THE REAL HISTORY OF EDO PEOPLE (BENIN KINGDOM)
Historical accounts are vague as to when and if the Bini (Edo), migrated from the Nile valley. What is not in doubt is that the earliest rulers of Benin were called Ogisos.
Thirty-one Ogisos in all ruled the kingdom of Benin between 900 – 1200 AD, which is the earliest period so far accounted for in Benin history.
The Bini monarchy demonstrates strong affinity with ancient Egyptian gods and Pharaohs, with which it shares identical authority, grandeur and a great deal of reverence from their subjects.
In fact, the hair style of Bini chiefs is similar to Pharaoh Ramses II’s famous helmet, while the small circles on the helmet appear also on many Bini bronzes. Bini Queens wear identical hairstyles to that of Pharaoh Mycerinus (Fourth-Dynasty), and Pharaoh Sesostris I (Twelfth Dynasty). The kings (Ogies) of Benin (Bini) also adopt grand Osirian titles of the ‘Open Eye,’ signifying omniscience and omnipotence.
The Bini cosmological account of the universe draws significantly from the Egyptian one. The Egyptian version, which later formed the basis of genesis in the Bible, is that the universe was created from chaos and primeval (or ancient) ocean. After a hill (called tatjenen) arose from the bottom of the ocean, a son-god (God’s child or baby god) called Atom (which is the Sun without which life on earth is impossible), appeared on the land created by the hill. The son-god or Atom then created eight other gods which together with himself made nine gods. These nine gods are presumed by modern science to be symbolized by the nine major planets of the universe.
The Bini version is that, in the beginning there was no land only water everywhere. In the middle of the water stood a tree on top of which lived (Owonwon) the toucan. Osanobua (The Creator) decided to populate the world so The Creator sent three sons, each with a choice of peculiar gift.
One of the three sons chose to have wealth and the next chose magical skills. As the youngest was about to make his choice known, Owonwon cried out to him to settle for a snail shell. This he did. When the canoe the three children were travelling in reached the middle of the waters, the youngest son turned his snail shell upside down to release endless stream of sand resulting in the emergence of land from the waters.
The three sons at first were afraid to step on the land from the canoe. To test the firmness of the land, they sent the Chameleon, which is why Chameleons walk with hesitation.
Osanobua then came down on a chain, from the sky, to demarcate the earth and allocate responsibilities. Osanobua appointed the youngest son as ruler of the earth. The son called the earth (Agbon) and promptly set up his headquarters at Igodomigodo.
The oldest son was given control of the waters by Osanobua. The Bini call this son, Olokun (meaning the god of the river). The other son was allowed freedom to use his magical powers to balance out the negative and positive forces of nature. He apparently represents evil and the Bini call him Ogiuwu (or Esu sometimes) meaning the harbinger of death. Ogiuwu is supposed to own the blood of all living things. In other words, no living thing can live forever.
Osanobua then settled in the realm of the spirit world across the waters where the sky and the earth meet.
While Osanobua and Olokun represent aspects of life such as good health, long life, good luck, prosperity and happiness to which man may apeal through ritual purity, Ogiuwu represents mourning, evil omen and diseases.
The youngest son, the ruler of the earth represents innocence and so is susceptible to the powers of the other deities. These same good and evil influences form the basic elements of all modern religions, with man endowed with the power to make choices.
The importance of the emergence of the tree before man on earth is not lost on modern science, which recognizes that without the tree manufacturing oxygen, life on earth would have been impossible. Modern science has also confirmed the Bini cosmology that birds, insects etc preceded man to earth. The Bini myth of creation was earth based in scope.
The Ogisos (meaning rulers of the sky) because of their direct lineage to the youngest son of Osanobua (God), from the sky, were of course, accorded divine qualities by the Bini. These, the Ogisos naturally tried to strengthen in a variety of ways, including not allowing themselves to be seen eating in public and so suggesting that they can live without food. They are not mortal but god-kings with celestial mystique attached to them.
