Benin-British War




West Africa: Pre-colonial Benin Kingdom
(Not to be confused with Benin, Kingdom of Benin is an area of Nigeria, Benin City in that region).
Iron Technology
The use of iron and development of its technology in Benin kingdom has had influences in the state-building process. Iron technology led to the development of weapons which changed the character of war. Generally, in West Africa, the states that rose to power in the period between 1400 and 1700 AD such as Benin, Nupe, Igalla, and Oyo in present day Nigeria, dominated others partly because of the advantages in the development of iron technology. The earliest known iron working in sub-Saharan Africa was discovered at the site of Taruga in present day Central Nigeria, where an advanced iron technology existed as early as the sixth century BC. Archaeological excavations unearthed a number of iron-smelting sites at Taruga, with radiocarbon dates from the fifth to the third centuries BC. (Osadolor 2001: 107)
Rich iron ore deposits were not available in Benin and had to be imported from the Etsako area – north of Benin – which had large deposits. Benin was able to develop an indigenous capacity to work the iron material into weapons of war. It is probable that this indigenous capacity which was basically the possession of iron smelting knowledge was acquired through training and apprenticeship of Benin blacksmiths in Etsako. By the second half of the fifteenth century when Benin expanded its Empire virtually in all directions, it established control over the iron ore sources which was considered to be essential to the development of iron technology in the state.
Defensive Fortification of Ancient Benin City
Edo, the people of Igodomigodo famously known for almost a millennium as Benin, had built a moat complex to protect themselves in the wars they fought. The defensive fortification of Benin City, the capital, consisted of ramparts and moats, call iya, enclosing a 4000 square kilometer (2485.5 miles) of community lands. In total, the Benin wall system encompasses over 10,000 kilometers (6213.7 miles) of earth boundaries. Patrick Darling, an archaeologist, estimates that the complex was built between 800 and 1000 up to the late fifteenth century (Keys 1994: 16).

Benin layout

Advantageously situated, the Benin Moats were dug in such a manner that earthen banks provided outer walls that complemented deep ditches. According to Graham Connah, the ditch formed an integral part of the intended barrier but was also a quarry for the material to construct the wall or bank (Keys 1994: 594). The ramparts range in size from shallow traces to the immense 20-meter-high (66 feet) around Benin City (Wesler 1998: 144). The Guinness Book of World Records describes the walls of Benin City as the world’s second largest man-made structure after China’s Great Wall, in terms of length, and the series of earthen ramparts as the most extensive earthwork in the world.


During the second half of the 15th century, Oba Ewuare the Great (ruled 1440-1473 AD) ordered a moat to be dug in the heart of the city. The earthworks served as a bastion and also afforded control of access to the capital which had nine gates that were shut at night. Travel notes of European visitors also described the Benin Walls (e.g. Pacheco Pereira 1956: 130-147; Dapper 1668). It was finalized around 1460, at that time being the world’s largest earthwork. (See historical photos of Benin City).

Early European visitors never failed to be impressed with the Benin City’s grandeur and level of organization. Benin as it appears in documents of the seventeenth century the natural reflection of centralized wealth was its magnificent capital city Benin. Reports from the anonymous Dutchman D.R. (c. 1600) and David van Nyendael (some fifty years later) described Benin City as an extraordinarily extensive and flourishing city which easily matched the European metropolis of it time (Hodgkin 1960: 119-120; Ben-Amos 1995: 42ff).

The Portuguese compared it with Lisbon, the Dutch with Amsterdam or Antwerp, the Italians with Florence, and the Spaniards with Madrid (Kea 1971: 187). Its size was matched by dense habitation; houses built close to each other along long, straight streets. The royal palace, a city within the city, was also impressive, with countless squares and patios and innumerable doors and passageways, all richly decorated with the art that has made Benin famous. The city was orderly, well laid out, and sparkling clean so that the walls of the houses appeared polished (Dapper 1693: 122). The people clothes; some are dressed in white, others in yellow, others in blue or green; and the city captains are regular judges who resolve lawsuits, debates and conflicts.



The Ancient Nine Gates Of Benin Culture
{By Ekhosuehi}

Benin City, the ancient Edo Capital of Great Benin Kingdom is still surrounded by a huge mound of earth known as inner wall, as high and as wide as a two storey building six miles long, surrounding the most
important part of Benin. Outside this wall is a ditch as deep and as wide as the wall. Both the wall and the ditch were still quite new when the Portuguese first came in 1472 A.D. A massive fortified earthwork entrance gate guarded travelers way in. it was supported by timber and watched by soldiers with swords slung under their left armpits. A heavy wooden door built to specification closed the gate.

Normally, a traveler bringing goods into the city would have to pay a toll before the gate was opened. Ahead of the travelers as far as they could see, ran a long street, forty yards wide, full of people, and among them the occasional goats or hen, domestic animals. About a mile ahead, they noticed a huge tree standing by itself, and beyond that the road still ran into distance.

There were high earthen walls, dull red colour, carefully smoothed into a series of horizontal ripples. The tops of these walls were roofed to prevent them being washed away by the rain.

A great thatched gate could be seen guarded by more soldiers and beyond this gate was a glimpse of steeply sloping roofs and pointed towers. At the top of each of these towers, the evening sunlight gleamed on bronze eagles.


From the main highway ran a number of broad streets, dividing the city into quarters or wards. The streets were clean and free from rubbish. The ward Chiefs were responsible for the cleanliness. Each householder was expected to keep his section of the street clean, and the red mud surface of the house walls neat and polished, till, as one European was to say “it shone like a looking glass”.

The Benin-Ughoton road was a gate way for oversea trades, leading over many centuries of the prosperity and enlightenment which go with trades, had:

1) The main Gateway leading to Benin City on Oroghotodin Road at the inner moat before Uzebu.

2) The second main Gateway was situated at the moat near Oguola Avenue in the G.R.A a trade route of those from Ikpokpan Ugbor and the Iyokeogba districts.

3) The Idunmwu-Ivbioto Gateway of the trade routes from Itsekhiri and Warri districts .

4) The Utantan Gateway controlled the trade routes from Ugu Iyeke-orhionmwon districts.

5) The Ogiso Oke-Edo Gateway of the trade routes from Ugo n’eki, Ika, Urhonigbe, Ukwani and Aniocha.

6) The Okhoro Gateway controlled all trade routes from Eyaen, Ehor and Esan districts.

7) The Ifon Gateway controlled the trades from Ifon, Ora, Ivbiosakon and Etsako districts and also from Lagos,Owo and Ibadan.

8) The Urubi gateway controlled all trades from Uselu, Ekiadolo, Igbogor, Usen districts.

9) The Oloton gate way controlled the trades from Isiuloko, Ogbese and other riverine areas from Itigiere, Atigiere.

Iron rods came from Europe through Ughoton port to Benin. The four blacksmith Guilds of the City, the Igun Nekhua, the Eyaen-Nugie, the Igun n’ Iwegie and the Igun n’ Ugboha had endured a permanent state of metal hunger, subsisting on the trickles of Iron Ore which came down from Uneme and Agbede Lands, but with plentiful supplies of the purified metal arriving as rods from the foundries of Europe through Ughoton gateway, the Edo City guilds went into un-relenting and accelerated production of agricultural, domestic and martial implements, which were used to sustain the wealth and the security of the Olden days Benin.

The currency in which the Benin overseas trade was conducted brought blessings to the land. The metal type of currency, the MANILLA, enabled the technology of brass-casting to be developed to its fullest extent. The sea-shell type of currency, the COWRIES, enhanced the liquidity of the economy of Great Benin.

Guns, gun powder, cannon and lead, arrived through Ughoton gate way, facilitated the extension and maintenance of the Great Benin Empire.

Foreign ideas, enriching society came through the Ughoton gate way.Christianity arrived through the Oroghotodin, making Benin the first place where Christianity was preached and made a state religion.

Despite the internal tributes passing through the nine gateways into Benin City, the arrival of the Portuguese coincided with a period of great political and artistic development. Their coming acted as a catalyst in this process. Their impact was many sided; military,economic, cultural, artistic and even linguistic.

Traders supplied the important Luxury items Benin so desired; coral beads, cloth for ceremonial attire and great quantities of brass manilas which could be melted down for casting.

In return for these goods, Benin provided the Portuguese with pepper, cloth, Ivory and Bronze casting. Benin craftsmen were busy carving Ivory objects ranging from spoons with handles, carved animals or birds, sold at modest prices to sailors, and merchants from far and near. Hence Edorisiuwa, Edorisiagbon, Edo Centre of excellence, earth bound and Edo ne-evbo ahirhe, where one prays to belong.

The Benin-Portuguese Ivories are a blending of status imagery from two cultures; from Europe, there are Portuguese coats of arms, armillar spheres and scenes of the nobility and from Benin, the Guild designs reserved for royalty and views of nobles on horseback accompanied by retainers and equipped with swords, elaborate costumes, feathers and other Benin marks of rank and wealth. All these attracted the European Communities, the Spanish, the Dutch, German and the English to trade with Great Benin.

The nine gates of the beautiful ancient Benin Culture reminded of the security quotation from Captain Lorenzo Pinto “The people of Great Benin live in such security that they have no doors to their houses”.



Evolution of Benin Military Culture

The development of Benin military culture evolved in four phases: first, the period before the emergence of warrior kings up to c. 1440; second, the era of warrior kings from 1440 to 1608; third, the period of Benin’s military power, 1606 to 1800; and finally, the 19th century transition from 1800 to 1897.

Up to the end of the 15th century, Benin expanded without firearms. The weapons produced enabled Benin warriors to use a variety of weapons such as bows and poisoned arrows, spears, swords, assegais and the crossbow. The variety of weapons used for war made it possible to compose the warriors into divisions of swordsmen, archers, spearmen and crossbowmen.

The swords produced in Benin were the curved single-edged swords (umozo) which is remembered in Benin tradition as one of the oldest of all fighting weapons. It was broad bladed and short, which was better for attack than defense. Benin warriors also used two types of spear (asoro) – the long and the short – which ranked next to umozo as the chief weapon used in battle. Among the spearmen were those who were famous for their skill in using the assegais – a type of slender iron-tipped spear of hardwood. Benin warriors also used bows (uhanbo) and arrows (ifenwe) long before the crossbow was introduced. The crossbow (ekpede) fired heavy arrows which made it a significant weapon of war. To successfully use the bow and arrow, and the crossbow, the warriors had training in target and field archery.


It is plausible to argue that since Benin warriors were successful in most of their campaigns, they and their commanders may have excelled in the strategy and tactics which were appropriate to the use of the locally produced weapons. The use of weapons alone was not the only factor which enhanced success in warfare. The overall strength of Benin was the result of the strength of its component parts which possessed armies that could be called upon to perform its tasks. Dutch sources have pointed out that the Oba (king) of Benin City could mobilize twenty thousand soldiers in a day, and raise an army of eighty thousand to one-hundred eighty thousand men. His authority stretches over many cities, towns, and villages. There is no King thereabouts who is in the possession of so many beautiful cities and towns, or is his equal (Dapper 1668).

This 16th century work of art shows a Benin war chief in a ceremonial war dress. The shields and long spears were weapons used in war and the helmets for protection, and bell.

Source: Kate Ezra, Royal Art of Benin: The Pearls Collection in The Museum of Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1992, p. 134.

Iron Technology

The use of iron and development of its technology in Benin kingdom has had influences in the state-building process. Iron technology led to the development of weapons which changed the character of war. Generally, in West Africa, the states that rose to power in the period between 1400 and 1700 AD such as Benin, Nupe, Igalla, and Oyo in present day Nigeria, dominated others partly because of the advantages in the development of iron technology. The earliest known iron working in sub-Saharan Africa was discovered at the site of Taruga in present day Central Nigeria, where an advanced iron technology existed as early as the sixth century BC. Archaeological excavations unearthed a number of iron-smelting sites at Taruga, with radiocarbon dates from the fifth to the third centuries BC. (Osadolor 2001: 107)



Rich iron ore deposits were not available in Benin and had to be imported from the Etsako area – north of Benin – which had large deposits. Benin was able to develop an indigenous capacity to work the iron material into weapons of war. It is probable that this indigenous capacity which was basically the possession of iron smelting knowledge was acquired through training and apprenticeship of Benin blacksmiths in Etsako. By the second half of the fifteenth century when Benin expanded its Empire virtually in all directions, it established control over the iron ore sources which was considered to be essential to the development of iron technology in the state.
Defensive Fortification of Ancient Benin City

Edo, the people of Igodomigodo famously known for almost a millennium as Benin, had built a moat complex to protect themselves in the wars they fought. The defensive fortification of Benin City, the capital, consisted of ramparts and moats, call iya, enclosing a 4000 square kilometer (2485.5 miles) of community lands. In total, the Benin wall system encompasses over 10,000 kilometers (6213.7 miles) of earth boundaries. Patrick Darling, an archaeologist, estimates that the complex was built between 800 and 1000 up to the late fifteenth century (Keys 1994: 16).

A Benin warrior wearing a protective helmet, with a long spear and shield, battle ready for military operations. Source: Kate Ezra, Royal Art of Benin: The Pearls Collection in The Museum of Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1992, p. 137.

Bronze Benin warrior wears trousers under a sort of pleated kilt and a basketry cap, is armed with a flintlock musket and short sword or dagger, and a trophy head at his feet. Source: Bryna Freyer, Royal Benin Art in the Collection, 1987, p. 55.

After each battle, the arrows which remained un-shot were brought back to the king’s arsenal, and the fetish-priests poisoned new ones to replace those which were lost. Although the warriors had responsibility to own their weapons but in the king’s palace, there was a huge arsenal of iron weapons produced in readiness for war. In the arsenal were bows and arrows, swords and spears. The universal weapon of protection was a big shield, made from hide, wood, and basketwork. It had a curved top and was straight at the bottom – apparently designed to be placed on the ground in order to cover an adult sized man when kneeling.

The helmet were worn by senior officers (chiefs) as well as highly decorated warriors (non-commissioned officers). They were made of padded basketwork or of hard crocodile skin and wood. The body armor (which consisted of a top and a bottom reaching down to the knees) was made of quilted ponchos covered with leopard skins, firm enough to prevent the penetration of an arrow or spear.

