15 From Local Communities to Megacommunity: Biniland in the 1 st



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15

From Local Communities to

Megacommunity: Biniland in

the 1st Millennium B.C.–19th Century A.D.*


Dmitri M. Bondarenko

Center for Civilizational and Regional Studies, Moscow

The task of this article is to trace in general outline the process of maybe the most impressive precolonial Tropical African polity formation in terms of the 13–19th centuries Benin Kingdom character and socio-political structure.

The ancestors of the Bini came to their final place of inhabitance in the depth of tropical forest to the west from the river Niger in its lower current and the delta region from the savanna belt, most probable, the Niger-Benue confluence area. After about three thousand years of life in the savanna, they started penetrating into the forest in the 3rd–2nd millennia B.C. and finally migrated there in the 1st millennium B.C. (Bondarenko and Roese 1999). It seems reasonable to suppose that the proto-Bini were inclined to leaving their historical pro-motherland due to climatic changes in North and West Africa from the 7th millennium B.C. on. They resulted in the cutting down of the savanna grassland territory both from the north (because of the progressive aridity that led to the extension of the Sahara desert) and from the south where the tropical forest advanced (Omokhodion 1986: 3–4). The savanna then became unable to provide support to the same quantity of people as before, and made these or those groups to migrate.

But the peoples of the Kwa ethno-linguistic group, including ancestors of the Bini were not the first peoples to settle in the forest belt of the Upper Guinea coast. In the territory of medieval Benin the human being first appeared not later than five thousand years ago, if not earlier (Connah 1975: 247–248). The Bini recall the country aborigines as the ‘Efa’.

Bondarenko / From Local Communities to Megacommunity: Biniland in the 1st Millennium B.C.–19th Century A.D., pp. 325–363

Very little can be said about the latter up to our present-day knowledge and hardly there is a hope for its radical increase without additional archaeological surveys. But what is evident, is that the autochthonous peoples of the forest, being already hoe agriculturalists by the Bini's advent (Esan 1960: 75; Agiri 1975: 166), of which their settlements' stable, permanent character is an important indicator, had the local community level as the utmost for the socio-political organization (Bondarenko and Roese 1998a).

It is reasonable to suppose that at first, from the arrival and sedentarization of the Kwa in the forest, two blocks of ethnic groups co-existed there living open-fieldly. But eventually the Bini, evidently by force imposed themselves above the Efa having transformed ethnocultural differences into socio-political either. Then, partially due to intermarriages, partially and predominantly culturally because of the prestigious character of the elite culture, the Bini assimilated the Efa though their descendants hold some quite important priestly posts within the Benin system of religious and tightly connected with them political institutions practically up till now (see Eweka 1992: 74; Bondarenko and Roese 1998a: 24–25).

The first Bini-speakers in the forest were still foragers and it no doubt took them time for all-sided adaptation under new ecological conditions to undergo not merely economic but also sociocultural and political changes. The transition to agriculture took place later, in the end of the 1st millennium B. C. – the 1st half of the 1st millennium A. D. (Shaw 1978: 68; Ryder 1985: 371; Connah 1987: 140–141) though hunting and gathering stayed rather important means of subsistence for a thousand years more (Morgan 1959: 52; Roese and Rees 1994). In the social sphere, the formation of the extended family community and its institutions of government marked this radical change and characterized that period of the Bini history from the socio-political viewpoint (Bondarenko and Roese 1998b).

The rise of independent communities turned out the earliest stage of the process that finally resulted in the appearance of the Benin Kingdom. Since then the extended family community was the primordial, substratum socio-political institution of the Bini. It stayed the basic one – socio-politically, culturally, economically – later, during and after the formation of supra-communal levels of the Benin society. And just its norms in the socio-political sphere, its mentality and picture of the Universe not only permeated and fastened together all the levels of the later complex Benin society. The extended family community also formed the background and pattern for the evolution of the Bini society though changes at the transition from lower levels to higher were of not only quantitative but of qualitative character as well (see: Bondarenko 1995a: 134, 227–230, 257–264, 276–284).

