IGODOMIGODO: The Fall of a Great Empire
A Glimpse into Benin Empire.
Influence of the Benin Kingdom over Europe in the 15th Century
The dirty game and battle for Power
Did Benin Really Originate from Ife
British Invasion of the Kingdom
Culture and Tradition of the Binis
Benin city in the 21st century
The Benin Kingdom was one of the major powers in West Africa in the late 19th Century. Benin-city as it is known now is the capital of present day Edo state in the southern part of Nigeria, West Africa. In the 15th century merchants from Europe visited West Africa and Benin played an important part in trading between the Europeans on the coast and the inland people. The kingdom of Benin was also well known to European traders and merchants during the 16th and 17th centuries, when it became wealthy partly due to trading in slaves. The Benin Kingdom happens to be some of the most sophisticated and oldest along the coastal lines in West Africa. At some point, Benin Kingdom controlled trade in the entire West African region. Because of how powerful the Benin kingdom was, the entire stretch of that coastline area was called Bight of Benin. Dahomey in the West Africa nation of Benin republic was once called Bight. Many of the tribes in present day Nigeria like Itshekiri, Urhobo, people from the Niger Delta, western Igbo, including eastern Yoruba tribes of Ondo, Ijebu, Ekiti,Mahin/Ugbo were all ruled by the Benin. Centuries before the British took over; the first colony of Lagos was established. Benin is known to have some of the richest dress cultures in Africa. The traditional owners of the land are known as Edo and speak some other languages including Edo.
1. A Glimpse into Benin Kingdom
The earth was full of water and inside was a tree with a bird known as Owonwon. Osanobua, the creator had the intention of populating the earth so he instructed his sons, three of them to select a gift each. The first selected Money, the second son magical powers and the last son chose a snail shell after an advice from the father-Owonwon. While inside the water, the last son turned the shell upside down this turned to sand in large quantity from the water. They became scared to put their feet on the sand so a chameleon was sent to test the land. This became part of the Binis belief system that chameleons walk with hesitation. When the land was created, the creator himself, Osanobua came down to the earth using a chain and gave responsibilities to his three sons. He gave the first authority over water, so he was called Olokun by the Binis; meaning “god of the river”. The Benin people worship him till this day. The second son was allocated with the task of using magical powers to balance effect of positive and negative forces. He was called Oguiwu or Esu by the Binis which is interpreted as “harbinger of death”. It is believed that because of him all living things will die eventually as he is seen as the owner of blood. He is an evil being. The last son had powers over land. He called the land Agbon with headquarters in Igodomigodo, a part of the kingdom.
Drawing of Benin City by a British officer in 1897. (Source-www.kongdompfbenin.com/timeline.html)
The story of Benin Kingdom, the Osanobua and Olokun are stories of wealth, health, life and good things. Oguiwu has to do with mourning, death and evil. Osanobua’s last son is a symbol of innocence and believed to be susceptible to the whims of other people. Since the account of the origin and creation of the Bini people is based on mythology, it is obvious that they already had a coordinated city with good administrative structure far back as 900A, when it was ruled by kings known as Ogiso which also means rulers of the sky since they were assumed to be descendants of the last son of Osanobua directly; the creator who came from the sky. It is believed that the Benin cosmological account of Benin creation seems to be largely sourced from the Egyptian account. According to the account, the universe was in complete chaos with water everywhere and a mountain rose from the bottom of the ocean. Atom the sun god appeared and came with the sun that sustains human life on earth. He also created eight additional gods totaling nine in number. The Egyptians believe the sun god is superior to every other god. The name of the city Benin or Bini, came as a result of the encounter with the Portuguese in the 1400s. The name was corrupted from Ubinu to Bini or Benin. There are various accounts of the origin and history of the Benin people of present day Edo state, south – south region of Nigeria.
The town of Ile-Ife in western part of Nigeria is assumed to be where the Benin people came from and this claim has been discarded by the Benin people as well as historians. It is believed that there is nothing to support this assertion. The Yoruba nation and the Benin kingdom relationship have come a long way and it dates back to centuries. Some other stories have it that the Benin kingdom has a connection with some tribes in Egypt because of similarities in the way and culture of the two kingdoms. It has become increasingly difficult to really tell where the Benin people originate from but we can say they are the aborigine of their current location.
2. Influence of the Benin Kingdom over Europe in the 15th Century
The history of the great Benin Empire as a nation is the record of a state that was established 2300yrs before any contact was made with the European. Before the coming of the Europeans, there were success stories by the people of the kingdom in administration, arts, science, administration, technology, astronomy, town-planning, politics and architecture. Over time the Benin kingdom was so powerful that it began to expand its territorial influence all across the coastal areas of West Africa and to countries like Ghana, Togo and republic of Congo. The Benin Kingdom also had some major cities namely Onitsha, Warri, Idah, and Asaba in Nigeria under its control.
The influence of the kingdom was also felt in Sierra Leone. The kingdom was such that its fame spread across West Africa and the Gulf of Benin that Benin had different meanings such as Benin-city, Benin Empire, Benin River close to Warri and Benin district. Many countries in Europe heard of the civilized attitudes and power of the kingdom that they got interested in it. Some of the early travelers from Europe to visit the Benin Kingdom were the explorers from Portugal. In the year 1485, Joao Afonso de Aveiro visited Benin Kingdom. Trade between the two was robust. The people of Benin Kingdom were engaged in tropical products like palm oil, pepper and ivory, they traded it with some goods from Europe. Towards the 16th century, couple of people from Benin travelled to Europe. Much later some Europeans also came to Nigeria but went to Benin Kingdom. The Oba was very glad to receive them. About the same time some churches sent evangelist and missionaries to Benin to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and stop the Benin monarchy and people from idol worship. “BIGHT OF BENIN” a popular name along the coast lines of West Africa is no surprise even as the Benin Kingdom remains a strong empire in this 21st century. Dahomey which is part of Benin republic ceased to be so called and took up Benin as her new name in 1975 due to influence from the Benin Kingdom. Sometime in the year 1974, the then Togolese President was in Benin City, Nigeria and traced the root of his country to the kingdom. This was part of the reasons the country’s University was renamed “The Universite du Benin”, among several other organizations named after Benin kingdom is the “Togo hotel du Benin”. The President adding his voice to this assumption automatically brought to an end centuries of confusion that clouded the Benin kingdom and today’s Benin speaking Yoruba influence on several West African countries.
