Urhobo Historical Society


By Emmanuel O. Ojameruaye, Ph.D.



1. Introduction


One of the factors responsible for the endangerment of “indigenous” languages and cultures in the Third World is the misconception that these cultures are not supportive of modern economic development at best or hinder development at worst. Proponents of this view believe that the traditional cultures and languages of the Third World should be allowed to die “naturally”. We reject this view and posit that while they may be some aspects of “indigenous” cultures that are not quite supportive of modern economic development, such aspects can be “modernized”. More importantly, the promotion and modernization of indigenous languages and culture is essential and critical to modern economic development. In this paper, I explore the complex relationship between culture and economic development with emphasis on Urhoboland in Nigeria.  The objective is to stimulate empirical research into the complex relationship between culture and economic development in Urhoboland and provide a framework for such studies. The ultimate goal is to minimize or eliminate the negative impact that some elements of Urhobo culture may have on economic development on the one hand, and to minimize or prevent the damaging impact of economic development on some aspects of Urhobo culture on the other hand. The paper is divided into seven sections. In section 2, I present the working definitions of culture and economic development employed in this paper. Section 3 surveys the global literature on the relationship between culture and economic development while section 4 describes the growing world cultural industries. In section 5, I describe the relationship between some elements of Urhobo culture and some aspects of development in broad, heuristic terms not based on empirical research. In section 5, I present an analytical framework for studying the relationship between culture and economic development in Urhoboland. Our concluding remarks and tentative suggestions are presented in the last section.


2. Working Definitions (What are we Talking About?)


The terms culture and economic development have a wide variety of definitions and this has complicated the controversy surrounding the relationship between the two concepts.


2.1 Economic Development

There are various definitions for the term “economic development”. In its simplest form, it defined as “progress towards prosperity” or “improvement in well-being”. M. Todaro2 defines it as a “multidimensional process involving the re-organization and reorientation of the entire economic and social systems”.  In a more robust form, economic development is defined as the process of improving the quality of all human lives that involves four aspects. Firstly, it involves economic growth, i.e. increase in the production of goods and services. Secondly, it involves raising peoples’ living standards – their income, consumption of food, access to health and education, housing, sanitation, housing, modern technology etc. Thirdly, it involves creating conditions for conducive to the growth of peoples’ self-esteem through appropriate social, political and economic systems/institutions/processes that promote human dignity and respect. Fourthly, it involves increasing people’s freedom to choose by enlarging the range of options available to individuals including consumer goods and services as well as other social and political variables


2.2 Culture

The 1982 World Conference on Cultural Policies defined culture as the “whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value system, traditions and beliefs”. V. Rao and M. Walton of the World Bank define culture as “the social structures, norms, values and practices that underpin social identities and behaviors, creative activities, and cultivation of imagination. Aesthetic expression, including "built heritage", forms part of this conception”.3 To H. Thompson, culture is “the total complex pattern of customary human behavior, social norms and material trait embodied in thoughts, speech, action, and artifacts and dependent upon the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge, and systems of abstract though. This will include beliefs, morals, laws, customs, opinions, religions, superstitions, and art.4 For the purpose of this paper, we will define culture as “the predominating attitudes, values, norms, behaviors, beliefs, art, heritage, music, letters and creative activities that characterize the functioning of a people”. Simply put, culture is “the way of life of a people”


2.3 Culture and Development Thesis

The following are some of the basic questions that must be answered in studying the relationship between culture and development as defined above.

Do certain cultural traits promote economic development?

Does economic development instill certain cultural traits?

Are culture and economic development relatively autonomous?

According to V. Rao and M. Walton, “ development economists are concerned with culture because of the thesis that in order to be effective, development processes to reduce poverty must take into account, or at least understand, the role of culture and this thesis needs exploration and empirical enquiry”. 5

Central to this thesis is the "culture of poverty" argument which states that there are aspects of culturally-related behaviors in countries or communities that prevent groups of people from taking advantage of economic development. However, some economists believe that cultural processes affect developmental processes and vice versa. Culture is not only related to economic development, it helps define how well-being is defined by different societies. Thus, culture is important to development both as an end and as a means. That is, on the one hand, culture affects what is of value in a society through the intrinsic value accorded to cultural activities and through the influence of cultural processes on the values attached to the various aspects of well-being and features of a society (including the relative weight given the well-being of different individuals or groups). On the other hand it influences how individuals, communities, informal and formal institutions respond to developmental changes and that influence the opportunities they face.


3. Literature Review


Until recently, “mainstream” economists have tended to downplay the role of culture in economic development. However, economic sociologists and development economist have long recognized the important role of culture in economic development. The body of studies that emphasize the role of culture in economic development is called “cultural determinism”. The seminal work in this area is Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1904.  Weber’s work centered on showing that the emergence of the modern economic development (in Europe) depended on a prior shift in cultural values generated by Protestantism. However, Weber’s thesis was controversial from its very beginning. Critics argued that Catholic societies had started to develop modern capitalism long before the Reformation and that it was the Counterreformation rather than Catholicism that led to economic backwardness. However, given the delayed development trajectory of virtually all Catholic countries when compared with their Protestant counterparts, some scholars believe that Weber was essentially correct.  In 1951, Weber published another book, “Confucianism and Taoism” in which he argued that Confucianism created an environment hostile to capitalist development by emphasizing kinship as the primary source of social relatedness and thereby promoted economically inefficient nepotism. However, the spectacular economic performance of Japan, China and other Confucian societies since the 1950s has demolished Weber’s thesis and it would appear that he overstated the negative impact of kinship on economic activities in China and other Confucian societies. This has led some scholars to argue that the obstacles to development may have more to do with politics and institutions rather than specific cultural factors.