Hoe agriculturalism was among the factors that promoted such a course of events. The woody natural environment of the region prevented the introduction of the plough and individualization of agricultural production promoting the formation of the community just of that type and conserving the extended family community as the basic social unit for hardly not an immense prospect (Bondarenko 1995a: 101–117). It still exists generally the same in Biniland today. And just this stability of the basic socio-political unit lets us extrapolate ethnographic data on earlier periods of the Bini socio-political history with quite a considerable degree of plausibility (Bradbury 1964).

The principle of seniority, so characteristic in a greater or lesser degree of all the levels of the Bini social being in the time of the kingdom, was rooted in the communal three-grade system of male age-sets (for details, see: Thomas 1910: 11–12; Talbot 1926: III, 545–549; Bradbury 1957: 15, 32, 34, 49–50; 1969; 1973a: 170–175; Igbafe 1979: 13–15; Bondarenko 1995a: 144–149). Each age-grade carried out definite tasks, its members shared common duties, distinctive from those of the other two grades. The obligation of the eldest age-grade members, just called the edion, the ‘elders’ (sing. odion) was to rule on the family (egbe) as well as on the communal levels. The ancestors' cult fixed the position of every person in the Universe and in the Benin society as its the most important part. And just elder people naturally were considered the closest to the ancestors thus being able to play the role of mediators between them and the living better than anybody else.

The edion age-grade members, including heads and representatives without fail of all the extended families which the given community comprised (Egharevba 1949: 13–14; Bradbury 1957: 29; 1973a: 156), formed the community council. That well-organized council of elders appointed and invested the oldest person of the community, the head of the senior age-grade to be the council and the whole community leader as well. He bore the title of odionwere (pl. edionwere). So, the head of the whole community could easily represent not the family of his predecessor: there was not one privileged family in the initial Bini community. (In the case when there was only one extended family forming the community, the heads and representatives of its nuclear families became the family and the community council members at one time. And the heads of the community and the extended family, the odionmwan also coincided in one person. But such communities were exceptions to the rule [Egharevba 1949: 11]).

The community council gathered on the initiative of the head of the community or of an extended family council (Sidahome: 114). It took a real and active part in the management, discussing and solving (at the head's right of the decisive voice) the whole range of the communal problems: those connected with land use, legal proceedings and so on and so forth (Egharevba 1949: 11; Bradbury 1957: 33–34; 1973a: 172, 179–180; 1973b: 243; Sidahome: 127; Uwechue: 145).

The most archaic form of government, the public assembly probably was of some significance that distant time, too for we find reminiscences of it in the council members' right to apply to wide circles of communalists for consultations and maybe in rare ‘deaf’ hints of the oral tradition (Egharevba 1965: 15). The existence of the public assembly is ethnographically fixed among socio-politically less developed ethnic groups of Southern Nigeria including some Bini and kindred to them (Talbot: III, 565), what also can be considered an indirect proof of its presence in early Benin.

The major reason for the very existence of the institution of edionwere in people's minds reflected in the principles of their appointment, defined the ritual function as the most important among edionwere's duties. Besides this, the worship of the deities and the ancestors on behalf of the people by the odionwere further strengthened the position of this dignitary. But in the initial Bini community its head, the odionwere was not merely the ritual leader. He was responsible for the division of the communal land, was the judge on the communal level, the keeper and guard of traditions, etc. (Bradbury 1957: 32–33; 1973a: 176–179). Edionwere received gifts from those governed by him, but they were practically entirely of the prestigious and ritual character (Talbot: III, 914): economically they depended on their families.

However, in the middle of the 1st millennium A. D. (Obayemi 1976: 256) the conditions for further political centralization and concentration of power grew ripe.

