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Oba Orhogbua (1550-1578 CE).
When his father, Oba Esigie died, Orhogbua was in Europe. On arrival from Europe, the Bini insisted that he choose between being a Catholic priest and an Oba because he can not be both. The popular saying in Benin at the time was: ?Ai wo Oba, wo ebo,? meaning you cannot be king and be priest to a deity. Orhogbua chose to become Oba.
The Bini had always considered their riverine territories the Iyekowa (backyard) of Benin land and for hundreds of years they controlled the entire area. It was the route through Ughoton water side that the land locked kingdom reached out or was reached from abroad, and increasingly so from Oba Ewuare´s era. The Bini called the route: ?ode ame (the riverine route, and would sometimes add: ?emwin n´omo yaru omo ode ame erokerhe,? (meaning: the underpinnings of the authority and prestige of the Oba of Benin, came through the riverine route).
It was the revenue route from the outside world to Benin. Active trading with the Portuguese started in 1553, with the Edo offering ivory, palm oil, pepper, cloth, beads directly and slaves brought into her Ughoton port from surrounding territories under Edo Empire. The first guns came into Benin through this route, as did iron bars from Holland for the five blacksmith guilds, and the manila currency melted into raw materials for the exquisite Benin bronze masterpieces in all the leading museums of the world today. The cowry currency also came through the route to facilitate Edo´s economic buoyancy. The Ijebu towns all the way to Ikorodu, on the route, provided Benin with woven cloth, which became the major item of trading on the route with European traders, who re-traded the cloth at ports on the West African coast and the Congo, in exchange for slaves and gold. Of course, the Roman Catholic fathers brought the Bible with one hand and enslaved the natives with the other through the route.
Oba Orhogbua enforced tribute payments from all parts of his Empire and in the 1550s conquered all the coastal lands, up to Lagos where he left a permanent garrison. The Benin maritime army was borne on river-craft flotillas. Orhogbua´s conquering expedition recognized the importance of Lagos Island, both as a military defence point, and a look-out post for traffic from around the world, intending to explore the interior of Africa from the West African coastline break that allows water to flow from the Benin River into the Atlantic Ocean. Ships from the outside world could penetrate into the bowels of Africa from there so the Island entry point was considered the perfect place to monitor and control the trade. Orhogbua occupied the Island, which he called Eko (meaning camp), by setting up the first human settlement there. Oba Orhogbua´s son was the first Eleko (Oba) of Lagos. From Lagos, Orhogbua explored the lagoon system to its farthest points through Dahomey, Togo, to the Volta River and Basin in today´s Ghana.
Until the Biafran Civil War, it was believed even by opponents in war, that the Benin person was immune from drowning in the River Niger because of a covenant the Spirit of the river, (known by the Bini as Ohinmwin, and by the western Ibos, as Oshimili), had with Oba Ewuare. The Spirit always threw the drowning Edo person out of the water. Not servicing the covenant for hundreds of years, may have got the Spirit angry in modern times. The lagoon expedition introduced common salt (umwen) for the first time to Benin, displacing eventually, odoo, which was the Benin traditional salt. The sample salt acquired the name ´umwen´ because an Ishan servant of Chief Osague, asked to taste the salt, said in tasting it, that it was ?Obhen,? meaning, all right.
Ekenika played a prominent role in Oba Orhogbua´s military campaigns that brought the Lagoon lands all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where it is known as the Bight of Benin, under the control of Benin. He was a commander in Orhogbua´s maritime army, and the first person to step on the uninhabited Island of Lagos. He beat back Aworis´ counter attacks from the mainland. The Aworis had noticed some discarded ebieba leaves, (used in wrapping food by the Benin soldiers), floating on the water. They were tropical forest leaves strange to the brackish mangrove swamplands of the lagoon so, they knew they had strangers in their midst and attacked from the direction the leaves were coming.
Ekenika was rewarded with the title of Ezomo of Benin. The first person in Benin history to bear the title. Ekenika was set up at Uzebu quarters in Benin City by Oba Orhogbua, to closely monitor Benin´s most important route, territories and population, and to provide regular backing for the Lagos camp. Both Lagos and Uzebu habitations, therefore, came on stream at the same time. Uzebu was at the western outskirt of Benin, straddling the city´s gateway to the sea through Ughoton, the lagoon territories and people, under the control of Benin from that area, and opened Edo to Europe and the world. The Uzebu quarters served as training ground and store of weapons for the soldiers of the lagoon campaigns. The Portuguese would have lent a hand, particularly in the training and use of fire arms and cannons. Oba Orhogbua was virtually a Portuguese anyway. A very close relationship existed between Benin and Portugal at his time.
