Preface to Biography of Mukoro Mowoe

Urhobo Historical Society
1890 – 1948
Second Edition  
Obaro Ikime


This little booklet has been produced as a small contribution to the crying need for biographical studies as part of the development of Nigerian history. As the reader will no doubt discover, I am seeking to write in this work the ordinary man literate English. While I have, of course, sought to bring to bear on the work my training as a historian, I have not written primarily for my colleagues. Thus I have brought in certain details which my professional colleagues may consider trite, but which those who knew Mukoro Mowoe will no doubt love to see in a biographical sketch, even one as modest and inadequate as that here attempted.

Most of the materials for the work has come from such papers of Mukoro Mowoe as survived into the 1970s. It is a pity that no effort was made at the time of his death in 1948 to collect and preserve his papers. The files which survived and which have furnished the main source of my source material are really no more than a small fragment of the record about the man. I hope, however, that even so, what has been put together makes a little sense and throws some light on the age and society in which Mukoro Mowoe lived. I am grateful to the Mukoro family for putting at my disposal all the surviving papers of Chief Mukoro Mowoe, which they very graciously allowed me to keep since 1972. In this connection, I want to thank, in particular, Frank Mowoe who has been my main like with the family and who actually handed the papers over to me. Since 1972 when I began the work which has produced this booklet, I have had to go to the Mowoe family a number of times. With Frank, I have had some four interview sessions; with Dr. Moses Mowoe, whom I first met in 1973, I had two sessions of interviews and with Chief James Mowoe, the eldest son of the subject of this work, I had two sessions. I tank all of them most sincerely for their patience and the readiness with which they answered questions about their father.

The last time I interviewed Chief James Mowoe was on 31st March, 1976 when the manuscript was all but ready and I was conducting a final check on a few points. I promised to return to Warri to see the Chief within a month of that day to collect certain photographs which he promised to let me have. I did return to Warri on 24 April, 1976. By that time, however, Chief James Mowoe had died, aged 58, the same age at which his father, Mukoro Mowoe, died. Death having robbed me of the opportunity of saying ‘thank you’ in person to the Chief, I can do no more than put on record my deep gratitude to him for the cordial reception he always accorded me when I visited the Mowoe family in the course of preparing this booklet. I take the opportunity of this work, also, to express my very sincere condolence to the Mowoe family on this most sad and sudden loss. God grant Chief James Mowoe’s soul eternal rest.

Both Dr. Moses Mowoe and Frank Mowoe read what was virtually the final draft of the manuscript, and made useful comments as well as drew my attention to certain errors of fact. While I appreciate their contribution in this regard and thank them most warmly for it, I hope they will forgive the fact that I have not always accepted their views about their father in the final version of the work as herein contained. Having exercised, as I have done, the historian’s discretion as to what views to accept and which to reject, it follows that I take full responsibility for the views expressed in this work.

I have, in the preparation of the work, depended also on the remembrance of a few persons who knew Mukoro Mowoe very closely during his life time. Two such persons are Chief J. A. Akiri whom I interviewed in March 1973 and Chief T. E. A. Salubi whom I interviewed towards the end of the preparation of the work in March, 1976. Chief Akiri was a close personal friend of Mukoro Mowoe and actually worked in the Mowoe Business on and off as he himself developed into a businessman in his own right. By the time I interviewed him in 1973, he was beginning to be hazy. Even so, however, he proved very Useful in providing me with certain detailed information about the subject of this booklet. I am deeply grateful to him and regret that he did not live to see the completion of this work, for he died in April 1976, within days of the death of Chief James Mowoe, at the age of 86.

Chief T. E. A. Salubi, one of the most distinguished Urhobo men alive today, and himself a very enthusiastic historian, allowed me to disturb his well earned retirement by giving me all of his day on 30 March, 1976. He very kindly read through my manuscript and made detailed and penetrating comments which have very much enriched the work. He placed at my disposal such of his papers as were relevant to my work and, what is even more, proved, during hours of discussion, that he is clearly the most knowledgeable man about Chief Mukoro Mowoe alive at the time of writing. Without that day with Chief Salubi this work will not have been possible in its present form. As one of the progressive elements among the Urhobo elite of the thirties and forties, Chief Salubi was in a position to influence events relating to the Urhobo and to the Urhobo Progress Union, whose Lagos Branch Secretary, (he was for ten uninterrupted years). In addition, he himself says that Chief Mukoro Mowoe regarded him as his own son and gave him every freedom to talk to him on the issues of the day. This work has been the richer from that relationship which enabled Chief Salubi to store up in his mind unsurpassed knowledge about our subject. I owe Chief Salubi more thanks than I can here express.