The division of authorities in the community into ritual, left for the odionwere, and profane was the next step of the Bini socio-political organization evolution. That step was connected with the process of overcoming the communal level as the utmost with the formation of the first major supra-communal level of the societal organization. This level appeared in the hierarchical form of the chiefdom.

It is remarkable that prior to that time communities also could form unions (Egharevba 1952: 26, 1965: 12). Joint meetings of councils of such unions members' communities were presided over by the senior odionwere, chosen according to age or in conformity with the precedence of certain villages over others (Bradbury 1957: 34). But such a union of communities was not a chiefdom, ‘an autonomous political unit comprising a number of villages or communities under the permanent control of a paramount chief’ (Carneiro: 45) for such unions voluntarily comprised basically still independent and politically equal to each other communities. The head of a union was the oldest man of all the union's edion, not obligatory a representative of a concrete community (hence not a ‘paramount chief’) for, due to the fact of independence and equality of communities-members of the union, there was not a privileged, politically dominating one among them though a prominent odionwere taking over political responsibility and caring for the people might acquire great power.

But the chiefdom as a form of socio-political organization quickly superseded the union of independent and equal communities in the degree of spread over Biniland and its role in further socio-political and historical fortunes of the people. At the same time, both independent communities and unions of independent equal communities went on existing alongside with chiefdoms. And later, within the kingdom such formerly independent local communities enjoyed autonomy and their edionwere were comparable by their status to heads of also autonomous chiefdoms (Bradbury 1957: 34; Bondarenko 1995a: 164–173, 184–185). Thus two types of communities appeared: without a privileged family in which the only ruler, the odionwere could represent any kin group, and with such a family in cases when the onogie existed in a community alongside with the odionwere (Thomas 1910: 12; Egharevba 1956: 6; Bradbury 1957: 33; 1973a: 177–179). And just communities of the second type formed cores of chiefdoms.

It was not basically obligatory for the division of authorities in the process of chiefdoms formation to happen. Some scholars even postulate the sacrality of the paramount authority as one of the chiefdom's characteristic features (see Kradin: 16–17). There are some indications that powerful personalities among the edionwere might go a step further and undertake the venture to bring under their rule neighbouring communities with less fortunate leaders. Igbafe describes such a situation as follows: an odionwere ...would justify his claim to rule other rulers of small communities by surrounding himself with supernatural airs and attributes and would plead divine mission as an explanation for his leadership role’ (Igbafe 1974: 2). And even in this century there are some communities in Biniland in which the hereditary, not elect of the edion members ruler is the priest (ohe) of a communal deity, though these cases may be of the later, the Kingdom period origin (Bradbury 1957: 33).

But under concrete Bini conditions edionwere generally proved to be unable to ensure the success of military activities via which the road to the chiefdom passes. Then, the odionwere still was too tightly connected with his local community, was associated with it only and was considered only its legitimate ruler as the descendant of just its inhabitants' ancestors. His profane endeavorings were restrained by his sacral, ritual duties that were the main for him, irrespective of whether he was the only head of the given community or shared power with the onogie (see Bondarenko and Roese 1998: 369–371). Due to these reasons, the Bini chiefdoms formed exclusively round communities with the division of authorities into the odionwere's ritual and the onogie's (pl. enigie) profane, including military, offices. (Though the odionwere exists in every Benin community up till now). So only the bearer of the profane office could become the head of the chiefdom (Bradbury 1957: 33; Egharevba 1960: 4). The onogie's community was as privileged in the chiefdom as the family of the community head in the latter. And the ancestors' cult of the chiefdom head was similar to those of the family and community heads on the higher level and to the royal ancestors' cult on the lower one (Bradbury 1973b: 232).

