Urhobo people occupy the following local government areas:

1. Okpe
2. Sapele
3. Uvwie
4. Udu
5. Ughelli North
6. Ughelli South
7. Ethiope East
8. Ethiope West
9. Warri South (Shared with Itsekiri)
10. Patani (Shared with Ijaws)
11. Burutu (Shared with Ijaws)
12. Sagbama (in Bayelsa State and shared with Ijaws and Isokos)

Urhobos also have large settlements in Ore, Owo and Okitipupa in Ondo State, Ajegunle and other places in Lagos State, Oro in Kwara State, as well as other clusters across Nigeria.

Now to our main discourse:

Urhobo has never been an homogenous linguistic entity. Since time immemorial, Urhobo has been colored by variation that occur on various levels. These variations manifest in the various Urhobo clans and kingdoms. A specific dialect of Urhobo has even broken off and become an individual ethnic nationality (Isoko). Another dialect is prospecting at this option (Okpe). The main reason for this break-off is that these dialects see themselves as individual groups as much as Ikwerre see themselves as being different from Igbo. Some of the “major dialects” of Urhobo are:
1. Isoko(Also has sub-dialects such as Erhowa, Enwhe and Iyede)
2. Central Urhobo (Agbarho-Ughelli Dialect)
3. Okpe
4. Ughievwien
5. Uvwie
6. Agbon
7. Avwraka (Abraka)
8. Udu
9. Ofoni
10. Orogun
11. Agbarha

These Dialects accounts for the main branches of Urhobo(Clans). Although there are other Urhobo clans such as Ogor, Olomu, Agbarha-Ame, etc but the linguistic features of these clans are either similar to one of the those mentioned above or not too obvious to become a dialect of its own. Most of these clans use central urhobo. The dialects listed are sometimes not mutually intelligible except for Central Urhobo which is the lingua franca of Urhobo People. These various dialectal groups also have peculiar cultural traits. We will now briefly examine these groups one by one.

1. Isoko
The Isoko Dialect of Urhobo is so broad and large that it is effectively a language of its own. Isoko is a proto-Edoid language and hence it is closer to how Urhobo once was when the people said goodbye to their Benin progenitors. Isoko has its own sub-dialects such as Iyede, Erhowa, Enwhe, Olomoro, Oleh, etc. The main dialectal difference between Urhobo and Isoko include; Use of Degwo instead of Migwo for greeting, repetition of utterances and words.i.e. “Yanzobone Yanzobone (Come here, Come here)”, different names for various objects, etc.

2. Central Urhobo (Agbarho-Dialect)
The Agbarho/Ughelli dialect of Urhobo is deemed to be the purest, fluent and undiluted form of Urhobo language. It is understandable by all Urhobo people and has widespread acceptance. It is spoken mainly in Ughelli and Agbarho, a suburb of Warri and Ughelli, both in Ughelli North LGA. This is the version of Urhobo taught at Secondary Schools, College of Education and Delta State University.

3. Okpe
The Okpe Dialect has the largest number of speakers in Urhobo land. They stay in Okpe and Sapele Local Government Areas. They are all ruled over by the Orodje of Okpe, a historical and semi-hereditary traditional kingship and a first class King in Nigeria. The Okpe dialect is considered deep and hard by other Urhobo speakers. In fact, the Okpe dialect is believed by many to be closer to Edo than it is to Urhobo. The average Urhobo man will have a field day understanding Okpe. The differences between Okpe and Central Urhobo is so large that one wonders why it is classed together as Urhobo when it obviously has more connection to Isoko than Urhobo. However, they are culturally the same with Urhobo. Dialectal differences cut across greeting.i.e. Deewho instead of Megwo, names of objects and animals, meaning of common words, etc.

4. Ughievwien
When I was growing up, we had two neighbours that were Ughievwien (Ujevwen) people. I remember that my mother always had a field day analysing how funny they spoke. The Ughievwien people occupy Ughelli South LGA. Their major town is Otu-Jeremi with other towns and villages such as Egbo, Effurun-otor, Olomu, etc. These people are simple minded and live in mainly riverine areas. Their language is seen as “impure” and unintelligible by most Urhobo speakers. Their version of Urhobo involves a lot of tongue twisting and tongue rolling. They speak as if they sing. Their words are pronounced differently most times and the stress/tonation is slightly different from Central Urhobo.

