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Origin of benin kingdom-Factoids

In oral traditional history, there seem to be inaccurate statements believed to be true over time because of broad repetitions (factoids) particularly when, according to Henderson, it is premised on “the oral-historic period preceding the existence of written documents, for which oral traditions are the main evidence”.


These folklores may in fact not be true but figments of imagination. For this reason, it is pertinent and germane to cite some of the views of various authors, Obas, historians, etc whose assertions are at variance or askance to some of the postulations by the earlier cited academic historians, ethnologists, anthropologists, etc supra.


In the Cradle of Ideas, A Compendium of Speeches and Writings of Omo N’Oba Erediauwa of Great Benin, the Oba of Benin had this to say while discussing the evolution of traditional ruler-ship in Nigeria including the origin of Benin:

Although some contemporary historians claim that the Benin (Edo) people migrated from the Sudan, the truth is that no scientific historical explanation has been found to account for how the ethnic group known as the Edo (Benin) people came to be where they are today. This is an area I personally would like to see some more work done.

In this regards, Eweka, in the Evolution of Benin Chieftaincy Titles, is of the opinion that “The heartland of the Edo revolves round Benin City on which the famous Old Benin Empire held sway for over two thousand years. Contrary to the beliefs of what the earlier writers had believed that the Edo migrated from the Yoruba race or from Egypt or from Uhe, modern historians are now beginning to accept the fact that the earlier beliefs as to the Edo origin are neither supported by archaeological nor ethnological facts.

Famous Edo work of arts, stand out uniquely – neither Egypt’s nor Ife’s works have much in common with the Benin artifact. Were the Benin to originate from Ife or Egypt then their works of art and ethnological traces would have been replicas or similar in structure and form to those of their tutors. This assertion is made without prejudice to whatever political or social contact the Edo people may have made with these ancient civilizations”.


The above views seem to be in consonance with Talbot’s position on the subject matter, when he affirmed that “perhaps about the seventh millennium BC, a further wave of Sudanic peoples began to pour in, first the Edo, Ewe (Popo) and then the Ibo, followed, maybe about the second millennium BC by the earliest Yoruba. The Bantu are probably of greater age than the latter, though they seem to have been the latest arrivals”.[


However, Ryder claims that “The heartlands of the old Benin Kingdom are inhabited by a people who call themselves, their capital city and their language Edo. They form part and lie roughly in the centre of a larger language group to which ethnographers and linguists have applied the same name. This Edo speaking group of people covers an area extending from the broken, hilly country that borders the Igbirra and Igala in the north, to the edge of the coastal boundaries and with the Yorubas to the West, and the Ibo to the East.

 Linguistic evidence suggests that they have occupied this region for some thousands of years in relative isolation, with the result that their language and neighboring ones of the West Atlantic family, and even some of the dialects within the Edo group, have become mutually unintelligible.”

The origins of the kingdom are lost in myth and antiquity, from which survives only a tradition of migration from east that is common to many West African peoples. To reconstruct its growth, it is therefore necessary to work not one of a number of groups coalescing, but the expansion of a city-state nucleus – something more akin to the emergence of states in classical Greece than in northern Europe.

Many non-Edo peoples on the periphery of the old kingdom take pride in circumstantial accounts of their descent from a Benin ancestor. Many of the traditions doubtless have a basis in fact, because the establishment of settlements appears to have been one of the means adopted by Benin for consolidating its hold upon a large territory.

Igbafes Position

All these affirm Igbafe’s earlier position, that “in Benin City there are several wards and areas whose inhabitants claim to have been in their localities ‘from the very beginning’. Among such groups, there are no traditions that their ancestors migrated from anywhere else”.

Iyi-Ewekas Version on Benin

According to Iyi-Eweka, many versions of the origin of the Binis, or more appropriately the Edo people, abound. He therefore critiqued Chief (Dr.) Jacob Egharevba’s account, which stated that “many years ago, the Binis came all the way from Egypt to found a more secured shelter in this part of the world after a short stay in the Sudan and at Ile-Ife”. This postulation he felt did not take into real cognizance the culture which migrant people bring along with themselves to their new-found land. As a further proof that the Edo people do not come from Egypt, the Egyptian writing culture is significantly absent in the Benin (or Edo) culture. The origin of the Edo people remains on Edo land and cannot have its origin from Egypt which lends none of her culture to the Edo.

The nearest in form and style to Edo culture is that of ancient Romans whose laws, culture, social and architectural forms compare in similar terms to the ancient Benin (or Edo). This is not to say that the Binis migrated from Rome but it indicates that life springs up at different points on the earth surface and the Edo people cannot be excluded from such a natural phenomenon. Benin is the cradle of the world. According to the Benin tradition, ‘Edo Orisiagbon’ meaning ‘Edo is the cradle of the world’. It is believed that all other people started life on Edo land for the Oba of Benin (King of Benin) owns the land as given to him by God Almighty.

Here, again, is Iyi-Eweka’s critique of Chief Oronsaye’s theory in the introduction to Okhogiso, A collection of folktales from Benin, Nigeria:

The Middle East connection

The theory of Edo people migrating from the Middle East has no historical evidence to support that claim. With archaeological excavations carried out in Benin City, there has not been any traces of linkages of the Edo people with Egypt, Sudan, or even the Middle East. In other words the Edo people are indigenous who have inhabited Edo land from time immemorial.[

Cradle of Ideas, A Compendium of Speeches and writings of Omo N’Oba Erediauwa of Great Benin, the revered Oba further had this to say on the evolution of traditional rulership vis-a-vis the origin of the Binis, while discussing “The Evolutions of Traditional Rulership in Nigeria”.

According to our traditional history that evolved out of our ritualistic beliefs, this land of Edo is the origin of the world. It was founded by the first Oba of Benin who was the youngest son of the Supreme God.

Although some contemporary historians claim that the Benin (Edo) people migrated from the Sudan, the truth is that no scientific historical explanation has been found to account for how the ethnic group known as the Edo (Benin) people came to be where they are today. This is an area I personally would like to see some more work done.


Benin oral history is of particular interest because of its richness and because it includes a suggestive account of governmental innovations which had an impact over a considerable area. Although it cannot be regarded as a directly valid history, its wealth of details and relatively internal consistency has made possible the careful analysis that produces a very considerable yield of historical evidence.


The first king or Oba Eweka I, whose regalia came from the Yoruba City of Ife and whose body after death was interred there, is said to have created the first Council of State, composed of “Seven Uzama”; these were the holders of the ancient and highest ranking, strictly hereditary chiefly titles of Benin, who traditionally acted as kingmakers, enacting elaborate ritual roles in installation of a new Oba. It is said that a later-Oba found these Uzama chiefs appropriating his emblems of authority and conferring new titles, and he removed his palace from their midst, defeated their leaders in battle, and ended their imitating of his royal prerogatives. He also began creating new titles for his domestic servants thus establishing an inchoate staff of palace retainers

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