The Benin Kingdom And Her Deltan Neighbors

Project and Seminar Material for International Relations

The Benin Kingdom And Her Deltan Neighbors


This study was set out to analyze the Kingdom of Benin and her Deltan neighbors. Rituals of kingship in some parts of Nigeria represent the main social reality for many people, providing meaning amidst clashing and ineffectual ideologies, and promising security in a politically unstable time. In the Benin kingdom the Oba’s power is less than in centuries past. but the ideas underling kingship persist, through myth and ritual, as a general cognitive model. By exploring the meanings of Benin Kingdom and the contemporary contexts of royal ceremonies this paper shows how court performances and other legitimating icons such as cement statuary give the Bini a sense of stability by tying them into a larger imagined tradition of greatness. Data collected were analyzed with qualitative methods of content analysis and expository essays. The study was an empirical literature review on the Benin Kingdom and her Deltan neighbours.

Table of Content

Chapter One

  • 1.0 Introduction
  • 1.1 Background to the Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.3 Research Objectives
  • 1.4 Research Question
  • 1.5 Research Hypothesis
  • 1.6 Significance of the Study
  • 1.7 Scope of Study
  • 1.8 Limitation of the Study
  • 1.9 Definition of Terms
  • 1.10 Organisation of the Study

Chapter Two

2.0 Literature Review

  • 2.1 Overview of the Benin Kingdom and its Environs
  • 2.2 Oral Traditions
  • 2.3 History
  • 2.4 Rituals and Law
  • 2.5 Military

Chapter Three

3.0 Methodology

  • 3.1 Research Design
  • 3.2 Data and Sources
  • 3.3 Data Analysis

Chapter Four

4.0 Data Analysis

  • 4.1 General Overview
  • 4.2 The Kingdom of Benin and Her Neighbours

Chapter Five

5.0 Summary and Conclusion

  • 5.1 Summary
  • 5.2 Conclusion
  • References

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation with several ethnic groups. These ethnic nationalities or groups occupy different territories that formed the area known as Nigeria. While geographical factors such as good climate, soil, presence of mineral resources and others such as better security, search for land, religion, trade and migration etc provide explanations to the spread of ethnic groups in different parts of the country. The uniqueness or the geographical attributes of the immediate localities played major roles in the people’s culture, economic activity as well as political organizations. Also, through geographical determinisms, certain ethnic groups developed centralized political systems while others developed what is described as non–centralized or segmentary political organizations.

The focus of this study is on notable ethnic groups in the southern Nigeria particularly, the Yoruba, Igbo, Benin and Itsekiri among others with particular emphasis on their culture, economy and political organization
The people of Nigeria are classified under two major geographical groups, namely the forest peoples and the grassland (savannah) people1 . Therefore the people of Southern Nigeria belong to the geographical group called the forest people. The forest south is comprised of the mangrove swamp forests of the Niger Delta and coastal Greeks which have provided protection for refuge cultures. The major ethnic groups in Southern Nigeria include the Yoruba and Edo (Benin) people in South West of Nigeria, and the Igbo, Ibibio, Ekoi people of the Southeastern Nigeria.

Igue Festival of Benin is the most popular and colourful festival of the Edo people of Edo state. It consists of up to nine smaller events or mini festivals. It is celebrated by the Oba of Benin and all Edo people to mark the end of the year and for the ushering in of a new year. The Oba dresses in his full regalia and dances with the scimitar; the king’s sword. It is an occasion for the Oba end Edo people to thank the gods for their protection during the year. The Oba sacrificed animals to propitiate the spirits, the gods and souls of dead Obas. Evil spirits are exorcised from the land. Finally, it is on this occasion that the Oba re-enacts important events in the history of the kingdom. The festival used to take place in September every year but it was in the 1980s that the late Oba Akenzua changed the Benin “end of the year” to December. The Igue Festival is now celebrated every December of the year. We shall only list some of these events without detailed descriptions because to do so will cover too much time and space.

(i) Otue Ugierhoba:

When chiefs and their special dancing groups visit the palace wearing their full ceremonial dresses to pay homage, and pledge their continued loyalty to the Oba,

(ii) Ugierhoba:

On this occasion the Oba confers traditional chieftaincy titles to his loyal deserving citizens.

(iii) Iron:

This event recalls the battles fought between the indigenous and pro royalist elements. The Ife dynasty of the Benin ruling family won the battle against Chief Ogiamien.

(iv) Otue Iguoba:

Chiefs of various grades dance to the Obas palace to wish him a successful celebration of the Igue Festival.

(v) Iguoba:

The Oba sacrifices to the guardian spirit of the Oba himself.

