EDO-AFRICAN HERITAGE WITHIN THE CONTEXT AND THE DYNAMICS OF NIGERIAN CULTURE
BY DR. O. J. EBOREIME Ph.D (CANTAB)
HERITAGE DEVELOPMENT CONSULT
The history of ancient Benin Kingdom and its transformation into an Empire is a story of about 2,300 years before any contact was made with Europeans. The pre-contact phase saw flourishing development in art, science, administration, technology, political organization, architecture, astronomy, town planning and indigenous medicine amongst others.
Benin Kingdom is purely an African initiative whose growth was not stimulated by external forces. A Dutch map of 1705 and reprinted in 1907 in English by Sir Alfred Jones KCMG, the name Benin is shown to designate what today may be described as Nigeria South of the Niger and Benue. Other contemporary states on the map include Melli, Grain Coast, Gold coast, Slave Coast and immediately to the West of the Niger only Great Benin and Warri (awyi) are marked. It is instructive to note that various ethnic groups under the ambit of the Benin Empire like the Republic of Dahomey decided to change her name in 1975 to the Republic of Benin.
The Itsekiti of Warri, the Igbo of Onitsha and others trace their own royal linage to Benin. The Kalabari, Ijaw of Degema as well as the Epie-Atissa group in Yenagoa trace their origin to Benin (J.O.S. Ayomike).
My approach to this lecture shall be thematic not chronological. I am going to be talking about Benin Kingdom and Empire by looking at her greatness, her glamour and glory. Benin (Edo) Studies will need further intensive and extensive archaeological and anthropological studies beyond what has been done by Graham Connah and R.E. Bradbury in the 1960’s. I however recognize the scholarship of Professor Flora Kaplan, Joe Nevadomsky, Ben Paula Amos, Philip Igbafe, Ben Elugbe (Linguistics) Chief Priest Ebohon and Dr. Aisien O.B.S. Omoregie amongst others. It must be said that not much work has been done in other Edoid communities of Esan, Etsako and Ora-Emai and Uzebba-Iuleha axis to give us a clear picture of Benin (Edo) heritage and culture. The seminal work of Professor Jean Bogatti amongst the Northern Edo communities of Okpella, Okpekpe and Uzairue is worthy of note. As a young field anthropologist, in the ‘70s’, I had worked in the Avianwu communities of Fugar and Iraokho as well as Ugbekpe Ekpe-Eri where oral traditions refer to a spot where the Oba of Benin and the Attah of Igala were said to renew and renact their friendship periodically. I have also had the privilege of witnessing and documenting some aspect of the coronation of our royal father Omo N’Oba Edo Uku Akpolopolo, Erediauwa in 1979.
HER GREATNESS: FROM KINGDOM OF EMPIRE
The 15th and 16th centuries were the period of warrior kings: Ewuare, Ozolua, Esigie, Orhogbua and Ehengbuda (Paula Ben Amos: 1980). It was a time of consolidation, development and expansion of the kingdom as well as an age of conquest and artistic flowering. At its height the kingdom extended as far as to Lagos (Eko), the Ekiti-Owo countries to the North East and to the Ishan axis to the North West, as well as to East up to the River Niger and beyond. It must be pointed out that the Benin empire frontiers were continually expanding and contrasting as new conquests were made and as vassals on the borders rebelled and were reconqured. Thus the 15th century marked the transformation of Benin into an Empire (Igbafe in Benin kingship and Ritual). Ewuare (1440) and Ozolua (1481) were respected at home and dreaded abroad. Benin had entered commercial networks to acquire metal shells and beads for economic, artistic and rituals uses. To make the early Benin bronzes, she must have been involved in a network of trade which gave her access of cowries shells which came from East Africa. The beads could have come from neigbouring centres of glass working by the early 14th century.
During this period, Benin notions of kingship, the aesthetics and objects associated with it spread far and wide. Specific objects such as Ada and brass masks were sent to vassal lords as emblems of delegated authority. In areas outside her control the reputation of the Oba was such that leadership disputes were brought to Oba Ewuare for arbitration and those who provide successful brought home Benin regalia (Paula Ben Amos 1980). Ewuare set the pattern of Benin kingship. It was under him that Benin transformed on every level from its physical appearance to its religious and political organization. The palace which had no permanent site, hitherto, was rebuilt on a large scale in the same site as it is today where it has remained a mystical and political hub of the Edo nationality.
