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



TheWeek.-The Year.-The Seasons.-The Rivers.-A Temple.-Wells.Trees. -Omens. -Animals.


THE Bini have now eight days in their week, but the part of jujuism, which I identify with Nkicism, has preserved the more ancient form of four days. The names of the eight days are:

1. ELEOWU for EDEOWU, first day.

2. AKWE.







Each of these days is a market day in or quite near to Benin City.[1]

On the 1st day the market is at INYA = EK'lNYA.

On the 2nd the market is at IOBA = EKIOBA (Benin City).

On the 3rd the market is at IGO = EKIGO (on the Gilly-Gilly road).

On the 4th the market is at BAREKE = EKEBAREKE (Benin City).

[1: 1. Yam market.
2. King's mother's market.
3. Money or cowrie market.
4. Slave compound market.]

On the fifth day EKINYA is again the market place, and the other three markets follow in the above order to the end of the eight days. But the juju doctor (OBO) renews the chalk marks in front of the ARO, or sacred grove, on the first

Chalk marks found on the ground in front of AKE.

day, EDEKEN, and on the fifth, which is again EDEKEN. The names of these four days are:

1. EDEKEN,[1] spoken of as being IYASE's day (the king's prime minister and regent).

2. ED'AHO, spoken of as being OSUMA'S day (messenger connected with the king's wants).

3. ED'AWRIE, spoken of as being ESOGBAN's day (messenger connected with king's gifts).

4. ED'OKWAW, spoken of as being ESAWN's day (the king's captain or officer).

[1. These are possibly the Big men or great Lords who are always near the king's person. But Mendael speaks of three only. See Great Benin, p. 92.]

Their year is divided into four parts, two of four lunar months, one of four, and one joining month, or thirteen lunar months in all, just as among the Bavili.

There are six (or seven, counting the first month) seasons in this year.

The joining month (called MAWALALA in Kongo) is also looked upon as a period or season in itself, and it is the time when the natives plant their yams, and thus represents the month or season of love or spring. It is called IKHURE, and is the time of drizzling rains, just before the rainy season. This month, however, instead of representing the first month at the beginning of the dry season, is in the place of the sixth month of the Bavili.

The next period is EHAW, and includes the seasons IHEDU, two months of which are the tornado months, and IHEMA, two months of heavy rains. EHAW is the custom of giving food to a stranger on his arrival in a town.

The next period is named IGWE, and it includes the seasons IGWE, two months, including the little dry season and heavy rain, and AGWE, one tornado month and one month of rest and quiet. IGWE (or IGBE or IWE = weight also 10) signifies the care and dress of children, and is the season of harvest. It is worthy of note that the Bini connect the idea of weight with harvest.

The period IHEUKU is that which contains the seasons AHISHUKU and IHEUKU, the four months forming their dry season.

It is said that the Bini have no names for their months, and this in a sense is true. But they number them, and so the numbers are really their names. If we wish to know the meanings of the names of their months we must get at the signification of their numerals.

1. Let us begin with the first month of their dry season, when, having reaped their harvest of yams, the people say they "rest and chop." This is the second month in the season AGWE. The word for one is ÔWU, which in the form Owu means death, or, as we might put it, the beginning and end of all things. This agrees with the time and idea contained in the month of MAWALALA in the Kongo.

2. The next month, the first in the AHISHUKU season, the Bini are busy cutting down woods and forests for the purpose of making their farms. This action they call IFIE.

IFA is literally that which is scraped off and is also the name of the palm nut god of the Yoruba. The verb FA is to clean or scrape off.

The letters F, H, and Y, are interchangeable thus, HA is to scrape, UHE the Bini for IFE, and the Bina palm tree river spirit, taking the place of the Yoruba IFA is OVIA. O is a royal title short for OGIE; IA is the lengthened form of A, so that OVIA is really a lengthened form of IFA.

E as a prefix gives the verb following it a substantive form; thus EFA or EVA would mean a scraping. This idea of scraping off is connected with the idea of creation both in Xivili and Bini. The Bini use the word EVA as the numeral 2; EVA is therefore connected both with the river spirit OVIA and with ideas of creation.