After Weber’s works, there were several other studies in the 1950s and 1960s that followed his tradition. Most of these studies focused on the “modernization theory” which regarded contemporary Western societies as models worthy of emulation while portraying the “traditional” cultures in most “Third World” countries in a negative light and as contributors to economic backwardness and poverty. In fact, the first issue of first journal on development economics which came out in 1952 was aptly titled “Economic Development and Cultural Change”. Some economists at the time argued that many less developed countries (LDCs) lacked “achievement-oriented” cultural characteristics. Thus the prevailing view then was that poor countries must duplicate the cultural institutions of the developed countries in order to move out of underdevelopment. However, these studies were tainted with “ethnocentrism” (eurocentrism or Europeanism) and could not explain the economic miracles in Japan, South East Asia and China. On their part, the Neo-Marxists argued that the structure of the world economy reinforced “dependencia” which they regarded as the main source of underdevelopment of the LDCs (Dependency Theory).  They emphasized that the modernization theory neglected the impact of external factors such as colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism and unequal trade through which the rich (developed) nations exploited the poor (developing) nations. Also some orthodox economists argued that since there was no empirical proof by those proponents of “cultural determinism” the theory cannot be taken seriously. Thus, by the early 1970s, some economists pronounced the “modernization theory” dead.6


However, in the mid 1980s, there was something close to the revival of “cultural determinism” with the emergence of “Reaganism” and “Thatcherism”. Examples of these “revivalists” include Samuel Huntington (1998) who strongly emphasized the role of culture in development and divided the world into 8 “cultural zones” based on what he regarded as cultural differences that had existed for centuries. Other so-called “neo-Weberians” include Mann (1986), Holton and Turner (1989) and Swedberg (1998). Some neo-Weberians like Huntington went as far as to predict a future “clash of cultures or civilization” on a global scale.


The late1980s also saw the rise of “new institutional economics” which recognized the importance of norms in economic life. According to one of its leading advocates, North (1990), “institutions (i.e. formal and informal rules) were critical in reducing transaction costs and thereby promoting economic efficiency”. Generally, institutional economists are more aware of the role of history, culture and other so-called “path dependent” factors in shaping economic behavior and development. In fact, the “Asian economic miracle” of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the experience of transitional economies of Eastern Europe made many economists to look at cultural and institutional factors (such as work ethic and deference to state authority) as key explanatory factors of successful transition strategies and economic performance.


There has also been a strong emphasis on the role “social capital” in development since the early 1990s. According to DFID7 social capital refers to “the social resources upon which people draw in pursuit of their livelihood strategies. These are developed through networks and connectedness…, membership of more formalized groups often entails adherence to mutually-agreed or commonly accepted rules, norms and sanctions, and relationships of trust…”. Thus, social capital embodies aspects of the cultural traits of a society. Unlike the neo-Weberians, the proponents of “social capital” and the “new institutional” economics focus more on the positive aspects of culture, rather than using it to justify underdevelopment.


Although it is still difficult to make a general statement on the relationship between culture and development, empirical evidence suggests that economic development is associated with shifts away from absolute norms and values toward values that are increasingly rational, tolerant, trusting, and participatory8 Some of the characteristics of pre-industrial societies that change with development include low level of tolerance for abortion, divorce, and homosexuality; strong emphasis on religion; male dominance in economic and political life; strong parental authority; kinship and strong family attachment; authoritarian political systems. Advanced industrial societies tend to have the opposite characteristics.9 However, some societies have tended to follow different development trajectories. Thus, while economic development tends to transform societies in a predictable direction, the process and path could be different. According to H. Thompson,

“the main problem with the debate over the causal relationship between culture and economic development is the “pathetic inadequacy of human psychology, or analytical laziness, when confronting complexity. The tendency is to avoid the difficult mental labor of identifying and analyzing the intricate historical and structural interconnections amongst a labyrinth of variables…economic development, culture…are better interpreted as the complex process resulting from the interaction of many different variables,… It is not intellectually helpful to explain specific events and phenomena in terms of the macro processes or structures, and pointless to subsume anything and everything under the umbrella of a single causal agent or process…Culture presents many facets…Broad generalizations are counterproductive, bordering on racism…Though it affects economic development, culture in itself is never constant but evolves jointly with economic opportunities. While particular elements of culture can (and do) influence development, monolithic interpretations of culture like those of Weber and the neo-Weberians must be rejected”.10


Today, many economists and sociologists believe that culture is a critical factor in economic development and that there is a bi-directional relationship between both. Thus, while the classical economist recognized only two factors of production (capital and labor), the neoclassical included land or natural resource as a third factor while contemporary economists have included institutions and “social capital” which include aspects of culture of the people.


To underscore the role of culture in the context of international development, the latest 2004 Human Development Report, subtitled Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World”, focuses on managing cultural diversity within the context of international development. The report debunked five common myths about cultural identities, including the following:

  1. People’s ethnic identities compete with their attachment to the state, so there is a trade–off between recognizing diversity and unifying the state. NOT SO
  2. Ethnically diverse countries are less able to develop, so there is trade-off between respecting diversity and promoting development. NO!
  3. Some cultures are more likely to make development progress than others, and some cultures have inherent democratic values while others do not., so there is a trade-off between accommodating certain cultures and promoting development and democracy. NO!