The Itshetkiri Urhobo and Ishan of the old Bendel state in Nigeria all have their roots in the ancient Benin Kingdom. In 1619, a ship full with missionaries sailed to the shores of Warri with Lourenco Pinto from Europe; Portugal to be precise as the ship captain. When he got back to his country, he informed his country people that the Benin empire was big and beautiful especially the residence of the king. By the 15th century , the kingdom had become bigger and wealthier. Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473) who was the 12th Oba in line expanded the kingdom’s territories to neighboring regions. Aside from Benin City, the system of rule adopted by the Oba in his kingdom was primarily created by Ogiso. The Oba chose a local by the name Enogie to administer over some areas because of the culture and language. The number of Ogisos chosen as rulers at this initial stage was 36, Ekaladerhan who was next in succession as heir apparent was sentenced to death but got pitied by palace chiefs who set him free.
3. The dirty game and battle for Power
Benin Kingdom was ruled by the Ogisos who were the original inhabitants of Benin. The first son of Ogiso was Igodo and he had so much power and influence. He also became very popular among the Benin people because he was a good ruler. When he died, Ere who was his eldest son took over from him. Ekaladrhan and one of his uncles had serious conflicts on who succeeds the late Ogiso. This intrigue and battle for power was after the death of Ogiso. The late Ogiso son, Ekaladerhan in anger fled the royal court with his subjects. He was later sentenced to death because the Queen who never had a child for him then changed the message from the oracle to Ogiso. At Ughoton town, Ekaladerhan was released by messengers from the palace after pitying him. This marked the beginning and end of the Ogiso dynasty after the old Ogiso had died. It is imperative to note that the people of the kingdom as well as kingmakers desired to have their king’s eldest son as next in line to the throne. Ekaladerhan who had been on exile dropped and picked up a new name, Izoduwa; when interpreted means I have chosen the part of prosperity. And he sojourns in Ile Ife where the people there called him Oduduwa; till Oliha an elder from the Benin kingdom went in search of him. Since he had become old, Ekaladerhan could not go back to Benin with Oliha so he released his son to go with them and ultimately be the Oba. When the son, Oranmiyan got to Benin he had to contend with many forces as he was rejected as Ogiamien Irebor. During his short stay in Benin Kingdom, he married Erinmwinde, daughter of Ogie-Egor and she bore him a son. Many years after he arrived in the kingdom, he called for a meeting and dropped the title of his office stating that the land was a land of vexation, “Ile-Ibinu” Yoruba word. He returned to Yoruba land in Ile Ife and put up his son to be made king in his stead. Oranmiyan’s son had speech and hearing challenge as he was impaired in these areas. The father was contacted and he sent some seeds charm-like game that would make the boy speak. The boy eventually regained his voice and started speaking after playing with the seeds while at the mother’s village of Egor. The first word that came out of his mouth was “owomika” if interpreted in Yoruba language means “I have it in my hands”. This was later changed to Eweka by the people of Bini. This was the beginning of the Oba of Benin dynasty. Oranmiyan ruled supreme in Oyo Empire which he founded as the first Alaafin of Oyo, much later he left for Ile Ife to become the sixth Ooni of Ife. Oranmiyan descendants are still in Ile Ife, Oyo and Benin where they still rule. At Igodomigodo, he dropped his office title because conflicts and intrigues by some palace chiefs. He later on called the place land of anger- “Ile Ibinu”. As he proceeded to Ile Ife he stopped at Enogie of Egor home, had a relationship with the daughter and both had a son together. The son later on became Oba Eweka 1, the first Oba of the Eweka dynasty. Subsequent Obas ruled from Uzama until Oba Ewedo decided to move his palace to the centre of the kingdom. There was conflict between him and the Ogiamien as a result of that decision. Both parties later on signed a treaty after reaching an agreement transferring the land to the Oba. At every coronation ceremony of any Oba, this treaty is re-enacted. Since then Obas have ruled from Uzama till Oba Ewedo moved his palace to the centre of the kingdom.
The newly crowned Oba with a handkerchief he placed in front of his mouth, a sign that he does not speak in public regularly, but when he does, his word is final Femke van Zeijil/Al Jazeera
According to some historians Prince Ekaladerhan (Izoduwa) left Ile Ife after some years for Oyo. He had a son in Oyo by name Ajaka who ultimately became the first Alaafin of Oyo. Oranmiyan was in Ile Ife as the Ooni. Eweka 1, the Oba of Benin and Ajaka, the first Alaafin of Oyo had the same father who was Oranmiyan of Ile Ife. The culture of the Edo people is very rich and has influenced quite a lot of countries within West Africa. The Portuguese having a different understanding of the name in their language changed it to Benin. By the year 1470, the name of the state was changed to Edo by Ewuare when people from Okpekpe moved from Benin City. Oba Ewuare the Great reigned from 1440-80, he was seen as a magician and warrior. Over time the Benin people were not happy with method in choosing a king especially when an Oba dies so they sent for Oranmiyan of Ife to be their king in the 13th century. The usual practice of hereditary to the throne continued and power to do was with the chiefs. Eweka was made the first Oba of Benin, in 1440-80 Ewuare was king; by the 13th the monarchy became stronger when Ewedo was Oba. Much later the Benin kingdom territory was enlarged; this was as far as Lagos in the Yoruba speaking part of Nigeria in the middle of the 16th century. Ascension to the throne became hereditary and Lagos region which was now under the control of the Benin kingdom was paying homage to the Oba of Benin, this went on till the 19th century. The power of the Great Oba of Benin was so much the people reverence him and saw him as second to God. He was their all in all; he built the city back, engaged in all kinds of religious sacrileges such as human sacrifice and cultism. A little more than 36 Ogiso were recorded to have ruled the Benin kingdom. However, in the lecture delivered by Dr. O.S.B. Omoregie on the Evolution of Benin, as part of lectures on the lost Treasures of Ancient Benin organized by the National Commission of Museums and Monument, Benin City, June 25, 1982, the name of the Ogisos were given as follows:
Names of past Ogisos.
