Great Benin Bronze


Benin And Portuguese 1472

Benin And Portuguese 1472

Portuguese is the citizen, native people and language of Portugal. Portugal is a country that lies on the Iberian Peninsula in South Western Europe facing the Atlantic Ocean, borders with Spain.

Most Portuguese are Roman Catholics and Christian warriors. The Portuguese Seamen, from the Fifteenth century opened up sea routes throughout the World and founded many colonies.

In about 1472 C.E., the first Portuguese came to Benin the Edo people, who called themselves, their language, their capital city and their kingdom EDO. 

The Portuguese seldom spoke the language and so both often miss-understood themselves. 

Events were put into plaques where information about the past were kept and in the other ways officials in the royal court learned by heart what was important. These facts might be handed on for generations while ordinary people told stories of the past but many things may be left out or just forgotten.

Europeans who came to Benin sometimes wrote about it. Contact with Europeans mattered very little to Benin. The Benin officials on the coast spoke Portuguese to visiting traders and were known by the Portuguese title ‘fladors’.

It was said that the Portuguese built chapels of knowledge — Owa Iruemwin (Itaemwin) in Benin City where the teaching of literacy was attempted.

The schools were built as more Portuguese Priests became available to man the chapels.

Christianity is a literate religion of how to read, write and recite. The Portuguese made the effort to bring the gift of literacy to Benin, under the guidance and encouragement of Oba Esigie.

Oba Esigie incorporated into the palace rites, many of the usages of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Maltese cross with its four limbs of equal length was the cross the Portuguese brought to Benin, was adopted as a palace Motif and can be seen reproduced on the ADA, the state SWORD of the Oba of Benin.

It is also liberally reproduced in coral, on the helmet and other regalia of the monarch and his Chiefs

The Maltese cross is the Logo name of the most venerable order of knight of Saint John International, as it follows from the ancient history of knights of St. John (Hospitaliers) of Jerusalem.

The eight (8) points of the cross symbolizes the eight (8) beatitudes and the concept of those duties linked to the teaching of Jesus Christ in demand for happiness of the highest kind, for purposeful charity and care for the people.

The morning and evening Mass said in those days by priests in the Oba palace chapel continue to be celebrated nowadays, especially the vespers called the evening mass which metamorphosed into the daily Eguae-maton ceremony, the ceremony of the evening mass.

Oba Orhogbua was educated outside Benin in the Bishopric of the off-shore Island of Sao Tome, and later in the metropolitan capital of Lisbon before he ascended the ancient Benin throne.

The Edo calendar consisted of an un-ending series of ceremonies directed towards the assurance of the corporate health of the people and the sustenance of the overall good of the land, as having everything needed for the ensuring of the spiritual health of the kingdom.

Christianity had made redundant all the other belief systems, previously worked out by the people for securing the same purpose.

The work of the Catholic Missionaries made progress and thousands of people were baptized. The missionaries went with Oba Esigie to Idah war which took place in 1515-1516 C.E.

On a letter written to the king of Portugal on 20th October 1516, a portion of it reads “At the end of the year, in the month of August the king of Benin ordered his son and two of his greatest noblemen to become Christians and built a church Aruosa, in Benin.

They learnt how to read and did it very well”.

Oba Esigie encouraged and improved the brass work. He introduced “Iweuki”

Astrology for the study of Moon phases. The Oba could speak and read the Portuguese language. He made the worship of God “Aruosa” a state religion.

Chapels were built in towns and villages. He made the native fast and abstinence

“Ague” a royal ceremony.

Some of the Portuguese words entered the Benin vocabulary and the vernacular such as: Ikpotoki for a Portuguese. Alimo for Limoes Portuguese word for an orange. Amoko for hammock — a cloth hung as a bed or couch. Ekalaka for caneca-a tumbler; Ekuye for colher- a spoon. Eforhiyen for forinha-Fermented dried cassava (ekpukpu Igari). Esara for sieria — Saw; Etianran for teada — trader of silk (Esiliki) Etuheru for Tesoura — a scissors. Epipa for pipa-A keg, a barrel, Isahen for chaven-a key. Itaba for tabaco-tobacco. Olima for Lima-a file (for burnishing) Ama for hammer Esete for plate, Akpakpava for Papa via etc and the missionary code of dressing also entered Benin Culture.

The magic of being able to read and write had been introduced into Benin among the royals and noblemen and had proved proficiency in it. The cap-a-pie, from head to foot worn by Queen Idia, as a warrior depicted in one of the bronze works of the ancient Benin art refers to the arming dress-uniform of the ancient Catholic Knight; the Christian soldiers.

The Portuguese had seen an African Kingdom rising to the height of its power and by the end of the seventeenth Century Benin controlled the whole of the coastline of Modern Nigeria, from Lagos in the West to Calabar in the East. The Benin inland armies, helped to found the great trading city of Onitsha on the River Niger, and were claimed as founders by many Igbo clans.

The Portuguese were coming less often to Benin, after Vasco da Gama opened the trade routes by sea with India in 1497. The warehouse which the Portuguese had built on the Benin River was closed. The friars were disappointed to find that their converts were just as unwilling to give up their old deities as they had been willing to accept the God of Christianity.

Nevertheless, Portuguese and later English and Dutch ships continue to come each year to Benin. They brought the brightly coloured cloths of silver, red, gold that was so popular in Benin. 

The fine cottons and linens, the glass wares, the coral, the brass-bracelets-Manillas that could be used as money or be melted down by the Brass-smiths; Iron bars, mirrors, glass, beads and cowries shells that were accepted as money in market places throughout the West Africa.

The Europeans bought from Benin, cotton cloth which could be sold any where along the coast. Most of the cloth dyed and patterned-designed blue was woven in Benin, though some came from further inland.

There was a profitable trade in Ivory, in pepper and in the blue cowry beads, which were said to have been dug out in the interior.

Although Benin trade was a prosperous one, the kingdom had little to do with the world outside Africa. The Oba refused to allow male slaves to be sent out of his country.

In four hundred (400) years after D’Aveiro’s had visited Benin hardly any Europeans ever reached the City, only rumours of its affairs reached the coast.

The Benin officials spoke Portuguese to traders and used their words to identify their wares and so the English, Dutch and Portuguese henceforth enhanced the Edo vocabulary such as Ikobo for a copper, Isele for a shilling, Ikpon for a pound (monies) and nowadays the Portuguese words are vernacular in Edo Culture.



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