Ezomo´s permanent residence or palace was at the heart of Uzebu quarters, as the commander of the Uzebu military camp. Ekenika´s Uzebu activities and campaigns triggered and influenced the development, origin and background of the controlling elite and names, of towns and cities along the Benin riverine route: Ijebu Ode, Ijebu-Mushin, Ijebu-Ife, Ijebu-Ugbo, Ijebu-Remo, Ijebu-Oro, Ijebu-Ijesha in Ijesha land, Ijebu-Owo in Owo land. There are strong family links between Ekenika and the nobles in all the territories of the Benin riverine route. The traditional head of Owo town for instance, bears the name Ojomo, the full title being Ojomo-Olude. The Obazuaye family in Benin descends from Ekenika and the Lagos branch of the family are the Bajulaiyes. The prominent Olisa clan in Ikorodu and Ijebu Ode are related to the Oliha, the head of the Uzama group in Benin. There are many more of such links with Benin around West Africa. The Ijaw kingdom of Ogba in Bayelsa state has a concentration of the descendants of the Ekenika´s, particularly in the village of Akabuka.
The title, Alare Ezomo, was conferred on a prominent son of Uzebu quarters in Benin, in the 1930s, by Oba Akenzua II, emphasizing the strong family ties of Bini people with the Ijebus. All Ijebu Ode natives, describe themselves as Omo Alare. That is, the descendants of Alare. Alare is the ancestral deity of the Ijebu race and it is claimed that every thing an Ijebu person owns, money, land, property, belongs to Alare. This is the secret of the Ijebus´ relative ease at accumulating wealth. He can accumulate wealth but has no right to part with what belongs, in totality, to Alare.
Oba Ehengbuda (1578 ? 1604 CE). Ehengbuda ascended his father´s throne in 1578 CE. While his father, Oba Orhogbua, might be considered a water warrior who made his greatest impact in the lagoon territories, Oba Ehengbuda campaigned mainly on land in the Yoruba areas.
All the warrior Obas, most times, personally led their troops to war. Oba Ehengbuda, while prosecuting his military activities in the Akure area, sustained burns which healed to leave scars on his body. This was systematized in the Iwu body marks which every Edo adult had to acquire to be able to participate in royal and court activities of the land. The markings also served to identify the Edo person for protection during the slave trade. Strong efforts were made to prevent Edo people from being sold into slavery. Edo people openly and actively encouraged and facilitated the escape of slaves from the holding centres in the kingdom and particularly from the Ughoton port.
As a result of Oba Ehengbuda´s accident, the responsibility for leading the army in war was delegated to the Iyase. Chief Ekpenede, who was the Iyase at the time, became the number one commandant of the Edo army. He prosecuted several successful campaigns in Yoruba territories and concluded many treaties, including a major one with the Onakakanfo (the commandant) of Oyo, which demarcated the boundary in Yoruba territories at Otun town in northern Ekiti between the Edo and Oyo powers. At the ceremony marking the boundary, the two commanders stood at the boundary with backs turned by each, to their respective homeland directions, Benin and Oyo. The Edo General planted an ikhinmwin tree, and the Oyo General planted a palm tree of the spirit world, a high savannah date palm, unfamiliar to the Edo at the time.
Because of the military feats of Iyase Ekpenede, and particularly with the conclusion of the Edo/Oyo treaty, which carried significant value, it was thought that Iyase could begin to habour ideas of his own, and could stage a coup against the monarch if allowed to return and live in the city with the Oba. The Iyase was, therefore, instructed to move to any town of his choice and not to return to Benin City. In the town he moved into, the Iyase enjoyed untrammeled power. Even tributes earmarked for the monarch ended up being hijacked by the Iyase, and as long as he was alive, no other Iyase was appointed in his place.