The definition of the odionwere and the onogie's offices as correspondingly ritual and profane is to some extent conditional for the former might preserve some duties of the latter kind. But they could never be the most important, essential for him, on the contrary to the onogie who was concentrated practically on profane responsibilities only. Not by chance ‘in villages without enigie meetings of the village council take place either at the house of the odionwere or in a special meeting-house, ogwedio, which contains the shrine of the collective dead (edio) of the village. But ‘in villages with a hereditary headman meetings are convened at his house’ (Bradbury 1957: 34). Thus sometimes the odionwere and the onogie's spheres of activities could overlap and the actual division of authority in a concrete village partially depended on the relative strength of its two rulers (Bradbury 1957: 33, 65, 73–74). But that was possible only on the communal level, for the odionwere of the onogie's village most often had not enough influence on the supra-communal level, that of the chiefdom with his community as the privileged one.

So, the transition of the Bini sociopolitical organization from the communal to the first supra-communal level, the process which started in the Western African forest belt in the middle of the 1st millennium A.D. was connected with the appearance of the institution of the profane ruler (onogie) in a part of local communities alongside with the older office of the odionwere. The appearance of the onogie, first made the communal system of government more complicated and, then the complexity of the sociopolitical organization of the Bini increased either.

There also was the chiefdom council that was similar to corresponding familial and communal institutions. Besides the heads of the whole chiefdom and communities, the chiefdom composed of, the chiefdom edio formed that council (Egharevba 1949: 11; Sidahome 1964: 100, 158, 164). Thus the senior age-grade played the leading part in governing the chiefdom, as it played it on the family and community levels (Bradbury 1957: 16).

The chiefdoms formation represented an important step in the process of both ethnic and sociopolitical unification of the Bini, for the quantity of their independent societies (previously always equal to local communities) decreased while their size, territorial and by population enlarged. But why and how did chiefdoms appear among the Bini? What their rulers, the enigie were? And what is the link between the processes of the rise of chiefdoms and proto-cities in Biniland?

The very possibility of the increasing of the sociopolitical integration level by means of the neighboring communities' unification was determined by the development of agriculture, the growth of its productivity on the basis of new technologies that appeared due to the introduction of iron and, as the result, the increase of population quantity and density just from the middle of the 1st millennium A.D. (Connah 1975: 242; 1987: 141–145; Oliver and Fagan 1975: 65; Obayemi 1976: 257–258; Atmore and Stacey: 1979: 39; Darling 1981: 114–118; 1984: II, 302; Shaw 1984: 155–157). This, in its turn simultaneously led to a violent competition for environmental resources, the land for cultivation first of all. The impetus given by the introduction of iron and thus the development of agriculture was so great that it has even been suggested, though it really looks‘mysterious that the density of rural population in the area five hundred years ago was ten times what it is today...’ (Isichei 1983: 266; also see Connah 1975: 242; Darling 1981: 107, 111), and in the middle of the 20th century the population density in then Benin Division was about 73 per sq mile (Bradbury 1957: 19). In particular, a survey of an ancient linear earthworks in Umwan north of Benin City revealed that the wall enclosed a territory of about 17 sq miles with the population of about 6,000 (Connah 1975: 242; Maliphant et al. 1976: 128).

But the chiefdom is not a mere union of communities. It is a hierarchically organized society in which one of the communities is privileged for only its head becomes the chief of the whole society and not always the factors mentioned above lead to a hierarchical form of a supra-communal society (Berezkin 1995a, 1995b; Korotayev 1995a, 1995b; Bondarenko 1997c: 11–15; 1998b, 1998c). Thus there must be some additional factors push-ing a group of communities on this way of unification. Up to our present-day knowledge, it is reasonable to postulate two factors of such a kind.