They all carried charms for protective purposes usually keep in a small calabashes (ukokogho) and attached to their war dresses. Warriors also wore protective armlets round their arms. Some used the symbol of ‘the sun and moon’, which symbolically meant that just as the sun and the moon always reach their destinations in the evening and return the next day, so would the warrior return safely from his campaign.

Each warrior wore a quadrangular bell, egogo. The clanging of hundreds of these bells accompanied by blasts by the military horn blowers, increased the psychological impact of the army’s approach as they entered enemy territory, and gave them courage. (Plankensteiner 2007: 78 & 409).

At the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in 1485 AD there was a highly organized society in Benin, wealthy and militarily powerful and governed by an Oba (king) supported by a court aristocracy and an efficient bureaucracy (Levenson 1991: 64). Artists and craftsmen, such as the metal casters and ivory carvers, were organized into guilds and worked exclusively for the king, living in separate neighborhoods set aside for them. The kingdom maintained independence from European control also under Oba Ewuare, as well as under the next two obas, relations between Benin and the Portuguese were largely peaceful and cooperative.

Bronze Benin horseman. The spear is a typical weapon. The filial that top the headgear is an ancient crown, a hollowed out maize cob or woven palm fonds filled with amulets.

Source: Plankensteiner, Benin 2007, p. 243

The Chronology of the Kings of Benin:

(Plankensteiner 2007: 43)

Approximate Reigns

Ogiso Dynasty 900-1170 AD

Ekalederhan – Oranmiyan

1. Eweka I (c. 1200)

2. Uwakhuahen

3. Ehenmihen

4. Ewedo (c. 1255)

5. Oguola (c (1280)

6. Edoni (c. 1295)

7. Udagbedo (c. 1299)

8. Ohen (c.1334)

9. Egbeka (c. 1370)

10. Orobiru

11. Uwaifiokun

12. Ewuare (c. 1440)

13. Ezoti (c. 1473)

14. Olua (c. 1473)

15. Ozolua (c. 1481)

16. Esigie (c. 1504)

17. Orhogbua (c 1550)

18. Ehengbuda (c. 1578)

19. Ohuan (c. 1608)

20. Ahenzae (c. 1641)

21. Akenzae (c. 1661)

22. Akengboi (c. 1669)

23. Akenkpaye (c. 1675)

24. Akengbedo (c. 1684)

25. Oreoghene (c. 1689)

26. Ewuakpe (c. 1700)

27. Ozuere (c. 1712)

28. Akenzua I (c. 1713)

29. Eresoyen (c. 1735)

30. Akengbuda (c.1750)

31. Obanosa (c. 1804)

32. Ogbebo (c. 1816)

33. Osemwende (c. 1816)

34. Adolo (c. 1850)

35. Ovonramwen (c. 1888-1897)

36. Eweka II (1914)

37. Akenzua II (1933)

38. Erediauwa (1979-present)


Dapper, Olfert. Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaensche gewestern. Amsterdam: Jacob von Meurs, 1668

Dapper, Olfert. Beschrijvinge, 122; APF: SOCG, vol. 517, fol. 308v, Pinto to Propaganda Fide, 28 May 1693

Darling, Patrick J. Archaeology and History in Southern Nigeria: The Ancient Linear Earthworks of Benin and Ishan. Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology II, B.A.R. International Series 215. Oxford: B.A.R. 1984.

Egharevba, Jacob U. A Short History of Benin. 4th ed. Ibadan: University Press, 1968

Ezra, Kate. Royal Art of Benin: The Pearls Collection in The Museum of Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1992

Iliffe, John. Africa: The History of a Continent. Cambridge: Cambrudge University Press, 1995

Kea, Ray A: For comparisons to Amsterdam, see the report of the first visit by Dutch to Benin, 1598 cited in Ray A. Kea, ‘Firearms on the Gold and Slave Coasts from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century’, Journal of African History, 12 (1971), 187; Dapper, Beschrijvinge, 122; for Florence, see Bonaventura da Firenze, ‘Come entro la fede di Giesu Christo nel regno d’Ouere per la Prima Uolta,’ fol. 28v, in Salvadorini (ed.), Missioni (with original foliation of MS marked); for comparisons to Madrid, see APF: SOCG, vol. 249, fol. 351v, Felipe de Hijar to Propaganda Fide, 25 July 1654; de Sandoval, Instauranda, 78-9.

Keys, David. Digging in the Dirt. The Independent (UK), 25th January. Cited in ACASA Newsletter 39, April 1994

Levenson, Jay A. Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, Yale University Press, 1991

Osadolor, Osarhieme Benson. The Military System of Benin Kingdom 1440-1897, (2001): from Benin City, Nigeria, unpublished dissertation. Hambury University

Pacheco Pereira, Duarte. Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis (1506-1508), Raymond Mauny, ed. Publicacoes do Centro de Estudos da Guine Portuguesa 19. Bissau (1956)

Plankensteiner, Barbara. Benin: Kings and Rituals; Court Arts from Nigeria, Snoeck Publishers, 2007

Ryder, Alan F.C. Benin and the Europeans. 1485-1897. London and Harlow: Longmans, 1969

Smith, Robert S. Warfare and Diplomacy in Pre-Colonial West Africa. London, 1976

Wesler, Kit W. Historical Archaeology in Nigeria, Africa World Press, 1998

Credited by Myra Wysinger




Oba Erediauwa during the Igue festival

Photo: Joseph Nevadomsky, 1985.

Igue festival

Igue festival is one of the important festivals among the people of Benin Kingdom in Edo State. The period ending one year and signaling the beginning of another, that is December to January, is usually an important period in the lives of the people of Benin Kingdom in Edo State, particularly their monarch, the Oba of Benin.
Igue is a thanksgiving time for the Edo people; a time for banishing evils from the nation and a time to invite blessings for the coming year since it marks the end and beginning of Edo year.
The Igue festival is an affair of parents and they are expected to bring their children and family members to benefit from the group worship where the spirit of the Edo nation is activated for both spiritual cleansing and blessing.
The origin of Igue dates back to the mid-15th century when Oba Ewuare Nogidigan, better known as Ewuare the Great, introduced it.

From the 17th century on European traders, led by the Dutch, began to sell firearms in large quantities. European firearms used in Benin were of three types: the match-lock, wheel-lock and, from 1635, the flintlock, with a range of 200 yards. Flintlock firing mechanisms were used on firearms from the 1600s to about 1850. Its technology improved on an earlier type as it had a piece of flint in the cocking hammer. The possession of firearms strengthened the Benin army. The use of European firearms played a crucial role, and Benin’s soldiers learnt much from Europeans, particularly the Portuguese (Plankensteiner 2007: 77). Gunpowder assured victory on the battlefield, although the use of firearms by Benin warriors was restricted by the Oba (king) to those authorized, mainly war and regimental commanders.


The kings of Benin during the 18th century and 19th century were conscious of their dependency on European firearms. This compelled Oba Akengbuda (ruled 1750-1804) to encourage local production of light firearms, muskets and flintlock hand-guns. The Oba organized the guild of blacksmiths (Igun Ematon), specialists in iron-casting, by creating a new quarter at Igun n’Ugboha (Plankensteiner 2007: 80). In spite of the initiatives in local production of firearms, in the 19th century more weapons were needed. Benin warriors had a few breech-loading rifles, the commonest being the muzzle-loading smooth-bore guns known as Dane-guns, because many were originally imported from Denmark. The arsenal of fire-arms in Benin was reduced since by 1890 the European powers had banned the export of arms to West Africa (Osadolor 2001: 198). The arms of Benin were obsolete, in comparison with the latest weapons of Maxims and rockets then produced in Europe. In 1885 the last Portuguese trade vessel departed from Benin.

The Fall of Benin Kingdom

King Ovonramwen, who ascended to the throne in 1888, came under increasing pressure from the British and their Niger Coast Protectorate (see map), established in 1884. The colonial administration had started to conclude trade agreements with influential chiefs and kings of neighboring peoples. After several unsuccessful attempts, they finally succeeded in 1892 in concluding such an agreement with the Oba of Benin, who could no longer escape doing so. In order to put pressure on King Ovonramwen to abide by the conditions set out in the trade agreement, the ambitious and inexperienced Vice Consul James R. Phillips undertook an expedition to Benin, without the blessing of the British Administration of the Protectorate. Despite a warning from friendly chiefs in the region and from emissaries of the Oba, who requested that the visit be postponed, as he was performing important ancestor ritual duties (Ugi’erh’Oba Festival) and could therefore not receive foreigners, the delegation set off for Benin anyway. When the Phillips’ troops was ambushed in January 1897 by followers of the Oba, seven of the nine English members of the expedition and numerous native carriers lost their lives.

Within a month, the British dispatched up to 10,o00 soldiers both army and navy together with their native African troops to Benin, under the high command of Admiral Sir. Harry Rawson. On February 18th, 1897, just under two weeks after the landing on the coast, the so-called Punitive Expedition reached the city, which was taken despite unexpectedly strong resistance. The king and his high dignitaries had fled, and the city turned out to be almost deserted. The British installed their headquarters in the royal palace, and scoured the environs without success in search of the Oba and his retinue. In a courtyard of the royal palace, under a thick layer of dust, the occupiers found hundreds of unusual bronze reliefs; in other rooms and shrines of the palace, they came across further bronze artworks and ivory carvings. These objects were gathered to take them back to England for subsequent defrayal of the cost of the war. On the third day, a fire broke out which destroyed the palace and most of the city. The palace had to be evacuated in haste, and a portion of the art treasures discovered fell victim to the fire.

After the accomplishment of his mission, Admiral Rawson left Benin, and the city was handed over to the local colonial administration. The battles in the environs persisted even longer, since the army commander Chief Ologbosere had not yet capitulated with his troops. In August 1897, Oba Ovonramwen finally surrendered, and in September, he and six high dignitaries viewed as responsible were put to trial, under the leadership of Consul-General Sir. Ralph Moor. Oba Ovonramwen was able to substantiate his innocence of the massacure, and was exiled to Calabar, where he died in 1914. Two of the chiefs committed suicide before the trial; the others, who had also acted without the approval of the king, were sentenced to death and executed (Plankensteiner 2007: 199). The Benin monarchy was restored in 1914, but true power lay with the colonial administration of Nigeria.





The initial missionary contact was embarked upon by some Portuguese Missionaries (Catholic Priests) as early as 1486. They penetrated through Warri in the company of Portuguese traders to Ughoton. From there they moved into the ancient city of Benin, now the capital of Edo State. The Portuguese missionaries (Catholic Priests) were given letters of accreditation to the Oba of Benin.

During this period John Affonso d’ Aveiro played a notable role in the evangelization of Benin City. He advised the Oba to become a Christian. Oba Esigie was delighted in the Christian Religion. He sent Ohen-Okun the Olokun Priest at Ughoton with John Affonso d’ Aveiro’s as an Ambassador to the King of Portugal, asking him to send Priests who would teach him and his people the faith. In reply, the King of Portugal sent Roman Catholic Missionaries and many rich presents with an entreaty that Oba Esigie should embrace the Catholic Faith. In the course of the missionary work in Benin, Catholic Churches were built at the following locations: Ogbelaka, Idumwerie, Idunmuu-Ebo, Akpakpava and Holy Cross Road. The rectory of the Fathers then was situated between present-day Dawson Road and Oba Ovoramwen Street. There was cordial relationship between the Oba of Benin and the King of Portugal. In 1504 Oba Esigie was baptized into the Catholic Faith.

The following excerpt from a letter was written during the War by Duarte Pires on 20th October, 1516 about the situation of Benin kingdom to King Dom Manuel: “It is quite true I am a friend of the king of Benin, because the King of Benin is a friend of all who tell him something well of your Highness. We eat with his son. When the missionaries arrived the King of Benin was delighted. The missionaries went with the king to the war and remained a whole year. The king could not do anything until the war was over. At the end of the year, in the month of August, the king ordered his son and two of his greatest noblemen (Uwangue and Eribo) to become Christians, and built a Church in Benin. They learnt how to read and did it very well.” By 1516 other Catholic missionaries had arrived the ancient city of Benin and remained until 1693.

In 1540, Esigie made a crucifix in brass and sent it to the King of Portugal as a present. Valuable presents were sent to the Oba in return, including a copy of a Roman Catholic catechism, which was placed in the house of Iwebo, one of the palace societies. This was unfortunately destroyed when the palace was burnt by Prince Ogbebor during the civil war between Osemwede and Ogbebor in 1816. However, what appeared to have been a thriving missionary enterprise during the reign of Oba Esigie was stifled and shattered during the reign of his immediate successor.

Information on the decline of the missionary activities was received in Rome. The Sacred Congregation for the propagation of the faith assigned the task of evangelizing the territory to Spain in 1648. On this issue, Very Rev. Fr. Festus Ogbonmwan states: “information about Benin was given to the Congregation by a French Capuchin, Father Columbine of Nantes who led a French mission to West Africa between 1634 and 1640. In a letter of appeal to the Congregation, Father Columbine said among other things, the people of Benin were gentle, civilized and friendly to priests and that they lack only the light of faith, instruction and example of true virtue.”

Father Francisco de Pamplona who visited the Congo in 1646 was another advocate of the Benin Mission. His argument was based on information received at Sao-Tome. He erroneously held that the Oba was already converted. It seemed that he mistook the Olu of Itsekiri for the Oba of Benin. On the basis of the above information, the Sacred Congregation quickly dispatched a group of twelve Spanish Capuchins to Benin with Father Angel de Valencia as the Prefect and with presents to the Oba. However, their journey to Benin was tragic because out of the twelve, three died of plague on the way and three others within six days of their arrival in Benin. When they had audience with the Oba, they found him a very accommodating and amiable person.

The activities of the Spanish missionaries fell under the reign of Oba Oreoghene about 1689. Writing about the period, Egharevba observed that the missionaries found the old mission or churches in an alarming and deplorable condition because “all the Christians with their native Father – Ohensa had already lapsed into idolatry and converted the churches to juju shrines or Aruosa.” He further says that: “the emblems of Catholicism – the rosary and crucifix – are still to be seen with the Ohensas of the Old Catholic churches of Akpakpava, Idumwerie till this day.” Despite the initial cordial reception accorded the Capuchins by the Oba, they could not make much success because they were faced with myriads of problems. By 1713 the last group of the Capuchins missionaries abandoned the mission.