The report clearly rejects that “modernization” theory and noted that “there is no evidence from statistical analysis or historical studies of a causal relationship between culture and economic progress or democracy”.


4. The Growth Cultural Industries

Since the mid 1980s, some economists have moved away from debating the relationship between culture and economic development to analyzing the growing global cultural industries and international trade in cultural goods and services, and how nations can benefit or reap comparative advantage from this trade. Within this framework, the cultural industries refer toindustries that combine the creation, production and commercialization of contents which are intangible and cultural in nature…which include printing, publishing and multimedia, audio-visual, phonographic and cinematographic productions, as well as crafts and design. For some countries, this concept also embraces architecture, visual and performing arts, sports, manufacturing of musical instruments, advertising and cultural tourism”.

Generally, cultural industries are knowledge and labor-intensive; they create employment and wealth, nurture creativity, and foster innovation in production and commercialization processes. During the past 20 years, cultural industries have grown exponentially, both in terms of employment creation and contribution to GNP. For instance, between 1980 and 1998, annual world trade of printed matter, literature, music, visual arts, cinema, photography, radio, television, games and sporting goods surged from US$ 95.34m to US$387.927 millions11 However, the trade is dominated by a few countries. For instance, in 1990, Japan, USA, Germany and UK were the biggest exporters of cultural goods and services accounting for about 55.4% of total exports and about 47% of total imports. The high concentration of exports and imports of cultural goods among a few countries is however declining with new players such as China, South Africa and India. Overall trade volumes of cultural products have increased dramatically since 1991 due boom of multimedia, audiovisual, software and other copyright based industries. For instance, in 1996, cultural products (films, music, television programs, books, journals and computer software) became the largest US export, surpassing, for the first time, all other traditional industries, including automobiles, agriculture, or aerospace and defense. Overall, the rapid expansion of international cultural trade has responded to rising demand for cultural goods and services. Throughout the 90s the structure of cultural industries worldwide was dramatically reorganized with the development of new digital technologies and the arrival of national, regional and international (de)regulatory policies. These factors have radically altered the context in which cultural goods, services and investments flow between countries today. Cultural industries have also undergone a process of internationalization, realignment and progressive concentration, resulting in the formation of a few big conglomerates. Recent figures of culture sector’s contribution to GDP and employment illustrate well the economic and job-creation potential of cultural industries. In OECD countries, the culture sector accounts for 4% of GDP, while it accounts for 1 to 3% in developing countries (1% Brazil, 3% South Africa).

In order to ensure that Africa benefits from the growing trade in cultural goods and services, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) organized a Regional Consultationad hoc Dakar Plan by UNESCO and the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The meeting examined the problems facing the cultural industries – craft, arts, books, music and the performing arts, cinematography, cultural heritage - in Africa and suggested ways of overcoming some of the problems. Some of the recommendations included the following meeting in Cotonou (Benin) on 5-9 September 2000 to review the situation of cultural industries in Africa, eight years after the launch of the 12

Large-scale production of works of cultural goods and increased professionalism in marketing
Holding regular exhibitions and workshops on the criteria and aesthetics of African ar
Encouraging the establishment of professional associations or national union

Reproducing works of arts digitally on the Internet in order to facilitate their distribution and promotio
Encouraging local production of books and developing regional market; raising reading habit/rates; and promoting regional book salons and fairs
Combating piracy and ensure surveillance of the electronic market
Training or local artists in specialized schools as well as in creative workshops
Identification of cultural operators and production structures and development of networks in order to ensure a rational returns on current effor
Ensuring that cultural goods relate to African reality (to ensure that people relate to them) while at the same time adapting to modernity. Modernity requires adequate infrastructure

Expanding programs aimed at the identification of sites and monuments of historic importance



5.  Brief Overview of Culture and Economic Development in Urhoboland


In this section we briefly survey the relationship between some aspects of Urhobo culture and modern economic development in the area in broad, non-empirical terms. Due to space constraints, not all aspects of Urhobo culture are discussed.

The Urhobo people are the 5th largest ethnic group in Nigeria with a population of between 1.5m and 2 million. The Urhobo nation consists of twenty-two autonomous sub-national groups or “states” (sometimes erroneously referred to "clans")13 The Urhobo people have a common ancestry, language, values, norms, traditions, beliefs, art, heritage, music, dress code, food, art work, festivals, beliefs, dance, music, marriage and burial ceremonies, etc which define  Urhobo culture. They share some of the cultural traits (e.g. food and clothing) with some of their neighbors. The natural terrain of Urhoboland by and large determined their traditional occupations of farming and fishing. During the colonial era, the production of palm oil and palm kernel from the stands of oil palm trees which are native to Urhoboland was highly encouraged by the British colonial government. The British also found the area and climate ideal for the cultivation of rubber and cocoa as cash crops. The discovery of petroleum in Urhoboland in the 1960s has been a mixed blessing. While the oil has enriched the modern Nigeria nation-state, its benefit to Urhoboland has been limited. On the other hand, it has created ecological and social problems which have adversely affected traditional occupations of farming and fishing.  Over the past 50 years, there have been significant changes in the economy of Urhoboland14 These changes have impacted the culture of the people. On the other hand some of the cultural elements of the Urhobo people have either facilitated or impeded economic development.  