Because the kings (Ogisos) of Bini are considered divine, they are worshipped by their subjects who speak to them always with great reverence, at a distance and on bended knees. Great ceremonies surround every action of the Bini king.
Bini kings have immense political powers, as ultimate judges in court matters, the deliverers of death penalty, the receivers of taxes and tributes, the regulators of trade, the nominal owners of the land of the kingdom, chief executives and law makers, and principal custodians of customs and traditions.
However, their immense powers are hedged with checks and balances to prevent excesses. The king’s powers are held in trust for the entire community and cannot be exercised without consultation with other levels of authority, such as the kingmakers, known as Edionisen.
The first Ogiso king was called Ogiso Igodo and his kingdom Igodomigodo was at Ugbekun. Ogiso Igodo’s successor, Ogiso Ere, transferred the capital from Ugbekun to Uhudumwunrun.
This detailed history of Bini is being provided to illustrate the formidable authority and influence welded by monarchs in African kingdoms and demonstrate how ancient people tried to breath life into myths. Whether it is the son-god of the Bini, Egypt or the Christian religion, ancient people translated myths into reality. There is, therefore, nothing special about Jesus Christ. The idea of the Son of God or Son-God is as old and ancient man in Africa.
Ogiso Ere was a very resourceful king. He introduced the guild system of carpenters and wood carvers, which eventually developed into the world celebrated wood works and bronze casting of Gun Street in Benin City. Ogiso Ere also built the first ever Igodomigodo market known then as Ogiso market and in modern times as Agbado market. Ogiso Ere, a lover of peace, invented the famous African kingship paraphernalia which includes the Ada (a sword of honour), Eben (a sword for dancing), Ekete (a royal stool), Agba (a rectangular stool) and Epoki (a leather box).
Ogiso Ere was succeeded by Ogiso Orire, maintaining the primogeniture (son succeeding his father) principle. The fourth dynasty on the death of Orire introduced the system of gerontocracy (the oldest person in the community rules), until the death of the twenty-second Ogiso when the primogeniture system was restored. The twenty-third Ogiso extended the primogeniture rule to all his frontline chiefs known collectively as the Edion (Elders). The Edion included Chief Oliha, Edohen, Ero, Ezomo and Eholo-Nire. Ogiso Ibioye, another resourceful king introduced the use of cowries as currency to Igodomigodo.
The last of the Ogiso kings was called Owodo. He reigned in the 12th century AD and had only one child (a male) despite having many wives. In attempt to unravel the cause of his wives’ barrenness, he sent his first wife Esagho and three male messengers to consult an oracle. The oracle named Esagho as the cause. To avoid the wrath and punishment of the king, Esagho threatened to lie to the king that the male messengers had carnal relationship with her (an act carrying death penalty), if they revealed the oracle’s declaration. The messengers, in connivance with Esagho told the king that the oracle fingered his only son, Ekhaladerhan as the cause of his wives’ barrenness and that Prince Ekhaladerhan had to be killed to reverse the situation.
The king, angered by the development but reluctant to take the life of his only child, banished Ekhaladerhan and his mother to a place called Ughoton on the outskirts of Igodomigodo kingdom. Three years after the banishment, Owodo’s wives were still barren so he sent another set of messengers to the oracle. It was then that the truth about Esagho’s treachery was revealed. Esagho was executed as punishment and still the king’s wives remained barren. Apparently, the problem had to do with the fertility status of the king himself but no body dared to raise such ideas in those days. Women were always blamed for barrenness.
However, Ogiso Owodo, apart from his domestic problems, was not a very popular king and his execution of a pregnant woman for some misdemeanor, proved to be one offence too many for his subjects and frontline chiefs who banished Owodo from his throne. Owodo took refuge at a place called Uhinwinrin, where he died miserably a few years later.