The mission territory of Benin City was carved out of the vicariate of the Bight of Benin by a Papal Bull on May 2, 1884. Then the S.M.A. was given a special mandate for the evangelization of Benin City and other areas within and outside the territory. The territory then known as Prefecture Apostolic of Upper Niger included all of what is now regarded as Northern Nigeria.


1486 mission to Benin 

1486 Ruy de Pina: Discovery of Benin – Tr. from J.W. Blake, Europeans in West Africa (London, 1942), 2 vols.; this part is from vol. 1, 78-9

In this year [1486] the land of Benin beyond Mina in the Rios dos Escravos was first discovered by Joham Affom da Aveiro, who died there. The first Guinee pepper came to Europe from that land, where it grows in great abundance. Samples of it were sent to Flanders and other places, and it was soon popular and selling for a high price.


The king of Benin sent as ambassador to King João one of his captains, a negro from a seaport town called Gwato, because he desired to learn more about Europe, whose people were regarded there as an unusual novelty. This ambassador was a man of good speech and natural wisdom. Great feasts were held in his honour, and he was shown many of the fine things of Europe. He returned to his land in one of the King’s ships, who gave him on departing a gift of rich clothes for himself and his wife. Through him he also sent to the king of Benin a rich present of such things he knew the king would like very much. He also sent through the ambassador some holy and Catholic words of advice, with a praiseworthy appeal to embrace the Faith, rebuking him sternly for the heresies and gross idolatrous and fetish practices which are so common among the negroes of that land.


New commercial agents of King João went with the ambassador to reside in that land and buy pepper and other things of interest to the King’s business. But because the land was later found to be very dangerous from sickness and not so profitable as had been hoped, the trade was abandoned.


1486 João de Barros: The Oba of Benin asks for missionaries – Tr. in G.R. Crone, The voyages of Cadamosto (London: Hakluyt Society, 1937), 124


Though the christianizing of these people of Congo progressed greatly to the glory of God, through the conversion of their king, little profit accrued from what the King did in the matter of the request of the king of Beny, whose kingdom lay between that of Congo and the Castle of S. Jorge da Mina. For at the time of Diogo Cam’s first return from Congo, in the year fourteen hundred and eighty six, this king of Beny also sent to solicit the King to despatch thither priests who might instruct him in the Faith. This country had already been visited in the previous year by Fernão Po, who had discovered this coast and also an island near the land, now known by his name. On account of its size he called it Ilha Formosa – but it has lost this name and bears that of its discoverer. This emissary of the king of Beny came with João Affonso d’Aveiro, who had been sent to explore this coast by the King, and who brought back the first pepper from these parts of Guinea to theKingdom. This pepper is called by us de rabo (long tailed) because the stem on whihc it grows comes away with it to distinguish it from that obtained from India. The King sent some to Flanders, but it was never held in as high esteem as the Indian.


1486 João de Barros: Pre-Protuguese Christian influence in Benin – Ibid., 126-7


Among the many things which the King D. João learnt from the ambassador of the king of Benin, and also from João Afonso d’Aveiro, of what they had been told by the inhabitants of these regions, was that to the east of Beny at twenty moons’ journeywhich according to their account, and the short journeys they make, would be about two hundred and fifty of our leaugesthere lived the most powerful monarch of these parts, who was called Ogané. Among the pagan chiefs of the territories of Beny he was held in as great veneration as is the Supreme Pontif with us. In accordance with a very ancient custom, the king of Beny, on ascending the throne, sends ambassadors to him with rich gifts to announce that by the decease of his predecessor he has succeeded to the kingdom of Beny, and to requesst confirmation. To signify his assent, the prince Ogané sends the king a staff and a headpiece of shining brass, fashioned like a Spanish helmet, in place of a crown and sceptre. He also sends a cross, likewise of brass, to be worn round the neck, a holy and religious emblem similar to that worn by the Knights of the Order of Saint John. Without these emblems the people do not recognize him as lawful ruler, nor can he call himself truly king. All the time this ambassador is at the court of Ogané, he never sees the prince, but only the curtains of silk behind which he sits, for he is regarded as sacred. When the ambassador is leaving, he is shown a foot below the curtains as a sign that the prince is within and agrees to the matters that he has raised; this foot they reverence as though it were a sacred relic. As a kind of reward for the hardships of such a journey the ambassador receives a small cross, similar to that sent to the king, which is thrown round his neck to signify that he is free and exempt from all servitudes, and privileged in his native country, as the Knights are with us.

I myself knew this, but in order to be able to write it with authority, (although the King D. João in his time had also enquired well into it) when in the year 1540 certain ambassadors of the king of Beny came to this Kingdom, among whom was a man about seventy years of age who was wearing one of these crosses, I asked him the reason, and he gave an explanation similar to the above. And as in the time of the King, D. João, whenever India was spoken of, reference was always made to a very powerful king called Priest John of the Indies, who was reputed to be a Christian, it seemed therefore to the King that it might be possible to enter India by way of this kingdom. For he had learnt from the Abexijs (Abyssinian) priests who came to these parts of Spain, and also from some friars who had been from this kingdom to Jerusalem and whom he had ordered to gather information about this Prince, that his country was in the land above Egypt whence it stretched to the southern sea.

Wherefore the King and his cosmographers, taking into consideration Ptolemy’s general map describing Africa and its kings on the coast, as was ascertained by his discoverers, and also the distance of two hundred and fifty leagues to the east where according to the people of Beny the country of prince Ogané lay, concluded that he must be Priest John, for both were hidden behind curtains of silk and held the emblem of the cross in great veneration. And it also appeared to him that if his ships continued along the coast they had discovered, they could not fail to reach the land where the plateau promontory was, which is the boundary of that country. Therefore taking into consideration all these facts which increased his ardour for the design of discovering India, he determined to send immediately in the year 1486 both ships by sea and men by land, in order to get to the root of this matter which inspired so much hope in him.


1494 Jerome Münzer: Native priests ordained


King João II sent some newly ordained black priests, whom he had educated from childhood in Lisbon, and appointed them as Christian teachers on the island of São Tomé. It is to be hoped that with time the greater part of Ethiopia will embrace the Christian religion.


Portuguese trade with Ijebu: Duarte Pacheco Pereira, written ca. 1508


The mouth of this river [Lago]… is a very small mouth, and the channel has two fathoms at high tide. And the entrance is very dangerous from the banks of sand, on which the sea breaks for the greater part of the year, so that the channel is hardly visible. And only small boats of thirty to thirty-five tons can enter there. Once inside the mouth, it forms a great lake, which is more than two leagues wide and as many long, and twelve or thirteen leagues above by this river is a great city, called Geebu, surrounded by a great ditch; and the king of this land in our days is called Agusale [=Awujale]; and the trade which can be done here is in slaves, who are sold for brass bracelets (manillas) at 12 or 13 bracelets each, and some elephants’ teeth.

[Robin Law, “Early European sources on Ijebu,” History in Africa, 13 (1986), p. 246, notes that the Portuguese “rio” (river) must be a confusion with “rey” (king).]


20-11-1514 King Manuel: to the Oba of Benin on sending priests


The powerful and noble King of Benin: We, Dom Manuel, by the grace of God King of Portugal, of the Algarves, at home and abroad, in Africa, Lord of Guinea and of the conquest, of the navigation and commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India. We inform you that we have learned from Dom Jorge, your embassador, all that you require of us. His coming to us has helped us very much to appreciate the good will you declare to have for the things of our service. We were very pleased with all that he told us about your good will.


Certainly, since we desire that all your affairs prosper, you are right in doing what helps our affairs and service, just as if they were your own. For never, thanks be God, I know of no king, whether in Guinea or India or more distant places, who has regretted having friendship with us; rather they have always continued and do continue to nourish it the more and preserve it themselves along with us, with the good actions which we do for them, just as we will be pleased to do with you, if with regard to our affairs you do what you should as a king who is a friend of ours, as we believe that your are, given the fact that in past years we have had different information and we saw it in action.

Yet it is never our will to refuse to receive our friends.







The Art Institute of Chicago

In the 19th century, disputes over trade led to strain between Benin and its chief trading partner, Great Britain. This escalated as the European powers moved to divide Africa into colonial territories. The situation culminated in 1897, when a large delegation led by Britain’s Acting Consul-General in the region, James Phillips, set off for Benin City despite requests from Oba Ovonramwen (enthroned c. 1888) to postpone their visit.

On January 12, the British delegation was ambushed by an Edo force that by all accounts acted without the oba’s knowledge. Almost the entire party was killed, including Phillips. In quick order, a large British military force—deemed the Punitive Expedition—was assembled, and on February 18, they arrived in Benin City under orders to invade and conquer it. In time they captured Oba Ovonramwen and sent him into exile to Calabar, a town east of Benin.

With these events, the daily routines of the royal court were disrupted and the Edo people were severed from their leaders. Objects within the royal palaces were now the spoils of war, many of which were sold to defray the costs of the invasion. Others were shared among members of the expeditionary force. Still others left Benin in the confusion that followed the devastation of the kingdom.

Upon their arrival in London, Benin’s royal arts were a topic of conversation and speculation. They sparked immediate interest from museums, particularly in Britain and the German-speaking world, which made efforts to purchase the objects for their collections. Eventually works from Benin could be found in museums across Europe and the United States.

Oba Ovonramwen died in exile in 1914, the same year that his son returned to Benin City and was crowned Oba Eweka II. Benin’s monarchy was thus restored, though its power was greatly curtailed. While the Edo people maintained a strong connection to the oba, the monarchy was reconfigured to be secondary to the colonial system, and later to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Oba Eweka II and Oba Akenzua II (enthroned 1933) used the arts strategically in their efforts to reinvent the kingdom. They commissioned works to replace those that were taken in 1897 and reinstated some royal rituals, while reconsidering their roles within a modern context. Among Eweka II’s first acts was the establishment of an altar dedicated to his father, Oba Ovonramwen. He also erected a single collective altar dedicated to all the obas that had reigned before him.

Under the current monarch, Oba Erediauwa, the kingdom has a vital cultural and political life that is steeped in history and tradition. Erediauwa observes important royal practices, including the establishment and upkeep of ancestral altars and the performance of royal rituals. He is also a respected local and regional leader.

In 1938, in a gesture of great significance to the Edo people, the British returned pieces of Oba Ovonramwen’s coral regalia to his grandson Oba Akenzua II, thus restoring some of the sacred force of his ancestors. Upon receiving the regalia, Akenzua II is said to have sung out with joy, “The poisonous arrow has killed the elephant,” a reference to the long wait that is sometimes necessary before a victory can be attained.
Explore more works related to this theme.

Oba Ovonramwen’s Stool (Agba), late 19th century. Edo; Benin Kingdom, Nigeria. The Trustees of the British Museum, London, Af1898, 0630.2.

Omodamwen workshop. Boat Composition, 2006. Nigeria, Benin Kingdom; Edo. Museum für Völkerkunde Wien, 185.018.

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Benin—Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
Exhibition Themes
Mythic Origins
Oba Ewuare and the Portuguese
The Warrior Obas
Internal Conflict and Ritual Intensification
The Oba’s Palace
The Hierarchy at Court
The Oba: Leopard of the House (Ekpen N’Owa)
The Royal Altars
Rituals at Court
The British Conquest of Benin and the Oba’s Return
Selected Works
Additional Resources



Encyclopedia » History

Benin expedition of 1897 is also known as punitive expedition. United Kingdom force which was lead by Admiral Sir Harry Rawson to destroy Benin kingdom in response to the defeat of previous British forces under the Acting Consul General James Philips. Rawson’s troop captured, burn, and looted Benin artifacts bring to an end the existence of the Benin Kingdom.

Historically, in 19th century Benin Kingdom managed to retain its independence which made the Oba to exercise a monopoly over trade which the British found boring. The kingdom was desired by an influential group of investors for its rich natural resources like palm oil, rubber and ivory. Due to that, the kingdom was largely independent of British control, and also the pressure continued from their prominent arm men who were pushing for British formal act of acquiring the kingdom and removal of the Oba.

In 1892 March, Henry Gallwey visited Benin City hoping to take the Kingdom and make it  a colonial British Protectorate. But the king was skeptical of their motives and was willing to sign what he believed will be a friendship and trade agreement. Later on the king signed the treaty for the abolition of slave trade and human sacrifice in the kingdom but refused to endorse Gallwey’s treaty.  When it became clear that the document was a delusory ploy intended to make the kingdom a British colony and that lead the king to issue an authoritative proclamation barring all the British officials and traders from entering Benin territories.


In 1894, after the destruction of Brohomi the trading town of chief Nana Olomu by combined British Royal Navy and Niger Coast Protectorate forces, Benin Kingdom then increased their military presence on their southern borders which led to the refusal colonial officers to invade the city prior to the expedition which they planned to take place in early 1895.

In mid 1896, three attempts were made by the British to enforce the Gallwey Treaty but all failed. In March that same year a price fixing in some of the products made the ltsekiri middle men refuse to pay their tributes as required to the king and that forced the king to order for supply of palm oil produce to them. The order giving by the king brought trading at the Benin river region to a standstill causing the British traders and agents of trading firm to quickly appeal to the Protectorate Consul General to Open up the territories and send the king into exile because they believe that the king is the cause of their problem. In October that same year, James Robert Philips a Lawyer visited Benin River district where he had a meeting with the trader’s and agents, after the meeting he was convinced that there is a future on the Benin River if the territories were to be opened. But before then Benin had developed a reputation for glaringly horror which affected British attitudes. James Pinnock a trader wrote on what he saw by saying that “ a large number of men all handcuffed, chained and ears cut off with razor” while T.B Auchterlonie on his own side said to approach the capital will be through avenue of trees hung with decomposing human remains. After the lane of horror came a grass of common thickly stew with skulls and bones of sacrificed human beings. The entire statement where put together by some of the traders to pin down the king and also invade the kingdom.


In November 1896 James Robert Philips made a conventional request to his superiors to depose the king, and to replace him with a Native Council and then occupy the City. But he did not wait for approval, he embarked on a military expedition with two Niger Coast Protectorate Force officers, a medical officer, two trading agents, 250 African soldiers masquerading as porters were used to disguise their true intent to the kingdom. But before he embarked on the mission he had already sent a message to Oba that his present mission was to discuss trade and peace for the betterment of the kingdom, unfortunately for him, he didn’t know that some ltsekiri trading chiefs has already sent a message to King telling him that the white man is bringing war. On getting the information he quickly called the city high chiefs on an emergency meeting, during the discussion commander in chief of Benin Army indicated that British are planning a surprise attract on them, but the King said they should be allowed to enter first so that their true intent can be ascertained but the Army chief refused rather  he went ahead to order for the formation of a striking  force that was commanded by Ologbosere a senior army commander who was sent to Gwato to destroy the invaders.

