The History of Benin Nigeria


The history of Benin kingdom is obscure and mostly found in myths and legends.
On the whole, there are two separate traditions which seek to account not only for the origin of Benin but also for the origin of the kingdom, their political system and their artistic traditions.

The first of these and probably the most ancient is what may be called the Osanubua legend.

The legend claims that the Benin Kingdom was founded by the youngest son of the Benin High God known as Osanubua.

Sometime in the remote past, it is said that Osanubua sent down his children to the earth.

Among these children were the men who later became the first King of Ife and other Yoruba Kingdoms and the youngest son who became the first king of Benin.

Before they left for the world, according to oral sources, these children were allowed to choose anything they liked.

Some chose material wealth and military glory but the youngest son chose a snail shell.

On reaching the world, the party found it covered with water, whereupon a little bird asked the youngest son to overturn his snail shell.

When this was done, sand came out of it - forming the land and this made the youngest son who became the first Oba of Benin, the owner of all the land in the Kingdom.

The history of Benin Nigeria
Map of Benin, Edo State, Nigeria

The other members of his party had to come to him to barter their wealth for land and it is said that this is why the Oba is the wealthiest and most powerful in the 'world'.

This youngest son became the first ruler of the Ogisso dynasty who ruled Benin in the first period of her history (Ogisso means son of the sky).

The second tradition of origin is the 'Egyptian tradition' which seems to show that Benin came from ancient Egypt.

According to this tradition, the Benin left Egypt for West Africa sometime in the remote past.

After a brief stay in the Sudan, they headed southwards and made a headstop at Ile-Ife, from where they came to their present place of abode already occupied by some other negro people who had left the Sudan before them.

For centuries after their arrival at Benin they remained disunited there.

At about 900 A.D., they decided to have a King, and chose one Igedo who became the first ruler of Ogisso dynasty.

At this point, the two traditions merge into one to account for the second Benin dynasty which still rules in Benin today.

The Igedo, the first Ogisso, was a powerful and successful ruler and after him came a long line of kings whose rule varied from good to bad.

Then came one Owodo who turned out to be the last Ogisso.

According to a Benin historian, his rule was characterised by misrule; failure and anxiety, personal squabbles and calamities joined hands to make his public image worse than ever.

It is said that out of his many wives, only one bore him a son, the others were barren.

This boy was disinherited and driven from Benin as a result of the intrigues of the barren wives.

But when Benin could no longer endure Owodo's misrule, they drove him out and the dynasty came to an end.

Then followed a brief period of republican experiment.

The first Oba of the Republic was Evian, a man distinguished for his services to the kingdom and was appointed protector of the realm.

But when he sought to establish his dynasty, he met with popular resistance and the kingdom was plunged into anarchy.

In a bid to find a way out of his political dilemma, the leading personalities of Uzame or the kingdom sent an envoy to the king of Oduduwa begging him to give them a king.

After some delay, the Oduduwa is said to have sent his youngest son, Oranmiyan.

He is said to have taken his residence at Usama from where he enforced his rule.

He is, however, said to have met with so much opposition that he sought to withdraw, having come to the conclusion that it was an indeginous Benin man who could rule the kingdom.

However, he did not withdraw because he had put the daughter of a Benin Chief in the family way.

The child of this union was Eweka who became the first ruler of the Eweka dynasty that reigns in Benin till today.

Some Yoruba historians argue that this tradition of origin does not in any way explain the origin of the Benin kingdom.

In their opinion, they believe that Benin came into existence as a result of conquest by some members of the Oduduwa party.

For example, Prof Aderibigbe maintains "that obviously, there is an attempt in this story of origin of Benin to gloss over what was in fact an alien imposition".

Along this line, Michael Crowder said that the tradition could be " a convenient legend to disguise what in fact was a conquest of Oduduwa party".

But many scholars including Profs. Ryder and Afigbo have proved this Yoruba conquest theory wrong.

They contend that archeology has proved that the City of Benin is older than Ife, and therefore Kings from Ife could not have been involved in the making of the Benin kingdom.

One thing that one could infer from these legends is that the Benin kingdom have lived in their present homeland for very long indeed.

At any rate, as a negro race they must have lived in the Sudanic belt sometime in the remote past, but later, migrated southwards.

When they occupied their present homeland is not very certain.

But no matter by whom the Edo empire was established, what one should know is that by the 15th century it had attained it's apogee, and it remained the most powerful and the largest kingdom in the forest region of West Africa until the end of the first half of the 17th century (1650 A.D).

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