Agban was the second Ezomo to be appointed after the demise of the first one, Ekenika. Agban´s reign straddled that of Oba Orhogbua and his son Oba Ehengbuda. His exploits were mainly in western Ibo land. The area was brought under Edo suzerainty from Oba Ewuare´s expansion of Edo kingdom´s era. Ezomo Agban´s military campaigns ran into difficulties at Ika town of Ogidi but he triumphed in the end and named the town ´Agbor,´ a corruption of Agban. His success and pacification efforts in the western Ibo territories were so impressive, he was almost being treated as the Emperor of the area by the Edo. He did not participate in the successful Ubulu-Uku war, however. That was left to Chief Imasan, the Enogie of Emokpaogbe to prosecute because it was triggered by the killing of Imasan´s daughter by the Oboros.
On one occasion, while verbally presenting a war report to Oba Ehengbuda, thunder claps interrupted Chief Agban. Offended by the temerity, he decided to teach thunder a lesson. He arranged for a tall scaffold with a wide base, and reaching far into the sky, to be erected. He tied hundreds of calabashes filled with palm oil on the rungs of the scaffold from the base to the far flung tip and set the scaffold on fire with the intention of smoking the thunder deity out of hiding. Before the scaffold crumbled and fell, Benin City was visited by a hail of showers, followed by rain of large frozen ice blocks, and the mournful sounds, like the wailing of thunderstorm in distress, in the sky. Whatever was responsible, it was some consolation for a people that believe nothing is impossible to achieve. That in a nutshell propelled the stupendous height that Edo people reached in almost every field of human endeavour.
In the Epe/Lekki waterways, while Oba Ehengbuda was two days away from an eight days journey through the lagoon to visit his Dukedom and military camp, Eko (Lagos), a freak storm hit the lagoon and capsized many of the river-craft in the royal float, including that bearing the monarch, and he died.
Oba Ohuan (1604 1641 CE) was Oba Ehengbuda´s son. He ended the Eweka dynastic lineage. Powerful rebel chiefs established private power bases and selected Obas from among themselves. The selection process took the format of the Ihogbe picking an Oba from among their ranks and presenting him to the Uzama for crowning. This process produced a series of Obas, seven of them, with doubtful claims to legitimacy, thus seriously weakening the Edo monarchy. By the mid 17th century and extending well over the period of confusion about who reigns in Benin, the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French and other Europeans, had expanded the slave trade in the area so much that they were calling it the Slave Coast. The slave trade remained high in the area until 1840. The slaves were mainly war captives and were drawn from the entire area controlled by Benin all the way to the communities near the coast and to northern peoples such as the Bariba. The Atlantic slave trade had a destructive impact in Benin area, causing devastating depopulation around Benin and greatly militarizing the area.
Oba Ohenzae (1641 -1661 CE), was the first of the seven Obas with doubtful legitimacy. His Ezomo was called Ezomo N´Ogun. Ezomo N´Ogun was the first person in the history of Benin to propitiate his own head, (that is to give thanks to the spirit of good fortune), with a live elephant. The incidence helps to demonstrate the demoralizing effect the slave trade had on African communities through deaths, kidnappings, sacking and disappearance of towns and villages, and the truncation of African progress and civilization. Only two other Edo personages have achieved Ezomo N´ Ogun´s feat of using live elephant in rites. Iyase Ohenmwen achieved it some 170 years ago and Oba Akenzua II pulled it off in February 1936. Servants sent by Ezomo N´Ogun to capture a live elephant, took 14 days to come home with one. While the richly garlanded elephant, restrained with strong ropes to the legs, arms and body, was being led in procession through the streets to the ritual site, an elderly man, watching from the safety of the verandah of his home remarked rather loudly:
?What is the cause of the rejoicing of these
people over the fragment called life??
Dragged before the Ezomo for his impertinence, he pleaded to be allowed to explain himself and when allowed said:
?My Lord, what I mean is, what is the cause of the rejoicing
of these people over the fragment called life when
it is possible to capture an elephant within 14 days return journey
in the jungle between Benin City and the bank of River Ovia?
A feat that would have been impossible within such a short time
during the time of Ezomo Agban.?
The slave trade had gone on for about two hundred years at the time and had taken its toll on the populations and communities around the city of Benin, turning once lively and sprawling towns and villages during Ezomo Agban´s time, into a long stretch of thick jungle. The jungle was in fact, so close, it was within 14 days return journey from the Ezomo N´Ogun´s backyard in Edo kingdom. Elephants and wild lives were now the close neighbours of the Edo people who were not allowing themselves to be enslaved. Instead of punishing the old man as his persecutors had hoped, Ezomo N´Ogun thanked and rewarded him generously for his wisdom.
