Urhobo People and language from Benin

Urhobo belong to the group of people whose written history is largely undocumented. There is almost an absence of European record on the Urhobo. The early European were preoccupied with economic interest on the coastal communities. However, in 1505, Pereira observed that in the hinterland beyond the Forcados River, lived the Subou or Sobo a name that is corrected to Urhobo in 1938. It is significant to note that the traditions of origin of the various Urhobo groups do not contain any specific reference to their ancestor other than that ‘ we are or we know are Urhobo’ . The history of the Urhobo generally began from an Edo territory, the ancient Benin Empire around where the ancient town of Udo and Benin City are currently located. At the end of the Ogiso dynasty, many Urhobo and Edo-groups left Udo the Benin Empire in different directions, each at its own pace, in search of more peaceful territories. It was natural that in those compelling circumstance”


By Nowamagbe Omoigui M.D


It is true that Urhobo clans of the Edoid (or Edo-speaking) race call the people of Benin “Aka”. The significance of this is a potentially fertile area of research for any young historian who might be interested. However, it might interest you to know that the word “Aka” remains in Benin-City until this day. According to Aisien, there are three contexts:

1. Ogbel’aka – which is a section of Benin-City which houses the Royal Musicians. They also play an important role during coronations. 2. Ogbe n’alaka – a section of Ogbe adjoining the Palace to which Oba Akengbuda (1750-1804) retired in old age after abdicating the throne in favor of his son Obanosa.

3. Eze n’Aka – (the AKA stream) which was a tributary of the Ikpoba river exclusively dedicated to supplying drinking water to the Benin Palace (at its present location) from time immemorial.

One very interesting detail is that the Benin Palace has not always been at its present site. The original Ogiso Palace was along the UTANTAN in Ugbeku. UTANTAN is now called Sakponba road. The address of the ancient Palace is 163 Upper Sakpoba Road . The second Ogiso (Ere) moved it to Uhunmwindunmwun where it remained until the end of the Ogiso period. Eweka I, as well as his sons Uwakhahen and Ehemihen operated from a new Palace at Usama. But it was Ewedo (circa 1260 AD) that moved the Palace to its present site.

SOURCES: 1. DN Oronsaye: The History of the Ancient Benin Kingdom and Empire, Jeromelaiho 1995

2. Ekhaguosa Aisien: Benin-City: The Edo State Capital. Aisien Publishers 1995



Several authorities [Otite, Salubi and others] cite the waves of migration of “Urhobos” from ” Benin ” during periods of both peace and unrest (related to justice or injustice) in the latter part of the Ogiso era as well as during the interregnum and later on. For example, the reign of Eweka I was relatively peaceful but there were still migrations. But there is also some evidence that very early in the reign of the first Ogiso Igodo, the monarchy of Ughele was established. Indeed, it is said that the eldest son of Esagho, the wife of Igodo became the first Ovie of Ughelle (who was installed by Ogiogbon, a high priest of Amon). The first son of the Ovie (Ere) returned to rule Igodomigodo after Igodo’s death, while other sons migrated to establish rule over other early Edoid principalities in the modern delta area (who had been part of the same general migration). This aspect of the history does not suggest a combative or servile relationship with Benin . What it says is that in addition to the “people and culture connections” you brilliantly described, Edoid monarchical systems have the same ancestral stock and that in terms of dating Ughele (Ughelli) is extremely old, going all the way back to the earliest part of the Ogiso period.

After the Ogiso era, as you have observed, Urhoboland (and other areas) continued to gain mixed migrants who were traders, warriors and escapees from ” Benin ” justice and injustice. Such waves included well documented disgruntled departures during the latter fascist phase of Ewuare as well as the second republican period [1480-83] after Olua’s death and before the recall of Prince Okpame from Ora. But such migrations and resettlements were also bi-directional as Prince Eweka has pointed out. Come to think of it, if everyone “left” Benin , but no-one came back into it, it would have been depopulated unless there is evidence that the reproductive capabilities of the Benin people were boundless.