(1) Igodo or Obagodo (16) Oírla .
(2) Ere (17) Emose
(3) Orire (18) Orrorro
(4) Odia (19) Irrebo
5) lghido (20) Ogbomo
(6)Evbobo (21)Agbonzeke .
(7) Ogbeide (22) Ediie
(8) Ernehen (23) Oriagba
(9) Akhuankhuan (24) Odoligie
(10) Ekpigho (25) Uwa
(11) Efeseke (26) Eheneden
(12) Irudia (27) Ohuede
(13) Etebowe (28 Oduwa
(14) Odion (29) Obioye
(15) Imarhan (30) Arigho
Source- Dr. O.S.B. Omoregie on the Evolution of Benin, as part of lectures on the lost Treasures of Ancient Benin organized by the National Commission of Museums and Monument, Benin City, June 25, 1982.
The line of succession and ascension to the throne in the kingdom was remarkable. Many of the Obas who ascended the throne after Oba Ewuare were very powerful. Some of them were Oba Ozolua who reigned from 1481-1504; Esigie was Oba from the middle of the 16th century. Both were Ozolua and Esigie’s sons respectively. For over three centuries (15th-18th), traders in the kingdom were engaged in international trade with businessmen from Europe. The Europeans bought ivory, palm oil, pepper and this made them serve as intermediaries with fellow West African neighbors. As Benin continued to progress and wax strong it was hit by internal crises of succession in the 19th century which led to civil unrest within the kingdom. The lesser Obas became helpless and went into hiding. When slave trade was suppressed the Benin kingdom suffered a decline which also affected its influence on other territories. . Benin chiefs and elders believed so much on sacrifices and rituals. They saw this as an avenue to end the incessant fall of the kingdom and also for protection. It was in 1897 after the destruction of the kingdom that human sacrifices were abolished. The Benin monarchy is still a force to reckon with in Nigeria and the throne is still occupied by the Binis who are direct descendants of the throne.
The palace chiefs kneel for the crown prince before they perform the coronation ritual Femke van Zeijil/Al Jazeera
The king’s palace or court is a square, and is as large as the town of Haarlem and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town.
4. Did Benin Really Originate from Ife?
The ancient town of Ife as far back as 1025 was a big empire while Benin was not. There were other bigger cities and empires in other parts of Nigeria like the Borno Empire in the north. As at the time Oba Eweka was on the throne, the Benin kingdom was not a power broker. Ife was so influential that it covered the entire south west including parts of Delta and Edo states in present day Nigeria. It was believed that since the Benin kingdom was relatively small and not so powerful it was imperative that it seeks a king from a bigger empire like Ife. This was given as one of the reasons Oranmiyan left the Oyo Empire for Ife to become the Ooni since the ancient town of Ife was more established. By the 1400s, the two Empires of Oyo and Benin grew and became bigger than Ife which had contracted and called the cradle of Yoruba race. There was a saying then that for any king to ascend the throne in Benin; he must be given a staff of office from Ile-Ife. History also has it that till about 1940s, the Yoruba language was spoken at the Oba of Benin palace and whenever, an Oba dies his head is taken to Ife for burial. In all of this, what cannot be taken away is that Edo (Benin) had a thriving Empire with influence as far as Ekiti, Ondo, parts of Igbo, Ijaw and Lagos Island. But Dele Awogbeoba (Pointblank news 22 February 2016) wrote “What should be noted is no king wants to be portrayed as an alien in their Kingdom. The British royal family changed their German surname to blend in with its British subjects. The Fulani empires jettisoned their Fulani names and language and replaced them with Muslim names and the Hausa language to fit in with their new subjects. The Ilorin Emir speaks Yoruba and (until recently changed to a Muslim name) had a Yoruba first name. The action of the Benin royal family is entirely understandable”. He also said “What is clear is that Ife, Oyo and Benin empires are now relics of history. The Alake will do well to accord each tribe their individual respect. No Oba has any power over a domain under the jurisdiction of another Oba. That remains the case whether the domain is ruled by a first or tenth class monarch. The Oba of Benin may well have been Yoruba centuries ago. He is clearly predominantly Edo now. I doubt whether he has more than 1% Yoruba genes in his current blood line. The Yoruba blood line has been significantly diluted over many generations and many centuries”.
In 2016 the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, said Benin Kingdom in Edo State remained part of the expansive Yoruba race (Premium Times, February 10, 2016). The monarch made the comment in reaction to a statement credited to the palace of the Oba of Benin challenging the claim by the Alake of Egbaland, Adedotun Gbadebo, that the Ooni of Ife remained the pre-eminent spiritual leader in Yorubaland and environs. Ooni Ogunwusi, in a statement by his Director of Media and Public Affairs, Moses Olafare, made available to PREMIUM TIMES, said he was not interested in any supremacy battle with anyone but that he would continue to put the records straight and avoid distortion of history from any quarters. The monarch said going by historical evidence detailing the Oduduwa lineage, Benin Kingdom remained part and parcel of Oduduwa House. “We in Oduduwa land have always seen and regarded our people in Benin kingdom as part and parcel of Oduduwa House. They are our brothers and sisters, coupled with historical facts to back up this position,” Ooni Ogunwusi said. The story of the emergence of the Benin kingdom won’t be complete without reference to the Yorubas of western Nigeria. The two groups’ stories are from word of mouth by fore fathers. An account as narrated by the Benin people over ten centuries now says their prince was to be killed as ordered by the oracle but was set free by palace guards when they found out he was not guilty of the offence he was accused to have committed. He left for Ife and thereafter became king. The Benin palace found out the runaway prince was now a king in Ife through the oracle. The prince who is now known as Oduduwa sent his last son (Oranmiyan) to be king in Benin at the request of the Benin kingdom. The Yorubas kicked against this stating there was no relationship between their king Oduduwa and the runaway prince. Oduduwa’s son, Oranmiyan was against the Ogiso dynasty, spent about three months on throne in Benin and made his son King. But the son who grew up in Benin couldn’t talk or hear until one day during a game that he spoke his first words- “owo mi ka”. It is worthy to note that the first words of the little boy who grew up in Ile Ibinu (as it was then renamed by Oranmiyan and now corrupted by the Portuguese to Benin) to a Bini mother (after the departure of his Yoruba speaking father to Oyo) was Yoruba. The words “owo mi ka” (which means my hand has got it in Yoruba) was changed to Eweka and that name was given to Oranmiyan’s son as the first Oba of Benin.