To be sure, not all aspects or elements of culture affect economic development and versa. There are some elements of culture that have no impact on economic development whereas there are others whose impacts are negligible or ambiguous or indeterminate.  In the absence of data, we shall describe the relationship between some of the components or elements of Urhobo culture and economic development in Urhoboland in broad heuristic terms.


5.1  Urhobo Language

Language is perhaps the most important and distinguishing aspect of any culture. Accordingly to the Centre for Endangered Languages in its universal declaration of linguistic rights in Barcelonia (1996: 10), “Language is the key to the heart of a people.  If we lose the key, we lose the people.  A lost language is a lost tribe, a lost tribe is a lost culture, a lost culture is a lost civilization.  A lost civilization is invaluable knowledge lost… the whole vast archives of knowledge and experience in them will be consigned to oblivion”15

Contrary to what some people think, indigenous languages have no adverse effect on the economic development variables. On the contrary, the promotion of indigenous languages has positive impact on some of the development variables such as education, books production, health, human dignity, etc. Economic development has adversely affected many indigenous languages including Urhobo language.  In fact, Urhobo language is classified  among those at the risk of extinction.16 An increasing percentage of young Urhobo people at home and in the Diaspora are unable to speak the language. If the current trend continues, the language is likely to disappear as early as within the next two generations. Today, Urhobo language is not taught or widely spoken in most schools in Urhoboland.


Studies in the US have shown that children who learn in their mother tongues for the first six years of school perform much better than those immediately immersed in other English and there is reason to believe that the process of learning follows the same pattern in other countries including Nigeria.17  Thus, there is a strong case for promoting the use of Urhobo language for instruction at the primary levels in Urhobo villages and towns, especially in communities that are predominantly inhabited by Urhobo people. In fact, UNESCO has recommended that multicultural societies like Nigeria should adopt 3 “official” languages, viz.: a) one international language (English in the case of Nigeria); b) one lingua franca – a local link language that facilitates communication between different linguistic groups in an area such as Swahili in East Africa or Hausa in Northern Nigeria; and c) mother tongue – when it is neither the lingua franca nor international language, e.g. Urhobo language in Urhoboland. Countries are required to recognize all three as official languages or at least recognize their use and relevance in different circumstances, such as in court or schools. There are many versions of the 3-language formulas, depending on the country.18

Now is the time to revive Urhobo language and save it from extinction. Examples abound in various parts of the world where people have taken concrete actions to save their language from the threat of extinct. The present generation must ensure that Nigeria’s National policy on Education as it relates to local languages is fully implemented in Urhoboland. In addition, Urhobo language should be taught at both the secondary and tertiary levels. We also have to promote literature in Urhobo language.


6.2 Arts & Crafts

Like language, arts and crafts positively impact on the economic development of an area or a people, particularly as a source of employment and income generation. Apart from the work of some prominent Urhobo artists such as Bruce Onobrakpeya, much of Urhobo arts and crafts are still seen as “exotic”, “primitive” and , sometimes, frightful and unappealing to non-Urhobos, especially outside Nigeria. Many European who admire some of our works of art seem to do so out of “curiosity”. Compared to the works of arts of the Bins, Urhobo arts are far less competitive in the market place. Clearly, we can modernize our arts and crafts but better use of “technology”, more durable materials and training of our local artists.


6.3  Music

Some people think that the music and dance of indigenous people are not supportive of modern economic development. They contend that the people spend too much time singing and dancing rather than producing commodities. There is no empirical evidence to support such claims. Today, we know that music and dance are essential elements of all human societies and should be promoted. The Urhobo people have a vibrant local music industry which has limited success outside Urhoboland. However, we have produced notable national musicians such as Mike Okri, Chris Okotie, and Christian gospel singers. In recent years, “Urhobo disco” and “Urhobo Christian music” are becoming very popular outside Urhoboland, but there is still more to do to modernize Urhobo music through the use of modern technology and increasing its appeal to both national and international audience.


6.4 Clothing and Dress Culture

Much of what is today regarded as Urhobo clothing and dress culture can be traced to the early Atlantic trade between the Portuguese and Niger Delta nations in the 15th and 16th centuries19. Even today, “everyday dressing uses items of clothing that are imported from Holland and England especially. Ceremonial dressing has also become dependent on importation of embroidered cloths that are manufactured in England, Holland, and increasingly in India. Despite the above facts, the Urhobo people have their own unique clothing and mode of dressing most of which they share with their neighbors -Isoko, Ukwani, Itsekiri and Ijaw neighbors- and which are very different from those of the countries from where they import the materials.  It can be argued that in general, Urhobo dress culture does not negatively impact of economic development other than the fact that absence of local textile industry means that Urhobo people spend considerable amount of their money on importing clothing materials (to make Urhobo dress) from elsewhere in Nigeria and overseas. Furthermore, some forms of Urhobo traditional dressing (wrapper) are not quite conducive for modern industrial and office work. However, there is need to develop local textile industries and sustain traditional Urhobo clothing and dress culture, at least for non-industrial and office work and for ceremonial purposes.