During the period of Owodo’s banishment, a monster that appeared to be coming out of the Ikpoba river, (although the Igodomigodos believed it was coming from the sky), attacked and devoured people at will at the Ogiso market. The Igodomigodos as a result, nicknamed the Ogiso market, �gbado Aigbare, (meaning we go there together we never return together), which is how Ogiso market acquired its current name of Agbado market.
Every effort to tackle the monster, including spiritual means failed until Evian, a member of the Ogiso royal family, succeeded in throwing a fire-hot iron into the mouth of the monster. The feat appeared to have sent the monster to its eventual death and endeared Evian to his people, because the monster never bothered the people of Igodomigodo again.
The death of Ogiso Owodo created leadership vacuum for the first time in Igodomigodo’s history. The people were not prepared to countenance a mere mortal from a non-Ogiso lineage ruling them. It had to be the God-son’s first son or nothing. It was during this period of confusion that the elders, known as Edionisen, including Chiefs Edohen, Ero and led by Oliha mounted a search for their banished Prince Ekaladerhan.
In the meantime, Ekaladerhan had set up a settlement he called ‘Ilefe,’ (meaning, successful escape) and had changed his name to ‘Izoduwa,’ (meaning I have chosen the path of prosperity).
Izoduwa’s new home, ‘Ilefe’ was in the heart of Yoruba land and because of his immense magic powers soon endeared himself to his Yoruba community which included some Uzebu (corrupted in Yoruba to Ijebu) who had followed him into exile from Igodomigodo, and were treating him as a god. The Yoruba corrupted his name Izoduwa to ‘Oduduwa’ and his camp, ‘Ilefe’ to
Oduduwa became the spiritual leader of the Ifa divinity. The Yoruba (who call The Creator, Olodumare), saw Oduduwa as a direct descendant, which he claimed as a result of his God-son lineage, although his banishment link with the God-sons (Ogisos) was kept a secret from the Yoruba. In fact, the Yoruba believed he was a deity from the sky as he claimed and accorded him great reverence as their leading ancestor.
The Ifa myth of creation draws significantly from the Bini and Egyptian corpus. It claims that Olodumare (The Creator) sent Orunmila (another name for Oduduwa) down to the earth with a cock (rooster) which carried a quantity of sand in its claws. Before then, the entire earth surface was covered with water. The cock dropped the sand on the water and spread it with its claws to create land. Oduduwa subsequently had eight children who later dispersed to found and rule other Yoruba communities. The Yoruba myth of creation is community based confirming lineal relationship with its (earth based Bini and universe based Egyptian) mother sources.
Oduduwa’s first son was by a Yoruba woman called Okanbi. This son was called ‘Omonoyan,’ (meaning precious child in Bini) which the Yoruba corrupted to ‘Oranmiyan.’
When the Edionisen of Igodomigodo finally traced Ekaladerhan (Oduduwa) down to (Ilefe) Ile-Ife, they could not persuade Oduduwa to return to his father’s throne in Igodomigodo. The Edionisen, out of frustration for not being able to persuade Izoduwa to return home to his throne, installed a temporary administrator, the hero whose name was Evian, to oversee the affairs of Igodomigodo.
Evian was a popular administrator. He invented the acrobatic dance called Amufi and the traditional dance called Emeghute. He ruled until very old age and before his death, nominated his oldest son, Irebor to succeed him. Most of the people of Igodomigodo and senior chiefs would not have this. They rejected Irebor on the ground that his father Evian was not an Ogiso and, therefore, lacked divine authority to bequeath kingship (Ogieship)to his heir.
Leadership vacuum was again created in Igodomigodo and after a period of uncertainly, the Edionisen decided to once again reach out to their son, Izoduwa, who had by then acquired the Yoruba title of ‘Ooni.’ After much pleading by the Edionisen, for the Ooni to allow his first son to ascend to the throne of Igodomigodo, the Ooni decided to put the people of Igodomigodo to a test. He gave the Edionisen some lice and instructed them to bring them back in three years to get their answer.