The Benin Kingdom Narrative.
It is a known fact that from 1125 AD Eweka was king of Benin kingdom. It is also on record that king Oranmiyan’s reign at Ife was before Oduduwa, Obamakin, Ogun, Obalufon and Obalufon II. The postulation by the Benin Kingdom is that the word “Oba” is not a Yoruba word, that it was borrowed from Benin. There is however nothing to show backing this claim. What is clear is that prior to the reign of Oba Eweka, none of the Ogiso kings had the word Oba in or amongst their respective names. The last Ogiso wanted someone to succeed him and his only son who was also the heir was not favored by the palace chiefs and kingmakers. They tried to eliminate him using the wish of the gods as a plot but he secretly left for Uhe (Ife) as known by the Binis where he became Oduduwa(I have sought my path of prosperity). In Benin the last Ogiso died without an heir and was succeeded by Ogiamien after a short stint by Evians as administrator. As the battle for power continued, the elders in the kingdom were of the opinion to go look for Ekaladerhan, the only surving son and heir of Ogiso Owodo. Elder Olha led the group search since they were also opposed to the overzealousness of Ogiamien. The group was determined to search and find Ekaladerhan to take over his father’s throne. It now became very clear that the Obaship system of succession (father to son) was part of the Benin culture from the outset.
It is important to note that a kingdom existed under the Ogiso’s rule before the Eweka 1 dynasty. Oliha and his search team arrived in Ile Ife eventually and request Ekaladerhan return to Benin. Elder Oliha promised him of his safety if he chose to return to Benin. Ekaladerhan who was very old now refused this request but instead offered his son to take his place. By refusing to honour the elders request and invitation, it makes one to ponder and give many interpretations. Some postulations by astute historians are that it could be because of old age and may not be wise moving to Benin. Another reason could be because he has become accustomed to the life and culture of his new environment and chose to remain there. It could also be that he did not want to renege on his promise never to step on Benin soil again. However, He released his son, Oranmiyan to follow Oliha to Benin after Oliha had reassured him of Oranmiyan’s protection. But Oranmiyan did not stay long in Benin as he left unceremoniously for obvious reasons. The embarrassment and strong opposition from Ogiamien and stalwarts he couldn’t bear. Secondly he experienced cultural shock as the culture and tradition of where he was coming form (Ile Ife) was in conflict with that of the Binis. At Ego, on his return to Ife Oranmiyan got Erhinmwinde pregnant and she gave birth to Eweka. Ife sources are founded on a mythology of how Oduduwa descended by the use of a chain from the sky and, dispatched his seven sons to found the various Yoruba kingdoms including that of Benin but they are not able to prove whether they are talking about Orunmila or Oduduwa (Ekaladerhan). It was on the basis of this that Oliha went in search of Oduduwa. It is on record that the Benin Kingdom did not originate from Oranmiyan.
“Ile-ibinu, the land of anger,” Oranmiyan was never taken to Benin to effect a change in existing traditions as he never had such powers. Oranmiyan who later became Eweka 1 became a product of Benin socio-cultural environment as he could speak the bini dialect since he didn’t grow up in Yoruba land. EWOREKA chosen by his father in place of Owo mi ka which later changed to Eweka is in connection with his choice of Oba. Yoruba Influence in Benin Kingdom is limited to the worship of Sango, Sonpona, Orunmila, Ogun and ogboni society which is very active in Benin. The binis believe in the worship of deities and ancestral gods.
The Kingship stool in Benin kingdom was in succession as the first or only son of the immediate Oba ascends the throne but in Ile –Ife it was on a rotational basis from one family to another. The Benin people believed if ascension to the throne in Ile Ife was on rotational basis among its ruling lineages; then the system was not ripe enough unlike what obtains in Benin Kingdom, The Netherlands, Spain, Britain and other parts where the son automatically becomes the king. There are seven people involved in the process of choosing a new Oba and the heir apparent is usually one of these seven. A chief called the Ezomo is third in hierarchy to the stool and Iyase doubles as the general officer in charge of the Benin armed forces. The process of choosing a new king has its checks and balances that is the reason for the seven kingmakers. The people of Africa have lived together peacefully in communities and empires for centuries before the arrival of the whites. They had gods they worship, homogeneous culture and tradition, local languages and dialects and traded among themselves. The town of Benin was one of the very first places the white people landed in 1478. The whites were business men from Portugal. According to Ukuakpolokpolo Erediauwa the Oba of Benin in his book: ‘I remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant’, wrote in chapter 36, at page 205: “…Before the advent of Oranmiyan, the ‘kings’ that ruled the people who became known as Edo or Benin were called ‘Ogiso’ derived from the description Ogie n’ oriso (meaning king in heaven). This is to confirm that the old Benin Empire had long flourished ever before the recall of Ekaladerhan. The people of Ile-Ife in this 21st century celebrate a festival that reminds them of the initial settlers in the town who for fear of Oduduwa as head of the community had to flee Ife with their village head as well. Oduduwa originally from Benin had earlier released his son to Benin people to be their Oba. Several years after, in 1897 to be precise; the British soldiers destroyed the Benin kingdom, conquered it and sent the Oba of Benin to the city of Calabar on exile after he was dethroned. While in Calabar Oba Ovonramwen began a new life; picked a wife of the Efik tribe who later had children for him. The Oba later died in Calabar in 1914, even as the Benin kingdom was yet to be taken back by the Benin people from the British. The kingdom went in search of the children he left behind who were now comfortable with the efik culture and tradition. The scenario above gives credence to the argument between the Benin people and Ife on the origin of the Benin people and if it was correct to say the Obong of Calabar had requested that a prince be sent to Calabar from Benin to rule over them. It will help 21st historians to have a broader perspective on the origin of the Benin kingdom and avoid sentiments and biases.
