On Benin-Ife, Ife-Benin Relationship

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written by Onigu Otite (June 9, 2004) (Last Update June 16, 2021)

I remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant, a recent book written by Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo. Oba Erediuawa of Benin, and presented to the public on April 29, 2004, has revived an old controversy. This controversy deserves objective scholarly attention and not sentimental reactions. A search for an acceptable resolution should involve an examination of the ethnography-historiography of three main socio-political and socio-cultural regions that is Niger-Benue confluence, Benin and Ife in time perspectives.

No one scholar has a monopoly of knowledge of these three regions or even only one of them. And from my limited recollection, I consider that Professor A.F.R Ryder has produced one of the most penetrating analyses of the relationship involving Benin, Ife and Oyo kingships in his “A Reconsideration of the Ife Benin Relationship” in the Journal of African History (1965). He did not reach a definite conclusion on whether later Benin rulers came from Ife or vice-versa. But Ryder was hopeful that the research problems involved can be resolved “and progress must depend more upon the archaeologist and anthropologist than the historian” Ryder was most probably ware that the question whether the anthropologist is also a historian was resolved in 1960

Unfortunately, however, owing to market and market and material value of certificates and training in the discipline, fewer students began to opt as from the first half of the 1970s to specialise in its different fields.

Thus, although Ryder’s work may have functioned as a precursor for contesting the Benin-Ife relationship, his hope may be constrained by this down-sliding development, unless foreign scholars/researchers sponsored by foreign foundations will come to help. It will depend largely on this chance-event for us to unveil the hidden structures and decode the symbolism in three historical regions referred to earlier, and thus permit us to undertake reconstructions of the socio-political systems, bearing in mind the developmental cycles involved in the rise and fall of states and kingdoms.

It must be pointed out that the Benin-Ife controversy concerns only their royal lineages, their kingly descent groups, rather than their entire societies. In the case of Benin, the structural arrangement was not novel, although the new Royal Actors were alien to Benin culture which absorbed the in-comers, but not without social conflicts. and serious oppositions which are re-enacted every year at appropriate rituals, The Benin Ogiso period was already well established in a centralised political structure in which 31 Ogiso had ruled from the apex.  Benin and Ife could thus be classified as plural societies with different sectional traditions of origin-and composite histories

The Benin-Ife relationship is far more complex than merely resolving the claims of Oranmiyan moving to Ife, and returning to Benin. The sentiments and emotions generated by the presentation of the Oba of Benin’s book should be allowed to pass off, to allow serious research from different sources and groups to be conducted towards discovering the historical kernel behind the claims. If the Oba of Benin has no locus standi to talk about Oranmiyan and Ife, he surely has locus standi to talk about Ekhaladeran and Benin. These are the two components of the controversy. It is sentimental if we should believe the Yoruba version because we are Yoruba or the Benin version because we are Benins. Let us strongly hope that any combined future research efforts and findings of anthropologists, archaeologists and historians will not be politicized. And this calls to serious question the old debate of the 1950s and 1960s about objectivity in history and the social sciences.
Following the lexico-statistical dating evidence, by which the Benin and Yoruba (and other Edo speaking people) where separated about 5,000 years ago, it becomes intriguing to enquire about what period Ekhaladeran’s ¬†journey-flight took place from Benin to Ife or Oranmiyan’s from Ife to Benin. If lfe was in its one time place in the Niger-Benue confluence, where was Benin at that time? Does it make some sense to assume that owing to hazards posed by hostile animal and human enemies and fearful encounters in the lengths of original virgin forest traversed facing several directions without a compass, the princes who went out of their kingdoms were after all not the ones that eventually survived brutalities to become or attempt to become kings in their host societies? The escorts and protective warriors were usually more strongly built and resistant to ill-health and other anti-social conditions. Did the prince actuality survive the rigours of harsh life for years required to accomplish the journeys? There are many imponderables in this regard. Besides, it is not quite clear why it was believed that Benin Kingdom needed to approach Ife for a saviour-prince/king when that Kingdom was not known or famous as a superior military political power with expertise in intra-ethnic conflict resolution.

Ryder considered different social and cultural (including art and brass work) variables in his analysis of the comparative antiquity of Ife and Benin, suggested that it was still a moot point whether the dynasty of the former could have been parent to that of the latter. Notwithstanding the well-know phenomena of telescoping and omission of rulers and regimes, some investigators may want us to identify and compare the equivalent of better, of the 31 Benin-Edo Ogiso pre-Eweka type of rulers in a centralized Ife Kingdom. If Benin is an older kingdom, it would then appear acceptable that the Oranmiyan temporary royal migration and Ife intervention in Benin history may well belong to the area of belief system than the domain of history.

Ryder’s re-examination of the Benin-Ife relationship promoted the perspective of Benin. And if his observation in a footnote is correct, it would be curious that S. Johnson’s The History of the Yoruba (1921). “makes no mention of Oranmiyans visit to Benin”; However, Bradbury, a social anthropologist, noted that the remains of a Benin Oba (obviously of the second dynasty) followed a three year journey of rites in specified sites between Benin and Ife. Was this repeated event meant to reconnect the bodies and spirits of the dead post-Eweka kings (not the whole of Benin kingdom) with their Ife ancestors, if existed, for the stoppage of the practice? Were the e vents mean to re-enact share ritual or religious interests?

It is worthwhile considering the cognate nature of these two and more social/kingdom structures and locates their ethno-histories as they emerge from the Niger-Benue confluence. The objective analysis of one corpus of oral tradition against or in the light of another should not degenerate into a verbal fight. It should be a serious affair. Although what kings or the ruling class project as their history is not necessarily the history of their entire society, yet both Benin and Ife are, like many others, separate and cognac ethno-historical units originating ultimately from the region of the Niger-Benue confluence. If this is the case, the question of seniority between Benin and Ife is irrelevant. However, it is a welcome development in Nigerian ethnography and historiography to find that eminent and erudite respectable traditional rulers participate in debates - about aspects of our ethnography. It is just that some Nigerians may find pleasure in being able to challenge an Oba, not in the palace, but on the pages of newspapers.

Our main concern in this contribution is to draw attention to the three main anthropological historical regions, and broaden our examination of the Benin Ife socio-political, socio-historical relationship. Other Nigerian socio-cultural groups mainly of Kwa language origin such as Idoma, Igbo, Ijo, Nupe, Igala, Jukun, etc separated between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago, will benefit from the re-analysis, with possible outstanding contribution to our search for national oneness, if not unity. Here in lies the basis for a plea for Federal Government sponsorship of a combined anthropological archaeological-historical study of the Niger-Benue confluence, without intimidating expressions of emotions, politics and insults, but with a free flow of contestations of ideas and research findings. This accord with the nature of history which provides for modifications of old statements based on new interpretations derived from new convincing evidence.

Although ethno history and the knowledge of the connections between our traditional rulers and kingdoms are important, yet some thinkers may argue that what is most relevant in our contemporary situation is how our traditional rulers can help to mobilize the near moral excellence that once characterized the conduct of economic and social affairs at the indigenous community level, to combat the ravages of corruption now destroying the very fabric of our national co-existence. Even here, new discoveries of broader relationships, cultural resources and traditional rules, rooted ultimately in the Niger-Benue confluence, as in other parts of the country, will, in all probability, help to promote morality and accelerate stable development at the local and national levels,

(Source: The Guardian (Nigeria) June 9, 2004)

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Benin kingdom copy right