Ewuare is credited with laying out the basic plan of the city with roads radiating out from the centre. He divided the city into a palace (Ogbe) town (Orenokhua) dichotomy. He organized the population of the capital into wards with each characterized by the particular craft or ritual service owed to the Oba. Ewuare constructed the inners walls round the city, during the second half of the 15th century.
The earthworks served as bastion and also afforded control of access to the capital which had nine gates that were shut at night. It was completed around 1460, at that time being the world’s largest earthwork. Ewuare, thus fortified the city capital which consisted of 4000 square kilometers (2485.5 miles) of community land. In total the Benin walls system encompasses over 10,000 kilometres (6,21317 miles) of earth boundaries. Patrick Darling, an Archaeologist estimates that the complex was built between 800 and 1000AD up to the late 15thcentury (keys 1994:16).
Advantageously situated, the moats were dug in such a manner that the earthen banks provided outer walls that complemented deep ditches. According to Graham Connah (a pioneer Archaeologist of Benin in the 1960s), the ditch formed an integral part of the intended barrier but was also a quarry for the greatest material to construct the wall or bank (keys 1994:494). The ramparts range in size from shallow traces to the immense 20 meter ramparts (66 feet) around Benin City (Wetsler) 1998:144). The Guinness Book of World records describes the wall of Benin City as the world’s second largest man made structure after the China Great Wall in terms of length and the series of earthen ramparts as the most extensive earth work in the world. Thus Benin City was highly fortified at home to intensify an expansionist policy.
Eko (Lagos) was established as a war camp by Orhogbua in the 1500’s in an attempt to control the present day coast line of Nigeria (600 years ago). Having been trained in Portugal at one of their naval schools, he was well equipped to organize expeditions along the Southern coast of Nigeria and beyond to Dahomey, (named after Isidahomen one of his warriors from the Ishan country). Garrisons made of Edo/Benin soldiers were established in Eko, now Lagos, up to Ghana where they are regarded as ancestors of modern day Ga. According to Professor Igbafe (2007) taken together, the 15 & 16th centuries may be regarded as the “Golden Age” of Benin” in terms of the territorial expansion of the period, the quality of the rulers, Benin contact and trade with the Europeans, and the establishment of Portuguese missions at the time.
The two centuries represent the period of the greatest expansion of Benin in terms of the territories under Ewuare and Ozolua and those of the 16th c. Esigie (1504) and Orhogbua (c1550) and Ehengbuda (c 1578 – 1608) (Igbafe in Benin Kings and Rituals 2008). After a long drawn battle Esigie subjugated Udo as well as the menaces of Idah. As a result of the gallant role Queen Idia played in this fierce battle with the Igala, Esigie crowned his mother, Queen of Benin and sent her to live in Uselu. The glamorous Ekassa dance is a living legacy of this war; a colourful and mystical dance which only appears on rare occasions such as coronation and funerary rites of kings. The trade with Europeans brought new source of wealth into Benin; larger qualities of brass were imported which enabled Esigie to promote and patronize brass casting. Esigie allowed his son Orhgbua and two of his prominent chiefs to be converted to Christianity and became literate in Portuguese. Under Orhogbua Benin expansionism was directed to the coast leading to the conquest of Mahin, establishment of a camp in Lagos called Eko. Benin influence spread to Badagry and beyond along the coast. Ehengbuda, the eldest son of Orhogbun continued to consolidate the home front as well as military expansion abroad. He subdued Ilesha and extended his conquest to Akure and Owo through Ekpenede his famous Iyase.
