The Binis As People

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By Osemwegie Ebohon (Last Update June 17, 2021)

AN OVERVIEW: The word “Binis” is the plural of Bini which was linguistically corrupted by the
British colonialists, that ruled over Nigeria and granted her independence on October 1, 1960, again renamed it ‘Benin’ for selfish and ethnocentric reasons. Today, the word ‘Benin’ has gained currency in popular discourse both at home and abroad. Nevertheless, the proud traditional Benin indigenes holds the name “Benin” dear to their hearts because it is not only their ancestral name, it gives a socio-cultural resonance to their identity as a people with a rich, historical past. In this write-up, the words ‘Bini’ and ‘Benin’ will therefore be used interchangeably for literally reasons without devaluing the socio- cultural essence.

On the political map of Nigeria, the Binis were grouped into the old Benin-Delta province with other ethnic nationalities. In 1963, they became part of the area known as Mid-West Region carved out of Western Region by the government of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. When 12 states were created in 1967, by the then Nigeria’s military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975), the Binis found themselves in the Mid-West State.

Once again, the political map of Nigeria was redrawn in 1976 by another military head of state, General Murtala Mohammed (1975-1976) following the creation of 19 states and the Binis were further grouped into Bendel state. Following the creation of states by the Nigeria’s military President General Ibrahim Babangida, (1985-1993), the Binis became part of Edo State and has remained so. One point stood to her advantage even though 36 new states were created by yet another military leader General Sani Abacha (1994-1998) in 1996; the socio-political map of Edo State was not altered. What is more, during the several political restructuring of Nigeria from 1963 1996, the geographical location of the Binis had never changed. They have been occupying the land given to them by God (Osanobua) from time immemorial. Governments come and go with clockwork regularity but the Binis and their Obas always remain to welcome them. It is not surprising therefore in popular pidgin parlance that it is said “Oba no dey go transfer”.
Nigeria, as a whole has 774 Local Government Councils of which eighteen are in Edo State. This are:


Local Government









Esan Central



Esan North-East



Esan South-East



Esan Wast



Etsako Central



Etsako East



Etsako West






Ikpoba Okha




Benin City





Ovia North-East



Ovia South-West



Owan East



Owan West





These Local Government Councils are distributed for political and electoral reasons into Edo North, Edo Central and Edo South. The Binis occupy Edo South in the state, which comprise these seven (7) Local Government Councils viz:

1. Egor
2. Ikpoba-Okha,
3. Oredo
4. Orhionmwon,
5. Ovia North-East
6. Ovia South- West, and;
7. Uhunmwode.

Although the Binis can be found in all parts of the world, their ancestral home is in Edo South. On the other hand, there are six (6) local government councils in Edo North, namely:

1. Etsako Central
2. Etsako East
3. Etsako West
4. Akoko-Edo
5. Owan East, and;
6. Owan west.

The Etsako, (pronounced ‘Ivbio sakon), Owan and AkokoEdo people live in this part of Edo State.
Edo Central inhabited by the Ishans, has five (5) local government councils namely:

1. Esan Central,
2. Esan North East,
3. Esan South West,
4. Igueben, and;
5. Esan West.

About 80% of all ethnic groups in Edo State are descendants of the Binis and they trace their ancestral roots to them in one way or another. Originally, the Binis referred to themselves as the Igodomigodos- a name adopted from Ogiso Igodo, their first ruler said to have descended from the sky in celebration and deification of his peaceful reign. This name stuck during the reign of the 31 Ogisos as well as those of Evian and Ogiamien two administrators who ruled Benin during a period of interregnum following the banishment of Owodo, the last Ogiso for ordering the killing of a pregnant woman. Chief (Dr.) Jacob U. Egharevba in his book titled:

“For some years after the banishment of Owodo, the last Ogiso, there was an interregnum and the following leaders of the people Evian and his son Ogiamien administered the government successively. At that time the country was known as Igodomigodo “.