In January 4th 1897 Benin forces manly of border guards and some servants of chiefs caught Phillips’ and his men unprepared at Ugbine village near Gwato. Phillips and his men were not expecting any opposition and their unaware that their operation has been sensed in Benin. The Benin Army took hold of them; only two British officers survived the Obliteration. This is now referred to as Benin Massacre.


12th January 1897 Rear- Admiral Harry Rawson was appointed by the British Admiralty to lead an expedition that will involve the capture of the king and destroying of the kingdom. The operation was named Benin Punitive Expedition. In February 9th that same year invading of the kingdom began, the field commanders were instructed to burn down all the Benin Kingdom towns and villages, and also hang the king whenever and wherever they see him. The forces sent where 1200 British Marines, sailors and Niger Coast Protectorate Forces that is composed of three columns, Sapoba, Gwato and Main Columns. It took them 10days to reach the kingdom with bitter fighting.
After they have secured the city, looting began and it was carried out by all members that took part in the expedition. Monuments, palaces of many high ranking chiefs, homes, religious buildings and palaces were deliberately malicious. The blaze grew out of control on the third day and it engulfed many part of the city. Most of the looted artifacts were retained by the expedition with some 2500 religious artifacts, Benin visual history, mnemonics and artworks where sent to England. Later on British Admiralty auctioned off the war booty to pay for the expedition cost. The auction took place in Paris, France most of the Bronze where purchased by Germans but a sizable group is now in British Museum London. The movement of Benin art to Museums around the world showed the beginning of long and slow European reassessment of the value of West African art. The art work of Benin was copied and styled into art work of many European artists which had a strong influence on the early formation of modernization in Europe.


Prof. Ekpo Eyo, O.F.R.

Since the title of the paper may not be readily understood, I would like first to explain it. In 1931, an exibition of art titled ” Images of Power: Art of the Royal Court of Benin ” was staged at the New York University and a catalogue bearing same title was pubblished. Edited by Dr. Flora Kaplan, the catalogue consists of various articles written by eminent archeologists, historians, anthropologists and art historians the best known of whom was William Fagg C. M. G., lately keeper of the Museum of Mankind, London. The title of Fagg’s paper was ” Benin: The Sack That Never Was “.
Those of you who may be familiar with the infamous story of the British Naval Expedition, sometimes referred to as the Puntive Expedition, to BENIN CITY in 1897, may recall having come across at one time or the other the use of the word ” Sack ” to describe the manner in which the intruder destroyed that City and during which event important places including the OBA’s Palace were burnt down, the Oba himself banished to Calabar and thousand of works of art which were kept in the Palace were looted and carried away to England. Of particular relevance to our topic is the burning down of the Palace on Sunday February 21, 1897, three days after the fall of Benin. It was also the last day before the departure of the Royal Marines from Benin. Before burning incident the Palace was turned into the resident of the occupation force and it was there that they stored their ammunitions and other equipments.
For sometime now, arguments have centred on how the fire that burnt down the Palace started. Was it an accident or did it happen by design ? The Commander – in – Chief of the Expedition, Admiral Rawson states in his diary that the fire was started accidentally and R. H. Bacon, P.M. the Intelligence Officer to the Expedition who wrote the account of the Expedition and the title ” BENIN: the CITY of BLOOD ” also confirms that the fire was started by accident. The most recent to express this same fact is William Fagg who, in this article aforementioned spares no effort to impress us that the fire started accidentally. However, this latest attempt to underline that the fire started accidentally appears designed to give the impression of an attempt not only to redeem the conduct of the Expedition but also to justify the looting of thousands of works of art that were kept at the Palace.
The main contention in Fagg’s article is that since the fire started accidentally, it is incorrect to use the word ” sack ” to describe the manner in which the city was occupied. According to him, ” A sack maybe said to take place when an invading army sets out to destroy a town – usually by fire, with or without it’s inhabitants – and gets out quickly being in no mood for self immolation “. Fagg states that he had recently seen a letter which emanates from a desendant of an ordinary member of the Expedition which states that the fire that burnt down the Oba’s Palace was started by the Expeditions local porters who were playing with gun powder about three – quarters of a mile away from the gates of the Palace . He continue ” As for other mark of a sack there was an indiscriminate slaughter, only deaths in battle outside Benin city and alter, a fez executions after judicial process (notably those of Chief Ologbosere and his co-conspirators in the Benin Massacre).

There were certainly no babies torn from their mothers breast and put to the sword. Afterall, a large part of the purpose of the Expedition was to suppress the practice of human sacrifice, and no evidence has been produced to my knowledge that they were less than sincere upholders of this aspect of human rights “, with regard to the well known looting which took place Fagg writes ” Nor is there any evidence of significant looting in the city at large or indeed that there was anything much there to loot that would attract an english sailor . . . . the records of known Benin works show remarkably little that does not appear to have come from the Palace “. Then, cheerfully, he admits ” The Palace, of course, was another matter . The Bronze plaques, were between 900 and 1000 were reported by cable to the lords of the Admirality by Admiral Rawson and became the official booty of the expedition to be sold to defray the cost of the pensions of the killed and the wounded.

The remainder
– bronzes, ivories, wood carvings and iron work – were not reported but shared out carefully among the officers. This was an unofficial loot which was still the custom of war in the nineteenth century however reprehensible we may now think it.”
It has been necessary to quote Fagg in extenso in order to be fair to him for, paraphrasing might just fail to bring out the points as he presents them. I would now like to look again at the points that he has raised in those statements and offer comments accordingly. As I understand it, Fagg argues that before a case can be established that Benin was ” sacked “,one must show that – (I) there was an intent by the invading army to burn and that actual burning by design took place, – (II) that indiscriminate slaughter of people took place, – (III) that there was general looting. I wish to take up these three points and then go on to dwell, albeit briefly, on the excuse usually given that the purpose of the Phillips Expedition was to stop human sacrifice. Finally, I will try to show that the word ” sack” used by some writers describing the manner of the destruction of Benin City is very appropriate, if not more appopriate than the use of the word ” massacre ” to describe the act of killing consul phillips and some members of his Expedition when they tried to force thier way into Benin against all advice.
It is necessary at this juncture to briefly look into the remote and immediate causes which brought about the 1897 punitive Expedition. I do not wish to delve into the origins of the Edo people or of their history. It is sufficient for us to note that the present Benin Dynasty which began with Oba Eweka I (c. 1200 AD) (Bradbury, 1973) and of which Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Erediauwa is the 39th descendant brought prominence to Benin. It achieved governmental skill, economic power, complex religious practices, success at war and the execution of elaborate art. The successes of the warrior kings beginning with Oba Ewuare (c. 1440 Ad) made Benin both respected and feared in west Africa and beyond. The establishment of the Craft guilds and the number of works produced over centuries all attest to the Political and economic stability of this erstwhile vast Empire. In this situation, therefore, the possession of mystical powers, a lot of which the Oba had, was essential for sustaining his authority and hold over a vast Empire whose boundaries were rather tenuous.
By 1894 Benin Empire remained one of the lassa strongholds of Local Authority in West Africa after the collapse of the Ashantis, the Nupes and the near by Itshekiris. In 1894, after Chief Nana has succumbed to the devastating effect of the combined force of intrique and European military hardware, it was not surprising that the British attention was turned to this price Empire whose seeming invincibility was a challenge to their superiority. It was not also surprising that the Edo themselves became conscious and apprehensive that they might be the next victim. And, they were:
In the 15th century, the first Europeans, the Portuguese, succeeded in reaching Benin. They were followed by the Dutch and the British.
The first British Expedition to Benin was led by Captain Wyndam assisted by a Portuguese named Piteado and was warmly received by the reigning Oba. This Expedition remained in Benin for 30 days. In 1558, Queen Elizabeth I granted a charter to the Royal African Company to compete in trade with the dutch and the portuguese in the area and in 1588, a notable English Expedition under the command of Captain Welsh visited Benin. In january, 1591, Captain Welsh again reached Benin and collected Pepper, Ivory and slaves. It is important to stress that all the various European powers that traded with Benin including the British were always welcome and treated with utmost cordiality. Even when the British, Captain Gallwey, visited Benin as late as 1894 for the purpose of negotiating a Treaty, all went well. Obaro Ikime has rightly pointed out that by some of the terms of the Treaty that was signed with Gallwey (the Oba refused to do the signing himself). Benin’s Soverignty was virtually given away and, inspite of the terms of the Berlin conference of 1855 which put the Benin area under British influence,the Bini never recognised any other authority than their Oba. The overthrow of Chief Nana in that year therefore must have struck fear into the minds of the Edo People for, when Major Crawford, the Vice – Consul and others tried between 1895 – 6 to reach the Oba, they experienced great difficulties.
An overt manifestation of Oba’s reaction against the overthrow of Nana was to close all the hinterland markets under his control and thus blocaded the flow of Palm produce to the coast. The blocade was partially lifted when consul – General Ralph Moor intervened. However, the intervention did not prevent the Oba from demanding extra tribute from the Itshekiri middlemen – a demand which turned the later against him. He also demanded and obtained 20,000 corrugated iron sheets from the British merchants before he could open up the markets. There is no doubt that in these actions Oba Overanwen, the reigning King had made enemies both with the British and his neighbours, a situation that facilitated his overthrow two years alter.



The event that was to lead to the overthrow of the Oba began when an acting consul – General was appointed for the area in 1896. He was a young naval Officer, called Captain phillips. With this appointment events moved rather quickly. Soon after his arrival, consul Phillips began to advise the “Benin River Chiefs” not to comply with Oba Overanwen’s demand for additional tribute to the Oba of Benin for partially opening up the hinterland markets. Phillips followed up his advice to the Benin River chiefs with a letter dated November 1846 to Oba Overanwen proposing a visit to Benin city. The stated purpose of the visit was “to try and persuade the king to let white men come up to the City When ever they wanted to” (Boisrangon p. 58) Such a letter could have done nothing less than increase the fear of the Bini. The king was “to allow whitemen to come up to the City whenever they wanted to”. The visit was planned for early January 1897.

In reply, the Oba requested that the visit be delayed for two months, to enable him to get through the IGUE ritual during which time his body is scared and not allowed to come in contact with foreign elements. Igue ritual is the highest ritual among the Edo and is performed not only for the well- being of the king but of his entire subjects and the land. But Phillips showed no sympathy. He replied the king that he was in a hurry and could not wait because he has so much work to do elsewhere in the Protectorate. Defiantly, the expedition set out as it proposed in January, 1897 and when it arrived at UGHOTON, three royal Emmissaries met it with a request that it should tarry for two days so that they could “send up and let the King know in time for him to make his preparation for receiving us” (Boisrangon, p.84). Again Phillips regretted that he could not wait because he has so much work to do and that he would start early the next morning. And, on the next morning, he set out for Benin City. By the afternoon of that day, January 4, 1897 the inevitable happened: Seven out of nine white members of the Expedition includingPhillips himself were ambused and killed. The only white survivors were Boisragon and Locke. The story of this ill-fated Expedition is set out in Boisragon’s book:

The Benin Massacre.


News of the fate of the expedition reached the Admirality on January 11th,1897 and, with characteristic British despatch, a Punitive Expedition under Rear Admiral Rawson, C.B. Commander of the Naval Squadron at the Cape was organised. They were to be assisted by the Niger Coast Protectorate Force. By February 4, 1897 , the Punitive Expedition had taken up strategic points at Ologbo, Ughoton and Sakponba for three prong attack on Benin City.
On February 7, the Expedition had gathered together the “Benin River Chiefs” many of whom were opposed to Oba Overanwen not only for the purpose of gathering intelligence from them, but also for the purpose of reading to them the British proclamation on the “massacre” of the white and the measures which were to be taken against the Oba and his City. Bacon (p.29) observered:

“It was impossible to tell from their faces what
they thought, but it must have been with a shade
of scepticism that they heard that the king was to
be no more, his town taken and his priests, if possible
killed, the Juju houses burned and the BENIN JUJU for
ever broken ….”

It is necessary to take note of this intent to kill and burn, a subject to which I shall return.
By February 11th, everything was set for the attack. The troops had taken up positions at Ologbo, Ughoton (Gwato) and Sakponba in readiness for a three prong march on the City. The main column under Colonel Hamilton was stationed at Ologbo on the main route to Benin while the supporting columns at Ughoton and Sakponba were mainly to stop the escape through these routes of refugees from the City. Ologbo Village itself was burnt down promptly after the 1897 incident by Captain Burrows (Bacon p.37) and Gilli-Gilli (Gelle-Gelle), Ughoton and Sakponba suffered the same fate of burning when the troops took up their positions there (Bacon, pp. 42&117).
By February 15th, the main column from Ologbo had reached Agagi and by February 18th the village of Igba about a mile from Benin City. From Igba the troops fired their shells and rockets into the City and the panic stricken Bini took to their heels. When the City was entered on the same day with the noises of Machine Guns everywhere, it was a ghost town and the search for the King, the Noblemen, the Chiefs and others began. The lassa stronghold of Native authority had fallen and had joined the list of other strongholds similarly humiliated.


With this background we are now in a position to comment on the points raised by Fagg that to prove the appropriateness of the use of “SACK” to describe the event of February 1897, one must show an intent by the invading to burn the City. Before I treat the case of Benin, I would like first to remind you of the fate of Nana’s town, Brohomi that was burnt down in 1894 by a combined force of the British Naval Brigade and the Niger Coast Protectorate Force under Sir Frederick Bedford, K. C . B. and the Consul- General Ralph Moor, K. M. G. Secondly, you will recall that the proclamation read to the Benin River Chiefs on February 7th, enjoined the Expedition to burn down the Juju houses and where else do you find the Juju houses in Benin than in the Palace? Therfore, it is not suprising that soon after the City fell, the business of burning the Juju houses began. I will again quote in extenso the accounts of these burnings as written by Commander R. H. Bacon, the Expedition’s intelligence Officer who wrote :

Benin: the City of Blood. On page 102 Bacon records that on February 20th:

“In the afternoon a strong party accompanied
by the Admiral, went to burn Ojomo’s [General Ezomo’s] compound,
a village just at the commencement of the Gwato
(Ughoton) Road”.

