Isoko is a region of Delta State in southern Nigeria and is inhabited by an ethnic group of the same name, the Isoko people. The region is divided into two Local Government Areas, Isoko North (headquartered at Ozoro) and Isoko South. The region of the Isoko used to be a part of the defunct “Mid-West Region”, which later became part of Bendel State, before Bendel State was eventually split into form Edo and Delta states. It is said that they came from the East of the River Niger, a location spanning through present day Anambra, Bayelsa, and Rivers states.
Isoko, people, being of the northwestern part of the Niger delta in Nigeria, speak a language of the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family. The term Sobo is used by ethnographers as a cover term for both the Isoko and their neighbours the Urhobo, but the two groups remain distinct from one another.
Socio-economic and socio-cultural aspects of the Isoko People
The main economic activity of the Isoko is food crop farming. Cassava is the source of most of the foods consumed by the Isoko people. Foods like Garri, starch meal (Ozi), Egu are cassava derivatives. Yam is also cultivated in significant quantities. There is also the widespread production of palm oil and palm kernels. Limited amount of hunting and fishing is also done. There is also the supplementary production of corn (maize), beans, peppers, and peanuts (groundnuts). Women form a large proportion of the farming population. They also engage in trade of food crops for cash to meet other basic household needs. On market days, it is common to see Isoko women peddling their assorted goods around neighboring villages.
The Isoko people are predominantly Christians. Traditional worship still thrives despite the strong impact made by Christianity in the tribe. They refer to God by the name, ‘Ọghẹnẹ’. Although it can be generally termed as traditional religion, there are however some practices that are peculiar to some Isoko community. For instance in the town of Emevor, some important festivals like “idhu and owhoru” are celebrated annually and bi-annually.
The Family and Traditional Structure of the Isoko
The family, consisting of a man, his wife or wives, and their children, live together in a compound; one or more groups of families related through patrilineal descent occupy a ward of the village. The village itself is a compact settlement, usually containing fewer than 500 persons. Both men and women are grouped into age-grades, each with particular responsibilities. The duties of the women’s grades include the ritual surrounding fertility and childbirth, and control of the market. Young boys perform simple communal tasks; adult men do major community work and are the fighting and executive unit of the village; older men form the nucleus of the village council. Membership in certain title organizations is available on payment of fees and is an important source of political authority. The Isoko never formed a single social or political unit; local communities remain autonomous.
Traditional religion includes belief in a creator god and his messengers, in spirits, and in ancestral spirits. Diviners are consulted to explain failures in any activity, on occasions of illness or death, and before economic activity. Witches are believed to be organized into groups that meet regularly in large trees. Many Isoko as earlier stated, are however, now Christians.
The Isoko Marital Rites and Rituals
The typical Isoko marriage consists of three steps: First visit, second visit, and the paying of the bride price. On the first visit, the groom to be will visit the bride’s home alongside his family members (about 5 – 10) to introduce and make known their introduction. Upon their arrival, they would be entertained by the girl’s father with kola nut and drinks. Additionally, the girl’s father will give his guest money for their trouble finding their way to his house. In return, the groom’s family will reciprocate by offering the girls family their own drinks and kola nut. They will also pay back two times the money that was given to them by the girl’s father.
At the second visit, the groom to be will present his gift (different type of drinks and kola nut), to the girl’s father and the girl is summoned and will be asked if she knew the man and want to marry him. The presented gifts will be accepted only upon her agreement to marry him. List of required items needed by the girl’s parent is given to the man to buy or pay the equivalent. However, it is customary for the girl’s father to introduce the man to some of his family member about 5-10 and about 5-3 of the mother’s family.
The groom must visit these people one after the other and he must fulfill every request they ask of him. Also, list of required items needed by the girl’s parent is given to the man to buy or pay the equivalent. Afterwards, a date for the bride price will be fixed. On this particular day, the families of both parties will come together and agree on the pride price after negotiation. And then celebration will commence.
Featured image source: GongNews