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Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by Nobody: 10:51pm On Oct 27, 2014
WHAT LESSONS CAN NIGERIA DRAW FROM THE STORY OF BENIN??




The Benin Empire (900 AD - 1897 AD)


The social structure of the empire was complex and sophisticated, and the territory was well developed with the Oba residing in an extremely well fortified and masterfully designed palace. Benin was both the name of the kingdom as well as its central city. In the sixteenth century there was significant trade with Portugal. The captain of a Portuguese ship, Lourenco Pinto, observed that:

'Great Benin, where the King resides, is larger than Lisbon, all the streets run straight and as far as the eyes can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown and the people live in such security that they have no door to their houses'.



As early as 1500, the King of Portugal received an ambassador from the King of Benin and found him "a man of good speech and natural wisdom"


Benin City

Benin City possessed an extensive network of streets up to 131 feet wide. A complex city wall system with nine gates, numbering among the most impressive earth structures in the world, protected the city from intruders. The palace compound itself occupied a large part, and is meant to have encompassed a surface area of 1148 x 2133 feet (Nevadomsky 1997).

Apart from these palace grounds encompassed the private living quarters of the king, various reception courts, the quarters of the three palace societies, and the royal harem. At least in the 17th century the wooden pillars supporting the roof of the galleries were decorated with mounted bronze reliefs plaques. In the 19th century the pillars were made of clay, and bore reliefs worked directly into the material. Doors and beams in the royal precinct were in some cases covered with hand-embossed sheet brass, or decorated with inlaid mirrors.

Numerous European visitors reported on the long waiting times before they were admitted to see the king. Access to the monarch was not only impeded by architectural hurdles, but also by the various ranks of dignitaries, who often actually posed an insurmountable obstacle. (Plankensteiner 2007: 277).



Early Trade in Benin City

In 1553, English merchants led by Thomas Wyndham were received in person by the Oba (king), who in turn traded with them in person, a practice common in the sixteenth century and confirmed by Portuguese reports as well (Hakluyt 1589: 53-65). According to a general description of trade written in 1623, Dutch pepper merchants participated in an extensive credit system, including use of written notes, with the two royal officials in charge of trade. Volume was considerable. Just one of the several Dutch ships involved in the Benin trade, the Olyphant, delivered 88,235 pounds of ivory and 1,337 pounds of Benin pepper to Texel, an island in the Netherlands, in 1630 (Van Wassenaer 1630).

The production of cloth was widespread and in local hands. Cotton growing and weaving were extensive throughout the Benin kingdom, as noted by visitors beginning with Welsh in 1588, followed by Ulsheimer in 1601, who noted its sale to Europeans through Lagos, then in Benin's hands, and Ruiters in 1602 (Hakluyt 1589). Samuel Brun, visiting Benin about 1614 noted that Benin made 'very beautiful cloths, which are exported far and wide and sold'. Weaving was essentially a home industry, done by women in their spare time, if more recent documentation is any guide. Their cloth was not only for personal use, as the written accounts attest, but for long-distance trade with other African people, thousands of such cloths being shipped annually by the middle of the seventeenth century, either by the inland waterway past Lagos or on European shipping to the Gold Coast (Ratelband 1645). They even turned up, through European shipping connections, among the burial goods of Queen Nzinga of Matamba central Africa in 1663 (Cavazzi 1687: 110-12).



Fortification of Benin City

The defensive fortification of Benin City, the capital, consisted of ramparts and moats, call iya, enclosing a 4000 square kilometer (2485.5 miles) of community lands. In total, the Benin wall system encompasses over 10,000 kilometres (6213.7 miles) of earth boundaries. Patrick Darling, an archaeologist, estimates that the complex was built between 800 and 1000 AD up to the late fifteenth century (Keys 1994: 16). Advantageously situated, the moats were dug in such a manner that earthen banks provided outer walls that complemented deep ditches.

According to Graham Connah, the ditch formed an integral part of the intended barrier but was also a quarry for the material to construct the wall or bank (Keys 1994: 594). The ramparts range in size from shallow traces to the immense 20-meter-high rampart (66 feet) around Benin City (Wesler 1998: 144). The Guinness Book of World Records describes the walls of Benin City as the world's second largest man-made structure (after China's Great Wall), in terms of length, and the series of earthen ramparts as the most extensive earthworks in the world.

During the second half of the 15th century, Oba Ewuare the Great ordered a moat to be dug in the heart of the city. The earthworks served as a bastion and also afforded control of access to the capital which had nine gates that were shut at night. Travel notes of European visitors also described the Benin walls (e.g. Pacheco Pereira 1956: 130-147; Dapper 1668). It was finalized around 1460, at that time being the world's largest earthworks.

The Benin City Walls were ravaged by the British in 1897.





