Sunday, 3 November 2019

Benin Kingdom long before Europe underdeveloped Africa

The modern Benin is a product of the old Benin Empire. Its inhabitant is known as the Edos or the “Binis” whose origin is closely related to the Yoruba of Yoruba land. They are found between the River Niger and the Bight of Benin and the land to the south east of the Yoruba kingdom. They speak Edo, which belongs to the Kwa language. They settled at the interior for many centuries; and oral tradition cannot give the accurate date when they arrived. Recorded history has it that the Binis as late as the fourteenth century were established community with their own king. There is no agreement on their origin as some writers argue that Edo people have always been where they are today from the time of creation. They had a scattered village settlement which was autonomous in political, economic and cultural sphere. And the fundamental authority was based on the Age Grade structure of the male population. The commencement of the first Benin Empire could be traced to the Ninth century and to AD 1200. The Empire was best controlled by the “Ogisos” or the “Ogiesos”. The years between 1250-1897 were era of the second Empire which came to an end in 1897 as a result of the famous Benin massacre. The Yorubas and the people of Benin have a lot in common. In the field of art, commence and politics they influenced one as another. For example the Ife Bronze kept at the Ife Museum and those of Benin, some of which are at present at Benin Museum are hardly different. Although the sovereignty of Benin Empire ended in 1897; its dynasty of Obas continued even to the present day. There is historical evidence in support of the claim that the son of Oni of Ife founded the present day Benin ruling family; as the son of Oba Orhogbka of Benin founded the present Lagos ruling family in the middle of the sixteenth century.            

standing at the entrance of the Victor Uwaifo museum 

The bronze ornaments and plaques were looted by the British invaders who captured and burnt the old Empires and deported the Oba to Calabar where he died in 1914. In the 17th century, which marked the Zenith and peak of the Benin Empire, it extended from Idah in the north down to the coast and from Lagos to the Niger. The Oba kingship was sacred and the focal point of Bini tradition was generally religious. His throne evokes mystery and his aura was magically powerful beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. He performed the annual rituals and sacrifices as demanded by tradition for the good of the kingdom and for the peoples’ welfare. Between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries when the Italian, the French and the Portuguese arrived to introduce Christianity to the people; they embraced failure because the religious culture was at an advanced stage of development in Benin at the time. Benin was the “Mecca” where sacred religious activities and rituals found fulfilment by the people of the kingdom both far and near. They belief in a higher god, with lesser god and the ancestral ones. It is difficult to pin-point the exact date or period the kings of the Ogiso dynasty ruled. But it’s on record that they ruled before the fourteenth century. Legend and Folklore rendered in the past suggested that they reigned when the world was first created, when Jeromi was alive, when animals spoke and acted like humans and when the ancestors of Edo created the first king. The Oba’s position is spiritually symbolic, semi-divine and as a representative of the gods and the ancestors, he manipulates the palace system at will and he is in charge of the economic resources of the Empire.

The spirits of old Benin Kingdom

The word Ogisa or Ogieso is Edo word which means - the ruler of the sky. Their kingly position was semi-divine and above the ordinary. Oba Osogau was the last of the Ogisos to reign; he was the Oba on the throne when the first Empire came to an abrupt end. And Iguegha was approved and authorized by the then Ooni of Ife, was the one appointed who taught the Edos of Benin Empire metals and Brass casting. The art of Brass and metal casting flourished in Edo which in no time competitive with those of the Yoruba origin. To his honour and credit, a street was named after Iguegha is called Igueroyo in the modern city of Benin. The Ogiso of the first Empire ruled for about three centuries or more. It was during period of political instability and competition among the ruling class that an alien dynasty was introduced into the Benin political terrain in 1170 AD from Yoruba land before now; there was a break in the succession of kings, whereby Benin was made a republic. The need to have a ruler and the urge to avoid  choosing from the Ogiso dynasty necessitated the Oranmyan invitation which marked the beginning of Benin as a republic. Besides, the desire to restore political order and to do away with misgovernment and maladministration caused by the Ogiso Dynasty prompted the need to have Oranmiyan for a change. And to put things right, Oranmiyan invited on request came all the way from Ife, on the approval of the Ooni of Ife to the Benin Empire. The various factions could not co-operate to allow peace to reign and the realization that a non-Edo was powerless and cannot run the Empire successfully. He was disappointed by the peoples’ attitude and he called the Empire “Ile Ibinu” meaning the “land of Anger”. The name of the Empire was later formed from this expression. And Oranmiyan before his departure to Ife had an affair with a princess, which resulted in the birth of a baby boy, called “Eweka” meaning in Edo language “I have arrived”. It was this boy’s reign that ushered in the life and time of the second Benin an Empire, founded by Ife dynasty which still rules today and had produced a total of thirty five Obas. The people of the Benin Empire of the thirteenth century must have requested for the son of Ooni of Ife out of fear, because as at then Ife was at height of its power and if rulers were looking for additional conquest. The new dynasty of the second Benin Empire started with Eweka who brought about the emergence of Benin as an urbanized settlement in the Edo speaking area of Nigeria; and by virtue of military conquest they brought many old Benin kingdom under the control of Benin. The Benin kingdom besides being the largest town was upgraded to the splendor of a city. It growth in size was astronomical, bounded by powerful kingdom as Oyo, Nupe and the Atlantic Ocean respectively. The life span of the first Benin Empire was marked with the reign of Osogan whose rule ushered in period of general unrest which sub sequentially brought alone the entrance of Oranmiyan to the political centre of the Empire.