The choice of an evolutionary pathway which a given society will follow during the next period of its history is in the decisive measure a result of the all-round adaptation of the society to outer conditions of its existence, the environment, not only natural but also socio-historical. Both of them promoted the hierarchical, towards and via chiefdoms evolution of the Bini. The natural environment dictated the type of subsistence economy that demanded regular land clearings and extenuation of agricultural territories. ‘Even before the first contacts with Europe West African cultivators cut down vast areas of forest and replaced it by cropland and fallow’ (Morgan 1959: 48). Thus besides conserving the hierarchically organized extended family community this way of production led to conflicts with neighbors for the land. And the sociopolitical situation, the life alternate with the first, pre-Bini settlers, the Efa with their natural claims for superiority over newcomers also was an obvious cause for the military way of unification and chiefdom organization of neighboring groups of the Bini communities. The introduction of iron played an extremely important role in the intensification of military activities in the area, not less important than in the demographic sphere (Bondarenko 1999: 25–26).

But the matter is that, as it seems the unification of the Bini communities was peaceful (Igbafe 1974: 2–3; Obayemi 1976: 242; Connah 1987: 136; Eweka 1989: 11). At the same time, it is reasonable to conclude that the unification of a few communities, though it was peaceful was a union for the sake of more effective military struggle against another group of communities, a separate community or foreign invaders. It is obvious that the Efa might be such an ‘irritator’ for the Bini. Where a few Bini communities lived side by side they could unite; communities separated from other Bini had none to unite with and stayed independent beyond the chiefdom system.

The hereditary leader appeared in a group of communities naturally, spontaneously in the course of the struggle against enemies having demonstrated exceptional bravery, strength, finesse, talent to rise people for heroic deeds. For the most valuable for people under such circumstances dignity is connected with the war, just that heroic leader becomes the most popular figure in that group of communities. First he became the recognized by all the communities military chief and then transcended his authority into the inner-group of communities sphere settling disputes between members of different villages under his control, convoking and presiding over chiefdom meetings, stationing title-holders in all the villages it comprised (Bradbury 1957: 34). Eventually, he made his post hereditarily attributed to his native community thus transforming it into privileged (as well as his own family in the latter), on the one hand, and into a community with the division of authorities, on the other hand. And that was the moment of the hierarchy among the communities, the moment of the chiefdom appearance.

So we may conclude that the Bini chiefdoms were born out of peaceful unification of communities in finally victorious struggle against the Efa for the land, as a result of which the latter were gradually assimilated (Bondarenko 1999: 27). But of course later or even parallelly the Bini chiefdoms could also start opposing each other (Darling 1988: 129).

There were not less than 130 chiefdoms all over Biniland (not only inside but also within the Ogiso's possessions) in the beginning of the 2nd millennium (Obayemi 1976: 242). The Biniland linear earthworks – walls and ditches (iya) are signs of their existence in the past (Connah 1975: 237–242; Obayemi 1976: 242; Isichei 1983: 135–136, 265–266; Darling 1984: I, 119–124, 130–142; 1988: 127). At the present state of the Bini studies, we may regard the Idogbo (Iyeware) (Darling 1984: I, 119–124) and Okhunmwun (Iyek'Uselu) (Darling 1984: I, 130–142) chiefdoms, thoroughly examined by Darling classical patterns or examples of that type of society in the country.

He estimates the first case as illustrative for the phase of ‘the rise of a petty chiefdom’. Idogbo comprised six villages on the territory of 6 sq km surrounded by primary iya. Darling especially stresses that the iya promoted the pacification and unification of neighboring villages in the chiefdom in the struggle for the land. And at the same moment, the iya were helpful at wartime defending the chiefdom from invaders (also see: Darling 1984: II, 303–307). All the settlements within the chiefdom unanimously recognized the Idogbo village's seniority. Traditions of both Idogbo itself and all her neighbors agree that the former originated within the primary iya in the pre-dynastic period when it was known as ‘Edogbo’ meaning ‘neighbor’.

The further evolution of the Idogbo chiefdom in pre-dynastic times was evidently connected with the subsequent growth of population pressure within the iya for it is likely that most of the separate village wards which constructed the primary iya later moved out and became nuclei of new settlements correspondingly erecting new iya enclosures. As the result, the chiefdom embraced several settlements over a territory of at least 2,400 ha.