(vi) Ugie Ewere:

Ewere leaves are presented to the Oba to wish him good luck and the people purify their city by carrying lighted firebrands to drop into the river. The Oba appears in the public with all his wives; the only time he does this throughout the year. The Igue festival reminds the Edo people those important events in Benin history.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The kingdom of Benin was one of the most important forest states of West Africa during the precolonial period. Of all the West African states and societies, it is the one most mentioned in contemporary European literature.5 This also illustrates a number of important points: First, although much is known about Benin’s past from early European travellers and traders, the published information is basically on Benin’s external relations.6 Second, the study of aspects of precolonial Benin history will continue to attract the attention of scholars because of the competing interpretations and debates generated by the works of previous writers.7 Third, the historical quest for the historical knowledge of Benin’s past remains fascinating because of its royal art. These developments were expected to open up the boundaries of historical space for the understanding of the place of Benin in African history, but the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the collapse of professional historical study on Benin.

Ancient African civilizations span the course of several millennia, in time, and a large expanse of lands stretching from the Nile Valley across the cursed Sahara to the forest states of West Africa, in space.

Many states and kingdoms lived and thrived centuries ago in these regions. Most of them have now been packaged into intellectual memory banks that historians and their ever-probing kindred colleagues in learned literary studies love to mine. Egypt, Kush, Nubia, Ghana, Songhai, and dozens more ancient civilizations that are claimed for Africa have been respectfully treated by African historians and literati.

Many of these past states and civilizations died away before European incursions into Africa introduced new dynamics in the continent’s public affairs. Their histories live in blessed memory and are generally safe from attacks by either European managers of the images of Africa or by modern African historians and literary men and women. Who wants to besmirch Egypt’s reputation for its atrocities in Kushland? Many African intellectuals would prefer that we allow the holy pharaohs, who have brought so much pride to us in Africa, to rest in peace. Ancient Ghana’s glory and veritable history of conquests of ethnic neighbors have been appropriated by nation- alist Kwame Nkrumah for his country whose profane colonial designation of Gold Coast he changed to the famed and exalted name of Ghana in 1957—perhaps the greatest gift this anti-imperialist campaigner made to his native land. Walter Rodney, the formidable Caribbean scholar of African affairs, was bemused by the practices of African intellectuals who rush to invoke the heritage of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai in their search for the validation of claims that Africa too was well developed before the trou- blesome Europeans arrived in our lands.1In this wonderful show of good grace and good manners to kingdoms that are no more, such acts as King Mansa Musa of Mali’s reckless endangerment of his country in his carting away so much wealth to Arab lands in his year long pilgrimage to Mecca in the fourteenth century are forgiven or even glorified.2

Such robust respect for dead ancient African civilizations contrasts sharply with the searching attitudes and attention by African historians and the literati towards those of Africa’s indigenous states and civilizations that survived into the European era of dominance and into our own times.

1.3 Research Objectives

This study was set out to analyze the Kingdom of Benin and her Deltanneighbors. The study is hinged upon previous literature and the use of expository analysis to achieve the following specific objectives;

  1. To assess the nature of the Benin kingdom
  2. To assess the historical antecedents and the militiaof the Benin kingdom
  3. To assess the existing relationships between neighboring communities and kingdoms

1.4 Research Question

The following research questions are formulated to guide this research:

  1. What is the nature of the Benin Kingdom?
  2. What are the historical antecedents and the militia of the Benin Kingdom?
  3. What is the nature of the existing relationships between neighboring communities and kingdoms?

1.5 Research Hypothesis

  • HO1 There is no existing relationships between neighboring communities and Benin kingdoms
  • HA1 There is an existing relationship between neighboring communities and Benin kingdoms

1.6 Significance of the Study

For an objective understanding of the contemporary structure and patterns of inter-group relations in conglomerate societies such as Nigeria, an appraisal of the place of colonial rule in the trajectory of this process is necessarily important. For, although an essentially economic and political phenomenon, colonial rule left behind its trail a plethora of developments which had serious implications on the evolution of inter-group relations in Nigeria. This study attempts a discourse on the relationships between Benin Kingdom and her Deltan neighbours and the impact of this on the peoples’ relations and inter-relations. Although not an area for which the colonial administration appeared to have had any particular strategic economic interest, developments in Benin and Delta were greatly influenced by policies formulated against the background of broader considerations with regards to the colony and protectorate of Nigeria. The findings of this study will therefore provide insight on the inter-relations within the main-stream of British colonial rule, and the influence it has on the Benin-Kingdom and its neighboring communities. It attempts to illuminate in due course, the nexus between the Benin-Kingdom and socio-economic policies and the changes in its relations. This is done within the context of the military conquest and subjugation of the people; colonial prejudices and the resulting social, economic and political changes.

