𝗕𝗘𝗡𝗜𝗡 𝗞𝗜𝗡𝗚𝗗𝗢𝗠 𝗔𝗡𝗗 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗜𝗚𝗕𝗢 𝗖𝗢𝗡𝗡𝗘𝗖𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡: Often times you hear some Igbos who claim origin from Benin Kingdom and you wonder if it makes them less igbo. On the contrary, they are still 100% Igbos.
The Benin Kingdom was of multiethnic composition and Igbos within its vicinity were part of the Kingdom. This story of migration from Benin Kingdom is true for the onitsha communities in Delta and across the Niger, Oguta, Enugu Ezike, Isele ukwu, more recently Ikwerre, ogba, Ekpeye and a few others.
To discuss this topic, we will need to examine it under 3 periods in history.
𝗕𝗲𝘁𝘄𝗲𝗲𝗻 900𝗔𝗗 – 𝗹𝗮𝘁𝗲 1600𝗔𝗗.
Here we will look at Nri migration and diffusion of the Ozo title in the Delta region. This is the period in which most proto-igbo migrants settled in the Delta region down to the vicinity of where later became Benin kingdom. During this period, Nri lineages proliferated over the Western igbo communities continuing at lesser intensity until 1911 when the British banned the activities of Nris. Nri lineage are today found in Issele-Uku, Agbo, Ibusa, Ogwashi-Ukwu, Asaba, Abala, Onitsha, Nnewi, Abátete, Olu, Okigwi, Udi, Nsukka, Agulu, Adazi, Nnobi and Mba Ukwu . The Southward’ push theory was also put forward by Henderson who holds that the uplands West of the Niger was occupied by a Southwards Igbo expansion. (Henderson 1972 p. 39). The proliferation of Nri lineages extended into Western igbo society, resulting in the diffusion of the ozo title. This is long before there contact with Benin.
𝗕𝗲𝘁𝘄𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗹𝗮𝘁𝗲 1600 -1745𝗔𝗗
The earliest account of the nature of Benin kingdom during this period shall be examined through the eye of Olaudah Equiano,born in 1745.. According to his memoir, he was born in the Eboe (igbo) region of the Kingdom of Benin, essaka (today southern Nigeria).He was igbo, captured at the age of 11 together with is sister then taken to the Caribbean and sold as a slave to a Royal Navy officer. This clearly shows that the kingdom of Benin had igbos within that vicinity that were incorporated into the kingdom. He went further to say …..””The distance of this province from the capital of Benin and the sea coast must be very considerable “…. what this again shows is that despite being within the kingdom, the distance from the Benin city itself was considerable/far/large.This means the igbo speaking region they live was regarded as part of the Kingdom of Benin but they are not from the core centre of the Kingdom. Then Olaudah went ahead to say…””𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘀𝘂𝗯𝗷𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝗳 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗶𝗻 𝘄𝗮𝘀 𝗹𝗶𝘁𝘁𝗹𝗲 𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝗻 𝗻𝗼𝗺𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹; 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆 𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗻𝘀𝗮𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗴𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗿𝗻𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁, 𝗮𝘀 𝗳𝗮𝗿 𝗮𝘀 𝗺𝘆 𝘀𝗹𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗿 𝗼𝗯𝘀𝗲𝗿𝘃𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗲𝘅𝘁𝗲𝗻𝗱𝗲𝗱, 𝘄𝗮𝘀 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝗱𝘂𝗰𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗯𝘆 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗰𝗵𝗶𝗲𝗳𝘀 𝗼𝗿 𝗲𝗹𝗱𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗰𝗲””….what this simply means is, the igbos, based on there location within the kingdom were not under the imperial control of the Oba of Benin, the use of the word “nominal” here implies Insignificantly small/very little. Again he went on to say that the daily running of the communities where he was born was conducted by chiefs and Elders which again is a typical igbo egalitarian society governed by Elders, chief priest (Nris). This again shows the nature of the relationship between igbos within the kingdom and the Benin control. This betray the false narrative that the Benin had absolute control of the igbo speaking people of the Delta communities.
He went on with his narration….
“” ….My father was one of those elders or chiefs I have spoken of, and was styled Embrenche (mburichi/Ichi,) a term, as I remember, importing the highest distinction, and signifying in our language a mark of grandeur.
This mark is conferred on the person entitled to it, by cutting the skin across at the top of the forehead, and drawing it down to the eye-brows; and while it is in this situation applying a warm hand, and rubbing it until it shrinks up into a thick weal across the lower part of the forehead. Most of the judges and senators (Nri men) were thus marked; my father had long born it: I had seen it conferred on one of my brothers, and I was also destined to receive it by my parents. Those Embrence, or chief men, decided disputes and punished crimes; for which purpose they always assembled together. The proceedings were generally short; and in most cases the law of retaliation prevailed””…….Before we explain this, recall that Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped at age 11,was born 1745,which means his father was probably born by late 16th century AD. In his narration, he clearly stated that his father was a noble (Nri noble).This clearly shows that Nri influence was prevalent among igbos in Delta During this Era and igbo language was already evident here. This puts to rest again, the false narrative that the igbos in Delta were Benin people that borrowed igbo language due to trade. He also went further to describe many of the igbo customs and traditions in his Eboe (Igbo) region of the Kingdom.