The Arts

Benin was, and still is, famous for its oral history traditions and for its highly skilled craftsmanship and arts, especially wood carving, weaving and brass casting. Brass casting reached a particularly high level of aesthetic and technical sophistication in the sixteenth century when decorative plaques and sculptures (now known as ‘The Benin bronzes’) were made to decorate the palace of the Oba.



Ewuare The Great

Oba Ewuare was a direct descendant of Eweka I, great grandson of Oduduwa, Oni of Ife.

A series of walls marked the incremental growth of the sacred city from 850 AD until its decline in the 16th century. In the 15th century Benin became the greatest city of the empire created by Oba Ewuare. To enclose his palace he commanded the building of Benin's inner wall, a seven-mile (11 km) long earthen rampart girded by a moat 50 feet (15 m) deep. This was excavated in the early 1960s by Graham Connah. Connah estimated that its construction, if spread out over five dry seasons, would have required a workforce of 1,000 laborers working ten hours a day seven days a week. Ewuare also added great thoroughfares and erected nine fortified gateways.
Pendant ivory mask of Queen Idia (Iyoba ne Esigie (meaning: Queenmother of Oba Esigie)), court of Benin, 16th century (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Excavations also uncovered a rural network of earthen walls 4 to 8 thousand miles long that would have taken an estimated 150 million man hours to build and must have taken hundreds of years to build. These were apparently raised to mark out territories for towns and cities. Thirteen years after Ewuare's death tales of Benin's splendors lured more Portuguese traders to the city gates..


A 17th-century Dutch engraving from Olfert Dapper's Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten, published in Amsterdam in 1668 wrote:

The king's palace or court is a square, and is as large as the town of Haarlem and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises 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..."

—Olfert Dapper, Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten



The Legions of Benin

..........................................


"The King of Benin can in a single day make 20,000 men ready for war, and, if need be, 180,000, and because of this he has great influence among all the surrounding peoples. . . . His authority stretches over many cities, towns and villages. There is no King thereabouts who, in the possession of so many beautiful cities and towns, is his equal."

—Olfert Dapper, Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten (Description of Africa), 1668


......................................



Defence

From the 17th century on European traders, led by the Dutch, began to sell firearms in large quantities. European firearms used in Benin were of three types: the match-lock, wheel-lock and, from 1635, the flintlock, with a range of 200 yards. Flintlock firing mechanisms were used on firearms from the 1600s to about 1850. Its technology improved on an earlier type as it had a piece of flint in the cocking hammer. The possession of firearms strengthened the Benin army. The use of European firearms played a crucial role, and Benin's soldiers learnt much from Europeans, particularly the Portuguese (Plankensteiner 2007: 77). Gunpowder assured victory on the battlefield, although the use of firearms by Benin warriors was restricted by the Oba (king) to those authorized, mainly war and regimental commanders.

The kings of Benin during the 18th century and 19th century were conscious of their dependency on European firearms. This compelled Oba Akengbuda (ruled 1750-1804) to encourage local production of light firearms, muskets and flintlock hand-guns. The Oba organized the guild of blacksmiths (Igun Ematon), specialists in iron-casting, by creating a new quarter at Igun n'Ugboha (Plankensteiner 2007: 80). In spite of the initiatives in local production of firearms, in the 19th century more weapons were needed. Benin warriors had a few breech-loading rifles, the commonest being the muzzle-loading smooth-bore guns known as Dane-guns, because many were originally imported from Denmark. The arsenal of fire-arms in Benin was reduced since by 1890 the European powers had banned the export of arms to West Africa (Osadolor 2001: 198). The arms of Benin were obsolete, in comparison with the Maxims and rockets then produced in Europe. In 1885 the last Portuguese trade vessel departed from Benin.


British looting of Benin

Benin resisted signing a protectorate treaty with Great Britain through most of the 1880s and 1890s.

In the nineteenth century, Britain and other European powers were shifting from the lesser profitability of slavery to the more profitable direct colonial takeover of African states by signed treaties. Benin held out against this, yet finally agreed to the 'Gallwey Treaty' with the British in 1892, following dubious negotiations.

Even so they refused to cooperate with many of the British trading and other demands. In 1897 the British government was keen to add Benin to their tally of countries under their control, and sent a small troop of 10 soldiers to Benin with unclear intentions who were attacked and killed by the Oba’s soldiers. The British government responded by sending 1,200 soldiers, armed with Maxim machine guns to massacre Benin. After 17 days of fierce resistance from Benin’s soldiers and much bloody fighting the British took control of the Kingdom.

The city of Benin was burnt to the ground and the Oba’s palace was destroyed and looted of its magnificent and valuable bronze and ivory sculptures which were sold off to pay for the expedition. Some 3000 objects were removed and for many years stored in secret to perpetuate the myth that no such artwork could have an African provenance. There are over 1,000 Benin bronzes in various public and private collections, many in Germany and the USA, and around 200 at the British Museum.