BENIN KINGDOM: HER GLAMOUR AND GLORY
The Benin City walls and moats earlier described attest to the development of urbanization and rise of State societies in sub-Saharan Africa, a process that began in the 17th century and culminated in the rise of Benin, as a city and a kingdom of bronze and ivory in the 14th century. Dutch description of the royal palace and its art works are of particular interest because this important edifice was destroyed by fire in 1897. In the writings of Olfert Dapper who used early 17th Dutch report as his source were found written description of the palace as follows: The king’s court is square and stands at the right hand side when entering the town gate of Gotton (Ughotun), and is certainly as large as the town of Harlem, and entirely surrounded by special walls, like that which enriches the town. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses and apartments of 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 kept very clean. Most palaces and the houses of the kings are roofed 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. The reign of Akenzua (c 1715) witnessed tremendous wealth and an era of prosperity as a result of increased trade with the Dutch. Ivory was a principal export. Cowries, the traditional currency were imported in large quantities that they literally covered the walls of the rich (Paula Ben-Amos 1980). Indeed Oba Akenzua is said to have constructed a “house of money”.
When Landhope (a French trader) visited Benin 1787 he saw in the house of the Ezomo of the period “a large and beautiful room elegantly embedded with small Indian shells”. In addition to cowries a variety of cloth including damask, French silk, and linen, as well as a vast number of copper and brass pans were imported; some of which were, melted down for casting the numerous brass objects dated to this period. Certainly nothing attests more to the glamour and glory of the Benin Empire than the Omo N’Oba himself and his paraphernalia of office on ceremonial occasions such as Igue when he is decked in full regalia and in processions where the various palace and town chiefs in their own regalia accompany the Omo N’Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo through the various pilgrimages stations in the capital (Aisien E. 2001).
The coronation rites and rituals some of which I was privileged to witness and document in 1979 represent high points of the glory and glamour of Benin (Edo) kingship and culture. The whole episode represent a combination of arts, rituals, dramatically acting out the prowess and power of kingship and the solidarity of the Edo people with a deep rooted and rich heritage that still has strong contemporary relevance within and outside the Nation State of Nigeria.
Most of the rituals were either reenactments of past episodes in which the kingship is exalted or a reemphasis of the norms and values of contemporary society (Eboreime, Cambridge Anthropology, vol. 10 No. 2 1985). Indeed Bradbury states: ritual episodes… constitute for the Edo themselves explanatory models for their own society… nor are they static models for it would be possible to produce evidence to show that they are deliberately altered to meet circumstance which are recognized to have changed (Bradbury, Benin studies 1973, 249 – 250) Most of Benin institutions have shown remarkable capacity for adaptation as well as absorption. Indeed, they seem to have developed a mechanism for change which does not yield to iconoclastic devastation (Igbafe 2008). Indeed Omo N’Oba Erediauwa in his coronation address in 1979 buttressed this dynamics (Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa 2002: p. 307). “this our ancient city is now a state government capital and has thereby become a cosmopolitan city. It is therefore obvious that we cannot really always insist on the observance of all our custom and tradition… for that reason if and when circumstances so dictate, due allowance would be made for modernity… (Omo N’Oba Erediauwa 2004: p. 307)
The coronation has been aptly described as a culmination of traditional events marking the accession of the new Oba to the throne of the ancient kingdom of Benin (Commodore O.L. Oduwaiye in Oba Erediauwa 2004 p. 315). It is the installation of a Benin Monarch and the continuity of kingship which involves the display of the rich Benin tradition as well as the consolidation of Edo identity. The Edaiken’s (crown prince), stay at Uselu is particularly significant. All and sundry from within and outside the defunct Bendel State paid him homeage involving presentation and exchange of gifts. Traditional dances from Ishan, Owan, Ika, Urhobo, Isoko and other “Edo” communities came and entertained the crown prince. The Musical Association of Bendel State were allowed a day to entertain the Edaiken. Government and non-Government officials poured in their hundreds to pay obeisance. The crown prince settled disputes amongst the Binis as well as outsiders (Field notes 1979).
I posit that apart from acting as a training ground the Edaiken’s stay at Uselu offered the opportunity for all Bendelities collectively and individually to pledge support and loyalty to the crown prince (Edaiken). It was an opportunity for Edos in diaspora to renact their cultural ties and relationships with the Benin Empire. The homage of the American ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young generated real and metaphoric significance for the Afro American. It was to reconnect with this roots as well as to pay homage to the Edaiken. He had come to see, feel and taste the authenticity and integrity of the culture of, one the most ancient Monarchies in Africa; the Great Benin Kingdom, the kingdom of bronze and ivory; indeed a living heritage of pride to Edos.
