October 29-31, 2004 Niger Delta Cultural Center,
Being a paper presented
at the Fifth Annual Conference on "Aspects of Urhobo Poetry" by Chief
D. A. Obiomah at Niger Delta
Cultural Centre, Agbarha – Otor, Nigeria.
Aspects of Urhobo Poetry
D. A. Obiomah
on the Agenda of the preliminary programme of this year’s Conference
Poetry, I pondered what this could mean. Now I have the signal honour
treating aspects of Urhobo Poetry as the last item of the Conference.
It is my
fervent hope that at the end of it all you will rise to go home in a
joyful mood. Urhobo Poetry, what is it? With this reaction I had
some nine years ago I made a collection of poems in three parts. Part
devoted to Urhobo themes. But I had not thought that I was writing
Poetry, rather than just responding to my own whims even when
was involved. What is Urhobo poetry?
English poetry has forms – the Ballad, Rondeau, the Ode, the Epic, the
with 14lines. There are the Couplets, Quatrains. There are specific
rhyme. aa,bb,abab, blank verse etc. There are meters, which give
rhythms. For instance, there is from Robert Browning the dactylic
‘’I sprang to the stirrup
and Jorris and he
We galloped: Dirk
galloped, we galloped all three
is close to the anapestic beat in Lord Byron’s Destruction of
“The Assyrian came down
like a wolf on the fold
And their cohorts were
gleaming in purple and gold.”
are the distinctive iambic pentameters of Shakespeare:
‘’I come to bury Caesar
not to praise him.‘’
‘’This is the noblest
Roman of them all‘’
talking of Urhobo poetry, it is a different world. What do we mean?We learn from R.B. Sheridan however that:
record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best
minds.’’If Alfred Lord Tennyson could
not attest to such happiness when he wrote In Memoriam or Break, Break,
or Crossing the Bar, he could agree with Sheridan’s.
‘’Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world
and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.’’
is on this footing that I intend to deal with Urhobo poetry.The language of poetry is picturesque and
Western thought developed against the background of the
culture of writing. It is recorded, systematized and developed. So we
with such names as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Cicero,
Spinoza, Butler, Hume, Kant, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Erasmus,
Paine, Voltaire Robespeare, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Hegel,
Descartes, Jean Paul Satre, Bertrand Russell, the list is endless.By contrast Urhobo thought exists but at
random and orally. It may be gannered from folk tales, songs composed
for festivals, personal names indicating beliefs and values with
the transcendent.They have their own
tales, beliefs imagery, resonance and elegance.An Urhobo name is poetic.An
Urhobo name encapsulates an episode in the life of the giver of the
name.It is history in a word.So names such as Atayerhinyo, Asamiderhi,
Erhinyoja, Oghenetega Ogheneero, Onorioborunutakerhi.Festivals have patron deities. Songs and
dances to them have their particular drumbeats and rhythm.They may be veiled attacks on unseemly
situations and personal conduct like the press does as the fourth
estate of the
for my pick of poems or what constitutes Urhobo poetry I propose to
those that tell Urhobo thought to be found in songs, sayings, folk
etc.Urhobo set store by certain beliefs
and issues. We believe in the supernatural, as well as an Almighty God
creator invoked for wellbeing, and as final judge.’’Only God‘’ ‘God’s case, no appeal’ the
Shades of our ancestors, who supervise our lives, punish and reward.We believe in honest labour represented by
Obo, a wood carving representing the man’s right hand acknowledged with
rituals in the morning as a man sets out to work. We believe in
beings, Okrobogbowo, in goblins, Okuku. Other issues of daily life are:
and birth, and succession as celebrated with circumcision songs the
captured in the song Kpe Orere, otu re edia obe oko
devoted to patron gods.
also believe in Rulership and modernity.
fact of our having 22 traditional rulers instead of just one was raised
factor of supposed Urhobo disunity.
us now take four samples: from Urhobo poetry and thereafter cover as
ground as possible within the time available.
our concept of Time and Creation
Oghwoghwo ghwoghwo, damu
Oghwoghwo ghwoghwo, damu
Urhe ovo re ohe ogo na,
Oto je maa, damukere
Enu je maa, damukere
Me gbe cha me gbe muo,
Me gbe ra me gbe muo,
Oghwoghwo Oghwoghwo the
Oghwoghwo Oghwoghwo wonder bird: In the void a lone tree
A magic trapeze,
Earth was not born,
A magic trapeze,
Nor yet the sky,
I’d soar aloft
back to it
I’d roam afar
again to it
Ethereal bird of memory!
