The 'BINI' controversy.
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Written By Leo Oronsaye (Last Update June 16, 2023)

It had always been Benin/Beny, since the time the Portuguese adventurers corrupted the 'Ubini' designation of our people by our coastal neighbours (the Uzons and the Itsekiris), during the reign of Oba Ozolua in1472 or thereabouts! And with the trade visit of Vice Admiral Thomas Windham in 1553, the anglicized corruption 'Benin' appeared in English maps!

Virtually all the Cartes of the period, recorded our geographical space as the Kingdom of Beny,/Benin though the inhabitants called them 'Ivbiedo' and their capital city( Benin City) as 'Oedo'!
But the word 'BENIN' stuck and this was why, when the first book ever written by any foreigner about the kingdom appeared in 1899, that's, the Dr Ling Roth, an English surgeon attached to the British Expeditionary Force that took the City in 1897, captioned it, 'Great Benin'!

Whereas the word 'BINI' was creation of the early colonial officials and also the missionary societies translators of the language!

The colonial officials seeking ways for a proper understanding of the language sorting for an effective adminstrative control of the newly conquered territory of Benin and the missionary societies seeking to influence the religious orientation of the conquered people!
And all of these groups, faced with an unwritten language, instinctively adopted the format, created by Bishop Ajayi Crowder in about 1857, when he translated the English Bible into Yoruba!

Crowder was by accident of circumstances, a privileged beneficiary of the British formal education system which in outcome culminated in his earning a Doctorate degree in Linguistics and as with his calling as a CMS Clergyman, bent on the propagation of the faith among his Yoruba people, embarked on a translation project, in which by virtue of his expertise as an academically accomplished linguist, faced with an unwritten language in that period, created an orthography for his native Yoruba language! And incidentally this period too, coincided with the period the Benin empire's territory of Lagos fell under the sphere of British colonial rule led by John Beecroft! A period that saw the introduction and the establishment of western educational practices! And with the local inhabitants gradually grasping and embracing literacy, Crowder orthography was established becoming an African language format in the territory! So when the kingdom of Benin fell under the British 1897 a lot of these Church societies already established in the Lagos Crown Colony flocked into the conquered territory to convert the heathens as non Christian adherents were classified by them! And there was this pressing goal to translate and write their instructional catechism in the local language, that's, in a vernacularized orthographic format as a way of reaching the people effectively and thus, the word 'BINI' was birthed, a derivative of Yoruba orthography! This format became an established thing, until the arrival in Benin, of the German, Hans Joachim Melzhian , of the University of London, a linguist and a lecturer in African Phonetics and Linguistics, a PhD research student in 1933, who in the course of researching the language became acquainted with the earlier works on the language carried out by HLM Butcher a British colonial administrative official, of whom the famous Butcher Street at the heart of the ancient city is named after and the CMS Rev Payne, also of whom the famous Payne Primary School in the city is named after!

Perusing these works, working in tandem with the format prescribed by his institution, School of Oriental Studies, University of London, that's, the Practical Orthography for African Languages and working with his local research assistants like Edegbe, Obayuwana and later Amadasun, literate Benin men of the period, he discovered to his consternation the huge huge dissimilarities in the language's linguistic components from Yoruba and no where was this more profound, than in the syllables!
While diphthongs was replete in the new language he was studying, they were virtually absent in the Yoruba language! Melzhian's works in the language was so extensive, that it took two academic tours to the ancient city, between 1933 and 1937 to complete, with the publication of his Dictionary, in which ironically he captioned, 'A Concise Dictionary Of The Bini Language Of Southern Nigeria' in 1937', incidentally using the BINI, in his caption, following the existing yorubarized format employed by his sources, further cementing the BINI thing!
Tragically Melzhian met his untimely end in the horrendous cauldron of the WW11 in his native Germany!

And It was to put an end to the continuous usage of the Yorubarized BINI orthography instead of the over half a millenium of history backed BENIN as in the classification our people by all and sundry including writers and Scholars, that the Omon'Oba Erediauwa 'of blessed memory promulgated a decree, barring the usage 1997 during the 100th anniversary of the British invasion of 1897!

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Benin kingdom copy right