Okhunmwun is considered by Darling ‘a powerful petty chiefdom’. Seven villages with the total population of 1,120–1,750 comprised it on about 17 sq km. By Darling, 1,500 people is just a sufficient size of a sociopolitical organism for the erecting the original iya, i.e. in the majority of cases for its constituting as a chiefdom. The Okhunmwun chiefdom came into being as a result of the increase of population density engendered by double population pressure: due to migrations and natural growth of the local population.

Now it is also easy to explain why the enigie came to power being as a rule younger than edionwere and why the very division of authority in chiefdom-forming communities happened. The elders (the edionwere) were not able to demonstrate bravery and strength in the battlefield. Furthermore, it was not a senior's duty to fight. That was an obligation of the second age-grade, the ighele members. Just from the ighele the military leader, the future head of the chiefdom naturally singled out. And that is why ‘when an onogie dies, the eldest son automatically succeeds him’ (Sidahome 1964: 49; also see Bradbury 1957: 33), regularly just an ighele member. Not by chance the ighele meeting place was the center of the whole chiefdom's public life (Obayemi 1976: 243). All this was a blow to the monopoly of the gerontocratic principle of management among the Bini.

The city formation among the Bini was directly connected with the rise of chiefdoms. The process of city formation started practically simultaneously with the period of rapid growth of chiefdoms. As a matter of fact, early proto-city centers were not simple amalgamations of communities but actually chiefdoms (Jungwirth 1968a: 140, 166; Ryder 1969: 3; Onokerhoraye 1975: 296–298; Darling 1988: 127–129; Bondarenko 1995a: 190–192; 1995d: 145–147; 1999). The heads of the proto-city communities formed the chiefdom council. It looks plausible that in Benin City these heads were the later Uzama Nihinron chiefs (Ikime 1980: 110; Isichei 1983: 136), members of the first category of title-holders established by the first ruler of the 2nd (Oba) dynasty, Eweka I. The Uzama Nihinron leader, the Oliha, on whose initiative the most important decisions of these chiefs in the pre-Oba time are also attributed, could well be the onogie of the then Benin City chiefdom and the head of the council which consisted of communal edionwere and other edio including three other later Uzama Nihinron members. So, the rise of chiefdoms was both a precondition and an aspect of the city formation process being an outcome partially of the same factors; for example, the demographic growth of communities.

Someone getting acquainted with the Benin history may be misled by an outstanding role of Benin City in it and think that the Bini society was being built up round her from the very beginning. In reality, the process of growth and unification of chiefdoms and communities was on in different parts of Biniland and not less than ten proto-city settlements had appeared at the time of chiefdoms' rapid growth, by the brink of the millennia (Darling 1988: 127). They struggled with each other for the role of the sole place of attraction for the overwhelming majority if not all the Bini, of the focal point of their culture in the broadest meaning of the word, their political and in connection with it sacro-ritual center. The 130 Bini chiefdoms and a great many of independent communities drew towards different proto-cities. At last, Benin City gained victory (Talbot 1926: I, 153, 156–157; Egharevba 1949: 90; 1960: 11–12, 85; Ryder 1969: 3; Onokerhoraye 1975: 97; Bondarenko 1995a: 93–96; 1995c: 216–217; 1995d: 145–146). Due to the obtaining of the exclusive political function and position, she grew and became a true traditional city while the rest proto-cities went down to the level of big villages (Darling 1988: 133).

That was also the eventual fortune of Udo, the most violent rival of Benin City (Talbot 1926: I, 160; Macrae Simpson 1936: 10; Egharevba 1964: 9), though oral historical traditions prompt that probably just she was the original settlement of the Ogiso (‘rulers from the sky’), the Benin supreme rulers of the mysterious so-called ‘1st dynasty’ of the late 1st – the early 2nd millennia A. D. With its coming to power the period of the Bini chiefdoms' flourishing is associated, and its reign gave an additional impetus to their further appearance and growth. And at the same moment, that was the time of the first attempt of establishing not only supra-communal but also supra-chiefdom authority in the country; to be distinct, in the part of Biniland round Benin City, the appearance of which predated the 1st dynasty time (Roese 1990: 8; Aisien 1995: 58, 65).

