In the last four parts, I have been able to demonstrate why and how we must study history. By way of summary, history must be taught across schools so that the new generation is well guided and prevented from committing the mistakes of the past.
While in primary school, I was taught the history of great historical figures such as Vasco da Gama, Mungo Park, Clapperton, Lander Brothers, Booker T. Washington, Prince Henry the Navigator, George Washington Carver, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Mary Slessor, Lady Nightingale, the Slave Trade and the Abolitionists, etc. I had earlier, in part 2 of this historical series, named specific teachers that taught me history in primary school, between 1964 and 1969. They fired the embers of my knowledge of the indispensability of history in human affairs.
However, some other historical personalities and historical facts that I have already dealt with, or yet to treat, were taught me in secondary school, not primary school. In this category are Kingdom of Benin, Oyo Empire, Mansa Musa, Songhai Empire, Haile Sellasie, Kanem Borno Empire, the Asantes, Fantes, etc. I have decided to write exclusively on the Benin Kingdom today because of the obvious printer’s Devil that reared its head, by saying the Oba of Benin only “leads religious ceremonies, but he no longer rules his people.” This is profanity and taboo of the highest order. The Oba of Benin rules his people. The Oba of Benin reigns over his people. This reign and rule of course include religious ceremonies, cultural matters, customs, traditions, and current development.
I have, therefore, to set historical records straight, decided to devote more time to this unique Benin Kingdom. Very proudly also, I am the ENOBAKHARE OF BENIN KINGDOM and I sit comfortably in the pantheon of the highest league of High Chiefs of Benin Kingdom, in the Oba’s palace, called EGHAVBONORE. Our leader is Chief Sam Igbe, the Iyase (traditional Prime Minister) of Benin Kingdom.
In this prestigious group, you find the Eson of Benin Kingdom, Chief Amos Osunbor, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, the Esama of Benin Kingdom, Chief (Dr.) Gabriel Igbinedion, etc.
Origin of the kingdom
The kingdom of Benin, or Benin Kingdom, or Benin Empire, or Edo Empire, are one and the same reference to a large pre-colonial African state of modern Nigeria. The Benin Kingdom, which began in the 900s when the Edo people settled in the rain forests of West Africa, was one of the oldest and most developed empires in the coastal part of West Africa, until its annexation by the British Empire in 1897. By the 1400s, the people of Benin Kingdom had created a very wealthy kingdom with a pre-eminently powerful ruler known as the OBA. This Oba lived in beautiful palaces decorated with shining brass.
These people, who lived in small family groups, and who began to cut down trees and make clearings in the forests, gradually developed into a great kingdom. The kingdom was called “Igodomigodo” and was ruled by a series of kings called the “Ogisos” (Kings of the Sky). The first Ogiso was called Ogiso Igodo. He wielded much influence and gained popularity as a good ruler. Upon his death after a long reign, Ere, his eldest son, succeeded him. About the 12th Century, a great battle for power erupted between the warrior crown prince, Ekaladerhan (the only son of the last Ogiso), and his young paternal uncle. Ekaladerhan was sentenced to death as a result of the act of the first Queen (who was barren) deliberately changing an oracle’s message to the Ogiso. The palace messengers, who were directed to carry out the royal instruction to execute Ekaladerhan, had mercy on him and set him free at Ughoton, near Benin. The death of Ekaladerhan’s father ended the Ogiso dynasty. The people and royal kingmakers preferred their late king’s son, Ekaladerhan, as their king.
The exiled prince, who had by this time changed his name from Ekaladerham to Izoduwa (“I have chosen the path of prosperity”), sojourned across forests and found his way to Ile-Ife in Yorubaland. Ekaladerhan arrived Ile-Ife at a time when the Yoruba oracle had pronounced that their king would come out of the forest. Thus, when Ekaladerhan arrived Ile-Ife, he was promptly and warmly received by the native people and given the title of Oni Ile-Ife Imadoduwa (now known as Ooni of Ile-Ife Oduduwa). The elders of Benin, led by Chief Oliha, mounted a search for the banished Prince Ekaladerhan to return home and ascend the vacant throne. But, he could not return to Benin due to his advanced age, and the fact that, as he argued, a king cannot leave his kingdom. He told the messengers that, since he had seven sons, he would direct one of them, Oranmiyan, to go with them and become their king.
Oranimiyan was fiercely resisted by Ogiamien Irebor, one of the palace chiefs. He, therefore, took up his abode in the palace built for him by the elders at Usama (now a coronation shrine till date).