Bacon further states (pp. 103-4):

“Early next morning I was sent with a strong party
of Houssas [HAUSA RECRUITS] and the HMS Theseus sailors and marines
to burn Ochudi’s compound the village belonging
to the General, who guarded the Ologbo and Sakponba.

This was easily done resulting in the capture of one Parrot.


This compound consisted of about a
  Hundred houses, whose roofs made a good
blaze. Behind the buildings there was a huge Garden
which we never had time to Explore, but it must have
been quite a hundred Acres surrounded by a high
Red Wall. It is not unlikely that it was the walking
place of the King and formed part of his compound
which the Juju prevents him ever leaving”.

As if enough burning had not been done, Bacon reports (p.105):

“The usual demolitions were proceeded with, and a
good deal of work done. It was our lassa day in Benin
and non of us were sorry except for the protectorate
officers who were to remain with the Houssas [HAUSA RECRUITS] to settle the Country”.

It was on the same day, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon that the fire to which Rawson and Fagg refered to as having started accidentally burned down the Palace and a good part of the City.
Let us concede that the fire was started without the order of the Commander for the simple reason that the Palace was now the residence of the occupation force. This being so, one is tempted bearing in mind that it was customary to burn down captured towns like Broheimi, Ologbo, Gilli-Gilli, Gwato e.t.c and, in Benin itself, Chiefs Ojomo’s and Ochudi’s compounds and the Queen Mother’s House, the sparing of the Palace cannot be seen as an act of grace. It was simply that it was being used as the Headquarters of the Campaign therefore no order was yet given for it to suffer the fate of others. Afterall the Palace was and still is the center of the religious activities of the Benin people. It is therefore possible that no special precaution was taken against its destruction and, if indeed the fire was started by the Expedition’s local porters, their action was not inconsistent with the usual practice of burning.

Afterall, it was their last day in Benin and porters too, had some grudge against the Monarch. If the Palace was burnt down accidentally, the Expedition displayed no sorrow execpt for some Food items and Equipment that were lost in the fire. Indeed Bacon (pp.107-8) says:

“There was a dim grandeur about it all , and also
these seemed to a fate. Here was this head center
of iniqiuty, spared by us from its suitable end of
burning for the sake of holding the new seat of
justice where barbarism had held away, given into
our hands with the brand of Blood soaked into
every corner and …….. fire only could purge it, and
here on our lassa day we were to see its legitimate fate overtake it.”

The question which you and I must now address our minds to ease whether the facts presented are sufficent to establish the intent by the invading Army to burn. I am satisfied that not only was there intent but actually burning took place as recorded by Bacon. So why do we quarrel with the use of such an appropriate word in this context?


Fagg’s second contention is that they were no indiscriminate slaughter following the fall of Benin:

“Only deaths in battle outsider Benin city and altar,
a few Execution after judicial process (notably those
of Chief Ologbosere and his co-conspirators in the
Benin Massacre)”.


This statement raises a few issues the most important of which is judicial process adopted and who was qualified to decide that Chief Ologbosere and his men were conpirators. The anbsurdity of this situation can be seen when it is realised that Benin kingdom regarded itself as Sovereign State which it was, the Berlin conference 1850 and the Gallwey Treaty 1892 notwithstanding and, as such, had its own laws and customs. Imagine where you and I would end up if we tried to force our way into a foreign territory without passports or visas and against the advice or persuation of the men was responsability was the security of that state. Phillips and his men displayed downright disdain for the local authorities and institutions and their actions were, to say the least rather rascally and highly provocative. It is against this background that you must judge the action of Cheif Ologbosere and his men. The judicial process which the British adopted was prejudicial to the Edo and egocentrically British. Seen this way the denial that there was no indiscriminate slaughter in the Execution of those men is left with little substance. This conclusion is buttressed by the fact that although it was known to the British that the Oba had no foreknowledge of the attack on the Expedition, he was captured, chained and carried away from his domain on exile to Calabar. I venture to say that the decision to condemn these men to death was as a result of the injunction of the Admiralty to kill the King’s Juju men.


It has been said over and over again that the British were anxious to get to Benin to stop Human Sacrifice. This has been restated by Fagg who wrote:

“A large part of the purpose of the Expedition
was to suppress the practice of human sacrifice …”

Benin City has been made out as the most notorious in this matter to the extent that the Commander R. H. Bacon, the Expedition’s Intelligence Officer titled his account of this event ” Benin: The City of Blood”, he wrote (p.1):

“Truly has Benin been called the City of Blood.
Its history is one long record of savagery of the
most debased kind. In the earlier part of this
Century (i.e. 19th C) when it was the center of slave
trade human suffering must have reached its most
acute form, but it is doubtful if even then wanton
sacrifice of life could have exceeded that of more recent times”.

By recent times, Bacon wrote of course referring first to the killing of Phillips and his men and, secondly, this series of sacrifices that followed to avert an impending reprisal by the British. William Fagg himself supports this view when he wrote:

“He (meaning the Oba) was panic striken when he
heard (i. e. the killing of Phillips and some of his
men) and, consulting the soothsayers, engaged in
a course of terrible pity which was much worse
than the Massacre itself. He béseeched the Gods
of Benin, his defied ancestors and the powerful
spirits, with many hundreds of the most acceptable
of sacrifices, to save the Kingdom from inevitable
retribution. This went on all through the six weeks,
redoubling as the Expedition came up from the Coast.
Then they entered the near deserted City, they were
met by corpses, new and old at every shrine.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a major lie of the British troops as it is on record that the city was heavily defended on all attacking fronts including the gateways of Sakponba, Ologbo & Ughoton were the invading British forces were either routed or suffered heavy casualties until the big guns from the five naval ships that came were deployed to tip the balance in favor of the British after 10 bloody days of brutal fighting when the Benin City finally fell. The deserted city that they claim was littered with corpses was never drawn of sketched or photographed as evidence yet they went about sketching and photographing themselves in battle and posing with their ill gotten loot. So why did they not at least sketch or take a single snap shot of one single corpse of human sacrifice if they found it. The murderous liars! The corpses that littered the streets of Benin City were the masses of innocent people they indiscriminately gunned down and murdered with their Maxim Machine Guns and Cannons so they couldn’t possibly take such incriminating pictures against their bloody acts could they. Here below are photo evidences that speaks against them. For the major reason of their “punitive expedition” or better still their “plundering expedition” was to ostensibly eradicate human sacrifices that they even wrote several books, journals and propaganda press releases for. Yet when they saw the evidence that could have justified their claims staring at them face to face they blatantly refused to take photographs of them yet they took photographs of themselves and their loot from the king’s Palace they conveniently burned down also with the so called human sacrifices littering the palace premises too. What is perhaps because of the stench of the corpses or that they ran out of film that caused them not to take a single snap shot of a single human sacrifice that littered every where? Human Sacrifice my foot! Look at these bunch of army thieves happily grinning from to ear with their costly loot of ivory and artifacts that would fetch them a fortune back in Europe and then tell me about human sacrifice that they care about when they were busy tossing overboard the dead corpses of stinking slaves out of their stinking slave ships whose stench lingered after them for hours after sailing past. They did not care about the slaves their slave traders citizens were buying, selling, killing and sacrificing every day in their thousands, but found needful in their Christian heart to care about the human sacrifices going on in Benin City. Such Nonsense!)




Let me now say that what I am trying to present here is not in any way an attempt to endorse the practice may seem to us today, it was common and legitimated by society itself and sanctioned by most world religions including those of the Hebrews, Anglo – Saxons and the Edo. In all these societies, it cannot be said that sacrifice was carried out primarily for the love of merely taking life, but because it was thoroughly believed in all these societies that the gods demanded it. In other words it happened in the religious context and any religion is a system of belief which its followers should never question.

But look at the world today. The loss of life for religious sake in Northern Ireland and Maitatsine’s affair in Kano are only too recent examples. In times past the history of the world is rife with previous cases of sacrifice like during the Crusades and the Holy Jihad. The loss of life for the protection of territorial integrity of a nation as we witnessed in the Nigerian civil war and now witnessing in the Falkland crisis are too well – known to all of us. The loss of life for the protection of ideologies is so rampant that the two world wars, the Korean war, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still fresh in our minds.

Today, there are a thousand and one reasons why nations and groups still continue to lay down or sacrifice lives in order to obtain or maintain certain benefits in life. This is exactly what happened in the past execpt in the question of degree. The world has never before now seen such massive destruction of life and, in this matter, the Western “civilised” world is second to none. I therefore maintain that while not approving what ever human practices the Bini carried out in the past, that if this practice is to be condemned, there must be an all round condemnation of every society past and present that had committed this offence against mankind. The excuse that the British gave for interfering in the scared ceremonies of the Bini under the pretext of stopping human sacrifice is therefore a case of a very black pot calling a less black kettle, black.
I have tried in this paper to give a background to the events that took place in and around the very place where we are sitting this evening, an event that appears to be pricking the conscience of the British. I say this because there seems to me no other reason why it has recently become necessary to remove the word “sack” from the description of the tragic event of 1897. I think that the least that could have been done in the circumstance, would have been to let the sleeping dog lie.
In my opinion, the use of that word is not less exact than the use of the word “massacre” to describe the killing of Consul Phillips and some of his men. Now the word “massacre” means killing in a bizzare manner. But given the circumstance of this event which I have already described, one can see that neither the idea of killing was bizzare nor the mode of the killing. Chief Ologbosere and his men used their dane guns and their cutlasses just as the punitive Expeditioners used their maxims and pistols to despatch their enemies. The use of matchets can be parrelled to the use of swords which was mainly the weapon of offence and defence in Europe until it was replaced by the gun.
It is therefore not fair to say, all circumstances considered, that it is less appropriate to use the word “massacre” to describe Consul Phillips fate than to use the word “sack” to describe the wanton destruction of the City of Benin? The Sack of Benin was bad enough but an attempt to dress it up now for justification may be more UNFORGIVEABLE.


Posted by Rita Obasohan on December 25, 2010 at 12:00pm


Did Henry Lionel Gallway loot Benin Religious and Art Works?

By Uyilawa Usuanlele.

Answering this question has become necessary since our people are seeking justification for protest against Sotheby’s Art Gallery intention to sell of Iyoba Idia’s Ivory hip mask in the possession of Henry Gallwey Family. To answer this question we need to know who Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey (Gallway) was. Gallway was the son of a British Army Officer who also enlisted and became an Officer in the British army. While still a Captain, he was appointed as a deputy commissioner or vice consul and deployed to the newly created Oil Rivers Protectorate and later known as Niger Coast Protectorate in 1891 and he was the third in command in the administration.

Gallway had the assignment of negotiating a treaty of Protection with Oba Ovonramwen in March 1892. Having stayed a few days in Benin City without being able to meet the Oba, he threatened returning with an invading force and Oba Ovonramwen was said to have directed one of his chiefs to put a mark on the paper. This unsigned piece of paper was later claimed to represent a treaty of Protection with Benin Empire. Even if the Oba was to give a present to Galway , it is doubtful it was an Ivory Hip Mask, because this is part of the body Oba’s adornment for performing certain rites.

In December 1896, while the Consul General Sir Ralph Moor was on leave in England in December 1896, and his ambitious deputy Ag Consul Phillip tried to force his way to Benin to earn the glory of bringing Benin under British administration. But his group was ambushed and killed by Benin troops. The administration of the Protectorate then fell on Gallway. This enabled him play a prominent role in planning the invasion, burning and looting of Benin . It is a known fact that the British administration had the intention of looting the city and palace even before the development of hostilities. Acting Consul Phillips had written on 16th September 1896 ( five full months before the invasion) that

“… I have reason to hope that sufficient Ivory may be found in the King’s house to pay the expenses incurred in removing the King.”

On 10th February 1897, the British invaded Benin Kingdom and Benin City was captured on 17th February after which the soldiers went about the city to demolish the palaces of some of the Chiefs like Ezomo, the Iyoba and the Palace and loot all the religious and secular objects including casks of beverages, before setting fire to the city. The British soldiers took away the looted works which the British government promised and did sell some to defray the cost of pension of British soldiers who participated in the war.

Though Galway did not participate in the actual fighting itself in February 1897, as the deputy Consul based in Sapele from where the invasion was coordinated, he was in the city after the conquest to ascertain things for himself. This gave him ample opportunity to participate in the looting of the known treasures expected to be found in the palaces. His position also enabled him to share in the booty along with Sir Ralph Moor who also took some of the looted objects. In subsequent years, Gallway served as Acting Consul and Acting Governor of Protectorate of Southern Nigeria till he retired in 1902.

Given that Galway left Nigeria in 1902, when the monarchy and guilds were not yet revived, he could not have receive the Ivory Iyoba Idia head as a gift. He only obviously got it through looting or sharing in the loot. The Ivory hip mask of Queen Idia in the possession of Galwey family was looted from the Palace of Oba of Benin and it is stolen property, that should be returned to its rightful owner, Omo n’oba ne Edo Erediauwa .



Admiral Rawson Commander of the Benin Expedition of 1897

Benin Expedition of 1897 was a punitive expedition by a United Kingdom force of over 1,200 under Admiral Sir Harry Rawson in response to the defeat of a previous British-led invasion force under Acting Consul General James Philips (which had left all but two men dead).[1] Rawson’s troops captured, burned, and looted Benin City, bringing to an end the west African Kingdom of Benin. As a result much of the country’s art, including the Benin Bronzes, was either destroyed, looted or dispersed.




On June 28 in 1899, British forces occupying Benin City hanged a local tribal leader for the massacre whose perpetration had justified London’s, er, “humanitarian” intervention. The locale is “Benin”, not the modern country of Benin but rather the land just to the east currently situated in southern Nigeria — which was then the Benin Empire. Ruled from Benin City (also presently in Nigeria), this great African state had been in direct contact with European countries since the 15th century.