Also recall that the period of Benin expansion was around 16th century AD, which is also the period under this discussion. It was this same Era most igbos within the kingdom fled due to hostilities/ disagreement with the Oba and all moved towards one direction known to them; the east. Onitsha had to cross over across the Niger to meet there kinsmen. This type of movement is an intentional movement because they know where they came from. Those who migrated out also replicated the Benin style of kingship which was borrowed.
According to the book titled the lower Niger and its tribes,by Major Arthur Glyn Leonard, 1906, his account, also supported by the narrative of Olaudah Equiano, relating to the relationship between igbos in Delta and Benin, he stated and I quote.. “”once more let us return to the vicinity of the Niger,to a place called onitsha-Mmili ,here the tradition is that this place, along with the towns of Onitsha-olona, Onitsha-ukwu,Onitsha-ugbo,Onitsha-ukwuani were driven out presumable between two to three hundred years ago from the 𝗻𝗲𝗮𝗿 𝘃𝗶𝗰𝗶𝗻𝗶𝘁𝘆 of Benin city which they speak of as ado-n-idu””..the keyword here is “”near vicinity” which simply means it wasn’t from the interior of Benin city itself but from the igbo speaking region in Delta close to Benin city, incorporated into the kingdom with little or no Benin imperial control and with full igbo practices and administration. This region was already described by Olaudah Equiano above. Also note, the ancestors of these communities never mentioned they were Benin people then got converted to igbo after migrating out of the Kingdom. They have always been igbo speaking and igbo bearing people from onset.
𝗕𝗲𝘁𝘄𝗲𝗲𝗻 1745 -1854𝗔𝗗
Here, we will look at the account by William Balfour Baikie a Scottish explorer who embarked on a voyage of the Niger river in 1854.he stated again and I quote…
…… “” the igbo as I have formerly mentioned extend east and west from the old kalabar River to the banks of kwora(River Niger) and possess also some territory at Aboh(present Delta state), to the west ward of the later stream on the North it borders on igara(igala) and akpoto,and it is separated from the sea only by petty tribes ,all of which trace there origin to this great race. In igbo each person hails, as a sailor would say from the particular district where he was born,but when away from home,all are igbos.”””….This again mentions Aboh in Delta and also evidently have shown that igbo language and culture was already dominant within this period under discussion.
The igbo spoken in Delta wasn’t an imposition neither is it due to trade relationship with eastern igbos,but rather the people in question are aboriginal igbos of there space.
From the information gleaned above, we can evidently say that origin of Benin style of kingship especially among igbos in Delta doesn’t necessarily mean origin of the people. The use of Ada and Eben among these igbo communities is foreign and wasn’t the primordial(first) symbol of authority among igbos in Delta, which before contact with the Benin included the ofo, symbol of ritual authority and priesthood made from a branch of the Detarium elastica tree, usually in the custody of the okpala or okpara, who wielded it as the oldest male member of a lineage and a ritual figure as the compound (ezi, obi) or lineage head. His authority was recognized by members of the lineage for whom he offered sacrifice to the earth goddess (Ala, Ana or Ani, Ali) for their overall welfare and in return received their obedience. Of equal importance was the short wooden-grafted iron spear, which served as staff of peace used for cleansing abominations ( Otonsi ) and staff of political office exclusive to Ozo and related title holders(Alo), as well as the special iron spear (Ngoagiliga) used by Ozo title holders as their staff and one of their paraphernalia of office. The Ozo title enjoyed varied levels of status in the Igbo title system, depending on the community, forming the highest title in some and the lowest in others. title holders olinzene/olinzele, the apex title is the Eze (Nze) as is the case at Nri, essentially a priest king, or Obi, have diffused into the western igbo society long before there contact with the Benin.
Benin language and igbo are not mutually intelligible languages, there subclades,Edoid and igboid are also not mutually intelligible. This means one can’t produce the other but any of them can get enculturated by the other.what this means is…a direct descendant of Benin blood is likely to be Edoid and not igboid or igbo after many years, and vise versa. And for u to have direct Benin blood becoming igboid or igbo speaking, it has to be on land already occupied by igbo dominated culture and language which simply means that the true Benin migrants into the Delta are not aboriginals. Nobody loses his language and names in an empty land.
1.THE GENESIS, DIFFUSION, STRUCTURE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF ΟΖΟ TITLE IN IGBO LAND by M. ANGULU ONWUEJEOGWU.
- Interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, 1789.
3.The lower Niger and its tribes, by Major Arthur Glyn Leonard, 1906
- Exploring voyage up the rivers of kwora and benue by William Balfour Baikie 1854.
Benin factor in the Western Niger igbo history by Emmanuel Nwafor Mordi, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Department of History and International Studies, Delta State University, Abraka (part of the conclusion).