The Isoko People

Isoko

The Isoko, also called Urhoba, Biotu, Igabo, and Sobo, live in the northwestern edge of the Niger Delta region in Nigeria. Sobo and Igabo are both pejorative terms, and Biotu is the Ijaw word for them mean-ing “interior people.” Though in Izon, the language of the Ijaw, the word Biotu is not a pejorative, the Isoko consider it to be so. They number 423,000 people. Their language is called Isoko and it belongs to the Kwa group of the Niger-Congo phy-lum. They hold that they descend from people from the Benin Kingdom, but this is disputed by scholars.

The Isoko live from fishing and the pro-duction of palm oil as well as farming cas-sava, maize, beans, and peanuts. Isoko society is patrilineal and each homestead is headed by a male and each homestead occupies a ward in a traditional village. Villages are compact numbering usually around 500 people. Society, both men and women, are divided into age grades with specific tasks for each grade. In addi-tion, each village is autonomous. The majority of the Isoko today are Christians.

Since Nigerian independence in 1960, the Isoko have mixed with other peoples in the Niger Delta area such as the Ijaw. Nonetheless, they have strived to maintain their own identity. In recent years, the Isoko have ventured widely from their home region, working throughout Nigeria as small commercial entrepreneurs despite the fact that their own home region is nearly all rural.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Falola, Toyin. Culture and Customs of Nigeria. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.

“Isoko.” http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=iso (accessed May 28, 2010).