Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Benin Empire

The kingdom of Benin began in the 900s when the Edo people settled in the rainforests of West Africa. They transited to hoe agriculture in the end of the first millennium BCE – the first half of the first millennium CE.

Their rise turned out the earliest stage of the process that finally resulted in the emergence of the Benin Kingdom. Since then, the extended family community has always been the fundamental, substratum institution of the Bini, the socio-political, cultural, economic background of their society.

The rulers of the first kingdom were known as Ogisos, which means ‘rulers of the sky’. In the 1100s there were struggles for power and the Ogisos lost control of their kingdom.

The Edo people feared that their country would fall into chaos, so they asked their neighbour, the King of Ife, for help. The king sent his son Prince Oranmiyan to restore peace to the Edo kingdom.

Oranmiyan chose his son Eweka to be the first Oba of Benin. Eweka was the first in a long line of Obas, who reached the peak of their power in the 1500s. The Obas lived in beautiful palaces decorated with shining brass.

The Oba is the source of wisdom, the owner of the land and people. He exercises the power of life and death as symbolized by the royal sword that constitutes a central element of his paraphernalia of office.

Obas were very powerful and people treated them like gods. Under their rule, Benin Kingdom began to expand and flourish. The Obas established a mighty army and gained control of large areas of land. Benin Kingdom became very wealthy after the Obas set up links with Europe to trade goods and slaves.

Gradually, the Obas won more land and built up an empire. They also started trading with merchants from Europe. For 400 years Benin was very successful, but in the 1600s the Obas started to lose control of their people.

When European merchant ships began to visit West Africa from the 15th century onwards, Benin came to control the trade between the inland peoples and the Europeans on the coast.

By the 1800s Benin was no longer strong or united. When the British tried to expand their own trade in the 19th century, the Benin people killed their envoys. So in 1897 the British sent an armed expedition which captured the king of Benin, destroyed his palace and took away large quantities of sculpture and regalia, including works in wood, ivory and especially brass.
Benin Empire

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