Chief Oliha kept the lice in the hair of one of their slaves and after three years returned the lice to Izoduwa who was surprised at the level of preservation and development of the lice. Izoduwa (Oduduwa) concluded that if the Edionisen could so adequately take care of the lice, his son was likely to be in good hands.
In the meantime, Irebor was warning the people of Igodomigodo against what he called (Ogie a mien, Aimmien Oba), meaning it is an Ogie that rules Igodomigodo and not an Oba, in protest against the intrusion of the Ife Prince. The word Ogiamen then became the nickname of Irebor and subsequently the hereditary title of the ruler of Irebor’s Igodomigodo.
Ogiamien Irebor prevented Prince Oranmiyan from entering the heart of Igodomigodo kingdom. The people of Igodomigodo built a palace for Prince Oranmiyan at Usama. Prince Oranmiyan, unable to bear the animosity for very long, renounced his office and called Igodomigodo land, Ile Ibinu (meaning a land of annoyance and vexation). He declared that only a child of the soil, educated in the culture and traditions of Igodomigodo could rule the kingdom.
Prince Oranmiyan, on his way home to Ife, stopped briefly at Ego, where he pregnated Princess Erimwinde, the daughter of the Enogie of Ego. Princess Erimwinde’s casual encounter with Prince Oranmiyan resulted in the birth of a baby boy who couldn’t talk in his early years but loved playing the game of marble.
When Oranmiyan, who had in the meantime established his Alafin dynasty in Oyo was informed about his son’s predicament, he sent the child’s mother seven marbles. While playing with the marbles and other children, one of his throws hit the target and in the excitement screamed: ‘ Owomika,’ (meaning I hit the target). This is how his title of Oba Eweka was derived and he ruled over Usama renamed Ile-Ibinu outside Igodomigodo. In the meantime, Ogiamien Irebor who ruled Igodomigodo had been succeeded by Ogiamien Ubi by the time of Oba Eweka’s reign in Ile-Ibinu.
Oba Eweka’s reign was not particularly eventful. He was succeeded by Oba Ewuahen, Oba Ehenmihen and the Oba Ewedo. Oba Ewedo changed the name of Ile-Ibinu to Ubini, which the Portuguese corrupted to Benin or Bini.
Oba Ewedo moved his palace from Usama or Ubini to its present site in Igodomigodo, causing a bitter war between the Oba and Ogiamien Ode who was the ruler of Igodomigodo at the time. The fight was considered purely a family matter by the people and elders of Igodomigodo. To prevent it leading to the death of too many innocent lives, the elders prevailed on the adversaries to settle their quarrel amicably.
Oba Ewedo requested Ogiamien Ode to sell the land to him. A treaty was struck requiring Ogiamien as the traditional landlord of Igodomigodo kingdom, to sell part of the land to the Oba at the coronation of every successive Oba. The Oba elect first had to present gifts to the Ogiemien which include two male and two female servants, a royal stoll, a wooden staff, a rectangular stool and a round leather box.
The Oba-in-waiting and the Ogiamien would then meet at their common boundary called Ekiokpagha, where the Ogiamien would take sand from the ground and put it in the hand of the Oba while he eays: “I have sold this part of Benin land to you but not your son and when you pass away your son will buy the land from me as you have done.”
The Ogiamien’s dormain in Benin kingdom is known as Utantan where he has chiefs assisting him in his traditional duties. The present Ogiamien of Utantan-Benin is Ogiamien Osarobo Okuonghae, a graduate of history from the University of Benin.
Oba Ewedo’s reign was followed by that of Oguola, Edoni, Udagbedo, Ohen, Egbeka, Orobiru and Uwaifiokun in that order, none of which was considered particularly spectacular in Benin history.
