Glory Of Benin Kingdom And Shame Of British Empire
The ancient Kingdom of Benin was described in glowing terms by early European visitors. When the British came to Benin kingdom they were shocked and awed to find a very well planned capital city. Already well described both in writing and in sketches by earlier portuguese and other early European travellers, historians and visitors alike; and acclaimed by all as a world class city. Thus the use of the term BENIN CITY by the Europeans to describe Benin Kingdoms geo-political headquaters as far back as the 15th century. In this preparing this piece, I have chosen to reproduce materials from source, in my humble effort to convince cynics and critics that that the subject matter under review and particularly my thematice scope is not a creation of my fertile imagination.
THESE EXCERPTS ARE FROM http://www.answers.com/topic/benin-city?cat=travel
"Benin was the capital of the kingdom of Benin, which was probably founded in the 13th cent. and flourished from the 14th through the 17th cent. The kingdom was ruled by the Oba and a sophisticated bureaucracy. From the late 15th cent. Benin traded slaves as well as ivory, pepper, and cloth to Europeans. In the early 16th cent. the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the king of Portugal sent missionaries to Benin."
"No trace remains of the structures admired by European travelers to "the Great Benin." After Benin was visited by the Portuguese in about 1485, historical Benin grew rich during the 16th and 17th centuries "
"In the early 16th century the Oba sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the King of Portugal sent Christian missionaries to Benin. Some residents of Benin could still speak a pidgin Portuguese in the late 19th century."
"After the fall of Benin in 1897, the British set apart Warri Province, to punish the Oba of Benin and curb his imperial power. The Benin monarchy was restored in 1914, but true power lay with the colonial administration of Nigeria."
Roese, P. M., and D. M. Bondarenko. in their book, A Popular History of Benin. The Rise and Fall of a Mighty Forest Kingdom. wrote:
" The kingdom and the capital city were both called Benin. The city of Benin was laid out in a system of huge straight streets. These streets were very wide, very long, and well maintained although they were not paved. You could travel on foot in a straight line for 15 or 20 minutes and not see the end of the street. Other streets opened from the main streets. They were also wide. Houses were built in rows along all of the streets. On the street front side, houses had covered porches to keep people dry as they sat outside. The Dutch and Portuguese traders who came to Benin by sea were not invited into the nobles' or artists homes. So we don't know how their homes were arranged, or what the back looked like. But we do know about the palace. "
" Dutch and Portuguese traders were invited into the king's palace - and thus we have written records of what the palace looked like. "The king's court is very big, having within it many wide squares with galleries round them where watch is always kept. I went so far within these builds that I passed through four such squared, and wherever I looked I still saw gate after gate which opened into other places."
You will find this piece from the British
Concise Encyclopedia interesting:
Roese, P. M., and D. M. Bondarenko. in their
book, A Popular History of Benin. The Rise and Fall of a Mighty Forest
Kingdom, again, wrote:
"The state developed an advanced artistic culture especially in its famous artifacts of bronze, iron and ivory. These include bronze wall plaques and life-sized bronze heads of the Obas of Benin. The most common artifact is based on Queen Idia, porpularly called the FESTAC mask".
From Ijebu.Org, we have this:
In his book, The Military System of Benin
Kingdom, 1440-1897, by Osarhieme Benson Osadolor, , M.A., (2001) from
Benin City, Nigeria, wrote:
This piece below is from Wikipedia .com
In 1894 after the invasion and destruction of Brohimie, the trading town of Nana, the leading Itsekiri trader in the Benin River District by a combined British Royal Navy and Niger Coast Protectorate forces, Benin kingdom increased her military presence on her southern borders. This vigilance, and the Colonial Office refusal to grant approval for an invasion of Benin City scuttled the expedition the Protectorate had planned for early 1895. Even so between September 1895 and mid 1896 three attempts were made by the Protectorate to enforce the Gallwey ‘Treaty’. Major P. Copland-Crawford, vice-Consul of the Benin district, made the first attempt, Mr. Locke, the vice-Consul assistant, made a second one and the third one was made by Captain Arthur Maling, the commandant of the Niger Coast Protectorate Force detachment based in Sapele. In March 1896 following price fixing and refusal by Itsekiri middle men to pay the required tributes the Benin king order a cessation of the supply of oil palm produce to them. The trade embargo brought trade in the Benin River region to a standstill, and the British traders and agents of the British trading firms quickly appealed to Protectorate’s Consul-General to ‘open up’ Benin territories, and send the Benin king (whom they claimed was an ‘obstruction’) into exile. In October 1896 Lieutenant James Robert Phillips (RN), the Acting Consul-General visited the Benin River District and had meetings with the agents and traders. In the end the agents and traders were able to convince him that ‘there is a future on the Benin River if Benin territories were opened’.