3. The third month the people begin to burn what they can of the felled trees, and this act they call EGBAW.

EGBAW is a state of being cleaned as corn is when its husks are scraped off; so that the idea of scraping is associated with the third month also. Thus we have EHA three opposed to EVA, two both with much the same symbolic meaning. EHA, however, in the word ten and three or thirteen appears as ERA, and ERA means father.

We may then conclude that in EVA and EHA we have given to us the maternal and paternal principles, found under the symbolic names of the second and third months, in XIVILI, i.e., the deep of fresh water and the deep of salt water.

4. During the fourth month they clear the ground, thus getting it ready for planting the yams. This action they term EKWEN; the number four is ENA, and means that which contains the power of spreading.

5. ISAN, or five, means the act of springing. Thus these two months are connected with planting in the earth.

6. During the sixth month the people drive poles (IFIEMA) into the ground near to their yams, so that the yam vines may creep up them. Now the word for six is IHAN, and that means the act of being entangled. This is the month of marriage following that of love, the spring.

7. During the next month they keep on putting poles in the ground. The word for seven being (3 + 4) IH'INAW, signifying the act of being entangled and spreading. This is much the same meaning as that of sambuade, or seven, in the Kongo.

8, 9, and 10. Then for three months or so they keep on weeding their plantations, EKBONA NAGWINIMU:


the act of much spreading (conception).


the act of having fruit (germination).

10= IGBE

the act of being heavy (pregnancy).

11. Six months after planting, or the eleventh month, the yams known as EMAWWE are ready, and 11 is OWARA (i.e., first being or first substance), the second month of pregnancy. Harvest, weight, pregnancy have been also shown to be associated with the tenth and eleventh months of the Bavili.

12. During the twelfth month the IKME yams are ready, and 12, or IWE'YA, might be termed maternal weight or travail.

13. During the thirteenth month the Bini finally harvest the yams called IGULWA. The number 13 is called IWE'RA, or paternal weight, the second month of travail. The meaning conveyed by these numbers 12 and 13 agrees with the Bavili twelfth and thirteenth months.

14. Then comes the month of rest again, which of course might be called the fourteenth month, or IWINA, which gives us the idea of (spreading and travail or) birth, and may be said to be the end of the double figure months.

Thus the meaning of the names of the Bini months correspond to some extent to those of the Bavili months. I cannot however show that then any genetic connection was asserted of the month and seasons of the former. But if up to the present nothing of the sort has been found, it by no means follows that more extensive research will not bring it to light. I append a table of the Bini months, seasons, and divisions of the year.

I now give a few notes on other points of Bini belief and custom.


OYISA is a river rising to the north of Benin City, near IBEKWE. This word is the general term used for God, and is pronounced ORISHA by the Yoruba people. In the lower reaches its name changes to OKWO.

OKWO is noted for its natural bridge which crosses it on the road from IGWIKO to EMMA at a place called OKOKWO.

While ARUWANA, a son of the King of Benin City, followed by his dog, was crossing this river, his dog fell into the rushing torrent and was lost. He was much grieved, and joined stick to stick until in two hours he touched the bottom, but could not find his dog, so they say he ordered this stone bridge to be built.

OVIA. Ovia is said to have been one of the wives of AWLAWYO, the Alafin of AWYAW. A wife who was jealous of her put a rat and some water into her cloth, and then went and told the Alafin that OVIA had made water in her cloth. AWLAWYO was very cross with her, so she cried and ran away. And when AWLAWYO made inquiries, and found out that he had been deceived, he killed the jealous wife, and asked OVIA to come back to him, but she refused. Then he sent OKWO to bring her back, but she refused to go back, and OKWO feared to return without her, so they both became river spirits in the Benin country. The sign of the OVIA is the dress made of strips of palm leaves.

ATO. The river ATO runs into the OVIA, and ATO is a medicine to join broken bones together.

Then the OVIA runs into the OLUKUN.

There is a grove for the children of OVIA called IRIRI.