The equivalent is
the phoenix, “avis saecula saeculorum, the
bird of eternal ages, there before creation of the earth and sky.
This is followed by Kpo – Kpo – Kpo!
Kpo – Kpo – Kpo
Amono she urhe vwe oboyi
Mevwe Eyayughe – o
Die wo vwe irhe ru?
Urhe me vwo kare odo
Die wo vwe odo
mi vwo duvwu egu
Die wo vwe egu ru? Egu
me vwo ghere emo
Die wo vwe emo ru?
Eme me yere akpo.
Die wo vwe akpo ru?
Akpor me vwo je – ghwu – o
Chop chop chop
Who’s chopping in the forest
What will you with wood?
To carve a mortar
What with a mortar?
To pound my yam in
Pounded yam for what? To feed my kids with
Kids for what?
To promote my life
Life for what?
To have succession, here and now forever and aye, till the
end of time.
This is followed by MAMAKO – a children’s game
Mamako mamako oweiya
Mamako mamako oweiya
Oghene ‘Ghene djufiefie
Te ona te ona ko vwa kere koriko
actual articulation and meaning are lost in time to baby talk but
by me from the general tenor and rendered thus to reflect a going cycle
Mamako mamako who are you?
The Maker has said it you’re
Be this or this, be that,
You and me a ceaseless cycle
So, so mamako.
next portrays wrestling and prowess as a game.
se oma gbo
gauntlet is thrown.Who dares pick it
I’m a stuffed bag of
Who cares to challenge me,
I’ll down him in a trice!
Ogba igho re abo, Onyenye
Ogba igho re awo, Onye-nye
wo rhi ru?
rhi mu – o
sheri mi vre – o
bangles on his wrists
voodoo on his ankles
is it you would”?
“I’m a wrestler come
rise if I fall”.
Kind of defident, eh?Not as confident as Ekpurekpuke.Note that charms are a part of the power game and Ekpurekpuke is
<>We believe also in:>
Minor, personal or group
Witches and wizards; and
Ethereal beings like
Okrobogbowo, a half man, one leg, one
Reincarnation – Akpome re
edefa, Eda, Ogbanje in Igbo, Abiku
reflected in URHORO Throne of Providence,
as depicted in Aga vie Urhobo biko, the plaint of the barren woman for
Since our children
speak less and less of Urhobo language
and live largely outside the environment of these beliefs, Urhobo
history is dying or fading.Here is a
notion I have tried to express in various ways:
mre obaro – o.
(c) Obaro oye avwo
vavwa asa re ugbo sheri te i.e. being ahead presumes a starting
Today was founded on
yesterday, so yesterday is our
foundation, which makes our appreciation and projection of ourselves
and incomplete if we do not know what yesterday was.Much of Urhobo life was expressed in poetry
and song as tradition.Poetry is the
index of the mind, the inner man.
That culture without poetry must be oppressively barren and
stiff.Poetry is like woman, the grace
and pulp of things.Our thoughts and
ideals are embedded therein with economy.Poetry concerns the subtle and dainty expression of life.In form and comportment, it is refinement and
it is pleasurable.I first heard the
music of Sam Cook in KingstonJamaica.His
microphone voice coming from the distance sounded like a typical Urhobo
1950 who had sold his four kerosene tins of palm oil impaled on one
bicycle, riding home happily with money in his pocket, singing to the
road.Sam Cook must have been originally
Urhobo to be such a musical embodiment of poetry, a lost poet to
TOGETHERNESS: Let us obtain relief from
togetherness indicated in the old
song mentioned earlier as well as Festivals when guests arrive from far
near, neighbours who have confined themselves to farm villages are
come to town.Guests from neighbouring
towns and villages are welcomed with the banter, ‘Vwana!