In November Phillip made a formal request
to his superiors in England for permission to invade Benin City, and in
late December 1896 without waiting for a reply or approval from London
Phillip embarked on a military expedition with a Niger Coast Protectorate
Force consist of 250 African soldiers and five British officers, a trader
and an interpreter. His mission was to depose the king of Benin City,
replace him with a Native Council and pay for the invasion with the
‘ivory’ he hoped to find in the Benin king’s palace. Unfortunately for
Philip some Itsekiri trading chiefs sent a message to the Benin king that
‘the white man is bringing war’. On receiving the news the Benin king
quickly summoned the city’s high-ranking nobles for an emergency meeting,
and during the discussions the Iyase, the commander in chief of the Benin
Army, argued that the white men were on a hostile visit and hence they
must be confronted and killed. The Benin king however argued that the
white men should be allowed to enter the city so that it can be
ascertained whether or not the visit was a friendly one. The Iyase ignored
the king’s views, and ordered the formation of a strike force that was
commanded by the Ologbose, a senior army commander, which was sent to
Gwato and destroy the invaders.
On January 12 1897, Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson, commanding the squadron at the Cape of Good Hope was appointed by the British Admiralty to lead an expedition to capture the Benin king and destroy Benin City. The operation was named Benin Punitive Expedition, and on February 9 1897 the invasion of Benin kingdom began,. The field commanders were instructed by their commander-in–chief to burn down all Benin kingdom’s towns and villages, and hang the king of Benin wherever and whenever he was captured. The invasion force of about 1200 British Marines, sailors and Niger Coast Perotectorate Forces , and composed of three columns; the ‘Sapoba’, ‘Gwato’ and ‘Main’ Columns. The ‘Sapoba’ column, and the ‘Main column’ reached Benin City after 10 days of bitter fighting but the ‘Gwato’ column was routed at Gwato. Immediately the British invaders secured the city, they began an orgy of looting and destruction. It was an exercise that was carried out by all members of the expedition. Monuments, and palaces of many high-ranking chiefs were looted and destroyed, and finally on the third day the looted Benin king’s palace was deliberately set ablaze. Most of the loot were kept by the looter and 2500 (official figures)religious artifacts, Benin visual history, mnemonics and artworks were taken to England. In late 1897 they were auctioned in Paris, France, to raise funds to pay for the expedition.
After the destruction of Benin, the British
Admiralty confiscated and auctioned off the war booty of art to defray the
costs of the Expedition. The expected revenue from the looted art was
discussed already before Phillips set out on his ill-fated journey to the
city of Benin in 1896. In a letter to Lord Salisbury, the British Foreign
Secretary, Phillips requested approval to invade Benin and depose the Oba,
adding the following footnote: "I would add that I have reason to hope
that sufficient ivory would be found in the King's house to pay the
expenses incurred in removing the King from his stool." Most of the great
Benin bronzes went first to purchasers in Germany, but a sizable group is
now back in London at the British Museum. The dispersement of the Benin
art to museums around the world catalyzed the beginnings of a long and
slow European reassessment of the value of West African art. The Benin art
was copied and the style integrated into the art of many European artists
and thus had a strong influence on the early formation of modernism in
ANOTHER VERSION OF AN EARLIER ACCOUNT
THE ACCOUNT BELOW IS FROM 'ARM' WEBSITE:
The events of 1897
The whole of the English merchants
represented on the river have petitioned the government for aid to enable
them to keep their factories (trading posts) open, and last but not least,
the revenues of this Protectorate are suffering ... I am certain that
there is only one remedy. That is to depose the King of Benin ... I am
convinced that pacific measures are now quite useless, and that the time
has now come to remove the obstruction ... I do not anticipate any serious
resistance from the people of the country - there is every reason to
believe that they would be glad to get rid of their King - but in order to
obviate any danger, I wish to take up sufficient armed force ... I would
add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory may be found in the
King's house to pay the expenses incurred.
His decision to undertake this unsanctioned mission was either motivated by personal ambition - to achieve a result before Moor's return - or he was acting under Moor's orders and had, in fact been see up by him to provide an incontrovertible excuse for military intervention Either way Moor got his desire in the violent overthrow of the independent kingdom. The immediate British response was to raise a Punitive Expedition which looted and sacked the City and sent the Oba into exile.
The official version
The King of Benin in the treaty he signed
with captain Gallwey, had agreed to place himself and his county under H.M..
Protectorate and it was becoming a perfect disgrace that in the
Protectorate ... so terrible a state of affairs continued as that in what
was not very improperly called the City of Blood.