6.5 Burial Ceremonies

Modern economic development is gradually changing traditional Urhobo burial ceremonies20 Before the mid 1960s, there were two stages of Urhobo burial rites. In the stage, the body of the deceased is laid in coffin and buried in a grave dug by the family. If the person died in the morning or early afternoon, the first burial takes place on the first day of the death, usually in the evening, but if the person died in the evening, it is buried the next day. People were usually not buried at night. The second burial takes place at a much later date and it is largely a celebration and it is without the body which had earlier been buried during the first stage. However, with the advent of improved transportation, refrigeration, embalming and other modern mortuary services, bodies of the dead and now preserved for months and the first burials are now delayed or merged with the second burial. In effect, we now have only one burial ceremony in much of Urhoboland which is largely celebratory and devoid of the somberness and wailing that characterized the first burials of the “olden days”. Furthermore while it was traditional to bury people in the home (except those who did not have children), increasingly most people are buried outside at home in mini “mausoleums”. Burial ceremonies have also become very expensive and occasions for display of wealth or achievements. There is need to study the impact of these shifts on development in Urhoboland, e.g. how does it affect savings, investment, production, health, etc.  One can only guess that on average, these shifts have encouraged ostentation consumption. On the other hand, it has increased the funeral business (mortuary services, entertainment, etc) which has some employment and income-generating benefits. But these benefits must be weighed against other social costs. Many people would argue that we should return to the two-stage burial of “olden” days but such arguments will become more compelling if they are supported by empirical studies. Also, others will argue and suggest that Urhobo people need to cultivate the (modern?) culture of burying the dead in well-maintained cemeteries as opposed to burying people at home or near home.  In fact, it has been argued that burying the dead at home poses health hazards because of the low water level in much of Urhoboland and the fact that the major sources of water are shallow wells and boreholes located at homes, usually not far from the graves of the dead. In this regard, there is need for the various local government councils to set up beautiful and well-maintained cemeteries. Even churches can be encouraged to do so. There is also the need to establish Urhobo national cemeteries where notable Urhobo people can be buried.


6.6 Political Culture

Traditionally, most Urhobo societies practice gerontocracy, i.e. “government by elders”, based on age-grade system.21Generally, the men are organized into 4 age grades, viz: Ekpako (from about 60 years and above),  Ivwraghwa (from about 30 to 60 years), Otuorere (from about 50 years to 30years) and Imitete (from about 5 years to 15 years); the women are organized into 3  age grades, viz: Ekwokweya (women passed child-bearing age, i.e. from about 50 years and above), Eghweya (married women in the child-bearing age, i.e. from about 15 to 50), and Emete (unmarried girls, usually below 15 years).  The Ekpako (i.e. elderly men) are usually in charge of the government of their society and they govern under their unwritten laws. They are also the custodians of the culture of the people. On the other hand, the Ivwraghwa (i.e. adult men) were the warriors during the pre-colonial times; they engaged in production, supervised the younger age-grades and execute/enforce orders of the village/town/state councils and courts. The Otuorere (the young men or youth) helped in defending the society and do heavy (public) work such as clearing of bushes, building of wooden bridges and earth roads. The Imitete (young boys) help to keep the village clean and are send on errands. There was a similar division of labor for the women folk.  Thus, it was largely age that determined political leadership. In some Urhobo societies, however, gerontocracy was combined with plutocracy, i.e. government by the rich and the wealthy (e.g. Agbarho and Olomu22 with the plutocrats given titles such as Osuivie of Agbarho and Ohworode (the “big man”) of Olomu.  In such gerontocratic-plutocractic societies, political leadership was entrusted on the “elderly rich”. Of course, traditional Urhobo societies were not democratic in the sense that leadership position was not decided by general election. 


Political developments in Urhoboland since colonial times and post Nigeria’s independence have brought about significant changes in the traditional political system described above. In particular, “democratic governance” based on elections and money politics has led to the denudation of gerontocracy and triumph of plutocracy cum “militancy”. Increasingly, it is the rich and most militant individuals who capture political power in Urhobo land. Thus, the “Iwraghawa” and “Otuorere” are increasingly displacing the Ekpakos. It can be argued that some of the consequences of this trend include growing disrespect for elders, growing militancy and thuggery in politics, growing corruption (as the young men want to make more money to last them for the rest of their lives), poor governance caused by lack of political and management experience by some of the “young” political leaders. In fact, politics has become the “booming industry” in Urhoboland with many young men (including badly needed professionals) abandoning productive work for politics because of its “spoils”.  Clearly, there is need for detailed study of the shift in political leadership on socio-economic development of the area and vice versa. One of the likely recommendations of such a study could be the setting of higher age limits (and experience requirements) for certain political leadership positions in Urhoboland and the rest of Nigeria.  Another aspect of Urhobo political culture what studying is the multiplicity of kings (Ivies) and kingdoms and its impact on development vis-à-vis a situation of having one or a few kings.


6.7 Marriage Institutions and Ceremonies

Development in Urhoboland has also brought about significant changes in Urhobo marriage institutions and ceremonies.  Urhobos were traditionally polygamous and there was relative harmony within polygamous families. However, since the advent of colonialism, polygamy has been on the decline and polygamous families are increasingly becoming more acrimonious and divided than in the past. Men who are afraid of or cannot afford to have more than one wife sometimes indulge in extra-marital sexual activities. One can guess that the rates of marital infidelity and sexually transmitted diseases among married people have increased in Urhoboland with development.  Also the monetisation of the economy of Urhoboland as a result of colonialism led to the institution of “bride price” which was fixed at #20 (twenty British pounds)23 Today, there is hardly a fixed bride price and if fixed, it is only “on paper”. Prospective bridegrooms are made to pay far more than twenty pounds (about five thousand naira at current exchange rate) in addition to many hidden costs (e.g. buying of wrappers and other clothing materials for the parents of the bride, salt for Eghweya, “greeting” uncles and brothers of the bride). In many cases, they are required to perform three types of marriages – traditional, court and church, followed by a lavish reception and thanksgiving service. The “marriage industry” has become another booming activity in Urhoboland, especially during the weekends. The marriage ceremonies have become so expensive that many prospective bridegrooms virtually have to borrow or beg for money to meet the required expenses. Those who cannot afford decide to do without marriage and co-habit with their would-be wife. Thus, there has been an increase in the number of young Urhobomen and women who live together and have children without formal marriage. Consequently, there seem to have been a significant increase in the number of “illegitimate” children (or bastards) in Urhoboland that may explain part of social problems facing the area.