The great Benin empire also known as Igodomigodo was called Edo and later Benin with influence reaching as far as Benin republic, Lagos down to the Land of Igbos. Another name for the Oba is Omo and also Ukuakpolokpolo Omo n’ Ogie, which means the anointed, processed and purified. There were other lesser Obas who were addressed as Ogie. Due to Administrative reasons the traditional rulers were addressed as Obas by the whites. This happened after the amalgamation and when provinces were created. In this 2018, Benin is the capital of Edo state in south-south geo-political zone of Nigeria with ancient events on display at the Oba’s ugie festival which is celebrated every year.
Battle for the soul of Lagos
The history of Lagos and the Benin Kingdom are inter-related. “Its names reflect its past; to the Yoruba it is Eko, deriving probably from the farm (oko) of the earliest settlers, though alternatively – or additionally – it may be the Benin word (eko) for a war-camp. We say ‘Eko’ is a Benin word that means ‘camp’. After describing the activities of the armies of Benin under Oba Orhogbua, culminating in his arrival at what is now Lagos, Smith added that : “Sometime later the Oba appointed a ruler for Lagos to represent the interest of Benin and to forward tribute there. The man chosen is named in both Lagos and Benin tradition as Ashipa”
“Smith says that by Lagos account this Ashipa was an Isheri Chief, while the Benin account says Ashipa was a grandson of the Oba of Benin. We shall come to this later. Smith was however; satisfied that Benin had established its ascendancy in Lagos and had founded a dynasty there at some period before 1700. The dynasty’s dependence Benin, Smith found, was emphasized by the appointment of another Chief, the Eletu Qdibo, who alone had the right to crown the Oba and who in early times probably maintained close connection with Benin (Eletu Odibo is a corruption of the Edo equivaient Olotu Odibo).
“G.T Stride and C.Ifeka in their books titled ‘People and Empires of West Africa’ have this to say on the same subject: “Oba Orhogbua was clearly a strong warrior for he enforced tribute payments from all parts of the empire and in the mid-1550s conquered all the coastal lands up to Lagos where he left a permanent garrison. Tradition in Lagos says that their first Oba, the Eleko of Eko, was a son of Oba Orhogbua of Benin” It will be seen, therefore, that even if we were to disregard traditional history , there are enough material from modern historians to confirm the fact that what is now Lagos was founded by an Oba of Benin who also gave it its first ruler. But we really cannot disregard traditional history. In Benin tradition, and we believe the same of Yoruba and other ethnic groups in this country, one way to establish that an event in traditional history did occur is by the type of anecdote or adage that evolves from that event. Thus, for instance, we the Edo people say that “Orhogbua gb’Oiague, ona y’ukpe abekpen z’umwen rie Edo”, meaning that Oba Orhogbua defeated Olague and used sword to bring his salt to Benin. This is in allusion to the exploits of Oba Orhogbua while in his camp (eko) from where he over-ran the place known as Mahin with its ruler whom the Benin people nicknamed Olague. There Orhogbua discovered the common rock salt and brought it to Benin who thereby tasted it for the first time.
Now the name “Ashipa” has featured quite prominently (and rightly too) in the history of Lagos. After the Oba Orhogbua returned to Benin from his ‘eko’, he appointed a commander or an administrator, who was called ‘Aisikpa’ to look after the skeleton troop left in the camp (eko) until he returned again from Benin. He could no longer return having seen the situation at home. The name ‘Aisikpa’ was specially chosen for the administrator to commemorate the Oba’s many years sojourn at Eko and it is simply a contraction of a Benin phrase, “Aisikpa-hienvborre” which means “people do not desert their home-land.” This is how Aisikpa, who in the Yoruba now call Ashipa, came into Lagos (Eko) history. ‘Eko’ is still there as the traditional Benin name for Lagos; Ashipa has been retained as a senior traditional chieftaincy title while his descendants now retain the modern name of ‘Oba of Lagos’
An Account by Oba Rilwan Akiolu on the Status of Lagos (Daily Post, May 3, 2017)
The Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, claimed that Lagos State is not part of Yoruba land. The monarch traced the historical background of the state and why it should not be regarded as part of Yoruba land. The Oba of Lagos claimed that his late paternal grandmother who was a descendant of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi told him that Lagos is not part of Yoruba land. According to the Oba of Lagos, “Modern day Lagos was founded by Prince Ado, the son of the Oba of Benin, Prince Ado was the first Oba of Lagos, the son of the Bini King, Prince Ado, named the town Eko until the Portuguese explorer Ruy de Segueira changed the Maritime town to Lagos, which at that time from 1942 was Portuguese expedition center down the African Coast. “It was a major centre of the slave trade until 1851. Lagos was annexed by Britain via the Lagos treaty of cession in 1861, ending the consular period and starting the British Colonial Period. The remainder of modern day Nigeria was seized in 1886 when the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria was established in 1914, Lagos was declared its capital due to the struggle of the Bini King.