1. Agbarho (Agbadu or Otovbodo) – mixed Urhobo-Isoko

2. Ujevbe – Mein Ijaw origin (note that Mein Ijaw is Edoid)

3. Udu – Mixed Benin

4. Evbreni – Mixed Benin

5. Olomu – mixed Igbo, Benin and Mein Ijaw origin

6. Ewu – Mein Ijaw and Benin

7. Arhavbarien – Igbo origin

8. Okparabe – founded by Kumbuowa – Mein Ijaw-Benin Title

9. Owha group (Ughele, Agbarha, Ogo, Orogun) – Tirakiri-Ijaw and Benin

10. Agbon – Main – Esan – Benin elements

11. Abraka – ?early Benin migration of proto-Edoid group

12. Okpe-Urhobo – founded by Igboze, a son of the Oba. Later joined by Olomu,

13. Uvbie – migrants from Erohwa

14. Oghara – settlements on land of the Benin Kingdom

15. Idjerhe (Jesse) – settlements on land of the Benin Kingdom

16. Arokwa (Erohwa) – aboriginal are Benin (Edoid) speakers

17. Okpe-Isoko – Mixed Benin

18. Ozoro – founded by Okpe-Isoko who absorbed some aboriginal groups;

another account says it was founded by a son of the Oba of Benin

19. Ofagbe – founded from Ozoro

20. Aviara – founded by Eze Chima movement from Benin , joined by

Erohwa and later migrants from Benin

21. Iyede – founded by “three men from Benin “.

22. Emevo – founded by migrants from Benin

23. Enhwe (Okpolo) – mixture of Igbos and Evbreni people

24. Igbide – founded by Igbo from Awka (mixed with Uvbie people)

25. Emede – founded by a son of the founder of Igbide

26. Uwheru – founded by Mein Ijaw (Amassuama)

27. Owe – migrants from Benin .

28. Elu – broke off from Owe and absorbed Edoid aborigines

29. Olomoro – broke off from Olomu

30. Usere – founder fled from Benin through Issele-Uku

31. Iri – split off from Usere – Benin

32. Ole – split off from Usere, and then mixed with some Okpe people

SOURCE: RE Bradbury: The Benin Kingdom and the Edo speaking peoples of South-Western Nigeria; London, International African Institute 1957.



When you use the phrase “Urhobo language”, are you referring to the Agbarho dialect? I ask this because I am aware that there are at least five sub-dialects of generic “Urhobo-Isoko” – Agbarho-Urhobo, Isoko, Okpe, Erohwa and Evrho – all considered somewhat mutually unintelligible Edoid. Of these, Erohwa is thought (by Hubbard) to be the oldest.

As it is, the dialect that is closest to modern generic “Bini” is the Okpe dialect.

At this point, I’d like to make two observations:

A. Although the example you gave (Okhuo/Ikhuo in Bini/Esan versus Ohwo in “Urhobo” (I presume Agbarho dialect) was interesting, there are many cross words in Bini and Urhobo. In fact, if you used Okpe dialect or Iyede-Isoko/Urhobo in particular, the overlap is even greater.


1. Owo Ovo

2. Eva Ive

3. Eha Erha

4. Ene Ene

5. Isen Inyoli

6. Ehan Esan

7. Ihino Iwule

8. Elele Elele

9. Ihini Izili

10. Igbe ikwe

11. Oworo Iwovo

12. Iweva Iwive

13. Iwera Iwera

14. Iwene Iwene

B. Within the so-called modern Bini dialect of the Edo language, there are three other sub-dialects: Ibie – spoken by the Iwebo society in the Palace, Iha Ominigbon (used in the Oguega Divination), and the old Uhe (Ife) dialect of Yoruba used in certain circles since the time of Eweka I. (Reference: Ikponmwosa Osemwegie: Midwest Weekly, Vol. 2, No. 39, August 1965)

In addition, there are many other “ritual” mini-dialects that mix various Edoid, Ika and Ukwuani dialects, depending on the specific ritual. The Ovia ritual for example, uses a curious Edoid dialect that is certainly not pure Bini.

Indeed the similarities and differences (as a whole) between Edoid dialects are no less than those between dialects of say Yoruba or Igbo. I can find similar examples of words in Ijebu or Ekiti or Egba that have either no meaning or mean something different in other Yoruba dialects. But the Ijebus, Ekitis and Egbas have no difficulty seeing themselves as Yorubas.

And yet, we (the Edo (id) speakers) have not been able to agree on a common modern dialect. It seems to do more with politics than anything else, as I observed in my conceptual comment about “Ethnicity” last week.

I am particularly curious about the peel off of Isoko from Urhobo just as I find the artificial distinctions between Urhobos and so-called “Edos” perplexing.



I agree 100% with you that common cultural and linguistic ties among Edo speaking people are ancient and unmistakable, independent of the Obaship system, and should dominate our modern-day focus, particularly since perceived emphasis on “power” can easily be misunderstood if taken out of context. But for record purposes, and to avoid creating the impression that those who make purely historical reference to it are hallucinating, there IS a quote in Bradbury’s book that suggests that many Urhobo-Isoko communities were indeed part of the Obaship system at one time. [I recognize that there were also republican elements perhaps indicative of those communities with mixed non-Edoid heritage]. The frantic activities of the British Resident of the Warri Province to suppress linkages with Benin after the restoration of the monarchy in Benin City are well documented in British Administrative reports since 1914. Is it not also true that in the 19th century, another name for the Oba of Benin (in addition to Oba r’Aka) was “Orovwa Akpo”, and that the world was viewed as “Akpo r’Oba”?

MAIN SOURCE: RE Bradbury: The Benin Kingdom and the Edo speaking peoples of South-Western Nigeria; London, International African Institute 1957. Page 129 & 130.


1. J.W. Hubbard: “The Sobo of the Niger Delta; Zaria : Gaskiya Corporation 1952”

2. British administrative (Intelligence) reports

3. JW Welch: Ph.D. Thesis on the Isoko Clans (Cantab)

4. Salubi A: “The Establishment of British administration in the Urhobo country (1891 – 1913).” J Hist Soc. Nigeria , 1, 3, Dec 1958, 184-209

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