AWRE[1] or IKPOBA is the King's river (and the meaning of the word AWRE is royal self). At its source, which is near to the source of the OYISA, this river is called the ERUBI (i.e., one who bears, applied to animals), and she is said to have had a son called ISE (challenge), who would persist in living with the King. The King finally sent him away to a village on the IFON road called Utekon. Then ISE declared war on the King, and the King went to UTEKON to fight. ERUBI killed 200 men with poisoned FUFU, and ISE killed the rest of the King's followers. The King saved himself by hiding in a kola tree, from whence he howled for help. Then OLUMORIA and others came to the King's rescue, and they killed ISE.

Now, OLUMORIA boasted of this deed, so that the King became very angry and drew his MUSU (sword) and tried to kill him. He tried three times, but failed on each occasion. Then he made a medicine called OKOKOGO (a small red bead worn at the back of the head) and gave it to those he specially honoured, and OLUMORIA asked for it, but for a long time the King refused to give it to him. Finally, however, he did so. This medicine then gave the King power over OLUMORIA, So that he drew his MUSU and killed him. The AWRE runs into the AWREOMO, called also the OSSEOMO.

AWREOMO. The sign of this river is an earthenware pot of water. At its source, not far from the town of OKHI, this river is called AKE, the axe. As a "juju" this power AKE is represented by lumps of earth, ant-hills, bits of pot, stones and chalk, which are covered by a slanting roof of bark called OKUKU. There is a large "juju house" at IDUNGENA, near Benin City. It is a building of sun-dried mud, in the form of a hollow square, with lean-tos from the top of each wall

[1. The sound AW or o in the word corpse is written in Yoruba ô.]

AKE. Pieces of bark supported at one end by two sticks forming a kind of lean-to shed, under which are found a pot of water, bananas, and yams. Generally found at the foot of trees with various chalk marks in front of them. (See other note.)

forming cloisters. Over the doorway a long bamboo, with a basket cup-like arrangement at the top, hangs like a barber's pole. This has been called OYISA, Esu, and UKHURE by different people I have asked to name it.

As you enter you notice the figure of a man without legs (OKE), the doorkeeper; then, turning to the left, you will see a figure in clay dressed in chain armour as in the days of Elizabeth, riding on a horse. He is called OKAKWU or an officer. Passing along the left wall we find a figure dressed as a prime minister, or IYASE. Then in the open space in the centre of the square there are two figures, one on your right and one on your left as you stand with your back to the door and facing AKE. The one on your left represents OYISA (god), and that on your right Esu, the devil. Esu is dressed as a slave in a hat and cloth, carrying a knife at his waist, and a stick or staff called UKPOPO in his

OYISA.A long bamboo pole with a wicker basket at the top.

right. OYISA, on the other hand, is dressed like a king. We now stand before the throne of AKE, who, dressed like a king, is seated with a wife (IREBU) with her babe on either side of him. A girl stands in front of them with a fan (OKWIKE). In front of all these figures are the figures of two naked boys (AMADA), while to the right and left are seen the figures of the two NABORI or hand-bearers. Then opposite to the figure of IYASE on the right hand side of the square there are the figures of a blacksmith, OGUN, in his shop and his assistant blowing the bellows, and between IYASE and OGUN in the open space the sacred tree IKHIMI is growing, and they call this INYATU.

A woman wanting a child goes to AKE and presents him with a fowl, and promises him more if she bears one. A man who has lost something goes to AKE and lays his complaint before him, asking him to kill the thief If AKE does this all the petitioner's trade goes in future to AKE.

The dance sacred to AKE is called UKELE, and is he)d at the beginning of the rainy season. OKHI is the name of the middle course of the OREOMO, and means the difficulty in cutting.

The AKWIHAMA is a river running into the AWREOMO, and means the difficulty of woman in travail.

OKWAIHE is another river running into the AWREOMO, and the word means the difficulty of bearing a load. The people of this river may not marry those of the river IKHUKU. OKUMA, another tributary of this river, means continued death or the practice of dying.

The AWREOMO joins the OLUKUN at the same place as the OVIA.

The OYISA, OVIA, AWRE or AWREOMO are the four rivers that enclose the Centre province of the Benin Kingdom in which Benin city is situated.