The other six colourless Obas with questionable claims to the throne were Oba Ekenzae (1661 -1669 CE); Oba Akengboi (1669 -1675 CE); Oba Akenkpaye (1675 ? 1684 CE); Oba Akengbedo (1684 -1689 CE); Oba Ore-Oghene (1689 ? 1700 CE), who received a personal letter from Pope Innocent XII in 1692, encouraging him to remain a catholic.
Oba Ewuakpe (1700 ? 1712 CE), was thrust into office by his father, Akenuzama, who had declined the offer to be king on the grounds of old age. The offer had been made to Akenuzam by the Ihogbe, after the death of his cousin, Oba Ore-Oghene, who had no heir. Oba Ewuakpe, whose birth name was Idova, but was hurriedly re-named Ehennegha by oracular directive before the Ihogbe presented him to the Uzama nobles for crowning, was too young, inexperienced and impatient. These led to a series of problems for him. His first problem was that he could not offer propitiatory rites at the Oba´s ancestral shrine as required by tradition because his father was still alive and not an ancestor yet. Then his mother, Ewebonoya, died at her Uselu palace, soon into his reign.
To provide her with the level of comfort she had become accustomed to as Queen mother, he sacrificed humans, a great number of them, to continue to attend to her needs in the ethereal world. Edo people, appalled by the human sacrifice and blood letting, rebelled and laid siege on the palace, flinging its gates open. The palace staff and his hundreds of wives took flight excepting Iden, one of his wives, who refused to return to her parent´s home at Oka village. When the siege became too unbearable, the Oba escaped with Iden to his mother´s village, Ugolo quarters at Ikoka, by the side of Ovia River. His mother´s relatives spawned him and didn´t want him in their midst. The humiliation was so much, he cursed the people of Ikoka village and sneaked back to his palace. The palace was leaking badly from neglect, and weeds and crawlers had taken residence.
He cleared some space for his wife and himself to stay to think of what to do next and lay their heads for the night. The following morning, Iden took the few articles of vanity she had, and sold them at the near-by Oba´s market. She used the money she raised, to travel to Agbor to recruit a reputable seer. The oracle recommended a make-believe ceremony and human sacrifice. Since they were not in a state to capture any human for the sacrifice, Iden talked her husband into allowing her to give her life to save the throne, as long as her grave would not be jeered at by passers-by and market women.
Iden went to the market after closing hours, to collect discarded broken calabashes that had been used in selling oil, and thrown away leaves´ head pads. She collected dried shrubbery from the bush near-by. In the mean time, the husband was stripping the palace garden´s palm trees bare of dry husks and fronds, which with faggots, he tied into torches.
The following night a huge scaffold of the palm fronds, torches and calabashes, soaring into the sky, was assembled and set on fire, with its embers and arches allowed to litter the palace grounds. The leaves´ head pads were strewed from the palace gates deep into the palace grounds, to give the impression that a lot of people had come to make deliveries at the palace. The aftermath of the ceremony was that it left the setting looking like a big event and merry making had taken place involving many people. The fireworks would have been noticed from far and near.
For the final ritual, Iden wore what was left of her finery, and hand-in-hand with her husband, they walked quietly down Iwebo Street to the spot she had chosen as her final resting place. After Ewuakpe had tearfully and painfully dug the grave, she climbed gracefully into it helped by her husband, and laid down facing the direction of the palace. All along, he was crying and trying to talk her out of the project. She was adamant. To fill the chasm with sand, as he was asked to do by his wife, was the hardest task he had ever faced in his life. He started filling it slowly from the feet side, saving her asphyxiation till the very end when he would cover her face with sand. After the deed was done, he crashed on the grave, crying bitterly like a child, over what he had done.
Esogban had noticed the fireworks in the night and in the early morning hours, sneaked around the palace grounds to see what had happened. He found the palace compound littered with head pads etc., and felt betrayed that the king had won back favour, and people were providing services to the palace behind his back. He rushed home, threw his wealth chess open and assembled choice items that would please his king, and with servants included, he headed for the palace with his peace offering.
In response to his solicitous voice at the entrance to the palace´s first vestibule, a lone voice from behind a slightly opened door reassured him that he was in good standing with the palace and that he was not an enemy of the Oba. Esogban left his offering where he was told to, and returned home happy with himself. When the Iyase heard about Esogban´s visit to the palace, he too rushed to make peace with the Oba. That was how Oba Ewuakpe regained his throne and the trust of Edo people. Iden´s grave is one of the stations, procession ceremonies in Benin City pay homage to today.