It is therefore important to study the impact of development on Urhobo marriage institutions and ceremonies and vice versa to enable us make informed decision on how to handle issues such as bride price, multiple marriage ceremonies and reducing the rate of illegitimate children.     


 6.8    Female Circumcision

Female circumcision24 is a cultural practice shared by Urhobos and many ethnic nationalities in Africa, the Middle East and Far East. In the past, it was compulsory to circumcise all women. In fact, in some societies, it was almost an abomination for a girl not to be circumcised and there are festivals or ceremonies tied to female circumcision. This practice has come under severe criticisms because of its health and “human rights” implications. Some of the criticisms can however be deflected if circumcision is done under hygienic conditions and medical supervision. Today, a growing number of Urhobo girls are no longer circumcised. Some proponents of female circumcision argue that the growing promiscuity (and hence growing infidelity and STDs, including HIV/AIDS) can be explained in part by the gradual abandonment of female circumcision. Thus there is a need for detailed empirical analyses of the relationship between female circumcision and various aspects of development (especially health, gender equity and human dignity) in Urhoboland in order to resolve the contentious issues and recommend an optimal way of handling this aspect of our cultural heritage – abolish it or make it voluntary provided it is done under medical supervision in approved health facilities.



5. Conceptual Framework for Empirical Analysis


In the above section we have discussed the relationship between some elements of Urhobo culture and development heuristically and in broad terms, not based on hard facts or data. Given the advances in social research, it is now possible to quantify some of the relationships and come up with definitive positions. Thus, in this section, I will present a conceptual framework for empirical analysis of the relationship between culture and economic development in Urhoboland. This framework is based on the following steps:


a) The first step in the analysis is to identify the key components or elements of culture and those of economic development. We shall call each of these elements a “variable”. We will use Ci ( i = 1, ..n) to denote  “culture” variables and Ei ( i =1..n) to denote the development variables. For example, Ci can language, dance, arts, crafts, music, burial ceremonies, female circumcision, etc. On the other hand, Ei can denote production, productivity, consumption, investment, education, health, gender equity, human dignity, etc. Some of these “variables” are in fact “composite” variables and may not be measurable directly.


b) The second step is to develop two “Impact Matrices” for C and E. The first matrix will have the Ci’s as the “impacting or determining” variables and Ei’s as the “impacted or determined” variables. In the second table, the roles will be reversed. We will assume “bi-causality” between the Ci’s and the Ei’s. Using any non-quantitative approach (e.g. the Delphi method), we can “guess” the direction and strength of the relationship between the Ci’s and the Ei’s. We can assume two strengths – strong (S) and weak (W) - and two directions – positive (P) and negative (N). In some cases, no relationship may exist (O) or the relationship may be ambiguous (A) or simply indeterminate (I). Thus we can populate the impact matrix with the symbols SP (strong positive), WP (weak positive), SN (strong negative). WN (weak negative), O (none), I (indeterminate) and  A (ambiguous).  The following table is an example of such an impact matrix


Table 1: Impact Matrix    (C = Determining Variable,  E =Determined Variable)


Economic Development Variables

Cultural Variables







Human Dignity

Freedom to Choose

Urhobo Language








Arts &Crafts
















Clothing & Dress Culture








Burial Ceremonies








Political Culture  (gerentocracy-plutocracy)








Marriage Ceremonies
















Region & Beliefs








(Note: The above entries are tentative and subject to change based on more rigorous reasoning and analysis)

c) The third step is to carry out quantitative analysis of the relationship between the sets of the cultural variables Ci’s and the economic development variables Ei’s. Depending of the available data, the types of analysis could include correction analysis, analysis of variance or covariance, regression analysis, econometric modeling, etc, using time series, survey, cross-sectional or longitudinal data, where available and as appropriate. For instance, we can analyze the impact of Urhobo clothing and dress code on production, consumption and investment or we can analyze the impact of education on Urhobo music, clothing, female circumcision, beliefs, etc.


Two key challenges at this stage are: a) measurement of the variables; and b) obtaining data for the variables. Measuring the relationship requires that the variables must be measurable. For instance, how can we measure “Urhobo music” or “dance” or “marriage” or “education”, “health”. To overcome the measurement problems, it may necessary to design “proxy” variables. Even where it is possible to design proxy variables, it is also be necessary to obtain data for the variables in order to carry out the analysis.  The other challenge is how to obtain time-series, cross-sectional or longitudinal data for the analysis. Since there has not been systematic collection of data on cultural and economic development variables in Urhoboland, researchers must design their own survey instruments to generate the required data. This will be a tough task requiring time and substantial resources but it can be done.


Assuming that the variables are measurable, we can quantify relationship between an economic variable Ei and another cultural variable Ci by estimating the following function:


Ei = f (Ci, C, E, U)


Where C is a vector of other cultural variables, E is the vector of other economic variable, and U is a vector of other determinants of Ei and stochastic term representing omitted variables and measurement error.


