Non- European Study – 8c Benin AD 900-1300
The Kingdom of Benin
The kingdom of Benin began in the 900s when the Edo people settled in the rainforests of West Africa. By the 1400s they had created a wealthy kingdom with a powerful ruler, known as the Oba. The Obas lived in beautiful palaces decorated with shining brass.
To start with Benin was ruled by kings called Ogisos but by th 1100s there were struggles for power and the Ogisos lost control of their kingdom. The Edo people feared that their country would fall into chaos, so they asked their neighbour, the King of Ife, for help. The king sent his son Prince Oranmiyan to restore peace to the Edo kingdom. Oranmiyan chose his son Eweka to be the first Oba of Benin. Eweka was the first in a long line of Obas, who reached the peak of their power in the 1500s.
Oba Ehengbuda was the last of the warrior kings. But he spent most of his reign stopping rebellions led by local chiefs. After his death in 1601, Benin’s empire gradually shrank in size.
What was life like in Benin?
Benin was a large and varied kingdom. Some people lived in villages and small towns, but most people lived and worked in Benin City. The most important person in the kingdom was the king, known as the Oba. Hundreds of men and women lived at the royal court, and devoted their lives to looking after the Oba and his family. Some people at court had very special jobs, working as acrobats, sorcerers or leopard hunters. Most people in the countryside worked as farmers but there were also potters and blacksmiths. They made simple pots, weapons and tools for the villagers.
The people of Benin believed that their Oba was a god. He lived apart from the ordinary people inside the royal court in Benin City. Most of the time the Oba was kept very busy with his duties as king. He held meetings with his officials and he led religious ceremonies. But he also had some free time to spend with his family. Obas had many wives, and all their wives and children lived in special apartments inside the palace. Everyone had to show great respect to the Oba. People approached him on their knees and nobody could look at him without his permission. Most people in Benin believed that the Oba didn’t need to eat or sleep!
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