1. Edoworld. Net Benin Kingdom Obas (About 1200AD to present) (2007-2012) http://www.edoworld.net/Obas.html
3. Eweka,I. (1998) Dawn to Dusk. FRANK CASS PUBLISHERS, London
Reading down the Kingdom of Benin Oba timeline after the Ogiso kings from the 1st to the 38th, I note that every single one of the kings is depicted wearing coral beads as part of the royal regalia except for one, Oba Ovoranmwen. The question then is why is this so?
Answering this question takes us back to the British Punitive Expedition of 1897 and the indescribable cruelty with which the British had sought revenge for the ‘Benin Massacre’ which resulted from an ambitious young officer’s designs (Mr Philips) to improve his own standing in the empire consular rating. He despite repeated advice from the king and his chiefs to hold off visiting them till after their ancestral celebration, charged ahead with a troupe of over 250 Africa soldiers plus 9 British officials . This violation of their custom of not receiving foreign visitors coupled with rumours of ‘The Whiteman is bringing war to you and your people’ resulted in the Benin soldiers annihilating them under extreme provocation.
It is not my intention to go over events of that expedition here, it is covered extensively in another blog ‘Fiction, Myths and Lies’, but rather to explore a little the impact of the whole affair on the king, His Majesty Oba Ovoranmwen.
We know that on the way to the boat which took him into exile, that overwhelmed with his pains and sufferings, he lamented greatly about being let down by the Bini people. The exact words of that lamentation were not recorded at the time so we cannot be certain about the exact words he used, what we do know however is that a feeling of being let down by a people you have protected with your own life and who now seem to be absent is normal. Captain Alan Boisragon in his book: The Benin Massacre (1898) stated that His Majesty and his chiefs were the last people to leave Benin City when it burned. This showed some degree of loyalty to his people.
Captain Boisragon tells that their own boxes and stores which the king had kept safely for them in a store room were burned along with the house they used as hospital and as did most of Benin City. Parts of the King’s palace including his personal chambers were burned down, destroying his royal possessions and personal effects. Needless to say the king lost some items of his royal regalia and other hereditary items in this fire. We know from the Benin bronzes plaques that the king’s regalia were made with coral beads which were imported from Portuguese, Mediterranean and Spanish traders; coral beads being made of calcium carbonate would have burnt very easily in the fire leaving no traces apart from the smell.
As Oba Ovoranmwen lost everything to the fire and the British confiscating what they felt was important e.g. his royal robe of authority, one can imagine the anguish and pain he must have suffered whilst contemplating the bleak future that lay ahead of him in a foreign land without authority and power and any form of purchasing power. We know from all accounts at the time that he was treated like a common criminal, his hands and feet bound in chains and that amidst insulting words, he was made to kiss the ground three times as a mark of his acceptance of British rule. What affronts and outrages for a mighty king of a great kingdom!
On the question of his lamentation about being let down by the Bini people, one could argue that the British instructions were to find him and execute him but this did not happen, this could have been because his version of events were collaborated by his Bini subjects and this saved his life. This was not abandonment but support though it is quite understandable that he felt let down after all that took place with the British; some Edo chiefs sold out under promises of greater powers from the British.
One could argue further that the British actions immortalised Oba Ovoranmwen and his kingdom, for it is on account of the devastation caused to the kingdom that I blog on the matter today and that the Greatness of the Benin Kingdom was made known to the rest of the world. The looting of the Benin Bronzes in 1897 illuminated the brilliance of the kingdom’s people and to date, people worldwide continue to be intrigued by its history. An original Benin bronze from the great kingdom is currently very rare and priceless worldwide.
Pictures speak a thousand words, the Benin Kingdom Oba timeline depictions show Oba Ovoranmwen the 35th without his Edo royal regalia for a good reason that he was despoiled of this by the British and this point in time marks a murky part of the Kingdom’s history. I have nothing but the utmost respect for this great king who stood his grounds against the British imperial force when all around him were giving in. Well done to him!
Oba Ghato, Okpere!
Long Live the King!