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Kingdom of Benin

A queen mother pendant mask, made from ivory (16th century)The Kingdom of Benin was founded by the Edo people in the rainforest of southeastern Nigeria (not the modern country of Benin) in the 10th century AD. By the 1400s, a wealthy empire with a powerful ruler, known as the Oba, had grown up. Its capital, Edo, later known as Benin City, became the hub of a trading network that included merchants from Portugal. The Obas decorated their palace with stunning artworks made by highly skilled craftsmen working in brass and ivory. Later, the Obas conquered neighbouring lands and built an empire. But by the 1800s Benin, racked by civil war and disputes within the ruling dynasty, had fallen into decline. The kingdom finally came to an end in 1897, when a British army sacked their capital and annexed Benin for the British Empire.


Early history

Aerial view of the rainforest in Edo state, Nigeria Ife bronze head depicting a monarch (possibly Oduduwa). Oduduwa was the first ruler of Ife, the neighbouring kingdom to that of...Read More >>Ife bronze head depicting a monarch (possibly Oduduwa). Oduduwa was the first ruler of Ife, the neighbouring kingdom to that of the Edo. He is today thought of as "the hero, the warrior, the leader and father of the Yoruba tribe". Oduduwa's children founded their own kingdoms and empires. They included Oranmiyan, who became ruler of the Edo after Oduduwa answered the plea of the Edo people.
Some time during the 900s, the Edo people started to farm in clearings they had made in the rainforest of southeastern Nigeria. Using tools made from iron, they grew crops such as yams, bananas and oil palm kernels. Gradually, a kingdom, known as Igodomigodo, emerged. It was ruled by a series of kings, known as Ogisos (meaning "kings of the sky"). 
In around 1100, the last Ogiso died. According to tradition, a group of Edo chiefs invited Prince Oranmiyan of the neighbouring kingdom of Ife to restore order to their kingdom. It is Oranmiyan's son, Eweka, who became the first Oba, or king of Benin. (A tradition has it that Edo's own Crown Prince Ekaladerhan, who had earlier been forced into exile, was the same figure as Ife's first king, Odudawa. Prince Oranmiyan was Odudawa's son, meaning that Eweka was descended from an Edo king.) Eweka ruled the Kingdom of Benin as the first of a long line of Obas. 

The name "Benin" is a Portuguese version of the word "Ubinu", the name the Edo people gave to the capital of their kingdom. Ubinu became shortened to "Bini", before "Benin" came into use during the reign of Oba Ewuare, 1440–73, when Portuguese traders first arrived.

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