standing by a statue of Oba of Benin 

The second Benin Empire commenced with the reign of Eweka, the son of Oramiyan after his departure back to Ife. His administration was a success. His success placed the Empire on a very sound footing. After his reign came those of others including Ewuare, Esigie, Orhoghua, Ehenghnda, Ahuan and Overami. I AD 1440, Oba Ewuare came to the throne and was generally regarded as an Empire builder and one of the most popular Obas of his time. He as well travelled, for during his reign he was said to have visited Guinea and the Congo. He was a man of character, strength and courage. He made a conquest of 201 towns and villages, including Ekiti, Akure, Kukuruku, Eka and ibo countries. It was when he was on the throne that Benin became a city. He built good roads, streets and walls round the whole city. More importantly he was the first Oba to welcome the Europeans into the Benin. Eweka I, the son of Oranmiyan, started the second dynasty in Benin. He created the supreme council of state called the Uzama. Benin was the first African power in southern Nigeria to maintain regular diplomatic contact with European state. In practice, the Oba was not an absolute monarch. He operated within the framework of convention as sanction by tradition and sanctified by rituals.
The earliest Europeans on the West African coast benefited the Benin Empire;  when in 1486 an European, Portuguese d’Aveiro visited Benin Empire and agreed on a trade contract not only in slaves but on  products of mutual benefit. British troops by the last decade of the 19th century captured Benin. Benin collapse economically at a time most traders of African origin and the British invaders had the greatest urge to penetrate into the interior for commerce, the Oba of Benin blind folded held on to traditional options of economic isolation  whose monopolistic tendencies inflicted trade loses of revenue of the Itsekiri and the government of the day- the Niger coast protectorate. Oba’s closed door policy, which in turn increased the council’s determination to bring the town under their economic and political control. This situation precipitated the events which led to the capture of Benin by British forces in 1897. The British defeat of Benin undermined the long and age held traditional role of Benin as the core centre for security and peace for the inhabitants. The colonial troops for three days running razed the old Benin Empire by fire.

The king must walk naked 

Whatever made the old Benin Empire great: Its tradition, religion, conquest, commerce and art ceased to be and submitted to the dust and ashes of time; as its origin and essence was destroyed in 1897.
While on a visit to Benin recently I felt Benin history on a visit to Prof Victor Uwaifo "Revelation Palazzo Museum".  I saw the story of Oba Ehengbuda the Oba of Benin had handsome son who was beautiful almost with a feminine appearance. The people of Benin kingdom were worried that the Oba did not have a prince to succeed him when he joins his ancestors but the Oba assured them that he has a son and they felt that the Oba was not being truthful, they felt the child was a girl and not a boy.
So, the Oba gave order that his son, the prince must walk naked from Uselu to the palace so that his subjects will see his manhood and believe that he is a son and not girl. Oba Ehengbuda ascended his father´s throne in 1578 CE. While his father, Oba Orhogbua, might be considered a water warrior who made his greatest impact in the lagoon territories, Oba Ehengbuda campaigned mainly on land in the Yoruba areas
I was told about the spirits that made waves in Benin kingdom. The one on white is the EYO masquerade which comes out once a year in Lagos, there is also Joromi, there is a skeleton of a human being and the very tall giant red unidentifiable beast, known as Osogan which appeared in Benin Kingdom long time ago, when Benin kingdom was known as ‘Igodomigodo’ King Ogiso Owodo of Igodomigodo was on exile for the sin of ‘Kirikuva’ which is the execution of pregnant women. An administrator was appointed in the person of Evian who took over as the new king. King Ogiso Owodo’s sons were never happy and this was the period that Osogan the dreaded monster came to Benin Kingdom (Igodomigodo) and the monster was killing women and children. Ogiamein the youngest son of King Ogiso fought the monster and killed him with a red hot spear, the kingdom refused to crown him as the new king, claiming that the crown belongs to his eldest brother. So a fight broke up among the sons of king Ogiso, the winner was to become the new king. That was the battle of Okpagha. In the present day Benin that battle is held each time a new king (Oba) is to be crowned in remembrance of Prince Ogiamein. 