1.7 Scope of Study

The general purpose of this study is to investigate the Benin Kingdom and her Deltan neighbours. The study is hinged upon previous literature and the use of expository analysis to achieve the objectives.

1.8 Limitation of the Study

In the course of this study, the researcher encountered some limitations. There was paucity of data as materials relevant for this study were hard to access. This limited the findings of the study. Also, the researcher faced time constraints and had to combine the research with other academic activities and coursework.

1.9 Definition of Terms

Benin Kingdom:

The Kingdom of Benin was a kingdom in what is now in south-west Nigeria. It has no historical relation to the modern nation-state of Benin, which was historically known as Dahomey from the 17th century until 1975. The Kingdom of Benin’s capital was Edo, now known as Benin City in Edo state, Nigeria.


Interrelation is the state of things being closely connected to each other and maybe affecting each other. Interrelation can also refer to an instance of when things are connected or related in such a way. The word interrelationship can be used to mean both of these things.

1.10 Organisation of the Study

This study is organized into five chapters. Chapter one included the background of the study, research problem, research objectives and questions as well as limitation of the study. Chapter two contains the literature review. Chapter three includes the methodology and study area. Chapter Four contains the results and discussion of key findings of the study. Chapter Five finally looks at the summary, conclusions, and recommendations based on the findings.

Chapter Five

5.0 Summary and Conclusion

5.1 Summary

The greater irony in Okpewho’s caricature of Benin history is that it is projected as a powerful state even in modern Nigeria. The Western Igbo are pictured as modern subalterns who are oppressed by those who still wield hegemonic Benin power. The prime example of this modern Benin hegemonic power is the “Scheme for the Study of Benin History and Culture” with whose account Okpewho’s book begins and with whose denunciation it ends. For the sake of completeness, it ought to be mentioned that the Benin Scheme was one of several projects designed in the mid-1950s by the well-endowed History establishment at the University of Ibadan. Okpewho castigates the Benin Scheme as an exemplification of an “hegemonic program” that favored the undue promotion of Benin history and culture.

Such statements are out of alignment with modern realities in Nigeria. The Bini have had very little influence in modern Nigeria. For much of the period between 1952 and 1963 (when the Midwest Region was created out of the Yoruba-dominated Western Region), Benin was completely marginalized along with the Urhobo, their Edoid kinsmen in the western Niger Delta. Meanwhile the Igbo, at least in Eastern Nigeria, wielded considerable power in Nigerian political affairs. During the Civil War (1967-70), the first victims of that conflict were Nigerians in the Midwest Region, including the Bini and their King, who were rapidly conquered and governed for several months by Igbo-led Biafra. We see that Okpewho has recorded Western Igbo complaints against their Eastern kinsmen for invading the Midwest and making them suffer the consequences of the subsequent defeat of Biafra in the region (197). But the Bini and other Edoid groups have their own bitter tales about that invasion, which, among other things, resulted in the humbling of the Benin king. In the last two pages of his remarkable book, Okpewho provocatively asks: “Will the Subaltern Please Speak Up?” (190- 91). I would suggest that it would not be incorrect if the Bini and their king stood up and spoke up in response to Okpewho’s clarion call. They might have been masters in the nineteenth century. But it is unfair to demand that a people and their king who were so easily conquered by the Igbo not long ago should pose as a hegemonic force in modern Nigeria.

Therein lies the rub. Okpewho never intended that his powerful book should be limited to the analysis of myths and fiction. This brand of fiction bites. If the conquest of Western Igboland in the eighteenth century can provoke so much myth-making, how about the Biafran conquest of Benin and its king thirty years ago? The Bini are masters at myth-making. We do not know how many myths have been spun from that experience, but they are likely to be deep and plentiful. Should we allow myths of conquest to be revived in a region where myths easily come aglow? I do not know. But tales of harvesting king’s teeth for feast-making by his enemies are not likely to be read with the same amount of equanimity with which we are accustomed to studying, say, that master myth Oedipus Rex in Sophocles’s trilogy.

5.2 Conclusion

It is important to heed Okpewho’s passionate plea that “the political course urged in this study rests as much on common ground as on mutual regard” (xii) and that “this study is not aimed at promoting divisive ideology wherein all fruitful engagement is deferred or erased and social reality is headed for irreparable ruin” (xii). One wished, though, that mythology and live politics were not conflated. Sadly, all literary men and women are increasingly and ineluctably becoming public intellectuals. It is pertinent to plead with such literary gems as Isidore Okpewho to separate profane politics from sublime literature, and mythical fiction from historical facts.

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