Omo oko ye na re wo
Ke oye te we re besie we vwo kpo?
the atmosphere is captured in my poem on Agbarha, Warri’ “Mothers” Day
marriage let us take a tease and a serious joke:
te ose ane oye je re
all know the tall ostrich.The quip is
that a maiden could be an ostrich in height and in the antomy dressed
circumcision if she fails to take the plunge and marry when she is due,
suitors will cavil at her:
Tall as an
A tall old
Grow an old maiden, grow and old
A tall old maiden grow,
If a maiden ripens,
Wooden to wooing,
She will an ostrich grow.
It will an ostrich, it
will an ostrich,
It will an ostrich grow
If a maiden ripens
‘T will be an ostrich
Tall as an ostrich, tall
as an ostrich
Will such a maiden grow,
A cockerel she will grow.
My title for this poem
is: Go Get Married.
Still for marriage let us
take a serious joke: Imerime!
Gbe roro gbe
Mevwe ovo Ibaba
Mevwe ovo Inene
Baba vwe ovwe
ke owho re Aka
Owho re Aka nyo
Urhobo – o
Mevwe dede mi
nyo Aka – a
Ke mavo erue
obori te ne
Here’s a tale, here’s a tale,
An intriguing tale
Here’s a tale
An intriguing tale
I’m my father’s only child
I’m my mother’s only child
Father married me to an Edo
Edo man does not speak Urhobo
Neither do I any Edo
I am in for a dumb show!
Here’s a tale, here’s is
An intriguing tale!
our peculiar circumstance today in
which fewer and fewer of our children speak Urhobo as already noted,
latent argument here for exogamy.
Next, His Royal Highness, what is the
position of Traditional Rulers?
Ovie me vwaare
E – e – e me vwaare
Ose re omo ghwu je omo vwo
Oni re omo ghwu je omo vwo
Arhove ughwu ehe obo we
Ovie me vware owe
O king we venerate
Take our reverence
Father dies and orphans make
Mother dies and orphans make
Life you command we know
Death you command we know
O, King, we venerate
King was almighty with power of life
and death whereby orphans might be made.This was the Traditional Ruler, although we agree with Acton power corrupts, and
absolute power tends to corrupt
absolutely.Like Louis XIV of France he could say, “cest moi
le etat”, I am the State But today
he contends with several levels of parallel authorities, Federal, State
even Local Government, his home ground.This is modernity.Things have
changed, Still, both the Government and the general public accord him
prestine image of the highest and mightiest.Officially, he is His Royal Highness, adulated by linguistic
His Royal Majesty, making him higher, as it were, than the Governor or
Parliament as a constitutional monarch.
style is the man (Buffon) so for the
surrealist thought is the society.It
defines in aggregate the intrinsic quality of the society.The Greeks and the Romans made sports part of
their religious and secular lives and left the world the Latin quote
“mens sana in corpore sano “ a
healthy mind in a healthy body
following which they also left us the Olympic Games.
much of Urhobo poetry recognises is
that there is order and intimacy, labour and respect for life with
transcendence in divinity. But this order is at present in a
flux.As religion it is sneered at and
despised through prejudice of foreign religions.When
we are in supposedly native attire the
items are imported or products of foreign technology.This Conference on Urhobo History and Culture
has been and is being conducted and recorded in English.Our dances and drumbeats were stigmatised as
fetish or pagan with us consenting.These have now been assimilated into the service of the new
panegerics to the same God said to have abhorred them.The supreme irony is that those same
Faithfuls dance with abandon to these rhythms, with the zeal and frenzy
Solomon whose clothes dropped from him and he went on notwithstanding.All in all the dilemma of Dilibe Oyeama’s
book “Niger from Eton” is with us as elite yet only “developing”, as
the nationalities including Urhobo
of necessity flow into the National mainstream to be carried along into
citizenship and globalisation the initiative to play the role of the
pot rests with Abuja.How
re-orientation is coming from there?It
is the duty of the nationalities to put heat on our active minister
less than is importantly done, for instance, concerning Resource
Control.Urhobo have the opportunity to
lead.“Show the light,” as great Zik
urged many years ago “and the people will find the way”.
is the paradox in which we are
trapped and is in nowhere more typified than in the area of identity.