By the 19th it had waned with colonial incursions — but Benin itself had sagely declined to extend “free trade” to the powers that meant to dominate it, nor to cede sovereignty by signing a “protectorate” arrangement. It was only a matter of time before Britain (or someone else) made an offer Benin couldn’t refuse. In January 1897, a British expedition attempting to enter Benin during a religious festival against the orders of its oba (king) was slaughtered by a Benin force led by the oba‘s son-in-law, Ologbosere (alternatively, Ologbosheri). Britain claimed it was a diplomatic mission; Benin apparently believed the deputation meant to attack. Regardless, the tactical victory would prove a strategic debacle.

New York Times, Jan. 21, 1897. The last paragraph of this article innocently observes that “the country is said to be very rich, and it would not be surprising to find that one result of the punitive expedition would be the annexation of the whole territory to the British possessions in West Africa.”


The circumstances of this encounter remain murky and hotly disputed to this day. As we learn from the London Times – June 12, 1898 (keep in mind that global superpowers usually misrepresent its intentions or engineer a provocation in order to unseat a resource-rich dictator e.g. iraq in modern times):

The object of the mission is described as peaceful, and one version even asserts that the party were unarmed … it was intended to send a party to Benin city to ask the King to remove the obstacles which he places in the way of trade …

The King and his capital have a bad reputation. He is a “Ju Ju” follower and addicted to human sacrifices, the gruesome remains of which are to be found in abundance in his capital. He is said recently to have threatened death to the next white man who attempted to visit him, and there is but too good reason to fear that he has kept his word. A military expedition against him probably would have been necessary in any event sooner or later.

Dispatched within days, the retaliatory Benin punitive expedition sacked Benin City by the end of February, sending its reigning oba into exile. The Benin Empire had fallen and was folded into Britain’s colonial administration. Punitive force personnel reported a veritable bloodbath perpetrated within Benin City by its outgoing administration, including that trump taboo, human sacrifice. Naval intelligence officer R.H. Bacon wrote:

The one lasting remembrance of Benin in my mind is its smells. Crucifixions, human sacrifices, and every horror the eye could get accustomed to, to a large extent, but the smells no white man’s internal economy could stand…Blood was everywhere; smeared over bronzes, ivory, and even the walls, and spoke the history of that awful city in a clearer way than writing ever could. And this had been going on for centuries! Not the lust of one king, not the climax of a bloody reign, but the religion of the race..the atrocities of Benin, originating in blood lust and desire to terrorise the neighbouring states, the brutal love of mutilation and torture, and the wholesale manner in which the caprices of the King and Juju were satisfied, could only have been the result of stagnant brutality…[I saw] a crucifixion tree with a double crucifixion on it, the two poor wretches stretched out facing the west, with their arms bound together in the middle. The construction of this tree was peculiar, being absolutely built for the purpose of crucifixion. At the base were skulls and bones, literally strewn about; the debris of former sacrifices … and down every main road were two or more human sacrifices.





..and another synoptic report of two other officers:
Seven large sacrifice compounds were found inclosed by walls…[containing earthen] altars [that] were covered with streams of dried human blood…[and] open pits filled with human bodies giving forth the most trying odours.



Whilst Britain set about making Benin safe for the olfactory nerves of long-barred merchandisers, Ologbosere persisted in the bush for more than two years in a bloody guerilla warfare against the occupying British forces. He was finally snared with the connivance of some local tribal chiefs a.k.a EDO COLLABORATORS keen to do business with the new boss.



General Ologbosere (seated in the picture, flanked by African colonial regiments) alongside Oviawe, Ebohon (not in the picture above) and others, led a two year guerrilla war of resistance against the British in Benin destroying the British outpost, flags after the invasion.He was captured by the people who got frusterated with the British tactics of destroying houses and food crops of any town and villages that harboured him.Colonial Nigeria 1897-1934

As in most of Africa, the early colonial period in Nigeria was characterized by intermittent rebellions, revolts and uprising against the newly established colonial state. These upheavals were mostly the reaction to colonial oppression: the imposition on the people of strange policies and exacting demands like taxation. There were however areas that they spared of such upheavals. Such was the area of the former Benin Kingdom.on the surface it might seem thay they acquiesced in their own oppression and exploitation.

This chapter examines a case study that proves that such areas did not acquiesce, but rather engaged in resistance in some other ways that were not obvious and have therefore been mostly inadequately documented. Some of these forms of resistance hvae been variously described as passive resistance. and more recently as every day forms of peasant resistance. According to J.C. Scott the occurrence and tenacity of the latter,in dominated societies,is influenced by existing forms of labour control, severity of retaliation/punishment from the ruling power and what safety valves exist for the oppressed groups. The peasant subjects in many communities under the powerful Benin Kingdom entered colonialism with a long long tradition of resistance to several hundred years of domination by a tribute exacting ruling aristocracy. As a result, exit strategy or migration out of the reach of the oppressing power had become the norm in resistance activities among the peasants of the Benin area.


The violence and brutality that characterized the conquest and establishment of colonial rule over Benin Kingdom showed to the colonized populace the extreme lengths to which the colonizing power would go to enforce it’s dictate and punish infringements by those opposed to it. Consequently, from the time of conquest and into the earlier years of colonial rule many chose to flee or emigrate. Since these emigrations were very disruptive of effective administration, labour mobilization and tax collection it is not surprising that the administration not only frowned at it, but also responded with violence in an attempt to check it.

This also chapter examines the interface of colonial violence, together with process used to establish colonial administrative apartus on the one hand, and the use of migration as a resistance strategy on the other. It shows how Benin peasants outsmarted the administration for a long period during colonial rule and how fugitive communities produced by these migrations managed to escape the reach of the colonial administration and survived for almost four decades until 1935/6 in the Benin rainforest.


According to Benin oral traditions, thirty-one Ogiso Kings ruled in Benin from a yet to be established date until the alleged tyranny of Oba Owodo resulted in the termination of the Ogiso rulership in the 13th century A.D.

The Eweka dynasty took over with thirty-five successive Obas, the last of whose misfortune it was to face the colonialist onslaught of British Imperialism in 1897. Population movements in form of migration are a dominant thread that runs through the history of pre-colonial Benin Kingdom. Oral traditions here relate stories of despotic and disagreeable policies of some of the rulers and courtiers leading to rebellions and wars and consequent waves of protest migration as well as various forms of passive resistance. Those who did not migrate and had to remain adopted various strategies of coping with the authoritarian tendencies and character of their rulers; many of these can be glimpsed from Benin proverbs.

For instance, those who did not flee from the tyranny of the fifteenth century Oba Ewuare were said to have Ignored his excesses through silence. This is reflected in a proverb attributed to Ewuare indicating the devastation he felt by this resistance strategy: Oba Ewuare were a we te iren renren ghe gha ghere we e ebo no, Iren gha we ne Edo seri ihen…If I had known that to be ignored is a curse, I would have asked the Edo to revoke the curse. Another proverb that provides us with evidence of such passive resistance is; ne gue Oba mua evben,o re okpe vbe igue He who argues with the king stays long in a kneeling position.

Since the King is addressed in a kneeling position, prolong argument will only keep one kneeling and enduring punishment. The strategy was therefore to accept whatever the king says without argument even if one was not going to carry out the directive. Thus passive resistance was well known and practiced in the area. When the British eventually conquered Benin and established their colonial rule, these various strategies came readily to hand. Violence and the Foundations of Colonial Rule In Benin .

The 1897 ambush and killing of a British Consular party by Benin Chiefs provided the much needed pretext for the long planned invasion of Benin though it was termed a “punitive” expedition. The fierce Benin resistance and the extreme violence of the conquest set the tone for the subsequent violence that was to characterize the establishment of British colonial rule. With the capture of the city on 17th February 1897 after five days of fighting, the conquering army went about destroying various quarters of the city suspected to belong to Chiefs believed to have participated in the ambush and/or involved in “fetish” practices. In the process, a supposedly “accidental” fire burnt the palace and adjoining quarters.

The pursuit of Oba Ovonramwen and Chiefs who left the city before it’s fall provided another opportunity for violence against the people. A report of 18th March, 1897, confirmed the killing of the headman of Orio for attempting to escape, while being forced to guard officials to the king’s hideout. In the same report, a new town to which the king was said to have recently escaped from, and the town of Amofia were destroyed.

In another report, Ebeikhinmwin, one of the heroes of Benin resistance to invasion was summarily executed after he was betrayed by another chief. Captain Roupell reported burning down two villages and collecting their livestock during his pursuit of a chief on 23 April 1897. Such wholesale violence terrorized the people and made their situation and admitted with some regret that the chiefs were “afraid of the whiteman…..It was a pity to have burnt their houses”. As a result, he resorted to cajolery and blackmail that succeeded in making many chiefs and, later on, the Oba the submitted himself to the colonial officials. The Oba and some of the chiefs were tried, and the Oba later deported to Calabar, while some of the chiefs were executed in September 1897. The continued resistance of Chiefs Ologbosere, Ebohon and Oviawe ensured the continuation of this orgy of violence against communities in areas where they are based.
According to Robert Home,


The resistance took the form of subversive activities against the new government in Benin. The Chiefs continued to govern their areas of Jurisdiction in defiance of the colonial power. Ologbosere in charge of Ehor, Ebohon in charge of Okemue and Oviawe in charge of Igieduma and Uhi. They stopped people in these communities from going to Benin to pledge allegiance to the new government. British symbols of authority like flags, outpost and rest houses were destroyed.

Furthermore, spies were used to keep track of what the new government was up to. Despite early effort of the British officials in Benin to reconcile them to the new government,these chiefs adamantly maintained their non-cooperative attitude.the result was a reconnaisance in the territories of Ologbose and Abohun of May 1898 and “Benin Territories Expedition of 20th April to 16th May 1899,which ended their resistance to British rule. Atrocities committed by the British expeditionary force in these communities were worse than earlier ones. This was because according to Galway, “So long as they (Chiefs) are at large, so long will the prestige fo the government hang in the balance”.

The pursuit of the chiefs between 1897 and 1899 became a seasonal affair that trailed by an orgy of violenc and destruction.Reports of the reconnisance of these communities in 1898 by Ag Resident R.K.Granvile confirmed the burning and destruction of the towns of Eko, Ologbosere, Ovbi-Ehor, Isure and Okemue. The situation was made worse of the people of the area by the rivalry between the Niger Coast Protectorate administration, which had conquered Benin and the Royal Niger Company administration which was laying claims to part of the territory.

In January 1898 the town of Irrua was burnt by the RNC which was trying to annex these areas through the encouragement of the rebel chief to whom they were supplying arms. The expedition of 1899 was even more violent as the reconnaissance troops reported their destruction of every community on their way to the territory of the rebel chiefs. In the rebel territory itself the rebuilt towns of Okemue and Eko Ologobse were again destroyed and ALL HOUSES LEVELED TO THE GROUND while the towns of Ekpon, Idumere, Udo and Ugiamwen, Oviawares camp, and parts of Igbanke were reported to have been destroyed in the expedition between 20th April and 11th May.

Their farms were burnt and troops were stationed in Okemue. Oviawe died from injuries while Ologbosere and Ebohon were captured by the local people and handed over to the officials in June to save them from further violence and starvation arising for the burning of their farms. Chief Ologbosere was “tried” sentenced and executed shortly after and this put and end to armed resistance. The British success in squelching armed resistance by these chiefs was facilitated by the help of some Benin Chiefs a.k.a EDO COLLABORATORS who were said to have been co-opted into the administration with the promise that they would be placed in charge of the various towns to be covered by the expedition.

The instruction of the troops during the uprising of 1906 was “in the event of natives not complying with the instruction….the vilages concerned will be considered unfriendly and dealt with accordingly” In 1906, the people of Owa had attacked the Forest Guard sent to instruct them to tap rubber and for this a section of their town was burnt by troops as punishment in addition to a fine. Earlier in late 1905, troops had visited Urhonigbe to enforce collection of tributes. However, the end of armed resistance did not stop the use of violence against the people. It seems to have been a deliberate policy to continue to terrorize the people into total submission. The colonial officials, have painted a negative image of the people as bloodthirsty, maintained their rampaging troops in the territory of some time.

They were withdrawn in 1904, returned 1906, and were thereafter deployed at will until the First World War. The incessant use of military force to terrorize the populace had instilled the fear of the Europeans and their agents in the people. The European became synonymous with violence and the people summarized their experience of this time in the proverb: Ebo gha re,Evben re [The European arrives, trouble alights.] The severity of colonial official retaliation registered in the peoples psyche. Henceforth, punishment among the Edo that was considered to be extreme was declaimed by the proverbial query: Te ime gbe Ovbiebo? [did I kill a European?] This proverb expresses the people’s execration of the barbarity of British violence that can be likened to killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

With such wanton violence on the part of the British confronting the colonial administration was therefore discounted as a resistance strategy; instead many people deserted their communities to seek refuge in relative safety elsewhere from from the reach of Europeans. While much has been documented about the general oppression and exploitation of the colonized during the colonial rule by colonial officials and their agents, very little seems to be written about the cruelty of particular colonial officials, which was also seriously felt by the helpless peasantry. A combination of personal psychological make-up of the officials prevailing racist ethos and the negative stereotypical depiction of particular African peoples by Europeans-like the Benin people who were depicted as blood thirsty and their capital city dubbed THE CITY OF BLOOD in many instances produced great acts of cruelty. Oral sources and written document attest to the cruelty of certain colonial officials.

“Okhaemwen Ologboshere Irabor continued his resistance of the British occupiers. It was a resistance that lasted two years during which the Benin war commander defeated the Royal Niger Company private army at Okemue and prevented the British penetration of the hinterland and the European traders from establishing trading posts in Benin City. Eventually with the help of their “Edo Collaborators” in May 1899 the British captured Ologboshere Irabor.

As expected the British occupiers, in their usual kangaroo court proceedings, the Ologboshere was found guilty of being the chief instigator and perpetrator of the Benin `Massacre’. On June 27 1899 he was hanged for defending his land against a group of marauding British thieves whose hands were covered with blood and hearts fill with evil intentions” against our people and land.

WARNING: the true Edo People MUST beware of these Edo Collaborators who WILL always take the side of Edo Enemies and betray us while pretending to be our brothers. We MUST get rid of them from our land by all means necessary or else they will keep on betraying us, sabotaging us and destroying us as the ENEMY WITHIN…

Because the CURSE OF OVONRANWMEN whom their fathers also betrayed that caused Benin to be defeated by the British Enemy is still upon them!