The Lagos Monarch continued by saying that “Lagos experienced growth prior to the British Colonial rule and even more rapid growth during the Colonial rule throughout the 1960s, 70s, continued through the 80s and 90s till date. He reiterated thanks to the Awori’s, Bini’s, Yoruba’s, migrants across the nation and world at large, as no particular group of people can take the glory alone. “Lagos is made up of Lagoons and creeks”. The Lagos lagoon, Lagos Harbour, five cowne creeks, Ebute-Metta creeks, Porto-Novo creeks, new canal, Badagry creeks, Kuramo waters and Light house creeks. “The Awori’s and Bini’s are known to be the first settlers of the Eko land. The Awori’s are speakers of a distinct dialect close to that of the Yoruba language with a rich Bini mixture. Traditionally, Awori’s were found in Ile-Ife, they were known to be the Bini’s who followed their self-exiled Prince, the first son of the Ogiso (now called Oba) of Benin Kingdom, whose step-mother was after his head. “The exiled Benin Prince Izoduwa known to the Yorubas as Ooduwa (Oduduwa) was made ruler of the Ife people due to his powers and followers from the Great Benin-Kingdom. “Izoduwa (Ooduwa) was made the first King of Ile-Ife in 1230 AD. His followers from his father’s Kingdom in Benin are the today’s Awori people who settled in Eko now called Lagos. “In the 1300, the King of Benin-Empire heard from one of his traders who was a settler in Eko on how the Bini’s were treated by the Awori’s who lived in their area. Upon hearing this, the King of Benin commanded the assembling of a war expedition, led by his son, Prince Ado, which headed the settlement of the Awori’s and demanded explanation. “On arriving Eko, Prince Ado and his Army were more than received. The Aworis asked the Bini Prince to stay and become their leader. Ado agreed on the condition that they surrender their sovereignty to the Oba of Benin, to which the people agreed. Hearing this, the King of Benin gave his permission for Prince Ado and the expedition to remain in Eko. “The Oba of Benin sent some of his chiefs including the Eletu, Odibo, Obanikoro and others to assist his son, Oba Ado in the running of Eko.”From the crowing of Prince Ado as the first Oba of Lagos (then called Eko), Lagos served as a major center for slave trade from which the Aworis, the Oba of Benin and his son the Oba of Lagos and all the children/descendants who took over as his successors for over four centuries supported the trade. “The Oba of Benin was the head of the Benin Empire which are the present day Western, Southern and Eastern modern day Nigeria. The King never obliged anyone to speak the Bini language as he believed everyone was entitled to their own choice of language. “The name Eko was given to it by the first king of Lagos, Oba Ado the young and vibrant Prince from Benin. Eko was the land now known as Lagos Island, where the king palace was built. “The palace is called Idugaran meaning “palace built on pepper farm” Oba Ado and the warriors from Benin together with the early Bini’s settlers in Eko and the Awori people settled in the southern part of Eko called “Isale Eko”. “Isale literally means bottom “. This must have been used to indicate downtown (as in down town Lagos). “Until the coming in of the Benin’s 1300AD , Lagos geographical boundary was Lagos mainland, Lagos Island, the seat of the Oba of Lagos then consisted of a pepper farm and fishing post. No one was living there. “About 1450 AD some Yorubas who hailed from Isheri in Ogun-state and Ekiti were allowed by the King to settle in Eko during a war, they came in a very large numbers thereby surpassing the numbers of the Awori’s and Bini’s. (Hence Yorubas claim to own Eko due to their numbers). “Oba Ado fell in love with a beautiful woman whose father was Awori and married a daughter to one of the chief; they had two sons and also a daughter Erelu Kuti, who begot Ologun Kutere who later became King.”
Military operations relied on a well-trained disciplined force and at the head of the host stood the Oba of Benin. The monarch of the realm served as supreme military commander. Beneath him were subordinate generalissimos, the Ezomo, the Iyase, and others who supervised a Metropolitan Regiment based in the capital, and a Royal Regiment made up of hand-picked warriors that also served as bodyguards. Benin’s Queen Mother also retained her own regiment. The Metropolitan and Royal regiments were relatively stable semi-permanent or permanent formations. The Village Regiments provided the bulk of the fighting force and were mobilized as needed, sending contingents of warriors upon the command of the king and his generals. Formations were broken down into sub-units under designated commanders. Before sophisticated ammunitions were introduced in the 15th century, local weapons like bow, spear, swords were used during war. The Benin King as supreme head of the kingdom and commander of the forces can command as many men for war in a single day and he could also source for men from neighboring cities and towns due to his influence and control over these towns. The Oba was so powerful and influential that he had no equal. Before setting out for war, the strategy and tactics to be deployed are well laid out and understood by the forces, the Oba and his sub commanders. The Benin forces were very good on water so executing war strategies was not a problem as they had domination in this area.
5. British Invasion of the Kingdom
By the 18th century the Benin Kingdom started to experience a fall. The business of textiles, palm oil and other goods were doing very well. The Oba placed a ban on certain products for export from the Kingdom except for palm oil. Around 1553, Benin kingdom and Britain established a trade relationship that made British traders who had visited Benin went back home with good stories about the kingdom to their people. But after a while, the Oba was not comfortable with the British, he stopped communicating with them till troops from Britain destroyed Benin City as retaliatory to the Oba’s decision. Many reasons have been given to the fall of the Kingdom including civil unrest, conflicts, throne disputes and the issue of slave trade. The rise of the Oyo Empire also had significant effect on the gradual fall of the kingdom. Due to this, regions and cities under the kingdom became independent. At the beginning of the 19th century, Benin still remained the seat of the Oba with tribes like the Ishan, Afenmai, Binis as his subjects. The Kingdom also had some level of authority and rule over Lagos, Urhobo, Ekiti, Ibo and Itsekiri. Despite all these, the Benin Kingdom remained intact. The Oba throne of the Benin Kingdom was still powerful and the Oba was able to coordinate affairs of the kingdom with help from his chiefs and council title-holders for consultations and urgent matters of the state. The palace chiefs, town chiefs and Usama were important title holders and relevant to the day to day decision making of the kingdom. It is the same for the Iyashere who is also the Prime Minister; the Ebohon (minister of external affairs) and Ologbosere, the commander in chief of the kingdom’s army. The way the Alaafin had tremendous power and authority over the Oyomesis, same can be said of the Oba of Benin with his subjects and traditional chiefs. It is believed that the Oba is divine and possesses some supernatural powers. His sound knowledge on state affairs, succession disputes, economic issues, using the Iwobo palace society was great. The Oba had the power to fire a title holder and create a new one or move a chief from one place to another. The reason for these actions was to create balance especially among competing groups and individuals thereby not concentrating too much power in one person or group. The kingdom was still able to survive long after its final fall as a result of the administrative strategy of the Oba.
