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At the Back of the Black Man's Mind, by Richard Edward Dennett, [1906], at




The Provinces. -Benin City.-The King's Compound. -Bronzes. -A Bini House.


THE OBA'S central province was bound by the rivers

OYISA, OKWO, OVIA, OLUKUN, AWREHOMO, and IKPOBA. From the city through this province to six outlying districts or provinces, six great roads led, and these roads and districts were under the following chiefs:-

Gilly-Gilly under Ezomo.

Udo under OLIHA.

Shelu under ERO.

Geduma under OGIFA.

Sapoba under CIGIAML

Sapelli under ELEMA.

The neutral (or ambassador's province) under ELAUWEY was bounded by the rivers OFUSU, OHA, and upper OVIA or OSSE, with its capital at OKENUE or OKELUSE. When they reached this place ELAUWEY told Bini to go on to OGIFA'S place and that he would follow in five days (but he stayed there and formed the province as a kind of buffer province between the Yoruba and Bini Kingdoms).

In each of these districts there are a certain number of OGIE (OGICI). In ELAUWEY, OGOTE, the two Bale, UHEIN and IKOHA, under OJIMA Of OKENUE.

ODCLOBO Sapelli road under ELEMA seems to have extended to UMUGUMO and the country between the rivers EKHIMI, IGBAGON, and OLUKUN. The ogies are:-


ODIYOKOREOMO (sapoba. under Ogiami) is the district between the rivers EKHIMI and AUREHOMO, and here we find the following OGIES:-


ODIYEKPOBA and ODUHUMODE (Geduma under Ogifa) the country bound by the Ifon road, the Awrehomo and the IKPOBA rivers with the OGIES:-

IEKUSHELU under ERO with the OGIES:-
OWAZA. Cap from AWYAW.

ODUDO or ODIDUMIHOGBI (Udo road under OLIHA) within the centre province. OGIES:-

On the far side of the Ovia (river Osse):
OGYUDO having died intestate IYASE NUDO governs in his place, in UDO.
ODUGWATON or ODUZABU (Gilly Gilly road under Ezomo).

Plan of Benin City (Pl. XIV)

Under these OGIES are many villages ruled over by headmen equivalent to the KONGOZOVO in the Kongo. These. headmen have a number of families under them, each of which have land given to them for planting. There may be waste land in a province or a kingdom, but that is not to, say that it is no man's land for it belongs either to the OGIE, or the OBA.

There were three other roads (Pl. XIV) leading from the OBA'S Compound to places within the outer wall, ODUHUMIDUMU to the east, where the OBA "played," and ODOKORAW to the residence of the OBA's eldest son, and ODIEKOGBA to the country at the back of the palace.

The OBA'S Compound became the centre of a very large city surrounded by two great ditches and the thrown-up earth forming walls on either side of them.

It takes one more than half an hour's hard walking to march from the inner wall or ditch on one side of the city to the same on the other side. And from the inner to the outer wall the distance varies from 1,000 to 3,600 paces.

The main roads are those leading from the Oba's Compound to Siluka, Yira and Ifon, Geduma, Sapoba, Sapeli, and Gilly Gilly.

In the olden days when the Sapoba and Gilly Gilly roads were unbroken approaches to and only bordered on one side by the palace wall and on the other by IMARAN'S house they must have had a very grand and beautiful appearance. A hundred paces broad, these green glades were lined by trees, growing on the raised sweeping of years on either side.'

It was the duty of certain towns to come in to Benin City yearly and clean and sweep these glorious entrances to the palace.

1. The OBA'S Compound was roughly divided into three quarters. The OBA's quarter EGWAI. The wives' quarter ODERIE, and the Eunuchs' quarter called after the first great Eunuch URUKPOTA.2

[1. The poorer people who could not afford to bury their dead in houses threw their bodies on to this road, so that with-these and the bodies of people sacrificed it really had an awful appearance.

2 They say that OVERAMI did not castrate people to act as Eunuchs, but that any child who had the misfortune to be born without, or by an accident to lose these parts, was brought by his parents to the king. It is possible that this is in part the truth, but what about those holes in the wall of a town not far from Benin City, through which they say the victim's head was thrust while this operation was carried out.]

