Benin Empire


Benin Empire

Infobox Former Country
native_name =
conventional_long_name = Benin Empire
common_name = Benin Empire
continent = Africa
region = West-Africa
country =
era = Early Modern Period
status =
status_text =
empire =
government_type = Monarchy
year_start = 1180
year_end = 1897
event_start = Established as Kingdom
date_start =
event_end = Annexed by the United Kingdom
date_end =
event1 = Established as Empire
date_event1 = 1440
p1 = Bini people
flag_p1 =
s1 = United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
flag_s1 = Flag of the United Kingdom.svg





flag_type = Flag of the Benin Empire [Reconstruction of a flag of the Kingdom of Benin based on a flag captured by British forces during the Benin campaign 1897; today seen in the British National Maritime Museum ( [http://www.nmm.ac.uk/server/show/conWebDoc.15024/viewPage/3] )]




image_map_caption =
capital = Ile-Ibinu
common_languages = Edo
religion =
currency =
leader1 = Eweka I
leader2 = Ovonramwen (exile 1897)
leader3 = Erediauwa I (post-imperial)
year_leader1 = 1180-1246
year_leader2 = 1888-1914
year_leader3 = 1979-
title_leader = King/Emperor (Oba)

The Benin Empire or Edo Empire (1440-1897) was a large pre-colonial African state of modern Nigeria. It is not to be confused with the modern-day country called Benin (and formerly called Dahomey).

A helpful site is www.edoartsandculture.org

Origin

According to one traditional account, the original people and founders of the Benin Empire, the Bini, were initially ruled by the Ogisos (Kings of the Sky). The city of Ubini (later called Benin City) was founded in 1180 AD.

About 36 known "Ogiso" are accounted for as rulers of the empire. One oral tradition states that during the reign the last Ogiso, his son and heir apparent Ekaladerhan was banished from Benin as a result of one of the Queens changing a message from the oracle to the Ogiso. Prince Ekaladerhan was a powerful warrior and well loved. On leaving Benin he travelled in a westerly direction to the land of the Yoruba. At that time the Ifá oracle said that the Yoruba people of Ile Ife (also known as Ife) will be ruled by a man who would come out of the forest. Following Ekaladerhans arrival at the Yoruba city of Ife also known as Ile Ife, he finally rose to the position of the Oba (meaning 'king' or 'ruler' in the Yoruba language) and later received the title of Ooni of Ife.

He changed his name to 'Izoduwa,' (which in his native language meant, 'I have chosen the path of prosperity') and became The great Oduduwa, also known as Odudua, Oòdua and Eleduwa, of the Yoruba. On the death of his father, the last Ogiso, a group of Benin Chiefs led by Chief Oliha came to Ife, pleading with Oba (King) Oduduwa to return to Benin to ascend the throne. Oduduwa's reply was that a ruler cannot leave his domain but he had seven sons and would ask one of them to go back to Benin to become the next King.

Note: there are other versions of the story of Oduduwa. Many Yoruba often attribute Oduduwa as coming from a place towards the east of the land of the Yoruba peoples, however it tends not to be attributed to Benin City.

Oranyan (also known as Oranmiyan), one of the sons of Oduduwa and son of Oduduwa's Yoruba wife Okanbi, agreed to go to Benin. He spent some years in Benin before returning to the Yoruba lands before establishing his own Yoruba kingdom at Oyo. It is said that he left the place in anger and called it 'Ile Ibinu' (meaning, 'land of annoyance and veexation) and it was this phrase that that became the origin of Benin city's former name 'Ubini'. Oranmiyan, on his way home to Ife, stopped briefly at Ego, where he pregnated Princess Erimwinde, the daughter of the Enogie of Ego and she gave birth to a son named Eweka.

During Oba Oduduwas reign as Alaafin of Oyo, Eweka became the oba at Ile Ibinu. Oba Ewedo, an ancestor of Oba Ewaka I, changed the name of the city of Ile Ibinu to Ubini, which the Portuguese, in their own language, corrupted it to Benin or Bini. In 1440, Oba Ewuare, also known as 'Ewuare the Great', came to power and turned the city-state into an empire. Around 1470, he named the new state Edo.

Golden Age

The Oba had become the paramount power within the region. Oba Ewuare, the first "Golden Age" Oba, is credited with turning Benin City into a military fortress protected by moats and walls. It was from this bastion that he launched his military campaigns and began the expansion of the kingdom from the Edo-speaking heartlands.