The object to the expedition was to try and
persuade the king to let the white men come up to his city whenever they
wanted to. All their horrible customs could not be put down at once,
except by a strong-armed expedition, but could be stamped out gradually by
officials continually going up.
Phillips opinion was that every pacific
means towards approaching the King would not be complete until he as
Acting Consul-General paid a visit to the King. This was surely a humane
desire, a benign wish, to avoid force if possible.
Philip Igbafe, a Nigerian historian
The 'Gallwey Treaty' had been concluded under veiled threats. The pro forma document was translated verbally from English via a dialect of Yoruba into Edo. The people of Benin have always argued that they understood it as a statement of co operation and trade, certainly not a relinquishing of sovereignty. However its existence was uses as a justification for military action:
It was an insult to the prestige of the
Protectorate not to be able to assert its authority within its own limits.
A great grandson of Ovonramwen provides a
perspective on the outcome:
The art treasures
Relations between Nigeria and Britain were cooled when Nigeria was refused loan of an ivory mask which was the visual symbol of the 2nd World Black ~ African Festival of Arts Culture (FESTAC) held in Nigeria in 1977. Since a major exhibition of Benin art at the Museum of Mankind in the early seventies most of the British Museum's collection has lain in storage.
In 1980 the Nigerian Government spent Ł800~000 on acquiring four Benin pieces and one Yoruba mask at auction in London.
Increasingly within Nigeria, as well as within international organisations such as UNESCO, issues are raised over the legality of holding art collections expropriated by force (there are many precedents for the negotiated restitution of artworks, dating back to the Napoleonic wars). Parallels are drawn with the campaigns by Greece and Egypt for the return of their antiquities.
The Benin artworks belong to a living
culture and have a deep historical and social value which goes far beyond
the aesthetic and monetary value they hold in exile.
Reproduced hereunder is a Memorandum submitted by Prince Edun Akenzua to the British Parliament making the Case for the return of Benin Cultural properties, removed from Benin Kingdom by the British.
Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix 21, House of Commons, The United Kingdom Parliament, March 2000.
THE CASE OF
The text quoted above was taken from the paper presented at the Benin Centenary Lectures by Professor P A Igbafe of the Department of History, University of Benin on 17 February 1997.
Four years later in 1896 the British Acting Consul in the Niger-Delta, Captain James R Philip wrote a letter to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury, requesting approval for his proposal to invade Benin and depose its King. As a post-script to the letter, Captain Philip wrote: "I would add that I have reason to hope that sufficient ivory would be found in the King's house to pay the expenses incurred in removing the King from his stool."
These two extracts sum up succinctly the intention of the British, or, at least, of Captain Philip, to take over Benin and its natural and cultural wealth for the British.
British troops invaded Benin on 10 February1897. After a fierce battle, they captured the city, on February 18. Three days later, on 21 February precisely, they torched the city and burnt down practically every house. Pitching their tent on the Palace grounds, the soldiers gathered all the bronzes, ivory-works, carved tusks and oak chests that escaped the fire. Thus, some 3,000 pieces of cultural artwork were taken away from Benin. The bulk of it was taken from the burnt down Palace.
NUMBER OF ITEMS REMOVED
WHAT THE WORKS MEAN TO THE PEOPLE OF BENIN
(i) The official record of the property removed from the Palace of Benin in 1897 be made available to the owner, the Oba of Benin.
(ii) All the cultural property belonging to the Oba of Benin illegally taken away by the British in 1897, should be returned to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.
(iii) As an alternative, to (ii) above, the British should pay monetary compensation, based on the current market value, to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.
(iv) Britain, being the principal looters of the Benin Palace, should take full responsibility for retrieving the cultural property or the monetary compensation from all those to whom the British sold them.
This brings us to the all important question, that was asked by the BBC in July 2004,
Who should own historic artefacts ?
According to the BBC:
"Aboriginals in Australia have seized bark
etchings while on loan from two two British museums. The Dja Dja Wurrung
tribe have accused the British museums of 'colonial arrogance' But the
British Museum and Royal Botanical Gardens have said they are committed to
preserve collections for the benefit of the worldwide public and for
future generations. The latest spat over ownership of historical artefacts
comes nearly two hundred years since the Elgin Marbles case, when Lord
Elgin removed 56 sculpted friezes from the Parthenon in Athens and housed
them in the British Museum. Many other countries claim to have suffered
losses of artefacts including China, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ethiopia and
All Benin derivitive peoples whether based in nigeria or outside must unite recover these cultural properties to enable them interprete these engraved picture writings and be more grounded in the culture, traditions and customs of their forefathers. s.