The challenge therefore is to assemble data on the above variables and apply the appropriate estimation technique is measuring the relationships.


d) The fourth step is to analyze the policy implications of the results of 2 and/or 3 above, and make recommendations that will:


i)                    ensure that the variable Ci does not have negative impact (or has positive impact) of any Ei ;

ii)                   ensure that the variable Ei does not have negative impact (or has positive impact) of any Ci.


e) The fifth stage is to ensure the implementation of the recommendations made in stage 4.  



7. Conclusions and Recommendations


The objective of this paper has been to stimulate interest in the study of the complex relationship between culture and development in Urhoboland with the hope that this will help to provide the needed theoretical and empirical bases to fight the endangerment or gradual extinction of Urhobo culture. I have maintained that many aspects of Urhobo culture and modern development are compatible and can be mutually re-enforcing, but we need more detailed “on-the-ground” studies and surveys to back this hypothesis. Whilst such studies are being carried out, we also need to take the following concrete actions to sustain and enhance and Urhobo culture.



7.1 Promoting “Continuity and Change”

Culture is dynamic but the tendency has been to view it as static. In a globalizing and modernizing world, we cannot afford to continue view culture as static. We have to modernize certain aspects of our culture to attract national and international appeal. These could include Urhobo music, art and craft, dressing code, etc.


7.2 Support for the proposed Urhobo Cultural Center

I congratulate the Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) for the launching the Urhobo Cultural Center (UCC) and I wish to call on all Urhobo sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora, as well as all Urhobo well-wishers to support the project. Although I have not seen the details of the plan, it is my hope that it will be developed in such a way that it will be self-supporting and sustainable, and support/contribute to the economic development of Urhoboland. In particular, I hope it will draw from the experiences of similar successful centers/institutions elsewhere in the world. In particular, it is my dream that it will be developed into a mini “Smithsonian Institution”25 For this to happen, its location and management must be given serious consideration.


7.3 Establishment of an Endowed Chair or Institute of Urhobo Studies at DELSU

I also wish to call on the UPU, other social organizations in Urhoboland as well as wealthy individuals to work together to establish an Endowed Chair or, preferably, an Institute of Urhobo Studies at the Delta State University, Abraka.  Although the Institute will be physically located in the university, it should be funded privately and managed autonomously. The first Professor of Urhobo Studies should be appointed to run the Institute, which will engage other researchers. The Institute should among other things do the following:  a) promote and conduct research into various areas of Urhobo history, culture and development; b) set up a library and documentation resource center on Urhobo issues; b) set up a small Urhobo museum; c) encourage and supervise  final year and postgraduate students undertaking research projects in various aspects of Urhobo studies; d) conduct  postgraduate degrees and certificates in Urhobo studies;  e) provide intellectual support to the Urhobo Cultural Center and work closely with it; and f) apply for grants from donors to support research and development activities in Urhoboland. I think the Institute/Chair can easily be established with a seed grant of about N20m which can take it through its first three years whilst it establishes mechanisms for self-sustenance.


7.4 Promoting Cultural Tourism

There is a serious lack of cultural tourist attractions in Urhoboland. Thus there is a need to identify and develop such attractions. To this end, Urhobo sociologists, anthropologist, archeologists and historians must work together to identify such attractions, some of which may have been lost to antiquity. It is a shame that out of the 816 “world heritage sites/properties” identified by UNESCO 26 only two are in Nigeria, viz.: the relatively unknown Sukur Cultural Landscape in the Mandara Mountains in Adamawa State approved in 1999, and the Osun-Oshogbo Sacred Grove in Osun State, approved in 2005.


7.5 Recognition, Promotion and Support of Urhobo Cultural Icons

We need to recognize and support intellectuals, artists and other people who have promoted Urhobo culture in their works, such as Tanure Ojaide, Bruce Onobrakeya, Ben Omokri, Perkin Foss, “Okpan”, Omokomoko, etc. Monuments or statues of some of these people should be erected at public places such as road junctions, schools, market places, local government headquarters, etc throughout Urhoboland. Imagine what a boost it would be if we could have an Urhobo Nobel Prize Winner in literature. We know the significant contributions of people like William Shakespeare, Mozart, Chopin, etc have made to the propagation their cultures. The economic spin-offs of their works continue to multiply.





1A paper presented at the 6th Annual Convention & Meeting of the Urhobo Historical Society at PTI, Warri, Nigeria, October 20-23, 2005.  Dr. Emmanuel Ojameruaye is currently a loaned executive from Shell International with International Foundation for Education & Self-Help, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA where he works as currently a Senior Programs Specialist. He is also a member of the EMC of UHS.


2 M. P. Todaro (1993). Economic Development. Longman

3See Culture and Development Policy (Co-Edited by:  Vijayendra Rao (Senior Economist, Development Research Group, The World Bank) and Michael Walton
(Regional Advisor, Latin America and the Caribbean, The World Bank) at  www.worldbank.org 

4 H. Thompson: Culture and Economic Development: Modernization to Globalization. Theory & Science (2001)


6 Wallerstein, Immanuel (1976): Modernization - Requiescat in Peace, in Coser, L.A. and Larsen, O.N. (eds.) The Uses of Controversy in Sociology. New York: Free Press, pp.131-135.