To ensure that what happened to him would not happen again to another Oba, he decided to put in place a sound succession process. He felt that a period of tutelage was necessary before one becomes an Oba, and that the best way to guarantee this was the principle of first son succeeding his father to the throne. The bargaining chip of his Chiefs was that the principle should be extended to their own first sons and that the Oba should surrender his traditional inheritance right to their estate, to their own first sons. Ewuakpe agreed, and the principle has held again since, with minor skirmishes.
Iyase N´Ode was Oba Ewuakpe´s Iyase. His military campaigns outside the kingdom were all successful. Iyase N´Ode is remembered in Benin oral history as a threatening foe and a very powerful magician, who could transform himself into an elephant in war or at will. He conquered many kings in Yoruba land to achieve for himself the status of ´Okhuen.´ There have been only two Iyase´s in the history of Edo kingdom who attained the status of ´Okhuen,´ (meaning conqueror of many kings). The other was Ekpenede during the reign of Oba Ehenghuda. With that status, they could no longer live in the city of Benin with the Oba for fear of their nursing the idea of coup. Both these Iyases who could no longer live in Benin City, chose to spend the rest of their lives in Uhunmwode district, close to Ode Ekhuarha, the gateway to the territories they had conquered and or were monitoring. It included Etsakor, through to Yoruba land of Ado Ekiti, Akure, Idanre, to Idah and Idoma, and Nupe-land in the north and Ukpilla and Ineme, where raw iron-ore materials were coming from.
After Oba Ewuakpe´s death, a strong dispute broke out over whom was the senior of his two sons, Prince Ozuere and Prince Akenzua, born of different mothers. The Iyase N´Ode backed Prince Akenzua for the throne, but Prince Ozuere succeeded in gaining it.
Oba Ozuere (1712 ? 1713 CE), was only able to serve for about a year because Iyase´ N´Ode´s candidate, Prince Akenzua, became Oba
Oba Akenzua I (1713 - 1735 CE). Ehenua played a crucial role along side Iyase N´Ode in the fight to install Prince Akenzua as king. Oba Akenzua I, rewarded Ehenua with the title of Ezomo and made the title hereditary for the first time. He also for the first time promoted Ezomo to the rank of Uzama, the seven kingmakers of the kingdom, whose most junior member is the Edaiken. Other members of the Uzama are the Iyase, Oliha, Ero, Eholor N´ire and Edohen. Ezomo was the last title to join the group of nobles; most of the others had been members since the Ogiso era.
Oba Eresoyen (1735 ? 1750 CE), had only just ascended to his father´s throne when trouble came calling. Commandant Willem Hogg, the resident Manager of the Dutch Trading Station in Ughoton, had for nearly a year been pleading with Eresoyen´s father, Oba Akenzua I, to prevail on the Benin Chiefs owing the Ughoton Dutch Trading Station, unsupplied goods on which they had received credit lines. Also, Holland wanted to be allowed to participate in the Ivory trade and break the monopoly the monarch had granted the British and Portuguese ships calling at Ughoton. Traders of the two countries were offering better prices for the commodity. The palace had seemed to Willem Hogg, unwilling to help the Dutch company recapture slaves who had escaped from the Dutch company´s dungeons at Ughoton while awaiting their evacuation ship from Elmina Castle on the Gold Coast, to arrive. Half-hearted promises had been extracted from the palace over the issue of the runaway slaves, against the overriding feeling at the palace that it was the responsibility of the Dutch to secure their purchases after taking delivery.
These were the problems weighing on Willem Hogg´s mind when he decided to visit the palace to once more seek the help of Oba Oresoyen. In the presence of the Oba and chiefs, while discussing the issues that brought him to the palace, argument developed, leading to the loss of temper. The Dutchman got up from his seat, pulled out his pistol and shot at the monarch who was quickly shielded by his omada (sword bearer). The omada took the bullet intended for the monarch and died on the spot. Regicide had been attempted and murder committed, and in the confusion that ensured, Willem Hogg sneaked out of the palace. This incidence explains the reluctance of the Obas of Benin to be exposed to European visitors and why the British Capt. Henry L. Gallwey, Vice Consul for the Benin River District of the Niger Coast Protectorate and his delegation, suffered frustration and delays in March 1892, when they requested to meet with Oba Ovonramwen, to conclude a ´Treaty of Protection´ with Benin kingdom.