Kipling wrote the novel KIM set in
a boy, was of
mixed race, Irish father and Indian mother.He was able to stall with the British (who were the colonial
and with Indians/Pakistanis, but was often caught in the race relations
complexities existing in the colony.He
was neither here nor there.In the
result he found himself asking, “Kim, Kim, Kim, who is Kim?”Was he British among whom he was sort of
accepted?Still, was he, Kimbal Ohara,
Irish, under British colonial rule, white, or was he Indian, therefore
class?Such a mixed grill are we.We need to consciously rise above it.Can we?How longmay it take and who
should “show the light” for “the people to find the way?”
In looking backwards, it is useful to realise that we are
swimming against this tide of multiple currents – the conflict of order
authority, the conflict of religion, the conflict of manners.
State rule is edging out prestine domestic rule under the
Traditional Ruler.The erstwhile devotee
of traditional religion now shares his trust between the power of the
herbalist and all – powerful blood of Jesus loud on the microphone till
early hours of the morning.
The BBC discomfits by harping not on female circumcision but
opprobrious genital mutilation.Once
and idolatrous drumbeats and worship now make enchanting, all –
gospel music for us.Folk tales are
out.Television dominates, where the
world is seen from our sitting rooms without flight tickets.
The cultural Osmosis is weighed against us.Urhobo
are the weaker element in the national
cultural osmosis.Go to any public
function.You will find Urhobo young men
dressed like the Northerner, generally called Hausa, or the
Yoruba.What is more, no non-Urhobo man
will be found in Urhobo attire.Do we
need to do anything to change the trends to cultivate our identity or
slide purely by default?The parts make
the whole.Can we afford to lose
ourselves as a functional part of the whole?Our thanks must go to the Founding Fathers of the Urhobo
Society for their vision.We must show
through knowledge and wit that we exist, that we are worthy, channeled
not lost in the maze of the Nigerian mainstream referred to cynically
mistake of 1914.In every aspect of our
lives subjected to the norms of the western world there is always an
undercurrent of the conflict, of fusion, of leadership, elitism and
identity.An Uvwie song captures this
the Whiteman’s era,
family bonds must break,
they, keep away.
koro ateren ome ne
fane efa o – e – e.
As already noted, in looking backwards, it is imperative to
be conscious that we are swimming against this tide of multiple,
parasitical currents – the conflict of order and authority, the
religion, the conflict of manners.Let
us indicate our dilemma with Royal Exile.
dje se me yan (twice)
Se me vwa
Ane oyibo mue
Oba re Aka
se me dje, se me yan
Se vwa vwe Usenu.
Shall I run, shall I walk
I yet may spy him at
Shall I run shall I walk?
Will I glimpse him at
The whiteman’s seized
On exile to Calabar
His forlorn court
Shall I run, shall I
A nightmare, noonday
dream of a tale.
It is the unthinkable heralding the new day.
His majesty does not lay down the rule, cannot take the
praise for its success nor justifiable rebuke and flack for its
what power or authority does he have other than respect drawn from
memory? What is his job description carrying requisite authority but a
of being and non-being, the totem of a dying age. We have changed but
have refused to accept the fact. Young men of the age range of 40 and
state Governors, Local Government Council chairmen and corporate chief
executives. What elbowroom is left for the Traditional Ruler to wield
in step with these parallel authorities without coming into conflict
officialdom with modernity?How much is
he paid to reflect majesty? His lot is oto udo, leftovers.He is the lone yeoman on the social scene
Will the Traditional Ruler be able to perform his job, whatever that
without losing his halo? Can he go into commerce without disdain? For
Traditional Ruler of the day it is as if the play is over; the dressing
are locked up and the cast cannot leave the stage for want of where to
Should the Royal Fathers contemplate mass action who will be the
the vexation of the crown of things?It
is as if the Supreme Court should go on strike.