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The January 1897 killing of Captain James Philip and his men, coined the “Benin Massacre,” was headed by Chief Irabor, the Ologbosere of Benin. His doggedness in defending the Benin Kingdom at large, its culture and tradition culminated in the ambush and murder of Captain James Philip and his men.
The actions of Chief Irabor and his men did not only led to the destruction of the palace of the Oba of Benin, but a deliberate manhunt for the Benin Officers that were directly involved in the killing of the British intruders.
Small wonder the British launched an assault on Chief Irabor, but not without a resistance on the part of Chief Irabor. Another Niger Coast Protectorate official, Captain Norman Uniacke was killed at Okemuen village, near Ehor in April 1899 while trying to arrest Chief Irabor.
Chief Irabor was eventually arrested by the British, and subsequently executed in Benin in May, 1899.
Posted by James Agbogun

Tried on June 27 — just one day before his actual execution; the verdict, of course, foreordained — Ologbosere was damned by those chiefs’ testimony that the strike force he had led back in 1897 to precipitate the intervention “was not sent to kill white men — and we therefore decide that according to NATIVE LAW his life is forfeited.”

The small but mighty Ologbosere said otherwise, to no avail:

“The king told me that he had heard that the white men were coming to fight with him, and that I must get ready to go and fight the white men…when all the people called the mass meeting at Benin City and selected me to go and fight the white men, I went. I had no palaver with the white men before. The day I was selected to go from Benin City to meet the white men all the chiefs here present were in the meeting, and now they want to put the whole thing on my shoulders.”

Great Britain’s punitive expedition also resulted in the capture of many thousands of metal objects scattered to European museums and collections — collectively known as the Benin Bronzes. Nigeria, and the successor obas of Benin, have for decades besought their return in vain.







Ralph Moor was born on 31 July 1860 at The Lodge, Furneux Pelham, Buntingford, Hertfordshire as son of William Henry Moor (ca. 1830–ca. 1863), surgeon, by his wife Sarah Pears. Educated privately, and destined for business, he engaged in 1880–1 as a learner in the tea trade. On 26 October 1882 he entered the Royal Irish Constabulary as a cadet, and becoming in due course a district inspector resigned after involvement in a divorce case on 9 February 1891.[1]

In March 1891 Moor took service under Sir Claude Maxwell MacDonald, the Consul-General of the Oil Rivers Protectorate, as Commandant of Constabulary in the protectorate. In July 1892 he was appointed by the Foreign Office vice-consul for the Oil Rivers district, and from 6 September 1892 to 15 February 1893 acted as commissioner. During January 1896 he served the office of consul, and on 1 February 1896, when the district was formed into the Niger Coast Protectorate, he was made commissioner and consul-general for the territory, and consul for the Cameroons and Fernando Po.

When in 1900 the protectorate passed from the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office, Moor became High Commissioner of Southern Nigeria and laid the foundations of the new administration, his health failing, he retired on pension on 1 October 1903. He then allied himself with Sir Alfred Lewis Jones; he gave valuable advice on West African affairs, and aided in the development of the British Cotton Growing Association. He also served on certain committees at the nomination of the secretary of state.

Moor became C.M.G. in 1895 and K.C.M.G. in 1897. He married in 1898 Adrienne Burns, née Shapland (born. circa. 1871).

He was found dead in bed at his residence, the Homestead, Barnes, on 14 September 1909 at the very young age of 49 years; having committed suicide by poison.[1] He was buried at the new Barnes cemetery. The coroner’s jury determined that “the poison was deliberately taken whilst temporarily insane after suffering acutely from insomnia”, they had heard evidence that Moor had suffered for the last four years on his return from Africa with malarial and backwater fever that induced insomnia.













Many a time the British would like to play down the fact that the Benin-British Wars was the hardest and toughest colonial war they ever fought in Africa and make it seem like a walk in the park. The facts are there for all to see:

1) The so called “unharmed” diplomatic mission led by Captain Phillips consisted of several hundred British & African troops who wanted to ambush the Oba unawares during his festive period as they very much unders estimated he military might of the Benin War machine that was used to conquering and conquests for centuries.

2) The shame of suffering a second successive capital war defeat at the hands of an African state was too unbearable for the image of the global super power nation to stomach. So the Queen of England mobilized nothing less than 9 Naval Ships and several thousands of marines and sailors to fight and conquer the as yet Idomitable Benin Empire and their mythical Benin Juju that arguably empowers them to always victoriously war against their enemies. Forgetting that juju or no juju the Benin Warriors were a special breed of hard core battle seasoned soldiers whose valor on the battle field was second to none. This was the major secret of their military success for generations and centuries not their juju power per se which other neighboring African tribes and kingdoms also possessed to a greater or lesser degree yet they could not accomplish the same level of military success as the Royal Benin Army.

3) Were it not for their big naval guns and the arms embargo from Europe that prohibited Benin from stockpiling with the more recent weaponry from their European trading partners I guarantee you that Benin would have won the second war after winning the first war and Benin Empire would still be in existence today with some little borderline modifications as expected and there would not have existed a colonial government of Nigeria today.

The Fall of Benin Kingdom, February 18, 1897

By Dr. Nowa Omoigui


At about 2 pm on February 18, 1897, Benin City, capital of the independent Benin Kingdom, fell to Troops commanded by British officers. On the 19th and 20th, houses of major Chiefs were burnt after being looted. On the 21st, the entire city was consumed in fire started by British soldiers. 

Well over 6000 pieces of priceless artwork were looted by British troops and administrators and partially used to offset the costs of the military campaign.

A series of events in the last 50 years of the 19th century increased the vulnerability of the Kingdom.

After the death of Oba Osemwede circa 1850, internal conflicts between rival Princes and external raids by Nupe into the northern reaches of Edoland weakened the cohesion and economic integrity of the State structure.  As if this was not enough the passing of Oba Adolo in 1888 opened up another vicious internal power struggle in which many key chiefs were killed by the new Oba, Ovonramwen. At about this time, increasing British pressure on trade matters were coming to a head and it was only a matter of time before there would be a clash of wills.

The full details of the political events that led to the fall of Benin are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say that  in 1890 British Consul Annesley had unsuccessfully tried to seek audience with the Oba.  This was followed by another attempt by Vice-Consul Gallwey in 1892 in which the leadership was manipulated into consenting to a treaty (without necessarily signing) which provided a pretext for Britain to interfere in the internal and external matters of Benin State policy – particularly in the area of trade along the Benin River. 

The final showdown with Benin was partly delayed by British shenanigans against Nana of Itsekiri and Brass in 1894 and 1895 respectively.  But internal debates were already occurring on the propriety of military action against Benin.  Most colonial administrators, supported by British traders, were in support of such a move.  In November 1896 Phillips, acting for Consul Ralph Moor who was on leave, sought permission from Britain to visit Benin with the express intent of deposing the King.  He did not wait for a reply before proceeding on the mission by himself which led to his death.

[The response from the foreign office – which he did not get to read – was that he delay his expedition for a year].

Against all advice, Phillips insisted on visiting Benin for a “meeting” although warned not to come in part because the Oba was involved in religious ceremonies.  On January 3rd 1897, Phillips, along with six other officials, two traders, and over 200 “native carriers” showed up at Ughoton, near the river port of the Kingdom.  They were ambushed on their way to Benin City, resulting in the deaths of all but two white men and many “carriers”. 

It was this event that provided Britain’s final pretext, urged on by the British Press, to launch a “punitive” expedition with a heavily armed force of well over 1500 soldiers and sailors in nine ships.

Ralph Moor was ordered back to Africa.  Anticipating ripple effects from other parts of the “protectorate” orders were issued for internal security arrangements at Brass, Degema and Old Calabar.   Meanwhile scouts and spies were sent into Benin territory and arrangements made with Itsekiri chiefs for the provision of carriers in support of impending operations.  The Royal Niger Company was asked to make contingency plans for escapees that might head its way after the attack.

The basic strategy was to secure potential routes of escape, isolate likely sources of reinforcements to Benin (by simultaneous attack or diversion) and then seize the City.  All of this was aided in no small measure by the fact that a huge component of the Benin Army was at that time in a war camp at Obadan (north-east of the City) preparing for other operations.  Indeed the relevance of this is obvious when it is realized that after the fall of the City, Generals Ologbose and Ebohon still had up to 60 European cannons (artillery pieces) at their disposal when they began organizing guerrilla activities against the British in the rural areas.  If those 60 cannons had been available for the defence of Benin-City it would have been a  much more difficult undertaking that was already very challenging and tough for the British.




Overall Commander: Rear Admiral Rawson Commander with HMS St George as  the Flag Ship

Land Forces: Lt. Col. Hamilton

Forward Base of Operations: Ugharegin (now called Oghareki, near Sapele)

Rear Base of Operations: Brass (under Consul General Ralph Moor in the HMS Theseus and HMS Forte)

Assault was along three axes:

MAIN – The main attacking column – using units from the Niger Coast Protectorate and a naval brigade supported by Maxim Machine Guns and Seven-Pounder Artillery – advanced through Ologbo creek. This was under command of Lt. Colonel Hamilton.

RIGHT FLANK – A second column from HMS Phoebe, HMS Magpie and HMS Alecto – under Captain T. MacGill – came up the Jamieson river to Sakpoba

LEFT FLANK – A third column from HMS Philomel, HMS Barossa and HMS Widgeon under the command of Captain M. P. O. O’Calaghan attacked through Ughoton creek.

The details of all the battles and skirmishes during this campaign are beyond the scope of this article but will be the subject of a forthcoming book.


When fully mobilized, the Benin Army was capable of mustering 30,000 to 50,000 men, usually organized in Nine ‘Brigades’.  These were the main weapons:

SHIELD: The universal weapon of protection was a big SHIELD, shaped like that of ancient Egyptians. It had a curved top and was straight at the bottom – apparently designed to be placed on the ground in order to cover an adult sized man when kneeling. [Note that these shields were also used in ceremonial parades to provide shade for the King]

HELMET: Helmets were worn by senior officers (chiefs) as well as highly decorated warriors (non-commissioned officers). They were made of padded basketwork or of hard crocodile skin.

BODY ARMOR: The universal uniform (which consisted of a top and a bottom reaching down to the knees) was made of quilted ponchos covered with leopard skins, firm enough to prevent the penetration of an arrow or spear.


1. Spears with barbed heads

2. Bows and Arrows

3. Short swords (for hand-to-hand fighting). These swords were worn inside ornamented scabbards, hanging from decorated shoulder belts.

4. Wide blade sword with double-curved edges. This was carried by very senior officers (high chiefs) as a symbol of authority.

5. Guns: These were originally introduced by the Portuguese. They were used devastatingly during the Idah wars.

6. Cannon: These were introduced into the Armed Forces of independent Benin sometime in the 19th century.




In addition to these two warships HMS Theseus & HMS Forte.  From the South Atlantic Naval Station in Simonstown, South Africa, seven warships were mobilised for the Expedition. The warships were:

The St. GEORGE, named after the Patron-Saint of England. The Warship served as the Command Headquarters of the Expedition, being the Flagship of Rear-Admiral Harry Holdsworth Rawson, the Commander-in-Chief of the

The other six warships from South Africa were:
* and the BARROSA.

The Barrosa was at the Island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic – the Island where Napoleon Bonaparte. the defeated French Emperor, bad been exiled to by Britain, and had died, nearly a Century earlier. Maintaining maximum speed continuously on her journey back home to Africa, she was able to re-join her sister-warships for the attack on Benin.

From the British Mediterranean Fleet at anchor in Valetta, Malta, two warships, the THESEUS and the FORTE, were ordered to the Benin river, with their full complement of the fighting sailors, the Blue-jackets.

From Military Barracks in the cities of Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Chatham in Britain herself, Marines were mobilised for the Benin Expedition.

In West Africa troops of the Niger Coast Protectorate Force, based in Calabar, the Capital of the Protectorate, were mobilised for the Expedition. They consisted mainly of Hausa and Yoruba troops, commanded by white officers, including one black officer, a Lieutenant Daniels. The Force was taken to the Benin river from Calabar by the Steamers ILORIN, EKO, ELOBI and the LAGOON.

From Lagos Colony a contigent of Military Scouts, made up of Hausas and Yorubas of the Lagos Colony Constabulary, were ordered to the Benin river. (In 1897 Lagos Colony was a separate country from the Niger Coast Protectorate of the Niger Delta Basin.)

A trading ship, the liner, MALACCA belonging to the P & O (Pacific and Orient) Steam-ship Company, the equivalent of the Elder Dempster Lines of fifty years later, was commandeered in London and fitted out as a Hospital ship for the Benin Expedition. It was fitted out with Operating Theatres, one hundred beds for In-patients, and an adequate number of Naval Doctors and Nurses. It was sent to the Benin River in support of the Expeditionary Force.

Troops from the West Indies, who were already in Africa, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, were ordered to Akassa in the Niger Delta to replace the Niger Coast Protectorate troops who had been garrisoning that district, so that the N.C.P.F. troops could join their colleagues in the attack on Benin.

To thoroughly appreciate the odds which the Benin army faced in its confrontation with Britain in 1897, it is pertinent to point out that Britain was already, in 1897, as thoroughly modern a country as she is today. For instance the London Underground Transport Service was already in existence at this time, and had been for a few decades before 1897, with Underground electric trains ferrying commuters from one part of the city to the other, on underground railway tracks.

After the audience with Ovonramwen Aisien departed the Benin Palace, and arrived at Qbagie n’vbosa village where he met the defending Benin army of the Ologbo Front, in camp. He was told that the forward positions of the army had made active contact with the enemy in the attempts of the enemy to cross the Orhionmwon river into Ologbo village.

Aisien decided to go forward and see things for himself. Accompanied by his two servants Oduduru and Tuoyo he plunged into the Ologbo forests, on a reconnaissance mission. The party reached the outskirts of Ologbo village, and under cover of the forest vegetation crept towards the perimeter of the extensive British military Camp.

Aisien surveyed the awesome scene for a while, with its large population of soldiers and carriers, the soldiers in their different colours of uniforms — from the Blues of the Naval men to the Reds of the Marines, and the khaki of the Niger Coast Protectorate troops. And the Sentries posted at intervals around the perimeter of the Camp. And the Officers’ tents dotting the huge expanse of the clearing.