Prince Oranmiyan or Omonoyan, the eldest son of a Benin Prince, Ekaladerhan living in a settlement named Ehe-Ilefe (corrupted to read Ile Ife,) as its ruler, later inadvertently gave Benin land another name. He had arrived Benin in 1170 as king from Ehe-Ilefe, following a passionate appeal by the elders in the land to replace Prince Ekaladerhan, his father. As a king, who spoke only Yoruba and was oblivious of the value systems of Benin, he couldn’t meet the expectations of the Benin people. Out of frustration, he abdicated the throne with a critical remark in Yoruba “lle Ibinu” which translated mean “This is a land of vexation”. This statement by Prince Oranmiyan set the stage for the land of Benin to be referred to as “Ile-Ibinu” while its people became the “Ibinus”,

Oba Ewuare (1440-1473), renamed the Benin people as Edos. The name was got from the head slave of one Benin Chief, Ogiefa Nomuekpo who saved him from being arrested and punished by the chiefs for his unauthorised visits to Benin City from his abode in exile. Chief (Dr.) Jacob U. Egharevba explains further the circumstances.

"Prior to his ascension, Ewuare used to visit the City (Benin City) secretly from his place of exile. The elders got to know and tried to arrest him. On one occasion the heard that the elders knew of his arrival and therefore ran towards evening to the house of Ogiefa for protection. The Ogiefa Nomuekpo hid him in a dried-up well in his yard, covering the top with Olikhoroho leaves and then went to tell the Ogiamien and others so that they might arrest and punish him. Before his return his head slave named Edo let down a ladder into the well and advised Ewuare to escape. Without delay, Ewuare escaped with his sword and spear into the bush between Okhorho and Uselu roads.”

The young Ewuare was said to have been impressed by the great assistance Edo, the head slave, of Chief Ogiefa Nornuekpo gave him. To immortalise the slave, he adopted his name Edo for use in re-naming the people of Benin. Edo in Benin, Ike Idu, means original land/land of Ovbioto (Children of the land). Edo civilisation is said to be over 6,000 years old and Benin City has remained the cradle of the Benin people, Edo land as well as the headquarters of the Benin Empire and later Kingdom. Benin City has also doubled as the political/administrative headquarters of Mid-West Region (1963 1967), Mid-West State (1967 1976), Bendel State (1976 1991) and Edo State since 1991.

Ten gates historically lead into Benin City. They are:
1.Akpakpava (Ikpoba) Road
2. Irhuase (Ogba) Road
3. Imose (Sapele) Road
4. Okhorho Road
5. Ughoton Road
6. Udo Road
7. Ugbo Road
8. Uhunmwum Idunmwun Road
9. Uselu (Oyesunu) Road
10. Utantan (Esokponba) Road

Benin City is, today, the headquarters of Edo kingdom which has, as its King, His Royal Majesty, Uku Akpolokpolo, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Oba Ewuare II. He is the 40th Oba of the Kingdom Initially, the first Kings of Benin the Ogisos ruled from their palaces in Ugbekun which is about five kilometers of Esokponba Road and Uhunmwun-Idunmwun. During the reign of Prince Oranmiyan (Omonoyan), his palace was at Usama along Siloko (Isiuloko) Road in Benin City. Subsequently, the palace was located in selected locations that suited the desires of the Kings. The present site within Airport Road, Oguanogbe, Ekpenede and Ezoti area of Benin City was chosen and has since remained the permanent abode of the Obas as well as one of the major tourist attractions of Nigeria.
The Binis are considered a microcosm not only of Nigeria but the world. It is no wonder that Edo State where they live is called the Heartbeat State, Benin City has remained the headquarters of several Obas of Benin who built a vast empire through successful war campaigns. Chief (Dr) Jacob U. Egharevba captured this fact in his book A SHORT HISTORY OF BENIN (1968) thus:

"The Bini Empire extended to Otum (the boundary between Oyo and Benin) in the North, the sea in the South, Asaba in the East and Eko (Lagos) in the west It included the Ekas (Ikas), Ishans; Kukurukus, Ekitis, owans, Itsekiris, Urhobos, Ijaws and Ondos. The Obas also had considerable power in the Ibo Country on both sides of the River Niger (Ohinmwim) and at Bonny
Most of the Obas declared war against some country or town about three years after their succession if any (of his vassals) refused to accept sacred chalk or pay the necessary tribute ...The Iyase (Premier) was the commander in-chief... ...the Ezomo came next.. ..... then, the Ologbosere and Imaran followed by Edogun, Ezornurogho, Agboghidi of Ugo and the Ogie Ebue. The Ohen-Okhuahe was the native doctor If the lesser generals could not conquer any town or country the Iyase will be sent. He would not be allowed to return to Benin City but would remain in one of the Benin towns as ruler No other Iyase would be appointed until after his death”.

