The Edo people, namely Ishan and Bini, referred to the Urhobo as izobo, which means sacrifice or human sacrifice. They were members of the Igodomigodo kingdom, which also included the Ijaw, Bini, Esan, Igala, Urhobo, and other people.
The urhobo were expert farmers who dealt in palm oil. They resides in their ancient homelands of ughoton in Benin, even if they are dispersed there as many clans. They currently reside in Ugoton, however it is unknown what their previous name was before being known as Izobo. (now agaton in edo state) and their neighbors the ijaws who lived in gele gele were partners in trading for centuries with the urhobo’s.
Also Read: Brief History of Ikwerre People of Rivers State
To talk about human sacrifice in Benin from 1440 to 1896 we need to talk about the igue festival
The Igue festival is a time where all the indigenes in Benin Kingdom offer sacrifice to the Gods and the ancestors for being able to reach the end of the year and begin another in good health. The festival is an aged-long tradition that had transcended several Obas.
Who Started Igue Festival?
An oba called Ewuare was said to start the Igue festival a blood bath festival they raided captured men of the ughoton and gele gele people the oba will tell his guards who have cut off the most heads will be given beads as a reward Thous the hunt began.
They enslaved the people put their women to work and the men used for sacrifice when their crops go bad it’s the head of the izobo if they don’t have enough water it’s the head of the izobo in a market then known as oba market they sell the izobo there the oyo empire also bought the izobo slaves from the benin kingdom and the Yoruba called them izubo some Yoruba also called them (eda eniyan ebo) that was what they were named.
it got too strong and too much there was a revolt during the reign of Oba Ozolua but it backfired they were only few men and many women left as many were used as sacrifice and others were sold into slavery urhobo’s were sold to slavery by the oba but only the urhobo formally known as izobo were used as sacrifice.. back then there was a saying you’ll have more izobo slaves as oba have more slaves.
Also Read: Forgotten Igbo gods: A Lost Chapter in Nigerian History
Oba Oluwa (olua) The Weak (according to his chief’s)
He didn’t do the igue festival he was calm and generous under his rule many of the slaves flee to their not distant relatives near the benin river. In oba oluwa’s rule the chiefs do things on their own so they set out to hunt down the slaves but was unsuccessful this was many of the atrocities Ginuwa hated and wanted to stop before the chiefs went against him.
In those days Sex or marriage to the izobo is punishable by death by beheading as it was forbidden by the oba even till today some benin families don’t support a marriage to an urhobo.
Izobo (urhobo) On The Run 1482-1596 Oba Ozolua Rule
Rumor has it that the izobo women slept with gorillas in the jungle to have their male children and to expand in their numbers which is evident as the urhobo people serve guerrilla gods. But that was just rumor another theory is they married okpe people which allowed the okpe men to impregnate as much of the izobo women as they can so they won’t go extinct.
But that soon back fired in the next 100years after they left benin there was a war between them the people who the okpe had to hide now claim lands given to them as theirs thus started the endless conflict of the ethiope west for many years they migrated from 1720 to 1788 after the rumor of a more calm and civilized kingdom called iwere (Warri) settlements increased because of the conflict between the clans. It didn’t stop the benins from kidnapping them for igue festival rumors has it that it still happens till today.
Their name was a stigma given to them by the Benin’s izobo meaning sacrifice the itsekiri’s called them usobo and the British called them sobo and they themselves changed their name to uhobo then to urhobo….. But today the Benin’s lie that they called the urhobo’s “uhobo “ which has no meaning in edo language the benins lied to cover what they did to the urhobo people and the gullible urhobo’s believed it…
British prison reports (reference SLAVERY AND EMANCIPATION IN BENIN, 1897-1945
Oba was his surrender, deposition and changed circumstances, that from his jail he asked for permission to send people to Benin water-side to catch some Urhobo slaves for sacrifice as the rains were falling too incessantly for the good of the people and their crops. A woman was usually sacrificed on these occasions with a message for the Rain or Sun god put into her mouth and, after death hoisted on a crucifixion tree
“for the rain and sun to see’.
This is the real forgotten story about urhobo people and how their name urhobo came.
EMANCIPATION AND SLAVERY IN BENIN, 1897–1945