Art work of a boat taking Ọba Ovọnramwẹn in 1896 to exile in Calabar 

I also saw ‘Joromi’, the representative of the young man that Prof Victor Uwaifo sang about in his music 'Joromi'. Joromi was an orphan, who was left behind with his sister and no material possession, the only message the father gave him was never to climb a palm tree behind their house. As he grew up he became a strong man and a wrestler in the Benin kingdom, strong enough that no one could defeat him. One day he decided to climb the palm tree that his late father warned him never to climb. He climbed to the top and as he climbed the palm tree grew taller and taller until it grew into hell. While in hell, Joromi saw several spirits who are wrestlers and they were all out to wrestle with him. As he fought the first spirit with two heads, his only sister appeared in the spirit world to support him, so she hailed him by his name: ‘Joromi O! Omijoro’ and that gave him strength to defeat the spirit and detached one of his head. Then there was another spirit with seven heads and again the sister sang for him ‘Kiri kisi-kissi, Joromi O! Omijoro’ and again Joromi fought and though he slipped, he regain his balance and fought hard. More spirits with seven heads appeared to help their members against Joromi. As Joromi pushed the spirit he was wrestling with down he made efforts to escape back to earth and just then one of the spirits with seven heads reach out to grab and him, though he missed, he gave Joromi a long deep mark at the center of his back. If u think this story is a lie, check your back and you will discover that you are a descendant of Joromi. ‘Kiri kisi-kissi, Joromi O! Omijoro’

Benin kingdom in 1897, very organised 

I felt what life was like in the “City of Blood”, according Prof Victor Uwaifo, inside his Palazzo Museum he did a replica of how Killings were done in the Benin Kingdom some 200 years ago, all the sculptures here were done by the Prof. He told me that Benin had special methods of executions in the olden days, first they may bind the offender hand behind his back, the even blind fold the eyes and someone will lift up the hand of the offender above him so that the head hangs down almost to the ground, then the executioner grabs the head and cut off with an axe, the body is then divided into four places and cast to the vultures to feed on. In another case the victim is gag as if they are dangerous reptiles, before killing them. Women were sacrificed to the god of rains, like the women hanged above me, that took part in May 1891, the woman was tired round the neck with twisted stick before hanging her. If any chief or freeborn committed abomination the Oba will send a message to him to commit suicide if he refuses he will send for him to be hanged or his head cut off at night. A British colonialist once claimed that he witnessed the killing of a young man who was said to have once divulged state secret, he was tired to the top of a tree planted in the center of the town and was exposed alive to vultures who tore out his eyes before plucking other parts of his body

some of the bronze Benin art work

I went back into time in 1896, you can see me sitting in the middle mediating between Oba Ovọnramwẹn Nọgbaisi the son of Ọba Adọlọ who became the Oba of Benin in 1888. As Professor Victor Uwaifo recreated this history in his museum I had to pull the hands of the clock back so I can make peace between Vice-Consul James Robert Phillips of Britain who was pushing for British annexation of the Benin Empire and the removal of the Ọba himself, Oba Ovonramwen.

city of blood

History has it that at the end of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Benin had managed to retain its independence and Ọba Ovọnramwẹn exercised a monopoly over trade which the British found annoying. Benin City had rich natural resources such as palm-oil, rubber and ivory and was largely independent of British control, Vice-Consul James Robert Phillips and Captain Gallwey - the British vice-Consul of Oil Rivers Protectorate were not happy about it. 

showing respect to the HRM Oba of Benin

Vice-Consul James Robert Phillips , organized British invasion force to overthrow Ọba Ovọnramwẹn in 1896 and all I am doing in this photo is to broker peace, did I succeeded? No. How would I have known that my fellow ‘James’ Robert Phillips had hundreds of weapons hidden in baggage, with troops disguised as bearers. Phillips told me that he wanted negotiation, which I felt for, poor me. Before then Oba Ovonramwen's messengers issued several warnings not to violate Benin territorial sovereignty, claiming the Oba was unable to see Phillips due to ceremonial duties. 
Speaking to one of the chiefs in the presence of the Oba of Benin

Having been warned on several further occasions on the way, Phillips sent his stick to the Ọba, a deliberate insult designed to provoke the conflict that would provide an excuse for British annexation. Phillip's expedition was ambushed and all but two were killed. Subsequently, a military operation against Benin in 1897 led by Harry Rawson resulted in the burning of Benin City, the destruction and looting of the royal palaces and killings, thank God, I escaped that is why I can tell u the story today. Although the British had orders to hang the Ọba, he escaped, but returned to the city to formally surrender on 5 August 1897. When Ovọnramwẹn returned to the city, after six months spent in evading capture in the forest, he was richly dressed and laden with coral beads and accompanied by an entourage of seven hundred to eight hundred people. 

in the presence of the Oba of Benin

He attempted to escape exile by offering Consul General Ralph Moor 200 puncheons (barrels) of oil worth £1500 at that time and to disclose where his 500 ivory tusks were buried (of a value of more than £2M at that time) however this offer was dismissed as Mr. Moor had already discovered them. Ovonramwen was exiled to Calabar with two of his wives, Queen Egbe and Queen Aighobahi. He was received and hosted in Calabar in a small town called “Essien Town” by Etinyin Essien Etim Offiong, the progenitor of Essien Town. 

with the secretary to the Oba of Benin in the Oba's Palace

He died in Calabar in 1914. He was eventually buried in the grounds of the royal palace in Benin City. He was succeeded by his first son and legitimate heir, Prince Aguobasimwin, who ruled as Eweka II. 

National Museum of Nigeria in Benin City

at the Ogba Zoo and Nature Park' Benin city

I love Nigerian History.

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