Following these facts, one finds Benins influence in the nooks and crannies of the whole world. For instance, Benin words are found in Portuguese vocabulary an experience which devolved from the social interaction between the Binis and the Portuguese after the visit of John Alfonso D’ Alvaro, a Portuguese explorer, in 1485, In the West African sub-region, the influence of Benin is even greater. Among the Ashanti of Ghana, the traditional wrapper is worn the Benin way: one edge of the wrapper is wound round the upper torso while the other is thrown over the shoulder and neck. President Mathieu kereku acknowledged Dahomean cultural links with Edo people when he visited Benin City. The West African sub-region is replete with burial customs, which show a remarkable resemblance with those of the Binis whose territorial dominance in the days of yore ensured a captive assimilation or colonialisation of other peoples into their ways of life. Such cultural transfer was helped by the fact that some Benin soldiers who refused to return home after war campaigns, settled in conquered territories until they passed on leaving behind lineages of descendants. Benin influence in the West African sub-region is made manifest by the fact that a certain geographical piece of Nigeria’s southern territory is named the Bright of Benin.

The Binis are unique. Geographically, their land is blessed with the red soil (Ulakpa) that is indigenous to them. China’s red soil only shares close resemblance to that of the Binis but not exactly of the same texture and colour. Hence houses built with Ulakpa last for centuries. They are more durable than concrete building it is also a very important material for the Akpa-Core for the lost wax bronze/brass casting. Benin City, headquarters of the Binis, boasts of having the longest manmade earthworks or more moats on earth.

There are three main circular moats surrounding Benin City. The first one nearest to the City boundary was dug by Oba Oguola (1280 1295) while the other two moats were dug by Oba Ewuare (1440 1473). About 20 other moats were also dug by Benin communities around their villages following orders from their royal monarch to erect defensive earthwork around themselves. In all, there are about 23 moats in Benin Kingdom. The first moat by Oba Oguola was to ward off invaders into the city while Oba Ewuare’s two moats were dug mainly to prevent the mass exodus of Binis from the city protesting his harsh laws. Following the death of his two Sons Kuoboyuwa and Zuware on the same day from mutual poisoning, he had decreed, after declaring three years of mourning in the Kingdom thus;

1. That the Binis should shave their heads, rub wood-ash on their bodies and should not take their bath for three days.

2. That they should not eat their staple food Ema (pounded yam) for three years.

3. That they should not have carnal knowledge of their wives to ensure that no body in the kingdom during this period.

The Binis considered the decree overbearing and those who couldn’t accommodate it were fleeing the Kingdom in droves. Oba Ewuare expected his two moats to stop such subjects from escaping to other lands. When this failed, he asked that those who managed to escape be repatriated. He also decreed that the entire Binis be tattooed for easy recognition in foreign lands. This was the origin of the Bini tribal marks IWU the other 20 moats built by Benin communities around their abode to keep away invaders.

Usually, rams were deployed as sentinels besides the 10 gates that serve as gate ways through the moats to warn of the presence of invaders before they could cross them. The Binis exploited the native intelligence of the rams which made them withdraw from their positions and retreat enmasse towards the centre of Benin City at the sight strange faces clustering along the moat. All the moats were dug by either war captives or people serving punishment for offences committed against the laws of the Kingdom. There were no earth movers at the time.
So simple traditional implements like the wooden shovel (Ovbevbe) carved sticks with pointed tips; and the bones of ‘large animals were used. Of course, these implements were complemented with the bare hands of the diggers.
Until August 1973, the world believed that the China wall was the longest man made earthwork around. However extensive researches by British anthropologist P.J. Darling and other anthropologists from Nigeria proved that the wall in Benin City is the longest. In fact, it is twice the length of the China Wall No doubt, the Benin earthworks have suffered neglect, defacement and environmental pollution; but their unique tourist value can never be surpassed by any other earth work on this earth.