OLUKUN is the Great Benin river forming the southern boundary of the Kingdom of Benin. It is marked in the maps as the Benin and Ethiope rivers. The meaning of the word OLUKUN is either the chief of death or the Teacher. Its sign is a pot of water. Every great house has an altar to OLUKUN in or near to which will be found a pot of water, a fringe of small leaves tied in knots called EBAIHE, stones in small earthenware pot IKPEBBO, chalk cones ORHUE, the sticks UKHURE, cowries, IGO, mats EWA, fishbones, the tail feather of the parrot EBAKWE, representations of the snake IKMWI and the leopard OGIAME and the skulls of cows, dogs and goats.

At EWESI not far from the SOBO plains, as in most towns, there is a temple to OLUKUN where chalk is given to the people as a protection against evil. The people put it round their eyes like the ZINGANGA south, and also mark their bodies with it.

At the door of this temple, a kind of square courtyard with cloisters round it, two figures are seated on guard.

On the door figures of two snakes IKPI, OBIANIMI, a bird, a crocodile, a small boy and a house are carved. There is an altar just inside the porch to Esu the devil as the Yorubas say ESU KÓ NI ÍWA AKO ILE RÈ SI ITA. As the devil has no kindliness of disposition his house is made for him in the street.

On your right, that is on OLUKUN'S left, there are figures of the son of OLUKUN with a nude wife on either side, a boy seated and holding a Kola box and a bottle of water. Strewn about are shells, chalk, a knife and a bell, while in front of all rises the bamboo pole with its end split and pushed out cup shape here called 'SA or OYISA.

Next we come to a figure of OLUKUN'S IYASE who is wearing the ODIGBA and frontlet UDEHS1, collar, armlets and bracelets.

Then opposite to the door at the end of the building we see a great figure of OLUKUN the teacher dressed as a king and figures of his two Nabori (arm upholders) and four naked boys or AMADA.

An old priest sits at the feet of this figure near to an altar, half hidden by the long strings of cowries hanging in front of him from the roof.

While I was there a man and two women came into this temple and going up to OLUKUN, knelt down and bowed their heads until they touched the step on which rested the feet of OLUKUN. The priest crushed some chalk and handed some of it to each petitioner, then they marked themselves and went out. On either side of these great central figures are two sons of OBIANIMI very old wooden figures (like those into which nails are driven in the Congo) covered with cowries, bits of cloth, knives, etc., and near to one of these is the figure of a leopard and to the other the skull of a cow and the shell of a tortoise.

On the right in a cloister are the figures of the OLUKUN'S great war chief Ezomo (or OJUMO) wearing his ODIGBA and four necklaces, and his bugler. And neartothedooragain are the figures of EKIOLUKUN the grandson of OLUKUN wearing four necklaces, and his wife and AMADA.

In the centre of the open space in this temple were three cow's heads surrounded by chalk marks.

At IGO a town on the Gilly Gilly road there is a mound on which is an altar to OLUKUN with chalk cones and cowries on it all covered by a shed. They say that EHAIZAÃI, King of Benin, because it was unhappy in Benin City, sent it to IGO. They say they knew it was unhappy because of the sickness

An altar to OLUKUN, under a little shed, with native pots on it. Chalk marks, as above, being made on the ground in front of it.

it caused in the City. At UGWATON there is also a temple to this great spirit, or power, mentioned by Burton.[1]

OLUKUN is said to have been one of the sons of God who married OHA.

OHA is the river running from the town of OKHA past SILUKU into the Benin river, and forms the western and northern boundary of the Benin Kingdom dividing it from the intermediate province of ELAWWEY which is a kind of neutral province between the Benin and Yoruba Kingdoms.

OHA drank AINYO and hiccoughed which vexed OLUKUN so she ran away from him. OLUKUN cried. This was when OLUKUN was very poor. Then OLUKUN married IGBAGON (the Jamieson river). Then OHA wished to return and prayed OLUKUN to forgive her. He was rich now, so he forgave her and said she might come back, but as the wood bearer to IGBAGON.2 The meaning of the word OHA is fear, the bruiser.