Soon after his arrival, he married a beautiful lady, Erinmwinde, daughter of Ogie-Egor, the ninth Enogie of Egor, by whom he had a son. After residing there for some years he called a meeting of the people and renounced his office, remarking in vexation, Ile-Ibinu (“ile” means land, “binu” means anger; and thus the kingdom was called Ibinu, which was mispronounced “Bini” in the 15th and 16th centuries by the Portuguese). This was out of frustration as he often expressed that “only a child born, trained and educated in the arts and mysteries of the land could properly reign over the people.” He arranged for his son born to him by Erinmwinde, Eweka, to be made king in his place, and he returned to Yorubaland thereafter. His son, the new king, was soon found to be deaf and dumb, and so the elders appealed to Oranmiyan. He gave them charmed seeds known as “omo ayo” to play with, saying that to do so would make him talk. The little Eweka played with the seeds with his peers at Egor, his mother’s hometown. While playing with the seeds, he announced “Owomika” (meaning “I captured it”), when he struck the only remaining he took this as his royal name. Thus, he gave rise to the tradition of the subsequent Obas of Benin spending seven days and nights at Usama before proceeding to announce their royal names at Egor. Eweka, taken from “Owomika” thus started a dynasty that now bears his name. Oranmiyan went on to serve as the founder of the Oyo Empire, where he ruled as the first Alaafin of Oyo. His descendants now rule in Ile-Ife, Oyo and Benin.
Expansion of Benin Kingdom
By the 15th Century, Benin had expanded into a thriving city-state. The 12th Oba in the line, Oba Ewuare the Great (1440–1473) would expand the city-state’s territories to surrounding regions.
It was not until the 15th Century, during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great, that the kingdom’s administrative centre, the city of Ubinu (or Ibinu), began to be known as Benin City, by the Portuguese, a pronunciation later adopted by the locals as well. The Portuguese would write this down as Benin City. Benin’s neighbours, such as the Afenmais, Esans, Ika, Ijaw, Itsekiris and the Urhobos, continued to refer to the city as Ubini up until the late 19th Century.
Aside from Benin City, the system of rule of the Oba in the empire, even through the golden age of the kingdom, was still loosely based upon the Ogiso dynasty’s tradition, which was military protection in exchange for pledged allegiance and taxes paid to the royal administrative centre. The language and culture was not enforced, as the empire remained heterogeneous and localised according to each group within the kingdom, though a local Enogie (or Duke) was often appointed by the Oba for specific ethnic areas.
In 1440, Oba Ewuare, also known as Ewuare the Great, came to power and expanded the borders of the former city-state. It was only at this time that the administrative centre of the kingdom began to be referred to as Ubinu after the Yoruba word and corrupted to Bini by the Itsekhiris, Urhobos and Edo people who all lived together in the royal administrative centre of the kingdom. The Portuguese who arrived in an expedition led by Joao Afonso de Aveiro in 1485 would refer to it as Benin and the centre would become known as Benin City.
The Kingdom of Benin eventually gained political strength and ascendancy over much of what later became Mid-western Nigeria, then Bendel State, and now Edo State.
The Oba had become the mount of power within the region. Oba Ewuare, the first Golden Age Oba, is credited with turning Benin City into a city-state, from a military fortress built by the Ogisos, protected by 50-foot-deep moats and walls. It was from this bastion that he launched his military campaigns, furthered his conquests and began the expansion of the kingdom from the Edo-speaking heartlands.
A series of walls marked the incremental growth of the sacred city from 850 AD until its decline in the 16th Century. To enclose his palace, Oba Ewuare commanded the building of Benin’s inner walls, an 11-kilometre-long (7 miles) earthen rampart girded by a moat six metres (20 ft) deep; great thoroughfares and nine fortified gateways. This was excavated in the early 1960s by Graham Connah. Connah estimated that its construction, if spread out over five dry seasons, would have required a workforce of 1,000 labourers working ten hours a day seven days a week.
More excavations later uncovered a rural network of earthen walls 6,000 to 13,000km (4,000 to 8,000mi) long, all of which would have taken an estimated 150 million man-hours to build and must have taken hundreds of years to build. These were apparently raised to mark out territories for towns and cities. Thirteen years after Ewuare’s death, tales of Benin’s splendor lured more Portuguese traders to the city gates.
(To be continued)
Thought for the week
“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once, but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” (Michelle Obama)