The Binis are ruled by a monarchy that is over 1000 years old around which revolves an efficient and effective administrative organisation already put in place as at the 15th century when Europeans first visited Benin City. Records show that it was in celebration of this fact that Benin City, the headquarters of the monarchy was described as a “City”.

Oral and historical traditions claim that about 70 kings had ruled over the Binis beginning from the Ogisos, their first set of ‘dynastic kings in the 10th  century, followed by an inter-regnum under the sole administrator ship of Evian and Ogiamien. Thereafter, the son of Izoduwa (pronounced Aidoduwa and corrupted by the Yorubas to Oduduwa). Oranmiyan ruled Benin before the Obaship system was introduced in the kingdom beginning with Oba Eweka I (1200- 1235)

There are four days in the traditional Benin week. They are Eken, Orie, Okuo and Aho. Eken is a day for rest, no one goes to farm, the predominant occupation of the Binis. Okuo day is for performing rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices; while Orie and Aho days are for other pastimes: hunting, lumbering, brass work, blacksmithing, wood-carving and other sundry activities.

Origin: RE. Bradbury in his work titled: CHRONOLOGICAL PROBLEMS IN THE STUDY OF THE BENIN HISTORY (Journal of the Historical society of Nigeria (Vol. 1; No. 4 of December 1959) stated that it is difficult to accurately allocate time frames to epochal events in the life of the Binis in ancient times. However, one thing is incontestable. Oral traditions and historical accounts exist which the Binis believe, suggest, reveal and give insight with a high degree of reliability into their origin. Before one delves into these oral traditions and historical account, there is the need to first discountenance the inaccurate claims of mainstream Yoruba scholars that the Binis migrated from the Upper Nile region of Egypt in North Africa around 2000 BC- 1000 BC following some political upheavals there; stopped over in Sudan and Ile-Ife in that order momentarily, before setting out finally for Benin land. The close resemblance between the religious observance, artworks and burial customs of the Binis and Ancient Egypt is often cited as a reason for this account of Benin origin.

The Binis don’t subscribe to this account. Neither do they agree that they are descendents of Oduduwa said to be the founder of the Yoruba Kingdom. In fact, reacting to both schools of thought on Benin origin, Prince Ena Basimi Eweka in his book THE BENIN MONARCHY (1989) writes:

"Many writers have postulated that the Edo people came from Egypt while others thought they originated from Ife. Such an eminent writer as Chief (Dr.) J. U Egharevba even suggested that the Edo people migrated from Egypt made a short halt in the Sudan, then at Ife and finally came to this land where they met aboriginal people. The most interesting point about this theory is that no one has paused to ask where the Egyptians migrated from. No one is really certain about the origin of the Edo people, which appears to have lost in myths and legends of the distant past. In the absence of any archaeological evidence, one is forced to have second thoughts on the issue of migration from Egypt.

This writer, on his part, doubts the theory that the Binis originated from either Egypt, Ife or elsewhere. To him, Benin is the cradle of mankind, a view fuelled by the saying among the Binis that Edo Ore Isi Agbon More specifically, the claim that Binis originated from Ife is untenable because of the conflicting arguments of its authors. For instance, Samuel Johnson in his book HISTORY OF THE YORUBA (1897) stated that the first King of Benin was the grandson of Oduduwa (father of the Yorubas) and a brother of Oranmiyan and other founders of the senior Yoruba Kingdoms. Other authors state that Oranmiyan was the direct son of Oduduwa and that it was he (Oranmiyan), not his brother who was sent as King to rule Benin. Such inaccuracies in the historical account of Benin origin cast doubt on its reliability.

Moreover, scholars who traced Benin origin to other lands on grounds of similarities’ in cultures between them overlook certain critical issues. Firstly, that it is possible for two cultures to share some similarities because although they developed independently during an epoch in their historical lives, they subsequently made mutual contacts which rubbed off on each one of them. In this case, there was no culture capture’ by one culture since none was dominant. Secondly, it is also possible for two different cultures to draw from the same cultural pool of values, norms and traditional practices thus, ending up with cultural similarities.

