A Synopsis Of How The Isoko Nation Came To Being

The nucleus of this articles is to acquaint all sundry of Isoko origin, the several myths of traditions of origins surrounding the evolution of the ISOKO NATION, knowing very well that more than half of the descends- both young and old, have no knowledge of the stories of their origin. Nevertheless, contrary to the fashion in most studies, I will input here that " all mistakes and short-comings emanating from this study are not entirely my responsibility". That is sheer bourgeoism subjectivism. Responsibilities of this sort are usually collective, especially with regards to eliciting discourse with the different versions from the aged and records of printed authors.


Many years ago, the Isoko clans were subjected under the tutelage and total subjugation of the Urhobo clans. The struggle to liberate themselves from this shackle and misapplication, hastened the rise of Isoko nationalism, which culminated their having a separate Division in 1963 with the creating of the Midwestern Region in an independent and sovereign Nigeria. While they and their Urhobo neighbours were generally called 'Sobo', the Aboh and Ukwuani called them "Igabo". The Isoko are an amalgam of people with diverse backgrounds, but speak one language with several dialects that are the result of several external interference. The Isoko inhabit the lower flood plain of the Niger valley flanking the western fringes of the Delta.

Discrete traditions exist about the origins of the Isoko clans. Before 1930, 11(eleven) distinguishable clans had existed, but had increased to about (eighteen?) since then. These are:

Aviara, Emede, Emevor, Ellu, Enhwe, Erohwa, Igbide, Irri, Iyede, Ofagbe, Okpe, Oleh, Olomoro, Oyede, Owhe, Ozoro, Umeh and Uzere.

The Isoko clans of Aviara, Emede, Emevor, Iyede, Okpe-Ozoro, Owhe, Oleh, Irri and Uzere claimed a Benin tradition. The legendary Ozue is acclaimed an hunter who migrated from Benin with his brother Ebeleze (Ebemeze) founded the Ase clan of Aboh- Isoko. Ikime opined that Ozue as well as his immediate successors were hunters because Aviara, according to Isoko tongue, is 'avera', which means a station or place where game is butchered.

We have linked traditions between Iyede and Emevor. While Iyede, one of the six brothers whole fled Benin in pre-Oranmiyan time as a result of the hostility and wrath of the Oba for some misdemeanor, is acclaimed the founder of Iyede, Emevor on the other hand, is said to had been founded by some angered Uruobe occupants who left Iyede. Emevor foundation stemmed out of the punishment meted on the people of Uruobe quarters of Iyede during the reign of one Ovie Atua. He ordered them to hold a falling iroko tree which crushed them to death. And, thus cost Atua his life as his irate subjects killed him.

The Owhe clan was founded by a legendary, Owe. His great prowess, wealth, power and prestige won him the envy of the Oba of Benin who drove him into exile with his followers. Tradition of its origin has it that he had settled for a while Iyede before increasing population and other pressures compelled him to branch out and found husband separate settlement, Owhe. Elu, one of his sons, later founded Ellu; a subclan of Owhe.

The story of Okpe and Ozoro revolves round who is a clan and a subclan as well as who is a father and a son. One version claims that Okpe and Ozo, the founders of the two respective clans, were brothers who left Benin together to found their separate settlements. The other version claims that Okpe was the father of Ozo, while others claim Ozo as the father of Okpe. The thrust of this research is to ascertain the place(s) of origin of the various Isoko clans. Hence, we can conclude that the founders of Okpe and Ozoro were legendaries who migrated from Benin, that is, people of Benin origin.

Uzere, according to Hubbard, was founded by Uze, an Oba's son who fled Benin alongside with Emore and Omode after an incestuous relationships with one of his father's wives. Eni, his protective god which he took along later became the famous deity widely known all over the Delta, helping the Urhobo and Itsekiri to identify witches and wizards as well as criminals. Oleh clan on the otherhand, was founded by a legendary hunter, Emore who fled with Uze and Omode until Emiye and Odoro later joined up. These three: Emore, Emiye and Odoro automatically make up the ruling houses of Oleh clan. The name Oleh came into existence because he, Emore, was fond of chasing the Olomoro people from a recalled land and, so, they gave him Oleh meaning "the one that chased or chases people". Irri, on its part, was founded by Omode, a compatriot of Uze and Emore. Irri is the plural of ' Eri ' ( Unueri ), that is, a place (shore) where canoes anchored.

Furthermore, the Isoko clans of Enhwe, Umeh and Igbide are said to be of Igbo origin. Prof. Obaro Ikime opined that the Enhwe tradition of origin claim that the founder, Okpolo, came from the Niger river districts with his brother Evbreni ( Evwreni ) who later founded a clan in Urhoboland. That, a fusion took place between the Ibo speaking newcomers and the Urhobo people they met there. Igbide clan, on its part, was founded by a legendary, Eru who originally migrated from Benin and stayed in Awka for some time before he finally migrated to found the present Igbide clan. While Umeh clan was founded by Ibo speaking migrants from the Aboh area to the northeast along the Niger valley.