It was the responsibility of the Ezomo to take remedial action against the Dutchman because security matters for Ughoton gateway were under his portfolio. Ezomo Odia was not at the meeting. He had sequestered on his farm for a little while because of misunderstanding with the palace over the issue of the runaway slaves who had mostly taken refuge at his farm. Most of the other runaway slaves were with other chiefs. This was why progress was not possible on the matter. Since the chiefs do not sell slaves, they did not feel it was their business rallying runaway slaves for the Dutch? That sums up the popular refrain on all lips at the time. To get Ezomo Odia to return to town, the oracle prescribed that all the princesses of the realm should pay a courtesy visit to Ezomo Odia. The princesses, on being told that Ezomo Odia was at his farm, when they arrived at Okhokhugbo village, braced up for the long journey through shrubs and narrow bush paths. At the farm, they met Ezomo Odia tending his yam crops. Before the Ezomo could ask, to what he owed the honour, all the princesses were down on their knees, between the yam heaps, to greet him and respectfully invite him back to the city.
Ezomo Odia after making peace with the monarch at the palace went to Ughoton to arrest Commandant Hogg, who was brought to the palace grounds in a mouth-gag, with waist manacles. He was executed at the Ozolua Quadrangle. The two Dutchmen subordinate officers to Willem Hogg at the Dutch Ughoton station were not molested in any way. Six months after Commandant Hogg´s execution, on instructions from Elmina Castle, the senior of the two officers at the Dutch Ughoton station, one Herr Van Marken, who had taken over leadership of the station, visited the palace to make peace and facilitate the resumption of business between Benin and Holland. Eresoyen subdued Agbor rebellion; settled dispute in faraway Abor; built a house of money with walls, floor, paved with cowries.
Oba Akengbuda (1750 ? 1804 CE), inherited his father´s throne and reigned for 55 years. His son, Prince Osifo, sent white hair from his head to his father to show he was getting old. The father sent back salt and native chalk, meaning life is sweat. Adesuwa, already betrothed to him by his Ezomo, was murdered by the Obi of Obuluku for refusing to be his (Obi´s) wife. This led to the Obi´s head being brought to Akengbuda.
Oba Obanosa (1804 ? 1816 CE), was Prince Osifo, Oba Akengbuda´s son. There was a great commotion known as the ´Okpughe´ during his reign as Oba. As a handsome dandy, before he was crowned king, he felt he had a rival whose name was Osopakharha. The prince hated Osopakharha for his popularity, guts, flamboyance, and for what the prince described as his pretensions. The problem really was that they were look-alike young men, competing for influence and space in public esteem. Osopakharha was the son of the Esogban of Benin. The family lived at Ugbague quarters and there was nothing special about that. Osopakharha was the warlock of a witches coven known as Eniwanren-Aso (the Elders of the night). The prince´s parents were the patron and matron respectively of the coven. Even after Oba Akengbuda´s death, the prince´s mother, Iyoba Ose, remained the matron of the coven. Osopakharha hated the prince for hating him, and for trying to clip his wings as if he was his slave or underling.
Before becoming Oba, against the strong advice of the king and queen, the prince kept threatening Osopakharha publicly that he would order Osopakharha´s death on becoming king. Most people took the prince´s threats against Osopakharha as unworthy of the prince and expected him to out grow it. The prince was generally highly regarded even by his elders who saw him as intelligent, wise and with great promise, and nicknamed him Obanosa, (Oba with the wisdom and attributes of God). He chose his nickname as his official royal name at his coronation. Not to be outdone, and perhaps to further provoke the king, Osopakharha immediately chose to be called Oba Aso, (meaning the king of the night). The king of the night continued to match the Oba in flair and grandeur in social space, and to make things worse, became the lover of Iyoba Ose, and was frequently at her palace at Uselu. The order to kill Oba Aso led to heavy street fighting, accompanied by a great deal of public posturing and bravado on both sides. Five thousand people died and all the streets adjoining Ugbague quarters were sacked, and for decades permanently deserted. Oba Obanosa took ill immediately after Oba Aso´s death and the source was oracularly traced to Iyoba Ose. Obanosa ordered that the Iyoba Ose be stoned to death with molded bricks of esorhue (sea chalk), at her Uselu palace in public view.