The river ALEDE runs into the OHA, and means the language of the concubine, while ALA is the white cloth, the

[1. Describing the temple sacred to OLUKUN, Burton says there is a figure of the king, &c. See Great Benin, p. 57. This is wrong; the figure represents OLUKUN dressed as a king. MALAKU=OMAOLUKUN.

2. IGBAGON=the Admittance of Poison.]

abomination of the Gods. (It is a remarkable fact that while the slave tribe called the MUSSERONGO or BACILONGO, just

A seat made of clay.

north of the Congo were only allowed to wear white, in Benin City only the Chiefs may do so.)

Cows are sacrificed to OVIA, OLUKUN.
Dogs to OVIA and AWRE.
Women may not eat the flesh of the thing sacrificed to OVIA, OKWHÃIKE, OGBA, OGBEHE, OKWO.

These sacred rivers are known by the name EBAMI, and the word EBAW means sacrifice. I should say that the meaning of EBAMI is a "power" to which things are sacrificed.


AROVATO is situated near to Geduma.
    In this Grove there are always some logs of wood (OBEKE).
ARO ERRHEIN at ERUWA near Geduma.
ARO OGUN (blacksmith) Iron stones are placed in this Grove, and Goats are sacrificed.
ARO ERUMIA near AHO on the IKPOBA road.
    There are sticks (UKHURE) there. It is also a household altar.
    Its dancers dress like those of OVIA at the beginning of the dry season.
    Women may not eat the flesh sacrificed.
ARO OWO or OBO at UZALA on the IKPOBA road.
    UKHURE are there.
    Dancers wear masks surmounted with the feathers of the fowl.
    Women may not eat the flesh sacrificed.


AROEKME in Benin City, near to the chief OBASEKI's old house, is sacred to the Leopard.
AROENIMI to the Elephant.
AROGWUNAME to the Hippopotamus.

I could get no information from the Bini about Groves sacred to the Winds.

The presence of an ODIGI, or sacred well, is generally made known along the roads to one by a tree and a mound of earth and cowries.

Human sacrifices were made to the following three in OBA OVERAMI'S time:-

ODIGI NO'R'UDO on the UDO road.
ODIGI NOBA on the IFON road.

There is a story that two women, a maiden and a pregnant woman went down to the UDO well for water. The pregnant woman, against the advice of the maiden, drank some of the water, and in consequence had a miscarriage.

As far as my observations have taken me, there are only six sacred trees, though parts of many others enter into medicines and form part of dresses, etc.

OLOKU (OROKO) Chlorofera Excelsa. This tree is found in OVIA'S sacred grove. It is also a sign marking the place where the king had his harem.

The IKHIMI, one of the Bignoniaceæ (possibly the Spathodea Campanulata), the UNWETIOTA and the OTWA are always growing close to the fences guarding the entrance to the grove.

OME. The palm tree, from the leaves of which the dresses used by the dancers of the OBUDU are made.

EBE. The kola. There are rows of kola trees at the entrance to all towns, varying from two miles to a few yards in length. War between two towns of people in the olden days was frequent, but peace could always be made provided that no kola trees had been cut down. Kola nuts as a welcome would never be given to anyone who had destroyed a kola tree in another village. The Yoruba have a saying, as the grubs eating the Iwo and the grubs eating the OBI (kola) lodge within the Iwo and the OBI nut, so he that betrays you is not far from your person.


1. A falling star foretells the death of a prince.

2. When the owl OKUKU says OKURUKURU it is well, but when it cries U U U that is a bad sign.

3. When the bird AHIAMINUKYUYA cries OYIOWO it is a bad sign, but when it sings OMGWOGWO it is well.

4. When one goes to see something and the eyelid quivers all is well, but should the under part of the eye quiver then it is bad.

5. When the right shoulder throbs all is well, but when the left one throbs it is not well.

6. If on starting on a journey you strike the right foot it is a bad sign, but if you strike your left foot, no matter.


Only three animals, as far as my observations go, have sacred groves (i.e., the Leopard, the Elephant, and the Hippopotamus), but I have found the heads and bones of four kinds of antelope, the dog, the crocodile, the cow, and the shell of the tortoise, in or near their altars.

The leopard is known by the names ATALAGBA, OGYUHA, EKME, and OGIAME or queen.

