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date: 15 October 2019

Benin, Kingdom oflocked

  • Paula Girshick Ben-Amos

Extract

Kingdom in Edo (formerly Bendel) State, southern Nigeria. Its capital is Benin City. Although the kingdom, the city and its art have become known to the world under the name Benin, the people of Benin call themselves, their kingdom, their city and their language Edo. The kingdom and city of Benin should not be confused with the geographically distinct country of Benin Republic. The art of Benin has probably received more attention than that of any other African tradition. It has been widely illustrated and exhibited (for a selection of publications see bibliography). There is also a large number of collections in museums in Europe and the USA, as well as in Nigeria (for a comprehensive catalogue, see Dark, 1982). For the art of the Edo-speaking peoples outside Benin, see Edo.

When 15th-century Portuguese explorers in search of a route to India arrived in the area that is now southern Nigeria, they found a highly developed state ruled by a powerful king whose armies were in the process of conquering much of the surrounding area. Little is known about the history of Benin before the period of European contact, as archaeological research in the area has been limited. Oral traditions, however, refer to an early dynasty of kings, Ogiso, which was supplanted in or before the 14th century by a new dynasty from the Yoruba kingdom of Ife, to the west of Benin. This new dynasty, which is said to have been founded by a Yoruba prince named Aranmiyan (Yoruba: Oranmiyan), has ruled Benin ever since. In the 1980s and the 1990s the king or ...

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