Given all these as well as the fact that no historical tradition has been able to establish with scientific accuracy the origins of most peoples of Africa, it is relatively safe to subscribe to the view that: The Binis didn’t originate from Egypt, Ife or anywhere else on this terrestrial plane. Oduduwa is not the founder of Benin. Benin, in fact, has been in existence long before time frame associated with her. The Binis believe Oduduwa is the linguistic corruption of the Benin word lzoduwa or Aidoduwa According to them, Owodo the last Ogiso, was unhappy that he had only one son Ekaladerhan. So, he sent his eldest wife Esagho and some elders to an oraculist for consultation. The oraculist told them his eldest wife was responsible for his travails and that unless she was put to death, he would never get relief from his problems. However they lied to the King that the oracle called for the execution of Ekaladerhan, his only son before he would have more male children.

Following the report, the King ordered his execution. His executioners were appointed. They led him to the bush to keep his appointment with death. However he was set free. As soon as he got his freedom, Ekaladerhan, a handsome young man started wandering in the bush. Then he arrived at Ughoton (Gwatto). He stayed there for a while before continuing his wandering for fear of being arrested and killed by the King or his agents at Ughoton. After a long while, he arrived at a human settlement of primitive people who had never seen other peoples and who always thought they were the sole inhabitants of the earth. They were surprised to see Ekaladerhan with his high level of sophistication in their midst; so they treated him with awe and reverence. In fact, they believed he was a forest god sent to rule them consequently, he was crowned their king. Ekaladerhan called the human settlement Uhe (“corrupted to Ife,). However because he was overwhelmed at his unexpected rise in fortune to the status of a King, he exclaimed in his Benin language, on one occasion: “Izoduwa or Imadeoduwa/Aideoduwa” (“I have not missed the path to prosperity.”)

It was this Benin word, which can be substituted with another Benin word “Aidoduwa” that was corrupted to Oduduwa as Ekaderhan new name that is now being touted both as the father of the Yorubas and the founder of Benin. Certainly, this is unacceptable.

God (Osanobua) was instrumental in creating land on earth on which the Binis settled as its first inhabitants after descending from their heavenly abode. The Binis were followed later by other people of the world. It is to capture the reality of this mythical creation story that the Binis say: Oba Yan Oto Ya Se Evbo Ebo. Translated, it means the Oba Owns the Land Up to the European Country.

There are different Benin oral traditions on their origin. However, only four of them will be treated.

Account One
That the Binis and the land they occupy were created by God and sent down from the sky (Odukhunmwun). This is why Binis refer to themselves as Ivbioto, (children of the land) while their first Kings who ruled them, after a period of gerontocracy, were called Ogisos (Kings of the sky). The Binis believe that their Kings were sent down along with them from the sky during their Tran-planetary movement from the sky to the earth. This account is given ample treatments in the book EDO CULTURE by Ogie Evbinma.

Account Two
Olokun, a beloved Son of God, is said to be the ancestor of the Binis. He and the Binis, were all living in the spirit world (Erinmwin) when, God (Osanobua) decided to send them down to the earth (Agbon) once filled with water. So, he gave Olokun a snail shell (Ughughon-Egile) packed full of sand. Following divine instructions, Olokun gave the shell to Turcan (Owonwon), a mythical bird, for use in creating a landmass from the waterlogged earth. The Turcan, according to this account, flew with the snail shell from Erinmwin (Spirit World) to the top of a very tall tree. From there, he poured out the sand in the snail shell into water and some Ikhinmwin (New Boulder tree) and solid land mass appeared.

Having done this, the bird reported to Olokun who, on his part, informed God (Osanobua) about what had transpired. God was impressed. However, he ordered Olokun and the Binis to investigate the Turcan’s report, with emphasis on whether the landmass was solid enough for human and animal habitation. After some deliberations among Olokun, the Binis and other spiritual world beings the decision to send the chameleon (Erokhi) to carry out the investigation, was taken.

The chameleon, thereafter, descended from spirit world and because he was out to test the solidity of the landmass, he moved slowly with utmost caution on it. To its amazement, the landmass was hard and solid and a report was thus made to God (Osanobua), Olokun, the Binis and other spiritual world beings. Following its report and God’s (Osanobua) approval, Olokun led the Binis and some spiritual world beings from the spirit world and settled on the land, they called Idu.