The mid 15th century AD through the 16th century AD, withnessed the period of the warrior kings in Benin history. Ewuare the great, Ozolua, Esigie, Orhogbua and Ehengbuda consolidated, developed and expanded the kingdom through innovative leadership ideas, closely knit, disciplined community organization, warfare and conquests. A British adventurer called Ling Roth, was the first to refer to Benin as great, a tribute not only to the extend of the Benin empire but also to the elaborate, detailed and efficient administrative machinery the people had evolved over a period of more than 1,000 years.
At its height, the Binis controlled vast Yoruba land with populations several times larger than that of Benin. The Benin kingdom extended in the West to Lagos, where the Binis set up a military camp of occupation which they called Eko, in the North-east to Ekiti, Owo, Ondo, most of Delta state and all of the North-west to the river Niger.
The Binis established their influence and authority along the West Coast of Africa and through dominance lent their name to the Bight of Benin. The Binis have very close affinity with the Ashantis of Ghana and are considered of similar or common stock.
However, the frontiers of the Benin Empire were constantly expanding and contrasting as new conquests were made and as vassals on the borders rebelled only to be re-conquered.
The Binis spread their culture and traditions, particularly their Obaship ideology and system by sending royal brothers to rule over tributaries, or holding hostage, sons of conquered chiefs to be trained in Benin City or by sponsoring candidates for thrones of conquered territories. Objects such as Ada and brass masks were introduced to vassal lords as emblems of their authority and these symbols have endured in virtually all the territories that experienced Bini control. Even in places outside direct Benin influence, such as in the Niger Delta area, the reputation of the Oba of Benin was such that leadership disputes were brought to him for arbitration and the winners took back home, Benin regalia to form part of their leadership traditions.
The city of Benin, like the ancient Egyptian cities walled against predators, has a giant protective moat dug around it between 1280 – 1295 AD, without using mechanical equipment. The engineering feat still marvels in modern times. The Benin moat is described in the Guinness Book of Records as second in magnitude only to the Great China wall.
Ewuare, the first Bini warrior king, was himself forced into exile as a young prince and nearly would not have ascended the Benin throne. With death penalty hanging on his head as a result of some misdemeanor, he fled into the woods although regularly, secretly visiting the city of Benin at night.
The elders (Edionisen) heard about his secret visits and set a trap to capture and kill him. Just as he was about to be caught, he escaped to the home of Ogieva Nomuekpo, who hid him in a well covered on top with leaves. Ogieva then went to invite the elders to come and arrest Prince Ogun as he was called then.
While Ogieva was on his way to call the elders, Edo, the head servant of Ogieva’s household alerted Prince Ogun about his master’s diabolical plan and helped the prince to escape. Ogieva returned with the elders to find that he had been betrayed and he severely punished Edo for this.
After several years in the bush, Prince Ogun began to grow weary of his vagabond life and accepted to be crowned Oba Ewuare of Ubini land around the mid 15th century AD. The father’s throne had been vacant for a while then and he was the oldest heir.
On the throne, one of his first acts was to reward Edo with many valuable gifts. After Edo’s death, he bought his corpse from Ogieva and buried it at the entrance to the palace’s inner tower. Then he decreed that the land of Ubini should henceforth be known and called Edo. This was later expanded to Edo O’Evho Ahire, meaning Edo the city of love, in appreciation of Edo’s love that saved young Prince Ogun’s life and gave Benin her greatest king.
Oba Ewuare the great, as he later came to be known, was the most dynamic, innovative and successful Oba in the history of Edo kingdom. Under him, Benin was completely transformed religiously, politically, socially and physically.
Houses originally built with poles or palm ribs and padded with mud were rebuilt with packed mud. The city was re-planned and neatly laid out, with roads radiating from the center. It was divided into two distinct segments with Ore ne Okhua, constituting the public sector and the Oba’s sector (Ogbe) the other.
The population of Ore ne Okhua was organized into wards with each specializing in a peculiar craft or ritual services in allegiance to the king.