If I do not mention other names of persons who talked to me about my subject, this must not be seen as a sign of ingratitude. I thank all those who gave me much needed information about Chief Mukoro Mowoe. Because he is dead, I put on record here my thanks to the Revd. S. 0. Efeturi (died 1974) for the interview he granted me in March, 1973.

The first draft of this work was written while I was at the University of California, Los Angeles, United States, on study leave during the period January to March, 1975. 1 thank Professor Boniface Obichere, Director of the African Studies Centre of the University of California, Los Angeles who made my trip to America possible. He deserves my additional gratitude for his very warm friendship throughout my stay in Los Angeles. I also thank Dr. Agnes Aidoo and Dr. C. C. Ifemesia both then in the History Department at U. C. L. A. for their concern for a newcomer to Los Angeles.

Life in a sprawling city like Los Angeles can be most lonesome for a stranger, and lonesome it was for me. My loneliness was, however greatly relieved by the very warm friendship of Michael and Tundun Adetoye, both graduates of the University of Ibadan, then pursuing their graduate studies at U. C. L. A. Phidelis Luchembe, a Zambian graduate student, Tyron Hakim, a black American graduate student of great talent, Eleanor Singleton, also a black American graduate student and Rhonda Jones, a black American graduate. These persons by various acts of friendship and kindness made me welcome in Los Angeles and made it possible for me to be in a state of mind which made writing possible. I thank them all most warmly.

I thank the University of Ibadan for a research grant of N350.00 which enabled me do the field research necessary for this work. The Mowoe family very graciously gave me a grant of N250.00 towards the cost of producing this work. I thank them for their understanding and kind support. The first draft was typed by Mr. S. Abu of Kuti Hall, University of Ibadan, to whom my thanks are due for coping with my awful writing. Subsequent drafts have been done by Mrs. B. 0. Famakinwa, and Mr Emmanuel Ohaegbu, to both of whom I am deeply grateful. I thank the institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, for bearing the cost of the publication of this booklet.

The photographs which appear in this work were all supplied by the Mowoe family, thus putting me even more in their debt. The Revd. (Dr.) S. U. Erivwo advised me about Urhobo spellings and orthography and I am grateful to him for finding the time. My publisher friend, Aigboje Higo, read through the manuscript and provided the editorial advice necessary. I thank him most sincerely. Finally, I thank my wife and Children for their continued love and understanding for a husband and daddy very often away from home.

The reader will notice that I have not compile a bibliography. There is no need for one. There are very few works on the Urhobo and the Delta Province. All the works available are mentioned in the notes. It will also be noticed that I have put all the footnotes in a serial order right through the booklet at the end. This is because I am fully aware that the majority of those who will read this work will not be interested in my sources. Those who are can turn to the end of the work.

Obaro Ikime
Institute of African Studies
University of Ibadan

June, 1976


“While today there are many Urhobo who can lay claim to greatness in various fields of human endeavor and who therefore vie for leadership, in Mowoe’s time he was head and shoulders above every other Urhobo man in wealth and social connexions. This made it easier for the Urhobo to accept his leadership and that leadership was so dedicated, so honest, that none challenged it for those sixteen years during which Mowoe presided over the affairs of the Urhobo. It is, therefore, something of a pity that there not a single memorial to him any where in Urhoboland. ” These quoted words occur at p.180 of the 1977 edition of The Member for Warri Province. Twelve years later, in 1989, 1 was invited to deliver the first Mukoro Mowoe memorial lecture at the Urhobo Cultural Centre in Warri on December 16. A memorial had thus been erected in honour of Mukoro Mowoe. It is only fair that as the book is being reissued this point should be made.

A limited number of copies of the 1977 edition was available for sale during the 1989 Memorial Lecture. The demand far exceeded the number of copies available. Members of the Urhobo Social Club of Lagos mounted a pressure for a re-issue of the book soon after the lecture. It is that pressure that has resulted in the publication of this second edition. This edition is being published in the knowledge that the population of the reading public has increased appreciably since the release of the first edition. Even those born in 1977, when the book was first published, are old enough now to read and understand it. In bringing out a second edition, therefore, we believe we are meeting a need.

Let me take this opportunity to acknowledge that a number of persons wrote to me after the publication of the first edition protesting against some of the things I had said in the book. If I have said anything that has given offence, I do apologize. I wish to assure all concerned that any offence given is unintentional. A revision or reversal of specific arguments or conclusions can only be made on the basis of fresh evidence judged by the author to be acceptable. Such a revision may only result in protests from new quarters! That is part of the occupational hazard of the historian. So let me admit that the book could have been much better, much more detailed, had there been more evidence available. As it is, one had to do the best with the available material. All its shortcomings notwithstanding, I just hope that this book presents a reasonably fair account of the life and time of Chief Mukoro Mowoe.

Obaro Ikime
7, Olubi Road, New Bodija,

Formerly of the
Institute of African Studies
University of Ibadan.

February 1995


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