficult in writing about the history of Ukwuani and this problem stems from the fact that very few literature are available on the history and origin of Ukwuani. 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 Ukwuani whose source of knowledge was also through oral tradition. Again, there are so many traditions of origins of Ukwuani 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 ‘Ukwuani’ 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 Ukwuani District Councils. The word ‘Ndokwa’ therefore consists of the first three letters of Ndosumili and the second, third and fifth letters in Ukwuani.20 As was earlier stated, the Ukwuani people are found in Ndokwa East, Ndokwa West and Ukwuani Local Government Areas(s) of Delta State. However, some Ukwuani 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 Ukwuani history did not include these ones as part of the ‘Ndokwa Nation’ or ethnic group (for they confined the ethnic definition of Ukwuani people to only those found in the above mentioned Local Government Areas) it is important to note here that the Ukwuani speaking people in these other parts of Delta and Rivers State also form part of the ‘Ndokwa Nation’ because for one thing, they speak Ukwuani 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/Ukwuani communities in Delta State. 

The Ukwuani 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 Ukwuani people because the range is almost endless as a result of the fact that the various clans that make up the Ukwuani 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 Ukwuani 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 Ukwuani 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 Benin. 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 Ukwuani lands. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, a third wave: in the form of a well-organized expedition of Edo conquerors arrived Ukwuani 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 Ukwuani 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 Benin 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 Ukwuani) and Akarai (at the present site of Aboh, between the Ase Creek and the Niger River). These clans were of Benin extraction. 

According to the oral account of Pa Enehume Nmor23, the ancestors of Ebledei was one Udei. He claimed to have migrated from Benin 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 Benin, 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’. 

INVASIONS 

By the middle of the fifteenth century, the young independent settlements in Ukwuani country had begun to experience series of invasions from Benin. 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 Benin. 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 Nduka26, 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 Ukwuani 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 Ukwuani. 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 Ukwuani, 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. 

TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN OF URHOBO PEOPLE 

As with the Ukwuani 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. 

Autochthony 

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 immemorable. 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 completely 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 Benin, 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 Benin. This tradition is the one found in recorded works.28 Traditions of Benin 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 Benin 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 Benin. 

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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