OGIAME reminds me of the XIVILI word KAMA, royal wife or queen. OGIE-CI is the word the Bini use for the King indigenous to the country, equivalent to NKICI CI of the BAVILL

When a man killed a leopard he had to take it to the OBA, who gave the hunter a boy and a girl in exchange for it. The OBA used to try very hard to obtain the leopard alive, so that he might sacrifice it. On doing so he would put his finger into its blood and make a mark with it on his forehead, from his hair to his nose. Fans for his use were made of the leopard's skin, or it was made into a coat for the great war chief EZOMO or OJUMO. The claws also were strung together and worn by this chief as a band around his head.

Women were not allowed to look at the leopard's face.

The dance connected with the leopard ceremonies is called IGWE.

The Elephant ENI.-When a chief's father dies, an elephant's tusks are placed on the altar in the grove called ARUENIMI. The head and gun by which the elephant is shot are placed in the sacred ground called EFAII, and the dance in connection with this ceremony is called IKWEFÃI.

When a hunter killed an elephant he had to give the OBA one foot and the tusks.

The strip of meat round the kidneys was given to the OBA'S mother.

One of the forelegs had to be given to the village owner of the country where it was killed.

The rest and the tail belonged to the hunter, and its hairs were sold to the women for necklaces.

The Hippopotamus OGWUNAME.- I have heard little or nothing about the Hippopotamus, save that his sacred ground is OKWHAIYE and his grove AROGWUNAME. There are plenty of hippos. in the upper OVIA or OSSE, but the people seem to fear them, and on asking the people about that part of the country why they did not kill them, they said it was no use doing so, as they did not eat them.

The Tortoise IGWI.-The sacred ground where the shell of the tortoise is found is called OTOI.

The people dance IGWI once a year just as the rains cease.

The character of the IGWI is a bad one; it is looked upon as a deceiver.

There is a story that says one day IGWI was a person, and all animals spoke one language. There was a famine in the land. A meeting was called, and it was decided that all should bring in their mothers. The elephant brought in his mother. They killed and eat her. And each day an animal brought in its mother. They always gave some of the meat to the parrot (OKWE), most of which it preserved. And when each animal had killed its mother they told the parrot to go and fetch his. But he had hidden his mother away in a hole where she kept a rope. As he refused to bring in his mother all the animals set about to look for her, but they could not find her. Then the IGWI watched the parrot, and found the mother's hiding place. And he told all the other animals. And when they all knew where the mother parrot was to be found they held a meeting to decide upon some plan of getting her. Finally, they asked the parrot to go on an errand for them to a distant part. And he went. But he returned quickly to the court house and found no one there. Guided by the IGWI they had gone to find his mother. And when they were near the hole where the mother parrot was hidden the elephant sang a song, thinking that the mother would take his voice for that of her son. But the mother parrot was not so taken in. Then the IGWI sang, and the mother parrot was deceived and put out the rope for him. All the animals then seized hold of the rope. But just then the son parrot came along and sang to his mother, telling her to cut the rope, and this is how he sang:-


O Mother Mother, O Mother Mother


Cut the rope,


Let the elephant fall, Mother,


And crush the tortoise, Mother.


It is AGWA for a man to marry any of his EGBE and by EGBE they include

OBIRAMI children of one father.
OBIYIMI children of one mother.
OBIYIYIMI children of one grandmother.
OBIRERAMI children of one grandfather.

IGODARO says that be may not marry any woman who lifts drink up with her left hand, and who, when she cooks, kneels only on one knee.

OKUNDIA says he may not "eat" (or marry) snake and the antelope ERUHE on his father's side, and OSURUHE on his mother's side.

AJARRI may not "eat" IHIHIHI, a small fruit on his mother's side, and ERHURU yam, and EBAKWE a leaf on his father's side.

JEGEDI may not eat OSURUHE on his father's side.

OKUKU may not eat monkey on his father's side, nor elephant and antelope EHAN on his mother's side.

But the Bini do not respect their AWA as the BAVILI do their XINA.

Next: Chapter 22. The Philosophy at the Back of the Black Man's Mind in Table Form