In the 19th century, Benin Kingdom influence and jurisdiction was basically limited to Benin City, Afenmai and Ishan, two of these were provincial states. They all had an Enogie as governor who also had a representative among the title holders. But the same problem of wars, civil unrest, and succession issues still persisted. In 1804 Obanosa after the civil unrest,became an Oba after the death of his father. In 1816 there was serious contention to the throne after he died by his two sons which led to another war. But one of the sons Osemwede finally became king till 1848. He was against the yorubas who were made to pay tribute to him. As a result he became very popular and tried to re-establish the Benin Empire. His efforts were frustrated as a result of the civil war due to succession of Oba Adolo in the year 1848. This allowed Ibadan to extend its reign of authority to Ilesha and Ekiti. But Oba Adolo was able to secure back these lost territories and ruled for a long time before he died in 1888. He was succeeded by Oba Ovoramwen who unfortunately was the last Oba of an Independent state of Benin. His ascension to the throne was in 1888 when the English people tried to capture some territories in Benin and Biafra. Britain went on to declare a protectorate over Rivers because of Oil, while Lagos was declared a colony in 1861. To further push the British agenda, in 1892 Oba Ovonramen received a guest in the person of Mr. Galway who was vice-consul for the Benin River district. He convinced the Oba to put pen to paper and sign a treaty that will place Benin Kingdom under the British and also gave his word on putting an end to slave trade and human sacrifice. Oba Ovonramen was not comfortable with request of Galway and not so sure what befalls chief Nana’s Itsekiri’s people he stopped relating with European traders in 1895. There were pressures on the Oba to rescind his decision when the Acting Consul-General Philips visited him in Benin. By 1897, Phillips was in Benin again with 8 people and an escort of 200. This was at a period of the Ague Festival which made it forbidden for the Oba to see a foreigner but Phillips still went ahead to pay the Oba a visit after several warnings. Unfortunately they were ambushed and accosted along the way, Phillip with five of his team and some escorts died in the ambush. This resulted in the destruction of the kingdom and many of Benin Kingdom’s artifacts and other ornaments were looted by the British. The Oba surrendered to the British after 6 months; in September 1897 he was tried, convicted and deported to Calabar. He died in Calabar in 1914. This marked the end of an independent great kingdom. But the Oba dynasty is still in place in Benin today and it is a strong institution.
Towards the middle of the 19th century Britain wanted a trade relationship with Benin Kingdom, they were so interested in the kingdom’s cash crops. In 1862, attempts were made severally by Richard Francis Burton to tie this trade relationship. The British tried to establish a treaty with Benin kingdom in the years 1884-1886. This treaty was started by Hewitt Blair and Annesley, unfortunately, it never succeeded. There was stiff opposition by the kingdom in becoming a protectorate of the British but the British were adamant. The British were able to access Benin Kingdom after it was destroyed, had a military presence and merged regions to create the southern protectorate of Nigeria. By the year 1914, Benin kingdom was restored by the British but held on to political power and authority. Shortly after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Benin City was made the capital of the Mid-Western Region of Nigeria after the 1963 split. In 1976 the region was renamed Bendel state, by 1991 when more states were created in Nigeria; Benin City was made the capital of Edo state when the old Bendel state was divided into two states of Edo and Delta.
The 1892 Galway Treaty
The treaty as alleged to be signed by the Oba puts Benin Kingdom under the rule of the British, eliminate slave trade and put a stop to human sacrifice. Despite the stories later told by Galway, there is today still some controversy on a number of points most of all as to whether the Oba actually agreed to the terms of the treaty as Galway claimed. At the time of his visit to Benin, the Oba could not welcome Galway or any other foreigners due to the observance of the traditional Igue festival which prohibited the presence of any non-native persons during the sacred season. Also, even though Galway claimed the King (Oba) and his chiefs were willing to sign the treaty, it was common knowledge that Oba Ovonramwen did not sign one-sided treaties. and finally that “It is agreed that full jurisdiction, civil and criminal over British subjects and their property in the territory of Benin is reserved to her Britannic Majesty, to be exercised by such consular or other officers as Her Majesty shall appoint for the purpose. The same benefits apply to her Majesty in Benin Kingdom and foreign subjects who enjoy British protection. And those addressed as ‘British subjects’ throughout the Treaty” (Article 3).
6. Culture and Tradition of the Binis
There are tourist attractions in Benin City that visitors and foreigners can always visit each time they are in the city. Some of the places tourists can visit are the Palace of the Oba of Benin, Museum; watch some of the traditional festivals, the Benin Moats (measuring about 20 to 40 Ft.), King’s Square and local markets. There is an important festival during the Christmas and New Year called the Igue festival. During the Igue festival, it is an opportunity for the Oba to pronounce blessings on the land and his people. Benin people are good at sculpture work, arts and craft and it is reputed to be one of the ancient monarchies on earth.
Some artifacts from Benin Kingdom were taken by the British from the City when it was captures and destroyed by the British. Most of these artifacts have been sold by the British to recover cost during Benin Kingdom invasion. The Benin Kingdom as well as the Nigerian government has made several attempts at recovering these artifacts and using diplomacy to appeal to the British on the need and importance of the artifacts to be returned to Benin kingdom.