Obanosa then rushed the minimum traditional burial rites required of him as the first son, to enable the mother´s soul rest in peace. A few days after burying his mother, he too died, as Osopakharha, the king of the night, had repeatedly warned would happen in these words: ?obo no biekhu, kevbe ekhu, era gba yowa.? Meaning, ´the hand that opens a door goes with the door in the direction the door takes.´
Oba Ogbebo (1816 CE). There was a strong tussle for the throne between the two sons of Oba Obanosa, Prince Ogbebor and Prince Osemwende, over who was the senior. Prince Ogbebor triumphed but ruled for less than a year. Oba Osemwende (1816 ? 1848 CE), who took over the throne from his brother, died in 1848, leaving his two sons, Prince Ogbewekon and Prince Adolor, with the problem of who was the oldest to serve as Oba. Oba Adolor (1848 ? 1888 CE), Prince Adolor won the battle and ruled until 1888. The leadership tussle surfaced again between the two sons of Oba Adolor, Prince Ovokhorhor and Prince Ovonramwen. This time, the battle was not as acrimonious as in previous times and was resolved in favour of Ovonramwen.
Oba Ovonramwen (1888 ? 1914 CE). Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi was on the throne during the British invasion of Benin City in 1897. To prepare the grounds before the invasion, the British first sneaked military spies into Benin, to infiltrate the nation´s security system during the Igue festival, a period of acute spiritual sensitivity for Edo people, when their monarch goes into seclusion for two weeks for spiritual cleansing and cannot receive visitors. The spies were eliminated for their hostile acts. The British then sent a delegation to Benin in March 1892. The delegation was led by Capt. Henry L. Gallwey, the Vice Consul for the Benin River District of the Niger Coast Protectorate, supposedly to conclude a Treaty of Protection with Oba Ovonramwen of Benin. The British had deceived King Dosumu of Lagos to sign a similar treaty that ceded Lagos to the British in 1861. They forced the same kind of treaty on the Jaja of Opopo in 1887 to gain access and economic control of the eastern coast of Nigeria. Quoting Capt. Henry Gallwey, who after retirement became Sir Henry Gallwey, in a report on the 1892 visit to Benin, for the Journal of the African Society of April 1930, under the title: Nigeria in the (Eighteen) Nineties, he wrote in part: ?Any idea I may have had of being received by the king the day I arrived was very soon dispelled. After being kept waiting for three days, I sent word to say that I could wait no longer. To support my threat, every half-hour, I sent a carrier away with a load I did not require, telling them where to wait for me. This artifice rather worried the king, and he sent word to me asking me ?not to be vexed,? as my interpreters put it. However, that afternoon, it was arranged for me to have audience with the king. I accordingly donned my uniform and sallied out with my companions into the burning heat of the afternoon, a most unreasonable time of day at which to hold a palaver. I am afraid, however, that the kings of Benin were never renowned for their reasonable natures. In spite of these pinpricks, it was all very interesting and amusing, and I never gave a thought to the discomfort of being encased in a dress intended to be won at levees and such functions in temperate climes??.?
After attempting to compromise the nation´s security earlier on, the British delegation could not be received by the Oba of Benin immediately they arrived because of the need to check out their real mission. When the Oba signaled readiness to receive the delegates, they were in ?encased dress intended to be worn at levees,? to the palace. In other words, they were in military uniform to the palace of an Oba who was weary of visits of Europeans. After the incidence of the Dutchman, Commandant Willem Hogg, who pulled a pistol and shot at Oba Oresoyen in 1735, while on a courtesy visit to the palace to discuss business matters with the Oba and his chiefs, Benin Obas became a little more careful about granting direct audience to European visitors.
This is the genesis of the difficulties experienced by Capt. Gallwey while trying to have audience with the Oba in 1892. At the palace, the disposition and mannerisms of the visitors had to be carefully studied before the Oba could receive them, since they were in military uniform. Capt. Gallwey said the Oba was ?unreasonable? and then generalized ?? as all Benin Obas are wont to be.? He had made up his mind before the visit and was looking for excuses to set up Benin kingdom for British invasion. To emphasize that Benin was a special case to crack, the British rushed to force treaties on neighbouring territories. They attacked the Nana of Itsekiri, in their ´palm oil war´ in 1894 and exiled Nana to Ghana; attacked the Koko of Nembe in 1895, and the Ashanti Prempeh of Ashanti in 1896, to produce duress inspired spurious treaties to take control of the kings´ respective areas of influence.