WHAT LESSONS CAN NIGERIA DRAW FROM THE STORY OF BENIN??




Culled from various sources:

http://wysinger.homestead.com/ogiso.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benin_Empire
http://wysinger.homestead.com/beninwarriors.html

2 Likes

Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by mensdept: 11:26pm On Oct 27, 2014
And we couldn't even take an African name, instead we are proud to answer the white mans, abi white man's wife's name. Good for Naija 4 life t-shirts
Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by phantonce(m): 11:49pm On Oct 27, 2014
.
Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by JEITO: 12:08am On Oct 28, 2014
Sadly None
Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by Nobody: 9:45pm On Oct 28, 2014
JEITO:
Sadly None

Sure?
Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by theSpark(m): 12:01am On Oct 29, 2014
The number one lesson Nigerians -scratch that-Africans should learn is this:

Home grown innovation rocks. The guys in Benin pull off the feat of building one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. Did they give JB the contract? or was it CCECC that provided consultancy services? No on both counts. My point is simple, we can do it ourselves. I'm not against foreign expertise totally though.

If we determine to be a great nation in the World (not Africa) we can do it. We can become a world power if we want.

Secondly, the Oba made Benin blacksmiths capable of replicating European gun making technology. If Nigeria is to be great we must be capable of replicating foreign technology here and making use of the products.


I believe with this few points of mine blah blah blah you're convinced and not confused.

2 Likes

Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by Nobody: 11:55pm On Oct 29, 2014
theSpark:
The number one lesson Nigerians -scratch that-Africans should learn is this:

Home grown innovation rocks. The guys in Benin pull off the feat of building one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world. Did they give JB the contract? or was it CCECC that provided consultancy services? No on both counts. My point is simple, we can do it ourselves. I'm not against foreign expertise totally though.

If we determine to be a great nation in the World (not Africa) we can do it. We can become a world power if we want.

Secondly, the Oba made Benin blacksmiths capable of replicating European gun making technology. If Nigeria is to be great we must be capable of replicating foreign technology here and making use of the products.

You make sense.
Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by tpia6: 11:59pm On Oct 29, 2014
how to cooperate with europe?
Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by Nobody: 12:12am On Oct 30, 2014
Something that fascinates me about Ancient Benin is the defensive fortification represented by the Benin Earthworks. It took over 500 years to build the rampart (900 to 1460). One can only imagine the level of threat felt by those people for them to even conceive of such a massive project. I strongly suspect that that moat was built primarily to keep at bay the northern Jihadist Arab hordes rampaging through West Africa at the time. That moat protected Benin for nearly 500 years from foreign invasion. A similar moat built in Ijebu-Ode, the Eredo Earthworks, also in the Guinness Book of Records, protected the Yorubas as well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sungbo%27s_Eredo

This generally meant that those who lived to the south of those groups, like the Igbos, Efiks, Ijaws etc, were equally protected from the Arab hordes, allowing them all to escape the fate of Islamic subjugation.

It is possible that without those earthworks being built, we would ALL be muslims today, bearing names like Muhammed and Abubakar. ALL of us.

1 Like

Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by Nobody: 12:02am On Oct 31, 2014
mensdept:
And we couldn't even take an African name, instead we are proud to answer the white mans, abi white man's wife's name. Good for Naija 4 life t-shirts

I really think it's a matter of time before all that changes. Nigeria of say 100 years from now will probably be named something other than 'Nigeria', and be rid of stuff like christianity and islam. Even the English language itself might have been replaced by something indigenous. The political system would be far more authentic and functional, borne of our experiences. We've started seeing this cultural shift away from the colonial influence in our music, movies, fashion, manufacturing (Innoson etc). The rate its going we could even reach where I'm talking about within the next 50 years, ie a nation largely returned to its pre-colonial ...integrity.

1 Like

Re: Nigeria: Lessons From Ancient Benin by igbo2011(m): 7:00am On Nov 15, 2014
ROSSIKE:


I really think it's a matter of time before all that changes. Nigeria of say 100 years from now will probably be named something other than 'Nigeria', and be rid of stuff like christianity and islam. Even the English language itself might have been replaced by something indigenous. The political system would be far more authentic and functional, borne of our experiences. We've started seeing this cultural shift away from the colonial influence in our music, movies, fashion, manufacturing (Innoson etc). The rate its going we could even reach where I'm talking about within the next 50 years, ie a nation largely returned to its pre-colonial ...integrity.

I don't think islam or Christianity are going away anytime soon. Looks how the youth are and you will see it is here for a while. I am not religious I am more spiritual but I wish more people should leave religion.

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