History of the Benin People in Nigeria and the Stories Behind it

This is the original History of the Benin People in Nigeria and the Stories Behind it. There are various accounts of the origin and history of the Benin people of present day Edo state, south – south Nigeria. Some have traced the origin of Benin to Ile-Ife in Yoruba land, but this claim has been heavily challenged by astute historians because it lacks the required proof, although it is clearly evident that the Binis and Yoruba’s have a long historical connection which stretches back numerous generations, it is highly unlikely that the Binis originated from Ile-Ife.

History of the Benin People in Nigeria and the Stories Behind it

Another school of thought believes that the Binis originated from the lower Nile river area in present day Egypt. This postulation is predicated on the philosophical similarities between the Binis and the Egyptians with respect to religion, monarchy and cosmology. Just like the Egyptians, the Benin monarch enjoys enormous loyalty and respect from their subjects.

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Another point of significant similarity between the Egyptians and the Binis is the famous hairstyle of Benin chiefs which has a striking similarity with the helmet of Pharaoh Rameses II. The hairstyle used by Benin queens is also quite identical to two past fourth and twelfth dynasty Pharaohs. Also, the circular patters which were famous with Rameses II’s helmet are prominently visible in numerous Benin bronze casting and other artworks.

Apart from the aforementioned, the Benin cosmological account of creation of the earth seems to be largely sourced from the Egyptian account. The Egyptian account has it that the universe was in a state of complete chaos and water covered everywhere, then a hill rose up from the bottom of the ocean. It was on this hill that the sun god, Atom appeared. He brought with him the sun, which sustains all life on earth, and also created eight other gods, making nine in total. It is for this reason that the Egyptians allot seniority to the sun god over others.


History of the Benin People – The Benin Creation Story

The Benin creation story has it that the universe was covered with water and at the middle of the water there was a tree and on this tree there lived a bird called Owonwon. At some point, the creator Osanobua decided to populate the earth so he sent down his three sons whom he gave the choice of selecting one special gift each.

The first son choose to have wealth, the second choose magical powers while the youngest, on the advice of Owonwon opted for a snail shell. On getting to the middle of the water, the youngest son turned the shell upside down and it produced a large quantity of sand which formed land from the water. The sons of Osanobua were afraid to step on the land so they sent the chameleon to test the land, which is what the Binis believe still makes the chameleon to walk with hesitation today.

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After the creation of land, Osanobua then came down to the earth on a chain to allocate responsibilities to his three sons. The oldest was given authority over the water, hence the Binis call him Olokun which means “god of the river”. He is still vibrantly worshipped in Benin till today. The second son was given the responsibility of using his magical powers to balance the effect of negative and positive forces in the natural world. The Binis call him Oguiwu or Esu which means “harbinger of death” he is thought to be the reason why all living things eventually die because he is seen as the owner of blood. Oguiwu is regarded as an evil being. The youngest son was assigned the authority over the land. He named the land Agbon and set up his headquarters at Igodomigodo which is in the present day Benin kingdom.

In Benin mythology, Osanobua and Olokun are usually associated with life, health, wealth and all good things, while Oguiwu is associated with mourning, death and evil. The youngest son is seen as a symbol of innocence and so he is thought to be susceptible to the whims of the others.

In as much as the account of creation and origin given by the Bini is based on mythology, it is however not in doubt that the Binis already had an organised city and existing administrative structure in existence as far back as 900 A D, when Igodomigodo was ruled by kings called Ogiso or “rulers of the sky”, because they were believed to be direct descendants of the youngest son of Osanobua the creator who had come from the sky.

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History of the Benin People – Interaction with Yoruba Land

The history of Benin cannot be completely told without reference to the interaction with the Yoruba people of Western Nigeria. Between 900 and 1220 AD, Benin was ruled by a long line of Ogisos, the last of them being Ogiso Owodo who had only one male child. This situation along with the seeming barrenness in the palace caused him so much worry and he sent his first wife Esagho along with some servants to consult an oracle to unravel the reason for the barrenness in his household. On getting there, the oracle told her that she was the cause of the problem. Being unsure of her fate if this information gets to the Ogiso, she conspired with the servants to give a report that the Ogisos’ first son Ekhaladerhan was the cause and that he had to be executed if there is going to be any remedy.

On getting this news, the distraught Ogiso had to devise a plan to save his son so he sent him out of the Igodomigodo instead of killing him. When the barren situation did not change after some years, Owodo secretly sent another delegation to the oracle and this mission “revealed” to him that the first wife Esagho was the cause of the problem. She was summarily executed by the Ogiso for her trickery.

As time went by, the people of Igodomigodo became continuously frustrated with the reign of Ogiso Owodo and this frustration came to a climax when he executed a pregnant woman for some wrongdoing. The people revolted against their Ogiso and he was banished from the land. He later died after a few years.

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According to the tradition of Igodomigodo, only a first son of an Ogiso can ascend to the throne hence there was a leadership vacuum because the only son of Owodo had been sent away. The elders of the land then set out to find the exiled prince who had already formed a settlement which he named Ilefe meaning “successful escape” and had changed his name to Izoduwa meaning “I have chosen the path of prosperity”. It is believed that the existing people of the parts were the Yoruba who corrupted the Izoduwa to Oduduwa and Ilefe to Ile-Ife. After much persuasion, Izoduwa agreed to send his first son Oramiyan to be the Ogiso but not before he had tested the chiefs to be sure that they will take good care of his son.

However, when the prince got to Igodomigodo, he faced stiff opposition from Irebor who was the reigning Ogiamien. Irebor stoutly prevented him from gaining access to the heartland so the people built him a palace at Uzama where all Obas till this day must visit during their coronation ceremony.

In the face of this opposition, the prince renounced his position and named the place Ile Ibinu which means “land of anger” in Yoruba. On his way back, he stopped at the home of the Enogie of Egor. The young prince then had a relationship with the Enogie’s daughter which led to the birth of a son. The son then went on to be Oba Eweka I, the first Oba of the Eweka dynasty.

Subsequent Obas ruled from Uzama until Oba Ewedo who decided to move his palace to the centre of the kingdom. This decision by Ewedo caused a bitter conflict between him and the Ogiamien. After a bit of fighting between both sides, they both came to an agreement and signed a treaty transferring the land to the Oba. This treaty is symbolically re-enacted during the coronation ceremonies of every Oba.

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The name of the city Benin or Bini, came as a result of the encounter with the Portuguese in the 1400s. They corrupted the name Ubinu to Benin or Bini. Although the exact origin of the Benin people cannot be pin pointed with absolute accuracy, all the historical accounts of the people of Benin gives positive attestation to the fact that they are the aborigine of their present location.

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Ikponmwosa Aikhionbare is a Content Developer at InfoGuideNigeria.com. InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Roberts. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Roberts. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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