The palace, which did not have a permanent site in previous reigns, was constructed on a massive scale covering several acres of land at its present location and turned into a beehive of activities as the political and spiritual nerve centre of the vast kingdom.
The Binis have a saying that in the Oba’s palace there is never silence. The complex includes shrine areas, meeting chambers for a variety of groups of chiefs, work spaces for ritual professionals, royal artists and craftsmen, storehouses, residential sections for the Oba’s numerous wives, children and servants.
A seventeenth century Dutch engraving from Olfert Dapper’s Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten, published in Amsterdam in 1668 described the palace thus:
” 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. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries, about as large as the Exchange at Amsterdam, but one larger than another, resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles, and are kept very clean. Most palaces and houses of the king are covered with palm leaves instead of square pieces of wood, and every roof is decorated with a small turret ending in a point, on which birds are standing, birds cast in copper with outspread wings, cleverly made after living models.”
Ewuare re-organized the government by centralizing it and he set up three powerful palace associations of chiefs. The political elite of the kingdom was made up of titled chiefs and members of the royal family. The seven highest-ranking chiefs who were, in fact, descendants of original elders of Benin were constituted into Uzama with leadership authority next to the king.
The brothers of the king who tended to be potential rivals were sent as hereditary rulers (Enogies) of administrative districts. The mother of the king was given the title of Queen mother and set up in her own palace in the town of Uselu just outside the city.
Ewuare restored the annual cycle of royal ceremonies the most important ones being Ugie Erha Oba in honour of royal ancestors and Igue to strengthen the mystical powers of the king. The present day elegant ceremonial costumes of the kings and chiefs of Benin originated from Ewuare’s reign.
Ewuare set up a war machine that extended Benin notion of kingship, objects, aesthetic ideas and power across the West Coast of Africa. The arts, particularly brass casting, flourished during his reign.
The kings of Benin from the reign of Ewuare the great until the 17th century AD were Ezoti, followed by Olua, Ozolua, Esigie, Orhogbua, Ehengbuda, Ohuan, Ahenzae, Akenzae, Akengboi, Akenkpaye, Akengbedo, Ore-Oghene, Ewuakpe and Ozuere.
When king Ozolua died, a bitter struggle for power ensued between his two sons, Esigie in Benin City and Aruaran in the town of Udo, about 20 miles from Benin City to the northwest. Udo then, was an important centre almost as large and powerful as Benin City. Esigie triumphed just as he did in the war against the Igala people from north of Nigeria who had attacked the kingdom during his reign. The Binis drove the Igala soldiers back across the river Niger and established their king, the Ata, as a vassal of Benin.
The Portuguese first reached Benin which they called Beny or Benin (although the Binis called themselves, their language, capital city and their kingdom, EDO), during the reign of Ozolua between 1472 and 1486 AD. The Portuguese found a highly developed kingdom with unique and very sophisticated political, artistic, linguistic, economic, cultural and military traditions in the process of territorial conquests.
Between 1504 and 1550 AD, the Portuguese, a major European power at the time, happily negotiated and established diplomatic and trade relations with Oba Esigie and his kingdom of Benin. Portuguese mercenaries fought along side the Binis in many territorial wars after the treaty. Trade between the Portuguese and Benin was mainly in coral beads, cloths for ceremonial attire and great quantities of brass manilas which Bini craftsmen melted for casting. In exchange for Portuguese goods, the Binis offered tobacco, spices, coolants, ivory, earthenware, jewelry, artifacts, domestic slaves etc.
European slave trade in West Africa started with the acquisition of domestic servants, and warrior kingdoms like Edo had plenty of them captured as war booties. It was forbidden to sell or take a native Bini into slavery and so elaborate identification marks on faces and chests were contrived. Binis, therefore, were hardly ever captured by Arabs or Europeans into slavery.
One of the numerous elite palace associations was assigned the responsibility of conducting affairs with the Portuguese. Until this day, a secret language which some claim is derived from Portuguese, is spoken by members of the association.