Then there were eleven other divisions into which the City was divided and the names of these parts are those of the great chiefs who first founded them.

2. The beadmen's quarter (OBADAGBONYI) known as IDUMI WEBO. These people under NWAGWE appear to have partly lived close to the King in his Compound and partly to the N.W. of it.

3. Then to the South, behind the wall of the ODERIE was the quarter called OGBEZAWTI.

4. From here to where OBASEKI has his house was called OGBE.

5. Round about where ARASI has his house was called OGBIOKA (OBA'S son's quarter).

6. And where OBAYAGBON has his house was named the IDUMU IBIWI.

7. And where IHALIKA lives was called IDUM'EBO.

8. Then from the UDO or SILUKU road to the IKPOBA or GEDUMA road is named after OLENOKWA.

9. And from the IKPOBA road to the SAPOBA road the name is IDUMGWOSA as far as the house of PUSH PUSH.

10. From the latter's house along the Sapoba road is still called IDUMEDIE.

11. From there to the ditch, near the Sapeli road is called IDUMSIAMALU.

12. From the Sapeli road to OGBEZAWTI is called OGBILAKA.

In the OBA'S Compound there was also a quarter called IDUMWUKI, where certain people observed the changes of the moon.

Each of these twelve quarters contained "Houses" or small quarters belonging to certain chiefs.

EBWIMOSI, a spot close to the second wall on the Gilly Gilly road, was where Ezomo (or OJUMO) used to sacrifice people.

On the IKPOBA road, about fifteen hundred yards from the Residency at IDUMIGUN NI INYA YUGI the blacksmiths had their shops, and some 150 yards from the river IKPOBA is the grove AWORE.

On the UDO or SILUKU road, a hundred yards on the other side of the first wall, is IDUMIOBIECISA, a place where the test for witchcraft used to be administered, and some 260 yards further on near HOLOTO is AZAMA, where the OBA-elect went previous to being crowned.

On the SHELU road, 700 yards or so from the first ditch is IYAKPA or the gate dividing the Queen Mother from her people, and 500 yards further on is EEYA; where the Queen Mother has erected her new quarters. About 3000 yards from the Residency on this road is God's Grove called A RO'SA, and it was here that the OBA sent his son with a goat to sacrifice immediately after he had been crowned.

The late OBA'S palace was nearly in the Centre of what is known as the OBA'S Compound, his predecessors' palaces and their ruins being to the north-west of it. Near to each of these palaces, and I think there were thirty-one of them, was a deep well (OVVIO, being the name of the late OBA'S well), where they threw the bodies of the human beings sacrificed. Round about the palace were the headquarters of the IWASI, IWEBO, IBIWI, and IWEGWE, while to the South and East the houses of the OBA'S many wives were scattered. The wall running round the ODERIE or wives' quarter, or the back semicircular wall of the Compound, was considered sacred and no outsider was allowed even to touch it under the penalty of death.

The front wall ran in a straight line along the Sapoba to Gilli Gilli road, almost North-west and South-east for about 500 yards, and it was called OBOLOBA. The quarter behind it was called IDUMIWEBO, part of which is situated near to the OBA. The second wall was called OZAMOKO, while the quarter behind it was that of the Eunuchs, called URUKPOTA. The third wall was called UGOHE and the quarter behind it UGWOZOLA. Here the late OBA had a tin house built upon iron pillars, and it was in this quarter where people wishing to see him had to wait. There is a deep pit here and another just behind the present cemetery these pits are called IRIDIAWÃ1.

I never saw the palace, and cannot therefore describe it, but while wandering about its ruins I have come across holes in the ground some 15 feet deep, which were in some of the divisions of the palace, and were used by the late OBA as the burial place of those visitors whom he did not wish to see again.

The people still dig amongst the ruins of the palace for the bronzes the OBA and his followers valued so much. Mr. Erdmann, a well known German trader, on his last visit to Benin City informed me that he had seen the palace just after its roof had been burnt off and had taken many photographs of it. He said that the bronzes were ranged along the walls and served as historical symbols, reminding the historian of the chief events of the past history of the BINI people. Unfortunately this much-respected trader died on his way home in the year, 1904.

Inside the first or second wall was the tree under which people were sacrificed to the Rain power, this ceremony was called AIYAWOMANAMI.