The visit by Andrew Young carries multivocal interpretation. Whilst the diplomat felt fulfilled in reconnecting with his roots, the Bendelities derived a sense of pride and solidarity with the crown prince. Benin Kingship had thus become Nigeria’s living treasure that outsiders could now visit and relish through heritage tourism; a brand of tourism that respect the cultural and tradition of host communities. The Oba’s unprecedented nationwide tour after the coronation is both expressive and symbolic. While it was a thank you tour, in real terms, it was also a pride to Bendelities and non-Bendelities. He was tumultuously received and revered admirably he carried along his chiefs adorned in their pure white regalia and beads. Wealth was also displayed in the promotion of Edo heritage.
The Omo N’Oba Uku Akpolokpolo brought and still brings added respect and prestige to traditional rulers and institutions all over Nigeria. Many years after the visit to us in Port Harcourt the visit continued to dominate public discourse. The details of Omo N’Oba tours are fully documented in his Majesty’s highly educative book. “I am sir Your Obedient Servant” (Erediauwa 2004).
RESTORING THE GLORY OF EDO IN THE 21ST CENTURY
In terms of technological know how and industrialization Edo is disadvantaged. But in terms of the wealth and robustness and variety of her tangible and intangible heritage she remains unrivaled in the continent. Whilst places like Kenya and South Africa have as their offerings wild life, sun shrine and beaches, Edo State has historic towns and villages, virgin forests, shrine and religious centres, songs and dances, ancient city walls and other movable treasures. The Guild system of Igun bronze casters, iron workers and wood/ ivory carvers remain outstanding in the world. The palace with her Living Human treasures which guarantees continuity as well as authenticity of Edo culture is also unique, when compared to others in the continent.
The reign of Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo the Oba of Benin has witnessed since 1979 a renaissance and progress that can be compared to that of Ewuare. There has been a revival of the arts, stability and peace in Edo land, accommodation of non-Edos. One great strength of the Oba is His Majesty’s accommodation to positive change without compromising the core values of Edo culture and heritage. Benin/Edo culture is making waves outside this country. Any museum that has no Benin art work has not arrived. The exhibition Benin Kings and Rituals, Court Arts of Benin which toured Europe as well as Chicago was mesmerizing. The Edos in diaspora demonstrated pride and utmost prestige in their culture with “Europeans and American holding us in high esteem. Official Palace Policy as well as the Federal Government is that these artifacts be returned.
Restoration of the glory of Edo people has to involve the return of the Benin artifacts which were looted from the palace and other sacred sites in the kingdom. High Chief (Prince) Edun Akenzua who has been championing this campaign equates the absence of the artifacts to tearing off some pages of a book. The effect is traumatic on the Edo people. The argument against return put up by the museums abroad is that Nigerian museums are not safe enough. This is no longer sustainable. The Benin Cultural Heritage Tourist Complex which is unprecedented anywhere in the world has within it a befitting museum that would belie the argument of those illegally holding our artifacts. The project idea comprehensively addresses the Edo identity, her glory and glamour as well as capable of generating employment and stimulating heritage tourism as a window to other parts of Edo State.
Having been to majority museums in Europe and America, I can confidently say that the project is a masterpiece of ingenious creation. It is a one stop shop indeed. The project is ingenious and bridges the gap between the youth and elders. It is a venue where the old and young can socialize, visualizing the contribution of Great Benin to world civilization. It will generate a rejuvenated Edo pride and stimulate development. The project restates the dignity of the Edos as a nationality that has contributed to the development of African civilization at one level and to Nigeria at another. Benin can be regarded as the icon of Nigeria’s collective Heritage. In restoring the glory of Edo people, we must begin with our identity and heritage which would generate in us and our inquisitive youth a pride of place within their peers anywhere in the world. Self pride and identity are prerequisites for creativity and technological advancement. This project should be seen as a pan-Edo enterprise that will draw those in diaspora back to stimulate investment.
I congratulate the Ome N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa as well as the peoples Governor Comrade Adam Oshiomole for buying into this project. The organizers deserve a special place in history. I can see the project being realized within record time to the glory of God.
Oba gha, tokpere….Ise.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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 https://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". https://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
TOURIST PLACES TO VISIT:
- The Portuguese National Archives in Lisbon
- British Museum
- National Museum Benin City