The seventeenth century witnessed another period of internal turmoil in Benin history. After the death of Ehengbuda, the last warrior king in the late 16th century AD, his son Ohuan ascended the throne but he did not reign for long and he produced no heir. With his death, the lineage that produced the Eweka dynasty ended.
Powerful rebel chiefs established private bases and selected kings from among their ranks. This produced a series of kings with doubtful claims to legitimacy, which seriously weakened the Benin monarchy.
At the turn of the 17th century, a very powerful Iyase (head of chiefs and the supreme military commander of the kingdom), rebelled against Oba Ewuakpe and after the Oba’s death, supported a rival brother to the heir apparent, who won and became Akenzua I. This rebel (the Iyase ne Ode), is remembered in Benin oral history as a threatening foe and a very powerful magician who could transform himself into an elephant at will.
Oba Akenzua I, from 1715 AD and Oba Eresonyen from 1735 AD, successfully fought the rebellious chiefs and restored power and legitimacy to the Bini monarchy. Their reigns were followed in 1750 by that of Akengbuda; 1804, Obanosa and Ogbebo in quick succession; 1815, Osemwede and 1850 Oba Adolo.
During the British invasion of Benin City in 1897, Oba Ovoranmwen Nogbaisi (meaning the great) was on the throne. The British, viewing Benin as the main obstacle in their expansion drive into the agricultural interior of the West African coast from the river Niger, decided to provoke the kingdom to get an excuse to sack it. The British stubbornly sent their scouts to Benin against the advice and tradition of the Binis, during a sacred national ceremony when foreign visitors are not welcomed. The British mercenaries were eliminated as hostile intruders, which was the excuse the British wanted. The British then launched a full-scale war, which lasted for eight days and went in their favour because of their superior weapons. After capturing the ancient city of Benin, they scattered the inhabitants to villages and farms. While the Binis were out of the way, and the invaders had exiled Oba Overanmwen to Calabar (in South-east Nigeria), they ransacked the Oba’s palace, all Bini shrines and chiefs’ homes, stealing thousands of sacred Benin works of art and other valuables which today adorn the leading museums in Europe and America. Not content with their looting, they burnt the entire city down to the last house.
From accounts of members of the British army that invaded Benin City in 1897, we learn that the floors, lintels, and rafters of the council chambers and the king’s residence in the palace were lined with sheets of repouss�, decorated brass covered with royal geometric designs and figures of men and leopards. Ornamental ivory locks sealed the doors and carved ivory figurines surmounted anterior. A brass snake, observed for the first time by a European in the early eighteenth century, was still to be seen on the roof of the council chamber house.
All of these the invading British, in the name of their king and country carted away. What they could not steal or burn, they destroyed. And sitting on the ruins, the British subdued and indirectly ruled this outstanding African civilization for another 63 years as part of their Nigerian colony.
Despite the British abuse of Bini culture and marginalization of Bini history, the spendour of Edo civilization continues to this day to astound and exite the world. Benin artifacts are among the most exquisite and coveted in world’s history and the kingdom of Benin remains famous for its sophistication in social engineering and organization. The Bini Obaship institution is still one of the world’s most revered apart from being one of the most ancient.
Eweka II ascended the throne of Benin in 1814 and Akenzua the II became Oba in 1933. Between them, they restored a great deal of the tradition and dignity of Benin Obaship and rebuilt, although on a smaller scale than the Ewuare palace, the grandeur, triumph and supremacy of Bini traditions. Large walled areas have now replaced the numerous compounds of former kings with enclosed individual altars for each of the three immediate predecessors and one general altar for the rest. Decorated sheets of brass adorn the rafters and lintels and terra-cotta plaques recount the exploits of former kings.
The current king of this great African kingdom and one of the most vibrant, colourful and enlightened civilizations in the history of the world, is Oba Erediauwa, Uku Akpolo Kpolo, the Omo N’Oba N’Edo.