The Ogiso rule is supposed to last for a few centuries. In the very beginning of the period the country's name was Igodomigodo (‘Town of Towns’ or ‘Land of Igodo’) (Egharevba 1965: 18). It is considered that altogether 31 ‘kings’ ruled, but this figure, of course may be conditional, hardly it is not so. Above all, the Ogiso lists made by different native historians are not completely identical in terms of the length of the Ogiso period, the rulers names and the order of their appearance on the throne (Egharevba 1960: 3; Eweka 1989: 12, 1992: 4).

There is very little material available about the coming to power and reign of the first Ogiso, Igodo. Maybe he is a purely mythological figure. The version of the oral tradition offered by politically engaged local historians tells that he lived long and had a great number of descendants. He was Bini but resided not in Benin City but a few kilometers east of her, at the settlement of Ugbekun, and died there (Egharevba 1965: 13; Ebohon 1972: 80–83). Ugbekun is, even today, the residence of the Ohenso (Ohen Iso), the priest of the shrine of the Ogiso (‘aro-iso’ means ‘altar of the sky’) which each Oba is obliged to visit before the coronation ceremony (see Jungwirth 1968b: 68; Ebohon 1972: 80–81; Roese 1993: 455). It is reasonable to conclude that just due to its reputation of the cradle of the Benin polity this village became an important religious and ritual center: Ebohon describes eight other shrines besides aro-iso at Ugbekun, devoted to various ‘juju’ – local deities, not straightly connected with the sociopolitical history of the country (Ebohon 1972: 82–83).

Darling writes: ‘...Benin's territorial and political rights have been transposed back in time to legitimize later conquests – new termed “rebellions” within its subsequent kingdom area. ...Udo – an independent rival kingdom until its early 16th century conquest by Benin – is regarded as having been rebellious since Ogiso... times...’ (Darling 1988: 131). In the light of this we may suppose that the first Ogiso's coming to power and the establishment of the very institution of the Ogiso was far from being peaceful; Igodo was not ‘made’ the Ogiso, as Egharevba, as well as another Benin court historian, Eweka wishes to represent the event (Eweka 1989: 11), but ‘became’ him.

A completely different traditional version of the founding of the 1st dynasty was put down by indifferent to local ‘political games’ Europeans – Macrae Simpson, Talbot, Page, and Jungwirth (Macrae Simpson 1936: 10; Talbot 1926: I, 153; Page 1944: 166; Jungwirth 1968b: 68). According to it, the first Ogiso was a warrior of Yoruba origin. It argued that Yoruba ‘…raiders, entering Benin from the North-west, in the neighbourhood of present day Siluku, gradually penetrated Benin where they eventually established themselves in complete mastery. The first raid was led by Ogodo... He made little headway, but his son Ogiso appears to have had more success’ (Macrae Simpson 1936: 10).

Talbot's relation of the version heard by him holds that the first Yoruba chief's name was Igudu. Then came Erhe, a son of the ruler of Ife with some of his followers. However, they were not able to gain any influence. The Erhe's son Ogiso finally went back to Ife (Talbot 1926: I, 153).

With Ere, also Yoruba, the son (or grandson) and successor of Igodo, as it seems, the first real figure appears on the Benin historical stage. He actually was the most prominent among all the Ogiso while we now know nothing or only names about many of his successors.

Ere changed the name of the country from Igodomigodo to Ile meaning ‘House’; this name was in use till the very end of the Ogiso period (Egharevba 1956: 3). Under the rule of Ere the permanent establishment of the monarchy and administration of the supra-communal level were introduced (in particular, four of the later Uzama members' offices: the Oliha, Edohen, Ero, and Eholo N'Ire)




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