7Department for International Development, United Kingdom: Sustainable Livelihood Guidance Sheet. February, 2001

8 Inglehart, R and Baker, W (2000). Modernization, cultural change, and persistence of traditional values. American Sociological Review, 65(1), February. Pp.19-21

9 Ibid

10 H. Thompson: Culture and Economic Development: Modernization to Globalization. Theory & Science (2001)


11 Study on International Flows of Cultural Goods, 1980-98, Paris, UNESCO, 2000.

12 For details see “Regional Consultation on Cultural Industries in Africa, 5-9 September 2000, Cotonou, Benin at www.unesco.org/culture/industries

13 Although these sub-national groups of Urhobo are still called “clans”,  it is important to stress that the words clan  and tribe are both derogatory.  The word clan comes from the Scottish Gaelic word “clan” meaning family or the Old Irish word “cland” meaning offspring. It is used to refer to i) “a traditional social unit in the Scottish Highlands, consisting of a number of families claiming a common ancestor and following the same hereditary chieftain”; ii) “ division of a tribe tracing descent from a common ancestor, and iii) a large group of relatives, friends, or associates”. Thus to the extent that it refers to a division of a “tribe” and to the extent that “tribe” is derogatory, the word “clan” can also be regarded as “derogatory”..


14 For a detailed description of the economy of Urhoboland and changes that have taken place over the past 50 years, see Ojameruaye, e (2005): “Towards Sustainable Development in Urhoboland and Ojameruaye, E. (2005) Strategies for Self-Reliant Development in Urhoboland.

15 Taken from Mowarin, M (2004)

16 Of the 10,000 languages that have existed world-wide over time, only 6,000 are spoken today  and the number is projected to drop by 50-60% over the next 100 years (see HDR 2004 and SIL International 2004). On the endangerment of Urhobo language see M. Mowarin “Language Endangerment in Urhobland”, Paper presented at the 5th Annual Conference of the Urhobo Historical Society, Oct. 29-31, 2004.

17 See HDR 2004 and SIL 2004.There are about 2,500 languages in sub-Saharan Africa and only about 13% of the children in the region receive primary education in their mother tongues compared to 66% in South Asia, 91% in Latin America and 87% in high income OECD countries. Could the lack of education in mother tongue in Africa be partly responsible for puzzle of Africa’s relative under-development? Probably yes!

18 In fact, Nigeria’s National Policy on Education (1977), revised in (1981), requires that children should be taught either in the mother tongue or the language of immediate community (LIC) from pre-primary to primary 3 but this policy is not being implemented. See Mowarin (200$) and Bamghose (1992)

19 Before this time, “calico (okpa) woven in local looms  from home grown cotton, was the main article of clothing worn by men and women alike” see Ekeh (2005)

20 See Ekeh (2005) for detail description of both stages.

21 See Otite (2003), pp. 329-343

22 Op cit

23 See Ekeh (2005) p. 24

24 Opponents of this practice use the term “female genital mutilation” (FGM) or “female genital cutting” (FGC). It is a social custom, not a religious practice. The Bible (Old and New Testaments) and the Qu’r’an are silent on the subject,  but the Sunnah (the words and actions of the Prophet Mohammed) contain a number of references to female circumcision such as  "Cut slightly without exaggeration, because it is more pleasant for your husbands" which appears to be related to the least intrusive method of circumcision.  The United Nations has supported the right of member states to grant refugee status to women who fear being mutilated if they are returned to their country of origin.  A judge of a Canadian Federal Court once declared MGM as a "cruel and barbaric practice."  In the West, the procedure is outlawed in Britain, Canada, France, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. In 1989, the Regional Committee of the WHO for Africa passed a resolution urging participating governments "to adopt appropriate policies and strategies in order to eradicate female circumcision" and "to forbid medicalization of female circumcision and to discourage health professionals from performing such surgery." In 1980, UNICEF announced that its anti-FGM program is "based on the belief that the best way to handle the problem is to trigger awareness through education of the public, members of the medical profession and practitioners of traditional health care with the help of local collectives and their leaders." The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is ambiguous about FGM. On one hand, Article 24, paragraph 3 states: "States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.". But Article 29 paragraph 1.c calls for: "The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own". For more details visit www.religioustolereance.org/fem_cirm.htm


25 The Smithsonian Institution is a museum complex with most of its facilities in Washington, D.C. It consists of 19 museums and seven research centers, and has 142 million items in its collections. A monthly magazine published by the Smithsonian Institution is also named Smithsonian. The Smithsonian Institution was founded for the promotion and dissemination of knowledge by a bequest to the United States by the British scientist James Smithson (17651829). It is established as a trust administered by a secretary and board of regents

26 Out of the 812 properties identified/approved by UNESCO in 137 countries, 628 are cultural, 168 are natural and 24 are mixed.

Key References


1. Bilig, M.S (2000). Institutions and Culture: Neo-Weberian Economic Anthropology. Journal of Economic Issues, 34(4), Dec: 771-788


2. Ekeh, P (2005). A Profile of Urhobo Culture. Chapter One in “Studies in Urhobo Culture”, Edited by Peter Ekeh


3. Fukuyama, F (2001). Culture and Economic Development : Cultural Concerns, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier Science Ltd. Pp. 3130-3134


4. Otite, O (Ed)(2003). The Urhobo People. Shaneson Ltd


5. Scully, Gerard (1988). Institutional Framework and Economic Development. Journal of Political Economy, 96(3): 622-662


6. Thompson, H (2001). Culture and Economic Development: Modernization to Globalization,  in Theory & Science (ISSN:1527-5558)


7. United Nations Development Programme. 2004 Human Development Report