Traditional Marriage Rites According to Benin Native Law and Custom
In Benin culture and tradition, marriage rites are held in very high esteem, in fact almost religiously. According to Benin culture, the family forms the bedrock of any community and hence the norms and values imbibed at the family level go a long way in the achievement of success or failure of the entire community. Marriage is seen as the starting point for the formation of this all important bedrock. Marriage ceremony according to Benin native law and custom is a very interesting and fun filled event that also showcases the rich custom and tradition of the Benin people. In ancient times, the process of marriage can actually begin right from the point of birth of a female child through the process of betrothal; that is when a female child is born, an interested family betroths her on behalf of their male child by symbolically dropping a log of wood in their compound. On acceptance of the proposal, she will be catered for by the family, until she is ripe for marriage. In modern times, this type of betrothals rarely or never even happen as most people would rather pick their husbands or wives by themselves instead of depending on their parents to do it for them. What obtains now is that a young man sees a girl he likes, approaches her and if she accepts his marriage proposal, then she fixes a date for him to come and meet her parents to seek their consent and start the next stage of the marital rites. The first time the man visits the girl’s family a date is proposed for the proper marriage after he must have fulfilled all traditional rites. The moment this is concluded and agreed upon, the host entertains their visitors. The sitting arrangement is usually both families facing each other. There is usually someone to speak for each family after kola nuts have been broken. The spokesperson for the man’s family rises and declares their intention and reasons they are visiting. He makes a proposal on behalf of the man and family that they seek the hand of their daughter in marriage. He will then go ahead to present a gift, kola nuts and drinks to the bride’s family. The father or head of the bride’s family afterwards will ask their daughter if she knows the man and the family asking for her hand in marriage. She will be inform of the purpose of their visit and proposal, if she accepts their proposal, meaning if she says yes, the gifts and items brought by the groom’s family will be accepted. If it is in the contrary, that is a No, the gifts and items are rejected and the ceremony comes to an end. But often times the response is usually a yes. A list of items to be brought by the groom’s family for the traditional marriage is presented and everyone present is served food and drinks.
The purpose of the introduction is for both families to meet and also for them to investigate if they are related by blood as it is seen as taboo for two people related by blood to marry. They both also go in-depth to find out if there are any known bad traits in the family. In ancient times, before the prevalence of western education and religion, both families usually conducted a check in their family shrine to know if there are any ancestral curses or diseases running in either family. If such curses are found, they either stop the marriage plans or appease the gods to break the curse.
If all checks show that there are no issues, then they can proceed with the marriage plans. The bride’s family will carry out consultations and send a list of the requirements for her dowry, as well as a suitable date for the traditional marriage rites proper to take place. This date is normally seen as the “big day”.
In the traditional marriage rites according to Benin native law and custom, the dowry normally includes salt, sugar, honey, palm oil, palm wine, yams and the sum of twelve pounds and ten shillings (as at the time these requirements were documented by the Benin traditional council, this amount equated to ?25 and is still paid till date). The quantity of the other items required is regulated by the individual families. Some might ask for large quantities while others might ask for little.
Source – Mandybride
The List and Requirements:
(1.) The Holy Bible
(2.) An Umbrella
(3.) A box filled wrappers
(4.) NI, 500 for the dowry
(5.) N5, 000 for the bride’s mother
(6.) N9, 000 for the bride’s lineage, N3, 000 for the bride’s father
(7.) N6, 000 for the women in bride’s lineage
(8.) 28 tubers of yam (7X4)
(9.) 14 tubers of yam for elders in the bride’s lineage
(10.) 6 Cartons of beer for the men, could be less sometimes.
(11.) 3 Crates of malts for the women
(12.) 25 liters of palm oil
(13.) 1 jar of palm wine (get the real measurement locally)
(14.) 2 bottles of Schnapps
(15.) 1 Plate of Kola nut
(16.) 1 Carton of wine for sundry usage, usually in the possession of the groom.
Source- © 2014 – 2018 Constative.com
7. Benin-city in the 21st century
Edo state is in the south-south region of Nigeria. It shares a boundary with Kogi state to the north, Anambra state to the east, Delta to the south and Ondo state to the west. It has its capital as Benin City and it was created in 1991 from the northern part of old Bendel state. From 1999 when Nigeria returned to Democratic government till now 2018, Edo state has had four democratically elected state governors with the current Godwin Obaseki as governor. He was elected under the platform of All Progressive Congress (APC) which is also the party at the centre in Abuja. In 1963 the people of the state had through a referendum voted to be separated from the Western region which led to the creation of mid-western region of Nigeria in 1967. Benin City is owned by the Binis. History has it that the kingdom has inhabitants as far back as the 11th century. At the beginning of the 15th century, people from Europe discovered the beauty of the Benin Kingdom especially the king’s corner. Due to the invasion by the British in 1897 that destroyed the kingdom, many of the artifacts were destroyed, burnt and stolen. In 1963 when Benin became a part of the Mid-western state, massive construction and development work began to rebuild the city. The government in power invested so much in education, roads and urban transport. This developmental projects across the region increased trade and there was population exodus in the city.
Industrial Arts: The economic situation had serious effect on the sales of locally made crafts. But the market for these items got a boost from tourist and the rich people. An association of crafts men has been in existence since the time of the Ogisos. The craft men use the platform of the association to push their items into the market as well as find new market and buyers for their crafts. The association is made up of members such as leather workers, blacksmith, weavers, carpenters, brass casters, carvers. They were based in Benin city and also did some work for the Oba of Benin.
Trade: Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of long-distance trade from at least the twelfth century, but the best documentation commences with the arrival of the Portuguese in the second half of the fifteenth century and spans from that time until the present.
The people of Edo are primarily farmers and agriculture is one of the mainstays of the economy of the state. Some of the major subsistence crops are yam, cassava, oil palm, maize, rice while cash crops are rubber, timber and palm oil and kernels. It is also endowed with mineral resources like limestone and lignite. There are several industries producing pharmaceuticals, rubber, beer, sawn wood, plywood and furniture. The state is blessed with a good network of urban roads, an airport to facilitate movement of goods and persons. It has a federal University (founded 1970), state university (founded 1981) at Ekpoma, Rubber research institute and oil palm research.
Aerial view of Benin City (Source –en.wikipedia.org)
Brief History of Benin Kingdom,
African History, Culture, Spirituality- Health
The Igue Festival
The Oba of Benin
BENIN KINGDOM: How a new Oba will emerge
The Origin of Benin and its Early Rulers
The Oba of Benin Kingdom: A history of the monarchy.
Royal Palace of Oba of Benin – Wikipedia
Why Lagos does not belong to Yorubas – Oba Akiolu