The British accused Oba Ovonramwen of lack of cooperation, and to look good in the eyes of the rest of the world, added ?human sacrifice,? as their reasons for launching their full-scale war on Benin in January 1897. The real reason for the British Expedition was that the British viewed the Benin kingdom as the main obstacle in their expansion drive into the agricultural interior of the West African coast from the River Niger. The war lasted for eight days from January to early February 1897, and went in their favour because of their big guns and cannons, which the Edo army did not have. After capturing the ancient city of Benin and slaughtering thousands of the natives in cold blood, to grossly depopulate the city, and the few survivors had escaped to farms and villages, the British ransacked the palace of the Oba, homes of nobles and chiefs, artistes´ workshops, and shrines, to rescue ?pagan art? and relieve Benin of the ?evil.? Then the British burnt the entire city down to the last house.
Akin Adeoya in the Sunday Guardian of March 29, 2009, wrote: ?There was a great kingdom of Benin that lasted for centuries with a highly stable administration and a civilization that built great highways and produced works of such great significance that the British who invaded and ultimately defeated the Ovonramwen´s gallant forces, nearly went mad with envy that not all their Christian piety or civility could help them resist the urge to steal these works of art, which their own civilization could not rival. These works of art, till today, still grace the shrines of the British Empire and civilization, the British Museum.?
The palace of the Oba of Benin, according to Joshua Utzheimer, 1603, was about the size of the German City of Tubingen.? This was razed down by fire by the British invading force, claiming to be on a civilizing mission. Is razing cities after the surviving few victims of their assault have surrendered, not the epitome of barbarism? Can any thing be more callous than this? Oba Ovonramwen who could not be captured but who surrendered to the British in August, 1897, was exiled to Calabar (in south-east Nigeria), where he died in January, 1914.
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 repoussé, 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, along with other invaluables, including precious works of arts, the invading British stole in the name of their king and country. What they could not steal or burn, they destroyed, including invaluable records of the Bini scintillating civilization, to allow their historians to falsify human history and African contributions.
According to Prof. Akin Ibidapo-Obe in: A Synthesis of African law, ?the British stripped Benin of its pagan art treasure?..almost 2,500 of the famous Benin bronzes, valuable works of art such as the magnificent carved doors in the palace, were carried off to Europe for sale. Today, almost every museum of the world possesses an art treasure from Benin. It is important to relate the account of British brigandage and deliberate and wanton stealing of Africa´s invaluable art treasures to show that our culture was great and was envied. The tradition and way of life that spawned such great achievement was deliberately destroyed and history was falsified to justify the introduction of their obnoxious laws, some of which purported to forbid our traditional religion.?
This is how Prof. Felix Van Luschan, a former official of the Berlin Museum for Volkerhunde, described what the British deviously called Pagan art of Benin; ?these works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Celini could not have cast them better, nor could any one else before or after him. Technically, these Bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.? Only a highly civilized nation could have borne the expenditure and facilities of such marvelous works of art, some of the best masterpieces in the history of mankind.
When the Nigerian government requested to loan a replica of the Idia Ivory mask for use during the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), held in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria, from the British Museum of Mankind, the British authorities insisted on the Nigerian government depositing a sum of three million dollars before collecting the loaned copy. A 17th century Benin bronze head (nine inches high) stolen from the palace of Oba Ovonramwen, by the British invaders in 1897, was auctioned by Sotheby, New York, for US$550,000 in July, 2007.
Despite the British abuse of Edo culture and marginalization of Edo history, the splendour of Edo civilization continues to this day to astound and excite 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. Edo was incorporated into what the British called the Niger Coast Protectorate, later known as the Southern Protectorate, and after annexing Arochukwu (Igboland) in 1902, and Hausa Fulani emirates in 1903, merged what they called Southern and Northern Protectorates in 1914 to form what in now Nigeria.
Oba Eweka II (1914 ? 1933 CE), ascended his father´s throne in 1914 and when he died, his son, Oba Akenzua II (1933 ? 1979 CE), took over. 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 ancient civilizations in the history of the world, is Oba Erediauwa, Uku Akpolo Kpolo, the Omo N´Oba N´Edo (1979 CE ?).
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