Account Three
Almighty God (Osanobua) founded Benin. The account stated that, once upon a time, God had seven children living with him in the spirit world (Erinmwin) whom He sent down to inhabit the earth. Some of them took along from the spirit world money, herbal magical skills and other material inheritance. But the youngest among them following the advice of a Turcan (Owonwon), a mythical bird, came with only a snail filled with sand. On their way, the seven children discovered that the earth was all covered with water. Once more, the Turcan advised the youngest child to pour the sand in the shell on the water. The child did. Immediately, some land appeared. He thereafter inhabited the land and called it Idu. Later, his other brothers joined him on the land with part of their inheritance from the spirit world.

The white man (European) turned up last after all the land had been shared out, but he desired land for habitation on earth. He therefore, pleaded with the youngest child to give him the snail shell so he could try to create some land with some of the sand still left inside it.

The youngest child obliged him. On getting the snail shell from him and washing it in the water, some land appeared. However, he noticed that the body of water surrounding and within his landmass was salty due to the fact that there was salt on the posterior end of the shell which spilled into the water, from this source, the salt spread to other big bodies of water, according for why seawater is salty.

Account Four
A frustrated poor man once left his country to seek the Golden Fleece in other unknown lands. During his journey, he wandered into the bush where he met an old, sickly, hungry and impoverished woman. Out of sympathy, the man prepared a fire for her to keep herself warm. He also attended to her other needs. In appreciation of his kindness, she gave him as parting gift, a branch of glyphaea lateriflora (Uwenrhien-Ota) advising him to use it to strike the ground whenever he so desired.

The man did as instructed after another round of wandering in the bush. In a split second, a big town filled with people appeared. The people were pleased to have him in their midst. They glorified him, quickly built a big house for him, and thereafter installed him as their king. The man was said to have called the people “the Idus”.

One shares Prince Eweka’s view, no doubt, but it must also be stated that this writer believes that the Nok culture is totally of Edo origin. There is no disputing this. If our archaeologists, historians and cultural anthropologists carry out their investigation on the Nok civilisation with a scientific, unbiased mind, they will reach this conclusion.
What one learns from these oral traditions on the origin of Benin is that the Binis believe they are not descendants of any other tribes or peoples. They also believe that the land they inhabit was given to them by God.
Late Prince Ena Eweka in his book

THE BENIN MONARCHY earlier quoted, remarks: “Whichever way one looks at the origin of the Edo people both historically or mythically, one comes to the conclusion that a lot of research still needs to be carried out on it. The Edos themselves believe that they were the original people of their land even though it cannot be ruled out that other people might have migrated to join them here. Modern archaeological findings show that the oldest human skull was found in Africa. Here in Nigeria, the Nok civilisation has thrown new light on the actual age of African civilisation. Who knows ¡f the Nok civilisation itself is not a spill over of the early Edo people especially as the regions occupied by both the Edo and the Nok are within the same landmass“.

Despite the raging controversy among academics over the question of Benin origin, the Binis have nevertheless continued to occupy the front stage of world attention since the British punitive expedition of 1897. In that year, British troops invaded Benin City in retaliation for the killing of some British soldiers over questions of rights of passage into the city when the royal monarch, Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1888 1914) customarily, was not supposed to receive any visitors.

The Binis have also been getting world attention, because they are a people with a rich ancient past put at over 6000 years old while the royal dynasty is said to have a history of 1000 years behind it. Invariably, the whole world, in modern times, consider the Binis, their present monarch, norms, values, traditions as well as artifacts, as an enduring mirror of their great past. This world’s interest in the Binis is heightened by the fact that their Kingdom is a few of those which live comfortably in the present while still wearing the aura and mystique of her past even though the kingdom has passed through the hot furnace of colonialism as well as civilian and military rules from 1 8 century to May 1999.

It is coping well in the dispensation without much hiccups because its present monarch, HIS ROYAL MAJESTY OMO N’OBA N’EDO, UKU-AKPOLOKPOLO OBA EREDIAUWA is a well educated man who has in his kitty, a Cambridge University Law degree, experience as a Federal and state bureaucrat and is versed in Benin history and culture. His reign has witnessed the resuscitation of many abandoned shrines and traditional practices ah over Benin Kingdom. He ensures that although the Binis live in a modern era they don’t forget their rich, cultural heritage. In fact, he remains the visible cultural as well as historical bridge between the present and past in the great Benin Kingdom which, today, stands tau in proud majesty like an anthill on the Savannah.


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