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The King Of Benin

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By AMBROSE EKHOSUEHI

THE King of Benin had been one of the longest lived in cradle of divine kingship. The dogma is that kings were chosen in Heaven, not by men.

The core of Benin political, religious and social life was the divine kingship. The Oba rules by virtue from the Almighty God. “The Kings are worshipped by their subjects, who believe that they come from God and speak of them always with great reverence and on bended knees.”

The Benin Kingdom was not a single administrative unit and its boundaries cannot be precisely drawn.

The great majority of its inhabitants speak Edo, the tribe Language of Benin people, with negligible dialect variations.

In the olden days, the Benin Kingdom may be defined as the area within which the Oba was recognized as the sole human arbiter of Life, within it, no one could be put to death, and any person accused of capital offence had to be brought before his court.

In accordance with this principle, the Oba retained control over the administration of sasswood-Iyin, to suspected witches or wizards.

Outside the Benin Kingdom, authority to inflict capital punishment or order the sasswood ordeal-Ditan, was delegated to local rulers.

The inhabitants of Benin considered themselves to be the free subjects of the throne, because they wore the same body markings-Iwu and regarded themselves, superior to all their neighbours.

All males, females commoners in the Benin Kingdom were the retainers - Ikpiaoba, Ikhuoba’ and throughout the Benin Kingdom virtually every community rites of a confirmatory, periodic nature made reference to the worshippers allegiance to the Oba.

In the heydays, the boundaries of the Benin nation, stretched far beyond its solid core, taking little account of linguistic and cultural divides.

In the late fifteenth century Benin was a well-established nation with a large army conducting long campaigns far afield. It was already approaching the peak of its power and prosperity and its frontiers had reached out westwards along the coast beyond Lagos, north-west through the Ekiti to Otun where there was a boundary with Oyo and eastwards to beyond the River Niger.

Its empire to the west wielded beyond the river Senegal, to the East beyond the river Congo while its kingdom was known by the king of the interior Abyssinia and its splendour; famous reigns were recorded by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spanish and the British envoys. So did the ancient world.

While the Benin empire embraced non-Edo peoples, it is improbable that firm control was ever established over the whole Edo-speaking area.

Overseas goods such as guns, powder, salt, cloth, were obtained at the river beaches on the south west fringes of the Kingdom, from the European Merchants and the Itsekiri middlemen, who in return bought Benin palm oil, kernels, ivory, vegetables, gums, spices and later timber and rubber.

The European goods were head-loaded to inland markets along well defined routes. This long distance trade was controlled by various trading associations, each operating in a different direction.

The most important of these association was called “Ekhen-egbo”distant forest traders, it was in the interests of the traders to uphold the integrity of the Benin polity in order to ensure a state of security in which trade could flourish. Competition for power and prestige in the state itself provided a major incentive to engage in the trade.

Heavy dues were demanded from visiting ships. The Oba monopolies in certain exports were strictly enforced and general trading was allowed only when his Chiefs had completed their business.

State control aimed at maintaining the economic power of the ruling elite and by limiting the distribution of firearms and gun powder, at preserving the integrity of the Kingdom. These aims were largely achieved.

In Benin Kingship, the Oba gained access to powerful instruments of control and manoeuvre to foster magical powers and to deploy them for the good of his people. By that act the Oba is a divine king, the living vehicle for those mystical forces by which his ancestors from the inception of the dynasty had ensured the vitality and continuity’ of Benin nation.

Oba ghato O Kpee! Isee!

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