The Benin-Ife Historical Link: Matters Arising
July 7, 2004
Posted to the web July 7, 2004
The origin of the Benin and Yoruba empires of old have come to the fore and they have been subject of intense debate at least since the launching of the book -- I Remain Sir, Your Obedient Servant -- written by our revered Oba of Benin, Omo N' Oba N'Edo Iku Akpolokpolo. No doubt the origins of the two empires are obscure being deeply buried in legend and mythology and it is not easy to say what amount of history or the amount of embellished history they contain. In truth these traditions which on the surface try to account for the origin of these empires are perhaps little more than ideological chatters legitimizing the political systems, traditions, cultures, etc. of the people. This general position not withstanding, it is worthy of note that the Benin through their well renowned Arts and Craft recorded their history and event in addition to the account of the guild of oral recorders. The most contentious of this debate for now, however, is the Benin-Ife historical connection.
Many historians and social anthropologists especially the Yoruba historians have been greatly impressed by the tradition that the Yoruba Kingdom fathered the second Benin empire. According to Prof. A.B.Aderibigbe, "obviously there is an attempt in this story to gloss over what in fact was an alien imposition." Along the same line, Prof Michael Growder said that this tradition could be "a convenient legend to disguise what in fact was a conquest by the Oduduwa party".
Here however, the following points are worthy of note: First the Ife-Benin connection has been vigorously questioned by Prof. A.F.C. Ryder. He had pointed out that this tradition which seeks to connect Benin with Ife is suspect. He argues that throughout four centuries of contact between Benin and various European nations, in particular Portugal, there was no hint or reference to this relationship between the two empires. The tradition was not mentioned or recorded by any writer until after the British occupation of Benin in 1897. He also pointed out that the city of Ife is believed to be younger than Benin and therefore could not have fathered the second Benin Empire.
Second, according to Prof Ryder, by 1485 Benin was an impressive and large city. Judging by the evidence of European visitors, it was perhaps the largest and most impressive city which the Portuguese saw along the west coast of Africa. Recent archaeological evidence would seem to indicate that Ife was built probably not before the first decade of the 16th century while the capital of old Oyo, Yatenga, was built much later. This would seem to show that the complex political system of the Yoruba which the Benin Kingdom is believed to have descended must have originated much later than the Benin Kingdom.
Third, much of the evidence which is believed to corroborate the claims made in the traditions comes from enthnohistory, that is, historical speculations based on assumed logical sequence of development in the political system. This is most unreliable.
By the 15th Century, the Benin Kingdom had achieved the height of its greatness. It remained the most powerful and the largest Kingdom in the forest region of West Africa until about the end of the first half of the 17 century. During these two centuries of its ascendancy Benin empire stretched as far west as Lagos, Badagry and Whyidah (Dahomey). On the north-west it stretched as far as Ekiti, Akure and Owo. Towards the north, it stretched to Ishan Country and the southern position of Idah. Finally on the east it incorporated at various times various portions of Ika-Ibo and as far as the River Niger.
Prof. Biobaku has suggested that the eastern fringe of what is now Yorubaland was in pre-Yoruba days thinly inhabited by the ancestors of the modern Benin people, a people which he called the Efa. And if recent archaeological evidence would seem to indicate that Ife was built not before the first decade of the 16th century thereby making it to be younger than Benin, then the Oranmiyan tradition has been miscon-strued and the Benin version (The Oba of Benin's version,), not Egharervba's version, becomes more tenable.
According to this version the boy disinherited through the conspiracy of the barren wives of Oba Owodo (The last of the Ogiso dynasty) was called Ekaladerhan. The embassy sent by the leading personalities in Benin after the failure of Evian to establish his dynasty was to help locate this disinherited boy (Ekakaladerhan) to come and occupy the throne which rightly belonged to him.
Before he was located, however, he had settled at Ife (Uhe) on the eastern fringe of the Yoruba Kingdom and he was now called, Oduduwa which was corrupted from Imadoduwa (meaning I have not missed the destined road to greatness). On receipt of the emissaries from Benin, he sent his son, Oranmiyan as he was too old to return to Benin. Oranmiyan and his party took up residence at Uzama and from there they sought to rule Benin. But Oranmiyan, having been born and brought up outside Benin tradition, found it difficult to rule the kingdom and therefore met with so much opposition to his rule that he decided to withdraw from Benin. Fortunately before he withdrew, he has put a daughter of a Benin chief in a family way and the offspring was called Eweka who thus became the first king of the Eweka dynasty which rules in Benin till date.
From the above historical facts provided by seasoned indigenous and foreign histo-rians, corroborated by archa-eological evidence, it is incon-trovertible that Odudu-wa (Imadoduwa) is the same Benin prince (Ekaladerhan) who left Benin and finally settled on the eastern fringe of Yoruba Kingdom where his sudden appearance was a fulfilment of a divine prediction of Ifa that God (Olodumare) would send them a king to settle the existing rift over succession. It is not surprising therefore that the Yorubas generally believed that Oduduwa came from God and descended from the sky.http://allafrica.com/stories/200407070145.html