People were sacrificed to the Sun[1] power under the UBOGWE tree which once stood just in front of the first wall outside the Compound. Where murderers are now hung under the OKHA and ULOHE trees near to IMARAN's quarter the ceremonies connected with the new Yam Juju were commenced.

And in the ODERIE where there is now a fowl house, and under the IKHIMI tree cows were sacrificed.

What we know now as the Sapeli Road was called UBOKA, while just outside the Residency on the Sapoba Road there was a place and a tree to which people used to be tied called the OGYUWO. Along one side of the IKPOBA road there are the ruins of a line of blacksmiths' shops, and blacksmiths are still found in different parts of the city working in iron and brass. The present productions in brass are rough and crude, but there are some artists who sculpture very well in clay, and so ornament the pillars in some of the houses of the Benin

[1. This was called AIYAWOMANUKBO.]

City Chiefs. Carvers in wood also exist, but the ivory carvers cannot be compared to those of Luango south of the Equator.

Upon showing the photos of bronzes and ivory in the "Antiquities of Benin" to certain chiefs, their surprise and satisfaction was very great, and they were glad to think that most of their ancient works of art still exist. It is to be hoped that private collectors of these bronzes may some day bequeath their collections to the British Museum, and that photographs at any rate of those collections in the Hamburg and Berlin Museums may be obtained and made accessible to the public. The future educated BINI as a British subject has a right to expect to find as full a collection as possible of these bronzes, etc., in this Imperial Museum.

By a house, I mean the abode of a family [1] living under its head, and not merely the dwelling place of an individual.

This house (Pl. XVI) is built on the same lines, though on a smaller scale than a chief's palace.

Passing along a road (ODÉ) one comes to a fence on one side of it, and this outer fence they call OGBOLI. Passing through an entrance there is, at a given distance, a second fence called EGODOLI, and then a third called EKUNUGOLI before coming to the house. The front wall of this house is called EBOWI, the side walls IGIEKA, and the back wall IYEKOWA.

The space between the enclosing wall and the house in front is called AGUDULI, while those on the sides and back are made into a garden called EGUN.

The house is divided into three sections, the centre part being the husband's quarters, looking towards the road to the left the wives' quarters ODERIE (Pl. XVb), and to the right the young men's quarters YEKOGBE. The doorway is called EKU, while the passages are called OBIOVIO.

The rooms are ranged in both these latter quarters on the inner sides of the outer walls of the house and the outer sides of the walls of the husband's quarter, and are mere lean-to sheds.

[1. The family is called EGRE, and is composed of ERA, father, OMIWU, the sons of the father, EYE, INYHEYHI, SAPAMAREGUDI, EGABIONA and the next our generations, none of whom may intermarry.]

The centre part or husbands' quarters of an ideal Bini house is divided into four rooms.

1. IKUNU OGULI or ALERA, father's room, where there is an altar to the memory of the occupant's father.

2. IKUNU KADICI or ALWIYE, mother's room.

3. IKUNU AROHUMU, the reigning son's room, or the head's grove or temple.

The entrance passage to this room is called ONURU, and facing you as you enter is the side of the altar AROWEBO (bead grove or altar).[1] There is an entrance to the wives' quarter from this. The roofs of these rooms incline towards the centre, which is an open square, and is upheld by a pillar (EHAWI) in each corner of the square. The floor of this square is about twelve inches or more below the level of the floor running round it, and this basin is called EGUDU. On the side opposite the altar is a raised platform of mud serving as a sofa or bed which is called UKBO. On the left hand side, just after entering the third room, are two closed-in rooms which you enter through small openings in the wall, one being the wife's room UGUGA, and the other the husband's room, OGWA.

The fourth room is a spare quarter called ODUOWA, and in a garden on the outside of the back wall of the ODUOWA is a general or medicine altar called OGUSHUN.

They call the roof EROHUMOWA, and it is made of the leaves (EBE) of a reed-like plant with a large leaf called EMWAME.

The ridge pole goes by the name OKPO, the rafter EREDOMI, while the opening or funnel down which the rain flows into the EGUDU is called the OBOTO.

[1 . For contents of this altar see under OLUKUN.]


Next: Chapter 19. Bini Customs