Oba Ewuare was a direct descendant of Oduduwa, the first Oni of Ife. Oduduwa was considered divine according to some legends the god Oduduwa descended to Ife (the center of all creation) and became it's first Oni or ruler. Other legends say he came from Mecca or Egypt. a series of walls marked the incremental growth of the sacred city from 850 CE until it's decline in the 16th century. In the 15th century Benin became the greatest city of the empire created by Oba or king Ewuare. To enclose his palace he commanded the building of Benin's inner wall, a seven mile long earthen rampart girded by a moat 50 feet deep. This was excavated in the early 1960's by Graham Connah. Connah estimated that it's construction if spread out over 5 dry seasons would have required a workforce of 1,00 laborers working 10 hours a day 7 days a week. Ewuare also added great thoroughfares and erected 9 fortified gateways. Excavations also uncovered a rural network of earthen walls 4 to 8 thousand miles long that would have taken an estimated 150 million man hours to build and must have taken hundreds of years to build. these were apparently thrown down to mark out territories for towns and cities. 13 years after Ewuare's death tales of Benin's splendors lured the Portuguese traders to the city gates. [ Time Life Lost Civilizations series: Africa's Glorious Legacy (1994) p.102-4 ]

At its maximum extent the empire is claimed by the Edos to have extended from the Igbo kingdom of Onitsha in the east of Nigeria, through parts the southwestern region of Nigeria, Modern day Benin Republic, Togo, and into the present-day nation of Ghana. The Ga peoples of Ghana trace their ancestry to the ancient Kingdom of Benin.

The state developed an advanced artistic culture especially in its famous artifacts of bronze, iron and ivory. These include bronze wall plaques and life-sized bronze heads of the Obas of Benin. The most common artifact is based on Queen Idia, porpularly called the FESTAC mask.

European contact

The first European travellers to reach Benin were Portuguese explorers in about 1485. A strong mercantile relationship developed, with the Portuguese trading tropical products, and increasingly slaves, for European goods and guns. In the early 16th century the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the king of Portugal sent Christian missionaries to Benin. Some residents of Benin could still speak a pidgin Portuguese in the late 19th century. The first English expedition to Benin was in 1553, and a significant trade soon grew up between England and Benin based on the export of ivory, palm oil and pepper. Trade consisted of: 20% ivory, 30% slaves, and 50% other things. Visitors in the 16th and 17th centuries brought back to Europe tales of "the Great Benin", a fabulous city of noble buildings, ruled over by a powerful king.

A seventeenth century Dutch engraving from Olfert Dapper's Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten, published in Amsterdam in 1668 wrote:

"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..."

Decline

The city and empire of Benin declined after 1700, but revived in the 19th century with the development of the trade in palm oil, enslaved captives, and textiles. To preserve Benin's independence, bit by bit the Oba banned the export of goods from Benin, until the trade was exclusively in palm oil.

Benin resisted signing a protectorate treaty with Great Britain through most of the 1880s and 1890s. However, after the slaying of eight British representatives in Benin territory, a 'Punitive Expedition' was launched in 1897, in which a British force, under the command of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, conquered and burned the city, destroying much of the country's treasured art and dispersing nearly all that remained. The portrait figures, busts, and groups created in iron, carved ivory, and especially in brass (conventionally called the "Benin Bronzes") are now displayed in museums around the world.

ee also

*Bini people
*Edo language
*Oba of Benin
*History of Nigeria

References

Sources

*Bondarenko D. M. A Homoarchic Alternative to the Homoarchic State: Benin Kingdom of the 13th - 19th Centuries. Social Evolution & History. 2005. Vol. 4, No 2. P. 18-88.
*Roese, P. M., and D. M. Bondarenko. "A Popular History of Benin. The Rise and Fall of a Mighty Forest Kingdom". Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2003.
*Mercury, Karen. "The Hinterlands," historical fiction about the Benin Expedition of 1897. Medallion Press, 2005.

External links

* [http://www.uq.net.au/~zzhsoszy/states/nigeria/edo.html Edo at Genealogical Gleanings]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/africa/features/storyofafrica/4chapter7.shtml The Story of Africa: Ife and Benin] — BBC World Service


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