First European Contact With Nigeria Was 1485 By The Great Benin Empire: Southern Nigeria

First European Contact With Nigeria Was 1485 By The Great Benin Empire

Drawing of Benin City made by an English officer, 1897

The first European travelers to reach Benin were Portuguese explorers in about 1485. A strong mercantile relationship developed, with the Edo trading tropical products such as ivory, peppers and palm oil with the Portuguese for European goods such as manila and guns. In the early 16th century, the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the king of Portugal sent Christian missionaries to Benin City. Some residents of Benin City could still speak a pidgin Portuguese in the late 19th century.

The first English expedition to Benin was in 1553, and significant trading developed between England and Benin based on the export of ivory, palm oil and pepper. 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. However, the Oba began to suspect Britain of larger colony designs and ceased communications with the British until the British Expedition in 1896-97 which resulted in a weakned Benin Empire.

 

A 17th 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..."
Olfert DapperNauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten

Another Dutch traveller was David van Nyendael who in 1699 gave an eye-witness account.

The Legions of Benin

Copper sculpture from Benin showing the mix of weapons that co-existed side by side during the colonial era. Note firearms in the right hand of one figure, and traditional swords held by others.

The kingdom of Benin offers a snapshot of a relatively well-organized and sophisticated African polity in operation before the major European colonial interlude.   Military operations relied on a well trained disciplined force. At the head of the host stood the Oba of Benin. The monarch of the realm served as supreme military commander. Beneath him were subordinate generalissimos, the Ezomo, the Iyase, and others who supervised a Metropolitan Regiment based in the capital, and a Royal Regiment made up of hand-picked warriors that also served as bodyguards. Benin's Queen Mother also retained her own regiment, the "Queen's Own." The Metropolitan and Royal regiments were relatively stable semi-permanent or permanent formations. The Village Regiments provided the bulk of the fighting force and were mobilized as needed, sending contingents of warriors upon the command of the king and his generals. Formations were broken down into sub-units under designated commanders. Foreign observers often commented favorably on Benin's discipline and organization as "better disciplined than any other Guinea nation", contrasting them with the slacker troops from the Gold Coast. 


Until the introduction of guns in the 15th century, traditional weapons like the spear and bow held sway. Efforts were made to reorganize a local guild of blacksmiths in the 18th century to manufacture light firearms, but dependence on imports was still heavy. Before the coming of the gun, guilds of blacksmiths were charged with war production—–particularly swords and iron spearheads. 


Benin's tactics were well organized, with preliminary plans weighed by the Oba and his sub-commanders. Logistics were organized to support missions from the usual porter forces, water transport via canoe, and requisitioning from localities the army passed through. Movement of troops via canoes was critically important in the lagoons, creeks and rivers of the Niger Delta, a key area of Benin's domination. Tactics in the field seem to have evolved over time. While the head-on clash was well known, documentation from the 18th century shows greater emphasis on avoiding continuous battle lines, and more effort to encircle an enemy (ifianyako).  

Fortifications were important in the region and numerous military campaigns fought by Benin's soldiers revolved around sieges. As noted above, Benin's military earthworks are the largest of such structures in the world, and Benin's rivals also built extensively. Barring a successful assault, most sieges were resolved by a strategy of attrition, slowly cutting off and starving out the enemy fortification until it capitulated. On occasion however, European mercenaries were called on to aid with these sieges. In 1603–04 for example, European cannon helped batter and destroy the gates of a town near present-day Lagos, allowing 10,000 warriors of Benin to enter and conquer it. In payment the Europeans received one woman captive each and bundles of pepper.   The example of Benin shows the genius of indigenous military systems, but also the role outside influences and new technologies brought to bear. This is a normal pattern among many nations and was to be reflected across Africa as the 19th century dawned.

 

 

The city and empire of Benin declined after 1700. By this time, European activity in the area, most notably through the Trans-Atlantic slave-trade, resulted in major disruptive repercussions. However, Benin's power was revived in the 19th century with the development of the trade in palm oil 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 Britain through most of the 1880s and 1890s. However, after Benin discovered Britain's true intentions, eight unknowing British representatives, who came to visit Benin were killed. As a result a Punitive Expedition was launched in 1897. The British force, under the command of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, razed and burned the city, destroying much of the country's treasured art and dispersing nearly all that remained. The stolen 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.

 

Source:

 

RECOMMENED READING:

 

- Abolish Edoid Group of Race for One Edo Nation or Edoid Nation!

- Contesting the History of Benin Kingdom By Peter P. Ekeh

- Benin - Urhobo Relationship By Dr. Nowa Omoigui

- Language and unity of Edo people By Uyilawa Usuanlele

- Benin_Igbo_Yoruba Historic relations (Onitsha, Orisha) By PHILIP EM...

- Esan Not An Ethnic Group But Benin(Edo) By Uwagboe Ogieva

- Ogiso and Eweka times: A prelimnary history of Edoid Complex of cul... By Peter P. Ekeh
- Let Boko Haram have their own country, says Omoruyi By Omo Omoruyi

- Crisis in Belgium:If Flanders Secedes Wallonia Disintegrates

- Edo-African heritage within the context and the dynamics of Nigerian culture

- First European Contact With Nigeria Was 1485 By The Great Benin Emp...