The paradox is that more and more men of competence sign on
to these rulership – with – no – rule positions.Their
only link to acientry is the parody of
their distinctive dress form.The plague
is our unconsciousness of the forces contending for our being to be
faced as a
problem.This plague is the acretion of
incongruous and mutually parasitical cultures in conflict in our day to
life.It is a problem of African
societies, Urhobo not excepted.We were
Urhobo, become part Urhobo, part Nigerian, part citizens of
truly neither of each of these formations at all.We
want to be ourselves as Urhobo.We are
Nigerian citizens enmeshed in
constitutional modalities.Nigeria is globalising, which
means more admixture dictated from
In the first place, who is a Nigerian?He
is a queer being who is a citizen but not
We are living in a virtual void like Oghwoghwo. Unity in a
void? It is a contradiction in terms. We are faced by a dilemma of
of identity and purpose. For Britain despite the tragedy of
Charles I who was executed the focus
and breath of life of the common weal is Royalty. For America needing to bind together
the disparate nationalities of
religious Pilgrim Fathers and thirteen colonies it was the democratic
in the constitutional “All men are created equal.” For France despite Louis XIV
guillotined it was again the democratic
individual in liberte, egalite and fraternite. How do Urhobo answer to
motto of Unity is strength?The
composite parts, down to the individual must be healthy.
The big question is if we have in this paper diagnosed a material
ailment what is the cure? What scope exists to turn the tables when
nationalities constituting Nigeria bear the same burden?
What is the core, the essence of our
being to absorb distracting modernity? The problems of Afenifere,
stem from the truncation of traditional polities.Can
we blend old time tradition with
modernity?Let UHS take the lead on how
to do this hand in glove withAbuja.
Now for some banter with the teetotaler Palm Wine maker and
thence to the festival.
Obregoro, mo ada udi
Ota re idono rho no
Obregore mo ada udi –o-e-e
Palmwine tapper, come,
Have a drink
O, wine – tapper, come
Penury is a bane,
Wine maker will you come have a drink
Palmwine tapper, come
A teetotaler you?
Come on let’s drink
We shall round off this portion with the festival piece
captured in my own words to the mood at festivals, and captioned
E-yoweyo je efe rhi tevwe
Vwe emo rhe ovworho,
Vwe igho je rhe ovworho
E-yoweyo je efe rhi tevwe
social taboos are usually against women. This is one case in a million
the reverse is the case. It is men who must remain indoors on pain of
by the Shades. The shades oversee our own world. But it is the women
them to the feast and dismiss them. Mothers’ Day goes like this:
1. It’s crack of
The owl has quit,
The men folk stay within
But women out
The elderly lot,
<>Unseen and covered
dark of dawn.
2. They place the
rope – bound wraps,>
of smouldered plantain
From door to door in all
You’ll discover when you
From end of
From street to street
To the other end
They invite the shades to
For the feast
4.. The feast is
Now for care in the past
Dutiful thanks and
To guardian dead
To all the gods
And to God the Lord
By they’ll sing
They’ll sing to the shades
They’ll sing to the gods
Hear them sing
“So be it, Fate of
fortune upon us all
invoking blessings on the
6. Fecund women><>>
Harvest rich of men folks
Health to all,
Joy to all the land!!
Can you hear them sing?><>>
Hear them sing!
Song of abundance
Amen, amen fate of
fortune to all the land
The air is
The breeze is spiced,
And jars of wine
Call the drums
Flourish of ringing bells
From the waists of
Keekoto keekoto ken
Amen, amen fate of
fortune upon the land
We of Agbarha, Warri are calling out to the visiting,
international members of U.H.S.
yena wo ghwa na
te we re besie wo owo kpo?
da udi, mo a da udi
na omo oko yena wo ghwa re na
te we owo dia besie wo owo kpo
udi o mo ada
– o mo ada
rhe da udi (2ce)
– o ovwa da
mo a daudi
Udi o mo a da
Here are the drinks,come drink
Come on and drink, come on and drink
Here is your booze come drink
O help yourself, help yourself
Here the drinks, come drink
Here the drinks, come drink
Udi o mo a da
Udi o mo a da!
cassette of Agbarha Idjui drum. You know that; don’t you? The grand
known as Agbassa Juju. We have the best Idju in the World.
Excellency, my Lords Spiritual and temporal, your Royal highnesses,
distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I hope that true to sheridan’s dictum I have
endeavored to show that Urhobo Poet, like
any others, does lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the (Urhobo)
making familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. I further hope
have put you in a cheerful mood as you rise to go home, and to think
effort of Urhobo Historical Society is as well worth the trouble you
to come here.
me copious thanks. This is the Fifth Annual Conference of UHS. There
yet another day. Join us, be our guest, support the cause.