The Pre-Colonial BENIN Empire

The Pre-colonial Benin Empire was located in southern Nigeria with Edo (now known as Benin City) as its capital. The Benin Empire was “one of the oldest and most highly developed states in the coastal hinterland of West Africa, dating back to the eleventh century”

The Edo people  were the founders and settlers of the Benin Empire, but were initially ruled by the Ogiso (Kings of the Sky) dynasty who called their land Igodomigodo.  Igodo, the first King, wielded much influence and gained popularity as a good ruler. He died after a long reign and was succeeded by Ere, his eldest son. In the 12th century, a great battle for power erupted between the warrior crown prince Ekaladerhan, son of the last Ogiso and his young paternal uncle.A false message from the oracle mad the Prince and his warriors flee to Yorubaland. The unknown Prince arrived at a time when the Yoruba oracle had pronounced that their King will come out of the forest, so when Ekaladerhan arrived at Ife, he was received and given the title of Oni Ile-Ife Imadoduwa – now known as Ooni of Ile-Ife Oduduwa. When his father finally died, the Ogiso dynasty was halted as the people and royal kingmakers preferred their King’s son as natural heir to rule, so a group of Benin Chiefs led by Chief Oliha journeyed to Ife, plead with him to return to Benin and ascend the throne. Oduduwa’s replied that a King cannot leave his Kingdom but since he had seven sons, he would ask one of them to go back to Benin to rule as the next King. He sent his son, Oranmiyan, to become king.

There is still an Oba, or King in Benin till date, although currently his role is mainly symbolic

Prince Oranmiyan took up his abode in the palace built for him at Usama by the elders (now a coronation shrine). Soon after his arrival, he married a beautiful lady, Erinmwinde, daughter of Osa-nego, was the ninth Enogie (Duke) of Ego, by whom he had a son.  After some years ruling, he called a meeting of the people and renounced his office. He remarked that the country was a land of vexation, Ile-Ibinu (the name by which the country was afterward known) and that only a child born, trained and educated in the arts and mysteries of the land could reign over her people.

He caused his son born to him by Erinmwinde to be made King in his place and returned to Yoruba land Ile-Ife. After some years in Ife, he left for Oyo where he also left a son behind.  Oranmiyan’s son, Ajaka, ultimately became the first Alafin of Oyo while Oranmiyan was reigning as Oni of Ife. Therefore, Oranmiyan of Ife, the father of Eweka I, the Oba of Benin, was also the father of Ajaka, the first Alafin of Oyo. Oni of Ife and Alafin of Oyo is a Bini spoken language all the Kings title in the South are Edo Language.

The Walls of Benin were a combination of ramparts and moats, called Iya in the local language, used as a defense of the defunct Kingdom of Benin, which is present-day Benin City, the capital of present-day Edo, Nigeria. It was considered the largest man-made structure lengthwise and was hailed as the largest earthwork in the world.   It was estimated that earliest construction began in 800 and continued into the mid-15th century.
By the 15th century, Edo as a system of protected settlements expanded into a thriving city-state. In the 15th century, the twelfth Oba in line, Oba Ewuare the Great (1440–1473) expanded the city-state into an empire. It was in the 15th century during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great that the kingdom’s administrative centre, the city Ubinu, began to be known as Benin City by the Portuguese and was later adopted by the locals as well.

Before then, due to the pronounced ethnic diversity at the kingdom’s headquarters during the 15th century from the successes of Oba Ewuare, the earlier name (‘Ubinu’) by a tribe of the Edos was colloquially spoken as “Bini” by the mix of Itsekiri, Esan, Ika, Ijaw Edo, Urhobo living together in the royal administrative centre of the kingdom. The Portuguese would write this down as Benin City. Though, farther Edo clans, such as the Itsekiris and the Urhobos still referred to the city as Ubini up till the late 19th century.

Aside from Benin City, the system of rule of the Oba in his kingdom, even through the golden age of the kingdom, was still loosely based after the Ogiso dynasty, which was military and royal protection in exchange of use of resources and implementation of taxes paid to the royal administrative centre. Language and culture was not enforced but remained heterogeneous and localized according to each group within the kingdom, though a local “Enogie” (duke) was often appointed by the Oba for specified ethnic areas.

There is still an Oba, or King in Benin till date, although currently his role is mainly symbolic