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Benin City Of Blood Stigma: The Truth Story

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By Written Olu Akpata (on Sunday march 4, 1979) (Last update 09-09-2017)

The modern history of Benin invariably begins with the “peaceful mission of Captain J.R. Philips his “massacre” and the punitive expedition which followed.
Worse still is the effect of the title of a book “Great Benin City of Blood “in the minds and attitude to Benin City our country men. Some of our own historians transcribe British reports with all the naivety of men anxious to appear in the print in historical journals without the critical ability worthy of true scholars.

It is not enough to show that one has read the books and reports of British writers and others.
One must be able to rotate there reports to the circumstances and the prevailing prejudices and aspirations those who told the stories and wrote the reports.
It is worthy to note that Europeans including the British who visited Benin Before the industrial revolution  in Europe and the craze for expansion were full of praise not only of the culture of the Edos, but also the of organization of its government.
The earlier visitors, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Britons and French were not drenched in blood, nor were they suffocated with the stench of dying slaves.
The phenomenon of a land flowing with blood is the product of the latter half of the nineteenth century.

I first read in school of school of the Benin Edition and the ‘massacre’ which preceded it from my teacher in 1930.

The notes he wrote on the blackboard which we copied and of course memorized he himself no doubt copied from a book. In telling the story, the teacher himself was not convincing.
In fact the British view which was necessity to pass from standard 3 to standard 4, was so different from what my grandfather with who lived at the time told me.
I believed my grandfather. He fought for his king and country. He never lied.

Since then my own experience of the British, the propaganda of the aliens and the enemies during the second world war, showed glaringly how ferities Europeans  can be in lying to justify actions which they take to serve their own ends and interests.
No one reading critically the vituperations of the western press when some white men are killed in Zimbabwe and their response when the independence of Zambia and Mozambique are violated doubt the slanted report of their writers nor can one fail to notice that freedom fighters are” vandals” to the British conservatives press.

The British did not come to Benin to stop human sacrifice. Surely the Berlin Conference at which Germany, France, British and even little Belgium and Portugal carved up Africa among themselves was not called because Africans were shedding the blood of their African brothers.

The reason why the British came to Benin was not because of human scarifies´
There was no more human sacrifice in Benin than elsewhere in Africa or for that matter in Europe

The reason why they came is easy to find. Perhaps a sentence or two from a letter written by commissioner Claude MacDonald to Marquis of Salisbury on may 16, 1892 is opposite.
“There is no doubt that the Benin Territory is a very rich and most important one, Minerals, gum copal, gum Arabic, palm oil, kernels are to be found in large quantities.
Trade, commence and civilization however is paralyzed by the form of fetish government which unfortunately    prevails throughout the kingdom…..

Clearly avarice was the mortaring force or British intervention in the affairs of Benin.
J.R Phillips mission was not peaceful nor was it intended to be so. It was provocative. The war which followed was not punitive. It was simple aggression against a people who were not prepared for war with the British. Perhaps it is best to let Phillips speak for himself about his so called peaceful mission, and his own intentions.

On November 16, 1896 Phillip sent a fairly long dispatch to the marquis of Salisbury who was the secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the time. The concluding paragraphs of his reads:”To sum up, the situation is this: “The king of Benin whose country is within a British protectorate and whose city lies within fifty miles of a protectorate Customs Station and who has signed a treaty with her majesty’s representatives has deliberately stopped all trade and eventually blocked in that way to all progress in that of the protectorate.

“ The Jakri traders, a most important  and  most loyal tribe whose prosperity depends to a very great extent upon the produce they can get from  the Benin country, have appealed to this government to give them such assistance as  will enable them to pursue their lawful trade

“The whole of the English merchants represented in the river have petitioned for aid to enable them to keep their factories open. The last but not perhaps the least the avenues of this protectorate are suffering.
“I am certain that that there is only one remedy, that is to depose the king of Benin from his stool.

“I am convinced from information, which leaves no room for doubt, as well as from experience of native character, that pacific measures are now quite useless and that the time has now come to remove the obstruction.

“I there ask his lordships permission to visit Benin City in February next, to depose and remove the king of Benin and to establish a native council in his place and take such further steps for the opening up of the country as the occasion may require”
British official papers show that the foreign office agreed and the war office arrange the expedition. This approval by latter date December 24, 1896.

The Irony of our position is that although we have gained bodily freedom of the mind The great American negro Paul Robeson writing of the plight of his race in the thirties of this century expressed the idea more succinctly by saying that the” American negro discovered that freedom proclaimed was not freedom achieved”

Benin City was never the city of blood---except perhaps the bloodshed by the British so wantonly to satisfy their greed and avarice.

This is not to claim that human sacrifice never took place. But it did not occur in Benin more than it did in other parts of Nigeria or in fact in other parts of the world during the nineteenth century. Our ancestors could not have built the empire they built, the civilization they attained or their standard of government if they lived on the blood of their citizens like vampires. Indeed the art of the Edos which remains the pride of the Negro race could not have been achieved by people who gloried in gory sights of decapitated human beings.

The tale of war and blood told by the English invaders are understandable. They were meant to justify the expansion of their empire. There tales justified for British public Opinion the wanton pillage and arson that were perpetrated by their solders. They constitute the raison deter for their desecration of our temples and the naked robbery of our works of art. The primitive doctrine that to the victor belong the spoils of war was exercised in the fullest measure. Our record since 1897 shows that we do not just for blood we do not engage in ritual murder for its own sake.

Between 1897 to 1914 the British ruled directly using our chiefs as their paid agents while the Oba (king) Ovoramwen remained their captive. In that period of seventeen years no case of ritual murder was reported among us Edos.

In 1914 Aiguobasimwin ascended the throne of his father’s taking the title of Eweka II. He was the embodiment of courage. In all the vicissitudes which afflicted his father and himself in spite of the perfidy of some of those who loyalty to him he never lost his princely bearing. All those who knew him respected him. Yet because of this dread of the city of blood suspicion was always around the comer.
A woman left Benin and the British were informed that she was a victim of ritual murder Eweka II was accused. It was certain he would be vindicated. And he was vindicated. The woman was discovered bale and sound in Urhobo land. So this great man lived dedicated to the services of his people, suspected by the British but loved by all who met him, Edos and others alike. Had he been born in a different age, he would have made his mark like some of our great kings- Ewuare, Ehengbuda. Esigie and the others about whose prowess in government and war, we sing of on moonlit nights. He was not literate but was educated. He would be the last man to shed innocent blood.

Of Akenzua II we know so much. His trials and achievements in a changing world we know.  We are too near his time indeed we are part of his time, To hasten to write an appreciation. All we can say for now is that no proved case of ritual murder existed in his long and sometimes turbulent reign.

Let our friends re-read their history and put aside fairy tales. We have beard of the leopard society in parts of our great country. We have heard of human beings in cooking pots. We read today of murdered woman with missing genitals. Nigeria is a great country we are out-growing the vices of our forbears. We pray to God that we may ever uphold their virtues.
For us the Edos we mean to uphold the traditions of our forbears- the tradition which made our forbears great. We live in an open society. All we ask of our brothers and sisters who live in our midst is their understanding. We have our contribution to make to the art and culture of our great country. We are not an insignificant nation within the Nigeria family.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’.  We are not now that strength which in old days, Moved earth and heaven that which we are we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive to seek, to find and not to yield.

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