Erohwa acclaimed by the other Isoko clans ad the 'Okpako' (eldest), refuted both Benin and Ibo links, rather claimed to have been where they are. While some people claim that their ancestors were from Ife, though without any imitation of neither the Yoruba language nor the culture, it appears nevertheless spurious that Erohwa migrated from nowhere. Its name would seem to have been derived from Benin expression "Ai ro wa", which means ' he is not at home ' and may indicate that the founding father and his group ceased to feel at home in Benin and had to leave.

The Olomoro clan is said to be an offshoot of the Olomu clan is Urhoboland. Three sons of Gbose, the legendary founder of Olomu, migrated to found Olomoro. It is claimed that the three brothers, Akera, Oboefo and Omoro emigrated in search of peace away from the civil disturbances that plagued Olomu. This tradition of origin is still upheld till date as the Olomoro do participate in the annual sacrifices and Igbozue feast of Olomu via paying of tributes, royalties and homages.

In the Oyede origin, utter is said that three distinguished legendaries: Okro, Omo-Ogbe and Athuaro, migrated from a place called Iyade in Benin. But Athuaro had settled at Irri before he was beckoned by Okro and Omo-Ogbe to join them exploit a land of milk and honey (that is, Oyede). While Okro founded Enuto, Omo-Ogbe founded Ubieni and Athuaro founded Ofagbe, the three which serve as the quarters in Oyede. The name Iyade was misapplied to be Oyede, which still rears its head till date.

The nagging question that baffles the mind is: how did the Isoko language evolved if the founders of the various clans came from diverse backgrounds? Igbo and Edo languages are two uncompromising languages far away from each other but are fused in the isoko's. Hubbard, Prof. Obaro Ikime and Ugboma, in their logical analysis, inferred that so long there were aboriginal groups whom the various migrants met, it means therefore that the language the aborigines engulfed those of the new arrivals. And, this buttress the traces of Igbo and Edo elements that exist in the Isoko element ( language).

Another factor is the long existed degree of ethnic intercourse in pre-colonial era which led to a greater mix and blend in the dialects of the Isoko clans. Added is the fact the aboriginal groups have been Edo speaking, thus accounting for the heavy tilt of the final result of the fusion on the side of the Edoid, despite the various claims of Igbo migration and the various close proximity to Igbo groups. In short, the Edoid stock was stronger. The distinctive dialect of Erohwa as Ikime opined, was as a result of their long stay and early acquisition of their dialect as well as the blend of whatever language they came with, especially the aborigines. However, they retain the unique dialect because of their smallness and the remoteness of their homeland on the Erohwa Creek and Anibeze. This, therefore, implies that they had less interactions with the other clans.

The early history of the Isoko is replete with accounts of relations with the Benin, Aboh, Male, Ijo and Urhobo. The Benin kingdom exerted some degree of influence over the Edo speaking groups and other peoples of the forest belt within reach of her army. The kingdom is regarded as the repository of power under a venerated and near defied monarch. The Ovieship, for instance, is closely knitted to the Benin institutions.

The title of Ovie is a replica of Bini Onogie title whose office holders were hereditary heads of Benin villages or groups. Traditionally, a newly installed Ovie was (is?) to journey to Benin for investiture ceremonies. This process of receiving confernment of authority is necessary in order to accord respect and recognition at home. The Odio titled society found in isokoland is also a replica of Ohonwonre of the Urhobo, which have been traced to Benin. Hence, the existence of the Odion society in Benin together with the tradition of origin, links some Isoko clans to Benin. Nevertheless, Edio do not have to visit Benin for confernment as the Ivie did ( do ).

Historically, the traditions of origin link some Isoko and Urhobo clans. For instance, Uvwie ( Evhro or Effurun ) are linked to Erohwa in Isoko. Agbon clan is linked to Irri of Isoko while Evwreni is believed to be founded by elephant hunters hired by the people Iyede clan of Isoko. Okpe-Urhobo is equally believed to be offshoot of Okpe-Isoko. Olomoro, on the otherhand, is regarded as an offshoot of Olomu clan of Urhobo.

Linguistically, proximity which promoted inter-marriages and closer relations made for linguistic affinity. Thus, Iyede and Emevor on the Isoko axis, while Uwherun and Evwreni in Urhobo. These are not only juxtaposed geographically, but also have a blend of dialects which makes it difficult to tell them apart as Urhobo or Isoko. That is to say that the Urhobo language is closer to that of Isoko than any other language of the Western Niger Delta.

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Articles by Divramredje Lawrence Efeturi