- Greatness of an African Queen Mother: IDIA By Uwagboe Ogieva

- Excellence in education and culture for the new millennium By Chief Oje Aisiku, PhD

- Bini Names in Nigeria and Georgia By Roger Westcott, Professor Emeritus, Drew University

- Nigeria: The Edo of Benin By Osamuyimen Stewart, Ph.D.

- THE CORRECT HISTORY OF EDO By NAIWU OSAHON

- Agbor link with Edo people "Origin of Agbor - Agbon" By By Emeka Esogbue

- Benin (Nigeria) and its Mystique By MIKE JIMOH

- Benin History and the Museum's Benin Collection From the museum.upenn.edu

 

RECOMMENDED BOOKS:

 

- Benin and the Europeans, 1485-1897 by Alan Frederick Charles Ryder
Product details: Hardcover: 388 pages / Publisher: Prentice Hall Press; 1st Edition edition (July 1969) Language English / ISBN-10: 058264514X / ISBN-13: 978-0582645141

- Graham Connah. 1975. The Archaeology Of Benin: Excavations and other researches in and around Benin City, Nigeria. Clarendon Press : Oxford. Pages - 266 (plus photographs) ISBN - 0 19 920063 7 http://ihuanedo.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-archaeology-of-benin

- Kings, Magic,& Medicine " by Chief Dr. Dayl Peavy JD. An African American that has an Esan Chietaincy title (2007). An Ob'oguega as well as an Ob'orunmila. Have been conducting research in Edo State since 1997 and published in a book titled: "Kings, Magic & Medicine". http://ihuanedo.ning.com/forum/topics/new-book-on-great-benin

- Evolution Of Benin Chieftancy Title (Very specific facts on Edo and Edo's in Diaspora). $25.00

- Benin City Pilgrimage Stations (Detailed Edo History). $25.00

- Benin City- Edo State Capital (More details on the colonial Era).

- The Edo Man of the 20th Century (Oba Eweka 11 life history). $10.00

- Erediauwa, Prince of Benin. (About the Price and not this Oba).$10.00

- Iwu- The body marks of Edo People. $10.00

- A DVD on Edo History from Ogiso to current. Concluded by an address by Omo N'oba himself. $10.00

[Contact Tina Iyare tinaiigho@yahoo.com Tel:610-563-9131 Tel:610-873-6842** TO PURCHASE ANY OF ABOVE BOOK WITH PRICE TAG]


TOURIST PLACES TO VISIT:

 

- The Portuguese National Archives in Lisbon

- British Museum

- National Museum Benin City

 

LINKS:

- THE IMPERIAL ARCHITECTURE OF GREAT BENIN.

- EDO NATION PREMIER WEB

- EDO FOLKS HISTORY AND LANGUAGE

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Comment by Otedo News Update on September 22, 2011 at 1:09pm

@Kenneth, your point is quite noted. To call it “wicked” is totally wrong because the life of that time is absolutely different from today. Women were given out for mariage to men especially those they found favor. My mother was given to my father. Women were valued and know to be very precious species of human, so hence the reason they also gave her out to the Europeans. How the Europeans treated the daughter given to them is no longer the culpability of the man or people who deem it fit to have shared what they valued most. History had it that a white woman (Caucasian) was also given to the son of Oba of Benin as a wife in Portugal, making Great Benin the first African King to have interracial relationship in Africa. Great Benin of course, had own internal and external conflicts including their not being able to assess the motive of the European deceivers and corny business men. Same still apply to Euro-African trade till today.

Comment by kenneth daniel on September 22, 2011 at 9:44am

from some of ur stories it is well noted that the benins were very wicked. i think the selling of our black ancestors to the europens started in benin , u gave gift of african black women to europeans . what an insult on black race.

 

Great Benin Bronze

EDE N'ERHENA VBE EDO

"

These anti-Edo political organizations you folks went to join are the most anti-African - and Africans - in the world.

They're worse than anything; we obviously can't stop you though, even Ewuare II's manifest destiny lies in our own regional party.

We have egba Omo Oduduwa and so on, NPC, AG, the forerunner of them all NCNC and then now these cancers of today.

Stay "with them", but register for your most important election first: your local election, register Edo Political Front, and if you don't, vote the front.

No self respecting Edo will - in the future - find themselves the flag bearers and cheerleaders of foreign parties with indirect rule political and economic mandates, it just doesn't work.

No sane Edo person lives to "have the ear" of someone who doesn't have Edo at their heart.

The Supreme Court is the place to remove the frustration of these lethargic and "periodic" additions to the voting rolls; here - where I live - you can fill in the forms regarding changing your voter registration at the post office and other easy access places.

At the rate things are going we're going to find ourselves truly in decline as our populations suffer from simple things like protein deficiencies in children

" - Reggie Akpata

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