Monday 10 August 2015

Nigerian Empires: Benin Empire / Edo Empire (1400 - 1960)

Nigeria is a large state in western Africa which opens out onto the South Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered to the north by Niger, to the east by Cameroon, and to the west by the state of Benin, which can cause some confusion, as Nigeria itself was home to the Benin empire which appeared at the start of the fifteenth century. The first kingdoms emerged in the late first millennium AD.

When the Nubians conquered Meroƫ at the start of the sixth century BC, some of the Meroƫ fled west and ended up establishing themselves in what is now Nigeria and Benin. This is known because the priesthood in these countries uses technical words which are Semitic. One of these is 'Al' as a prefix, used in the names of their spirits (angels). The word also lent itself to the name of the medieval state of Alodia.

Benin Empire / Edo Empire
AD 1400 - 1960

The kingdom was originally founded around AD 900 as a small city state, but it only developed in the twelfth or thirteenth centuries and was unified with the surrounding tribes in about 1300. Located in southern Nigeria, east of Yorubaland and west of the River Niger, it was populated by speakers of a group of closely related languages called Edo.

Benin is one of the southern Nigerian states which claim to have obtained kingship from the Yoruba city of Ife. However, archaeological research at Benin has shown that important developments preceded the foundation of the empire.

In the countryside around Benin City lies an extraordinary complex of walls, thirty feet high in places and stretching perhaps 15,000 kilometres (10,000 miles) in length. Because they are older than the walls of the city which became the capital of the Benin empire, historians believe that the region was the home of a large population before the emergence of a centralised state.

Information on the empire is extremely sketchy, with many gaps. Even the story of the empire's founding is debatable. The empire was ruled by a regent called the Oba. The modern Oba of Benin (now in Edo State, Nigeria) is still highly respected, although his powers are largely ceremonial.

Eweka I
First Oba of Benin.
1440 - 1473
Ewuare / Ewuare the Great
1440 - c.1470
Under Oba Ewuare, the kingdom of Benin becomes an empire through conquests which range from Idah to the north, and from Owo and Akure to Igboland, west of the Niger. The Oba give Benin a strong central government that weakens opposing political factions. The state is renamed as Edo.
1473 - 1483
Name unknown.
1483 - 1504
15th Oba of Benin.
1504 - 1550
Spread Christianity throughout the kigdom.
Esigie contacts the king of Portugal to ask him to send priests to Benin. He also allows churches to be built in the city at Ogbelaka, Idumwerie and Akpakpava. The Oba and the king of Portugal exchange gifts and a Portuguese ambassador is accredited to Benin.
1550 - ?
Name unknown.
Name unknown.
Name unknown.
? - 1669
Name unknown.
16th - 17th cent.
The empire becomes rich by selling slaves from enemy states to the burgeoning slave trade with Europe, where they are carried to the Americas in Dutch and Portuguese ships. The Bight of Benin's shore soon comes to be known as the 'Slave Coast'.
1669 - ?
1689 - 1700
1700 - 1712
1712 - 1713
1713 - 1735
Akenzua I / Nisonorho
1735 - 1750
1750 - 1804
1804 - 1814
(Ruler unknown)
A single Islamic state, the Sokoto caliphate, is founded in the north of the country.
1814 - 1816
Son. Ruled for 8 months.
1816 - 1851
Erediauwa Osemwede
1830s - 1886
Civil wars plague Yorubaland in the south.
1851 - 1888
Odinovba Adolor
Britain establishes a presence around Lagos and from 1861 governs what it calls the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria by indirect rule through local leaders.
1888 - 1897
Idugbowa Ovonramwen
Son. Deposed in 1897 by the British. Died in exile at Calabar, 1914.
1897 - 1914
The monarchy is suppressed on 9 September by Britain as direct colonial rule is instigated. Only on 24 July 1914 is the monarchy restored while the state is known as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
1914 - 1933
Aiguobasimwin Eweka II
Son. Died 2 Feb.
Part of the former German colony of Kamerun is added to Nigeria under a League of Nations mandate.
1933 - 1960
Akenzua II
Son. Remained titular Oba after independence.
Nigeria achieves independence from Britain as the Federation of Nigeria.

Modern Nigeria
AD 1960 - Present Day

Nigeria is located on the southern coast of Western Africa. It is bordered to the east by Cameroon, to the north-east by Chad, to the north by Niger, and to the west by Benin. The Federal Republic of Nigeria has its capital at Abuja.

With the advent of independence from Britain in 1960, Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa lead a coalition government. However, in 1961, South Cameroon decided to join the republic of Cameroon, while North Cameroon remained within Nigeria. 

On 24 May 1966 the parliamentary system was abolished when the Federal Republic of Nigeria was declared. The following year, the eastern region of the country seceded as the republic of Biafra, although this was not internationally recognised.

1960 - 1978
Akenzua II
Titular Oba since 1933, but with no political power. Died 1 Dec.
The Federal Republic of Nigeria is declared on 24 May 1966.
Biafra is reintegrated within Nigeria.
1978 - Present
Son. 38th Oba of Benin.

"Reception by the King of Benin", anonymous, Benin Empire
Credit: The History Files

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