5. Uvwie
Uvwie Dialect is spoken by the people that occupy Uvwie LGA in such towns as Effurun, Enerhen, Ugbomro, etc. Their Urhobo is mildly understandable by the average Urhobo speaker. Theirs is an amalgam of Okpe, Agbon and Udu. In their cultural system, the Otota (Spokesman and Prime Minister) found in other Urhobo clans, is replaced with the Unuevworho with similar but slightly different functions. Uvwie people greet differently, some words and their stress placement are also different from central Urhobo.

6. Agbon
Agbon is spoken by the people of Ethiope East LGA. It is the second largest Urhobo kingdom. The main Agbon divisions include; Okpara, Kokori, Eku, Igun and Ovu-Oviorie. Of these divisions, Okpara is the largest while Kokori speaks a more proto-Agbon, or harder, version. Agbon Urhobo is extremely close to Central Urhobo. Differences are barely noticed. The main differences constitute the physical nuances of Agbon speakers. Other differences include pronunciation of certain words and their usage. Agbon speakers are understood across board. Their main difference is that the dialect is deep. It is the main dialect used in Urhobo proverbs, idioms and metaphysical expositions. If you want to learn Urhobo, dont start with Agbon.

7. Avwraka (Abraka)
The Avwraka dialect of Urhobo is spoken by people who occupy the northern parts of Ethiope East LGA. Their main divisions are; Oruarivie-Abraka and Umiagwa-Abraka, each with its own king. Divisions include; Ekrejeta, Ojeta, Oria, Erho, Ajanomi, Urhuagbesa, Otorho, Urhuoka, Umeghe, etc. Avwraka Dialect is seen as slightly “impure” by most speakers. Their dialect is a simplified version of Urhobo, perhaps too simplistic. The dialect lacks depth and its not as linguistically rich as most dialects. There are also cases of borrowings and adaptations in Avwraka dialect.

8. Udu
This dialect is largely elusive. It is mostly similar to that spoken in Ughievwien and also resembles Uvwie. I’d call it a secondary/mixed dialect of both Ujevwen and Uvwie. However, it is different in its own rights. I haven’t met most of its native speakers so my personal knowledge of this dialect is somewhat limited to what others have said. However, it is also “impure” and has a lot of phonological differences with central Urhobo. Udu people occupy Udu LGA, a suburb of Warri. Major towns are Otor-Udu, Aladja, etc.

9. Ofoni
The Ofoni dialect of Urhobo is an offshoot of the Ughelli dialect and it is spoken by Ijoid Tarakiri people in Odurubu and Oduophiri in Patani LGA of Delta State and Ofoni in Sagbama LGA of Bayelsa State. These people have lived alongside the Ijaws for so long that it leaves much to marvel that they have not been acculturated by now. They live far off land and one must fly a speed boat to reach these places on time. As expected, their version of Urhobo has been colorated by Ijaw with so much borrowings, transliterations, adaptations, jugglery, etc etc.

10. Orogun
The Orogun Dialect of Urhobo is one of the most unique ones. It is spoken by the Orogun people who occupy Ughelli North LGA. They are close neighbours to the Ndokwa People of Abbi and Amai as well as the Isoko people of Iyede and Owhelogbo. They are mainly bilinguals. Most of the Orogun people can speak/understand Ndokwa(Igboid) and Urhobo. Most also add Isoko to their arsenal. Orogun itself is a kingdom with a King and it has several quarters. Orogun-Urhobo sounds like Ughelli/Agbarho Urhobo, just like the close Agbarha neighbours, but the influence of Ndokwa has penetrated the language. Words are different, syntax becomes juggled, pronunciations take a funny turn, most speakers code-mix and code-switch between Urhobo and Ndokwa and some cant even separate which from which. Only Orogun people can fully explain how unique their dialect is.

11. Agbarha
The Agbarha dialect of Urhobo is spoken, in its various forms, by people in Agbarha and Okere in Warri South LGA, Idjerhe, Mosogar and Oghara in Ethiope West LGA and the aboriginal and eponymous people of Agbarha in Ughelli North LGA. The earlier mentioned groups (Agbarha/Okere Warri, Idjerhe, Mosogar, Oghara) were all migrants from Agbarha-Otor. The Agbarha dialect is similar to central Urhobo spoken in Ughelli/Agbarho. It is not impure per se but it is slightly different and not perceivably shallow. Only experienced speakers of Urhobo can pick out its dialectal differences.

This dialectal list is not prescriptive but descriptive. IT mainly shows the various forms that the Urhobo language has taken in its development. Aboriginal speakers of the various dialects should contribute meaningfully to this post by showing us some of the unique features of their dialects.

Written by Mathias Orhero

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