Aisien was wondering what his next line of action should be when an incident made up his mind for him. The Batman, the Orderly, of an Officer brought out from within the tent of his Officer a collapsible table and chair.

(The word “Orderly” gave rise to the Benin name “Idele.” The black soldier of the Niger Coast Protectorate was called:

“Idele ebo:”
“Orderly of the White Officer”)

The Orderly set up the table at the entrance of the tent, put some prepared tea and other tea accompaniments on the table, saluted and invited his officer to the refreshment.

The Officer sat alone, on the direct sight of Aisien’s hidden gun, and sipped at his tea. He made a very tempting target.

By hand signal Aisien let his two companions know that they were to shoot only after he himself had commenced the proceedings. In his battle-dress of the “Osun, Olikia” adaeghwu or tunic, he was indistinguishable from the brownness and the greenery of the earth, where he lay flat on his abdomen. He felt as safe and as inviolable as the ground itself.

He raised himself on one knee, and with his Dane gun took a measured aim at the white officer at tea. But then he began to worry whether his gun would fire, aimed as it was at the imposing figure in his sights. To ensure that the gun performed to expectation Aisien delved into a pocket of his “Osun Olikia” tunic, and brought out a little ukokogho charm pouch. He poured a little of the contained black powder on the trigger-assemblage of his gun, and muttered the incantation:

Emunçmunc gha rhan ifuçn, t’Qba
“When a fire-fly spreads out its wings,
It lights up the night!”
He pulled the trigger.

The sound of the gun-shot, surprisingly loud, shattered the relative quiet of the late afternoon Camp life. Oduduru and Tuoyo stood upright in the shrubbery, emptied the charges of their own Dane guns into the Camp, and then went flat on their bellies.

That was all the anger that the three Benin Dane guns had the time to let loose on the assembled might of the British army. For before the three snipers could re-load their weapons the earth under their bellies began to quiver with the concussion of the noise of war.

The British guns opened up. The sound made by each type of gun was characteristic and easily identifiable. The sounds from the rifles, from the Martini-Henrys, the LeeMetfords, and the Sniders, (which the Edos called “Esada”) were sharp, explosive and of a tearing quality. The Maxim gun, the early type of machine-gun, joined in the chatter of death. Firing thirteen times a second the sound from it was low-pitched, subdued and un-hurried. Yet it was insistent, unrelenting, steadfast – and unforgiving.

The forest itself began to move. Huge branches of mahogany were cut off from their parent – trees by rifle – fire as if sliced off with giant pairs of scissors. The branches, in full foliage, were hurried through the air like giant umbrellas, then suddenly let go, to crash back to earth a hundred or more yards from the trunks from which they were severed.

Aisien, flat on his belly, turned towards Benin, with his two comrades-in-arms. This was his first exposure to rifle fire. The people of Benin City, unlike those in the villages, had a passing acquaintance-ship with the Snider rifle, quantities of which had passed through their hands, at the Ughoton Port, then through Ondo, to the Ekiti-Parapy armies in conflict with the invading Ibadan armies, during the Yoruba “Kitiji,” inter-tribal Wars of the latter decades of the Nineteenth Century.

But the people of the villages knew only about the smooth-bore Dane gun, brought from Europe about three hundred years earlier, but now locally manufactured by the people.

As the ground heaved under them, and forests of greenery flew over their heads, the three scouts, on their bellies, rounded a bend in the bush-track, regained their upright position, and returned to the Benin army at its Qbagie Evbosa base.

Aisien re-iterated to Commander Urugbusi that the British had indeed occupied Ologbo, and he described, in some detail, the deployment of the enemy troops in their Ologbo Camp.
He and his two companions then left Qbagie and returned to Benin City.

Aisien’s encounter with the British army in Ologbo was probably the episode which was cryptically referred to in Dr. Felix Roth’s account of the “Benin Punitive Expedition,” as reported in the Book: “Great Benin,” written by Ling Roth, the Museum Curator-brother of Dr. Roth, and published in 1903, only six years after the war. Curator Ling Roth was quoting from Dr. Roth’s Diary written in the Ologbo Camp:

“…We have seen no natives since yesterday, but wine have crept up and fired into us.”

page 6 of the Appendix of the book). Dr. Felix Roth was one of the Medical Officers of the British Expeditionary Force mounted against Benin.

Back in Benin Aisien went straight to the Palace, and briefed the monarch about his experiences during his fact-finding trip to the war front. He summarised his report by telling the king that it was unlikely that the Edos would gain victory in this fight, in contrast to their previous experiences during all their many centuries of uninterrupted history as a kingdom. The fire-power of the British army, confided Aisien to Ovonramwen, was not what the Edos were likely to have any antidote for.

The Omo n ‘Oba Ovonramwen thanked Aisien for the mission undertaken, and for his unvarnished assessment of the situation. He then gave him permission to return home to Iyekorhionmwon.

On Thursday 18th February 1897, about five days after Aisien reported on his errand to Ovonramwen, Benin City fell to Rear Admiral Harry Rawson and the British Expeditionary Force which he led. The Benin Kingdom became yet another territorial addition to the expanding British Empire.

A few months after the fall of Benin City Aisien was at home in his Emodu Quarters in Evboesi village when, before dawn, a detachment of Soldiers — Mete Ebo — from the occupation Force in Benin threw a cordon round his house, effected his arrest, put him in chains, and marched him to Benin City. His mother, Egunmwcndia, accompanied her captive son to Benin.

The British authorities had acted upon information at their disposal that Aisien had fired upon the British army in Ologbo.

The alleged act was not a war-crime, as was reiterated later by Sir Ralph Moor, the Consul-General of the Niger Coast Protectorate and Head of Government of the Colony which the Benin territories were now a part of. in the trial of Oba Ovonramwen in September later that year, Consul- General Moor had stated that the taking up of arms in order to defend one’s country was not a war crime. But during the early months of the occupation of Benin, when security considerations still consumed a lot of the time and energy of the British Occupation authorities, Aisier’s action was apparently still regarded as a hostile act which deserved to be punished by the victors.

The prisoner was locked up in the Guard-room of the Military Barracks created by the British along Forestry Road in the City, stretching from the junction of Ugbague Street to that of Iwegie Street, from the premises of the Iyase Nohenmwen to that of the Ogiefa Nomunkpo. It was in the same guardroom that Chief Agbgonkonkon, the Obayuwana of Benin and lover of Princess Ehendia, the widowed eldest daughter of Oba Adolor, was later to commit suicide by slashing his throat with a heavy jack-knife while awaiting the convening of the “Assizes” Court which was to sentence him to death for being involved in the Ugbine village ambush of the James Phillips party in January.

It was also the same guard room which later held Oba Ovonramwen, the monarch of the kingdom, during the last four nights he spent in Benin City, before he was taken to Calabar, on a life exile.

By the time of Aisien’s arrest AGHO, the Obaseki of Benin, was already on the way to attaining the ascendant position of influence which he ultimately enjoyed for more than two decades during the early years of the British administration in Benin. Agho’s towering intelligence, coupled with the consummate diplomatic expertise which he had acquired as a courtier in the Palace of Oba Ovonramwen, stood him in good stead in his relationship with the conquering British. The British officials came to rely heavily on Agho’ s opinions in native matters. In this wise he was the Benin equivalent of his contemporary, Chief Dogho Numa (Chief bore) of the Warri territories.

The Edos noted this relationship of trust between the British Officials and Agho Obaseki, and they employed him as the advocate who pleaded their cause with the white man whenever the occasion arose. Aisien’ s relatives in Evboesi therefore brought to Obaseki in Benin intercessory gifts in the form of a cow, goats, boxes of Aromatic Schnapps bottles — ayon ebo, and money.

They asked for his advocacy services on behalf of their patriarch, the detained Aisien.

The Court convened, and Aisien was led from the guard-room and put on trial. Sitting in judgment on the ease was Captain A.H. Turner, the first Colonial Resident and Head of Administration of the conquered Benin territories. Sitting with him as “Assessors” were three Benin City Chiefs, amongst whom was Chief Agho Obaseki,

In spite of Chief Obaseki’s efforts in the Court room in pleading the innocence of the prisoner, Aisien was found guilty as charged: for firing on the Whiteman in the Whitman’s Camp at Ologbo. The Court then pronounced the sentence, not of Death, but of Sixty Strokes of the Birch, on him.

A sentence of Death had been widely expected, since that was the fate of earlier prisoners-of-war who had been tried by the new administration.

Notable amongst these prisoners was the warrior Ebeikinmwin who had commanded the Benin army at the Ughoton Front. The sentence handed down on Aisien was therefore received with some wry relief.

Soon after the conquest of Benin the subsequent British Patrols had apprehended Commander Ebeikinmwin in the Okokhuo districts, near Ekiadolor village. He was condemned to death in Benin City, and tied to the stakes. As the shots of the firing squad rang out, Ebeikinmwin was heard to laugh with a loud guffaw, as he shouted at his executioners:

Me ero khian vbe gb’uwa
Vbe ariavbehe!

“The pleasure will be mine again,
During my next incarnation, to inflict on you
The defeat you deserve!”

Then he gave up the ghost.

He was referring to his initial successful defence of the Ughoton Front against the British Expeditionary Force during the war.

The British Navy, under Captain O’Callaghan, invaded Ughoton twice. In their first attempt they were driven out by the Benin troops under Ibeikinmwin. Six days later, and reinforced with troops from two other warships O’Callaghan re-attacked and reoccupied Ughoton, and then systematically leveled the village to the ground with artillery, leaving Ughoton the little village that it has remained to this day.

Aisien’s sentence was to be summarily carried out, and it was effected by B.P.S. Roupell, the twenty-seven-year old Captain of the Royal Engineers, whom the Edos had earlier nicknamed — Amehien: “Pepper Juice”, because of his pepperiness towards his newly—conquered subjects. He was the Commanding Officer of the 120-strong Niger Coast Protectorate Force garrisoning the conquered City.

The convicted prisoner was laid prone, and four “Hausa” soldiers held him down on the bench by his four limbs. When the first stroke of the birch landed on his buttocks the prisoner’s involuntary, convulsive spasm of pain sent the four restraining soldiers, in their red khaki uniforms, tumbling away to the four corners of the compass.

Roupell gave Obaseki a knowing look, as if to tell him: “Eat your words! This is not the man you insisted was not a soldier, and therefore could not possibly have been sent to the warfront, let alone to fire on the white man!

Obaseki got the message in Roupell’s look, and then said, famously, to Aisien:

A khu ovbi okhokho hien
irhu rhe, O wee uwu 1dm eri ren
khian wu yi

“A chick is being shooed off a cauldron of boiling palm oil;
But the chick is insistent in its efforts to perish in it!”

Aisien in turn got the message in Obaseki’s admonition. He lay down again, and expressly forbade any restraining hands on his person. He then received, on his bare back and buttocks the remaining fifty-nine strokes of the birch, at the hands of the Army Engineer from Chelteham College, England.

A deep, tortuous, guttural grunt from the prisoner was the only accompaniment of each landing, on his raw flesh, of the flagellation device.

With his sentence served Aisien, the son of Erhunmwunsee, was released. His relatives took him away from the Military Barracks, bruised and bleeding.

He spent the next three months in Benin City, while his mother Egunmwendia, and his three wives — Emeze, mother of Iriaghonse, Imadiyi, mother of Idemudia and Ariowa, and Ohenhen, mother of Obasohan tended to his wounds until they were healed. Then the family returned to Uvboesi in Iyekorhionmwon.

Until his death Aisien carried on his back and buttocks the broad scars of the flagellation he had received as punishment for his encounter with the British Army in Ologbo village in mid-February 1897.

He died in Benin City on the 20th October 1913, sixteen years after the Benin — British War, and three months before the death of his monarch, Oba Ovonramwen, in Calabar on the 13th January 1914.

Aisien lies buried today in the first cemetery created by the Colonial Authorities in Benin. ‘Ibis cemetery was situated along the Upper Oba Market Road, just beyond the Ogbe Obaseki, after the Uzebu Moat, and exactly opposite the present-day YANGA Fish Markct. The cemetery has since been built over.

The Colonial Authorities had forbidden the usual Home or Compound burial of the dead in Benin City after the conquest. All dead citizens, without any exception, and irrespective of rank or status, were mandatorily buried in the Town’s designated public Cemetery.

It was only after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1914, when there was once again an Oba in Benin, that the occasional Compound burial was grudgingly permitted. “And the Oba of Benin had to acquiesce in it, in writing, to the authorities. This was a permission not lightly given by the Palace because the Oba knew that Compound burials offended the sensibilities of the British Medical Officers of health in charge of Benin City at that time.”



Fellow Edo Deltans

You can now conclude why and how this notorious British Agenda came about after destroying our land and heritage with the aide of their Hausa and Yoruba slaves & recruits who helped them to colonize us hence they also left the power vacuum in their hands after the independence from Pro-colonialism of the white man against the black man unto Neo-colonialism of the white man’s black slave against the blackman.

By thus the British Shell Oil Company became the richest corporation in Europe and third richest in the world by virtue of the exclusive ownership / lease and rights of our God given oil wealth granted it by the Hausa led government of Gowan in the last 40 years at the expense of the Edo Delta & Niger Delta Peoples.

By thus the Hausas & Yorubas have become the richest black billionaires on earth both male and female by virtue of the exclusive oil blocs lease and rights of our God given oil wealth granted to them by the Hausa / Yoruba led governments of Babangida, Abacha, Abdusalam, Obasanjo & Yaradua  in the last 30 years at the expense of the Edo Delta & Niger Delta People (See: Oil Bloc Owners).



Let that 100 year old prophecy of General Ebeikinmwin (who defeated the British Usurpers at Ologbo) at his point of execution at the stake against the British Agenda… Finally come to pass TODAY in our LIFE TIME…

Me ero khian vbe gb’uwa Vbe ariavbehe!


I will defeat you again in the future life!




T’is Time To Fight For Freedom!!!

By Every Legal Means Necessary!!!





4 thoughts on “Benin-British War

    • We need a strategy that uses the British rule of law to get them back. We get a U.S. born white lawyer that practice in England to bring a stolen property charges against the museum that holds the Art works and the queen.
      That is my plan. I j
      know of a lawyer that sued the British government on behalf of 3 slaves and won. We can use those kind of guys.
      I am open to any ideas.


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