xxxxxThe African kingdom of Benin emerged around 1309 (E2) and within 50 years dominated the southern area of today’s Nigeria. With the coming to power of the Oba Ewuare the Great in 1440, the kingdom was rapidly extended and within 30 years stretched from the Niger in the east to the city of Lagos in the west. Ewuare established an hereditary succession and rebuilt his capital, today’s Benin City. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the area, and they set up trading and missionary stations. Apart from natural resources, the kingdom gained a reputation for figures in brass, bronze and ivory.

aaaaaAs we have seen, the African kingdom of Benin began to emerge at the beginning of the fourteenth century, around 1309 (E2), and within fifty years had become the dominant power in the rainforest areas of what is today southern Nigeria. With the coming to power of one of its greatest Obas (kings), Ewuare the Great, in 1440, there was rapid expansion towards the west, and within thirty years the kingdom stretched from the River Niger in the east to the city of Lagos in the West, then an area settled by Yoruba fishermen.

aaaaaEwuare, famed as a great warrior, became the ruler of his kingdom in all affairs of state. He established an hereditary succession to the throne and rebuilt his capital (today’s Benin City), defending it with high walls and a moat. It was largely due to his endeavours that his immediate successors were able to develop a flourishing and well-organised state. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the area and remained on good terms with the kingdom, setting up trading and missionary stations.


aaaaaApart from trade in its natural resources such as palm oil and spices, the kingdom also gained a reputation for its brass and bronze sculptures and its carved ivories, many of which were looted with the coming of the British. Today it forms a province of the modern state of Nigeria.

aaaaaIncidentally, the state to the west of Lagos, for many years known as Dahomey and governed by the French until 1960, changed its name to the People’s Republic of Benin in 1975. This name was chosen because the country was situated on the Bight of Benin, not because of any connection with the Benin Kingdom in neighbouring Nigeria. It is perhaps not surprising that they decided to change the name. Apparently in the seventeenth century, a leader called Wegbaja, one of the first strong rulers to govern this area, attacked and killed Da, the king of a small neighbouring state. His body was thrown into the foundations of Wegbaja’s palace, which was being built at that time, and the building came to be known as Da-ho-me, (On the Belly of Da). The word was picked up by the French and used as the name for the country!