The bini empire


Edo Cultural Groups at the National Festival of Art and Culture (NAFEST).

Benin: City of tradition and culture

Writing by Jimoh Babatunde

Edo state is the heartbeat of Nigeria and the cultural hub and crossroads of the country. Here a tourist will experience the real excitement of contemporary life and a profound sense of history.

Edo is predominately homogenous and inhabited by Edo-speaking groups. Their behavioral pattern is the same as they tend to trace their ancestry to the Benin kingdom. The Binis speak the Edo language and are widely spread, there are also the Ishan-speaking people as well as the Estakos, the Owans, and Akoko edos.

Edo state being the bastion and citadel of culture in Nigeria is the custodian of important historical artifacts- bronze, brass, woodwork and terracotta.


It is true that since the earliest periods of man’s civilization, professional guilds or societies instituted for the various arts and artists were accorded royal patronage. The guild of wood carvers and that of bronze casters are still operating at Igbesanmwan and Igun streets in Benin City.


Some of the sculptures of the ancient Benin Kingdom

Igun /bronze casters:

Igun-Eronmwon quarters popularly known, as Igun Street Benin City (listed as Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO) is the home of the brass/bronze casting industries in Benin. It constitutes one of the 31 guilds of the Oba of Benin, in the ancient Benin kingdom.

The ancient guild is so secretive and exclusive that outsiders have found virtually impossible to penetrate in the hundreds of years it has existed. All members of the guild are related by a common ancestry and descended of Ine Nigun, the custodian of the street and the bronze casters.

The exact origin of bronze casting in Benin kingdom is hard to establish. What is very certain is that the art has been in practice from primordial reign of the Ogisos, the first royal dynasty without any break though with discernible chronological stages of development. This ancient craft passed from father to son, from generation to generation continually to this day.

In traditional Benin; before the invasions, of Benin Empire, in 1897 by British forces. The Oba controlled the production and the distribution of brass/bronze arts work no single individual have any right to own any of the production process in those days except with the permission of the Oba of Benin.

The story is very different today, visitors are free to admire, and witness bronze casting from the various stages, and purchase any piece of their choice without let or hindrance. This is probably one of the most patronized tourist attractions in Benin kingdom/Edo state.

Igue Festival: Late Oba of Benin, Oba Erediauwa and his chiefs.

The Oba's Palace

The Oba’s palace located with its unique traditional architecture and works of arts dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries is centrally located near the king’s square popularly called Ring road in Benin City. It was learned that the first palace was built by Oba Ewedo in about 1255 AD. It was rebuilt By Oba Eweka II (1914AD-1932AD) after the 1897 infamous British punitive expedition destroyed the former palace.

Anyone who knows the Kingdom properly knows that the palace is regarded as one of the greatest museums in the world because it still holds a large collection of royal court arts, scriptural pieces of past Obas in bronze and ivory, and ancestral shrines. In 1999, UNESCO listed the Oba’s palace, and Igun Street the citadel of brass casting as a cultural heritage sites. It attracts a lot of visitors from far and near all year round.

The Benin Moat

This is one tourist attractions in the ancient city of Benin that might soon go into extinction because of human activities around the various moats. The moats were dug around the 16th century by as a barricade against external aggression, particularly from the neighboring tribes.

Oba Oguola (about 1280-1295) was reported to have dug the first and second moats to fortify the City from invaders; Udo warriors “Iyokuo” under the command of Chief Akpanigiakon a powerful warlord, and the ruler of Udo. Oba Oguola further decreed that important towns and Villages should build similar moats as defense systems around their communities. This gave rise to twenty of such moats around Benin City and its environs.

Oba Oguola succeeded in crushing Chief Akpanigiakon and his powerful armies at the battle of Urhezen about 1285 CE. An extension of the moat was constructed in the 15th century during the reign of the 12th Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473 CE). The Benin moat is over 3200 kilometers long. Iya, as it is popularly called by Binis, is the largest man-made earthwork in the world. One of the wonders of the world. It predates the use of modern earth-moving equipment or technology in these parts.


Holy Aruosa Cathedral was established in 1849, built by Oba Esigie in 1849.

There are three predominant religions practiced by the Binis of edo state. Islam, Christianity, and traditional Religion. Traditional religion is today gradually giving way to the two other religions. The Christian religion was said to have been brought by the Portuguese in the 15th century with three cathedrals built in Erie (Aruosa), Oba market road, and Akpakpava road in Benin City.

The Holy Arousa Cathedral was built in the 15th century and was situated at Akpakpava Street in the ancient city of Benin. Aruosa (Church of Benin) is the Binis version of the Church of England or the Dutch reformed church.

The Portuguese brought Christianity to the imperial Benin kingdom in the 15th century during the reign of Oba Esigie (about 1504-1550) and during this period, Missionaries were sent from Portugal to establish churches in the kingdom. The Benin Monarch is the head of the church, and the priests called Ohen-Osa are responsible to him . The pattern of worship is a mixture of indigenous beliefs and Roman Catholic practices.

Gelegele Fountains & Historical Port of Benin Site:

Gelegele is reported to be the first place of contact with Europeans by Oba Ewuare the Great when one Ruy De Sequeira visited Benin City in 1472. The Portuguese came via the Atlantic Ocean and they finally landed in Gele Gele Sea Port in Benin Nation. The Gele Gele Sea Port was from then onward used predominantly for their legitimate trade with Benin Nation.

It was also recorded that slaves (illegitimate trade) were also conveyed from the region via the Gele Gele Sea Port to Europe. Factually the Portuguese and British Governments used the Gele Gele Sea Port extensively for more than half a century before the 1897 infamous British punitive expedition. This historic Sea Port site is today part of Benin kingdom historical sites.

Captain Phillip’s grave:

The tombstone of Captain James Phillip located at Uruokhokho in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo state, attracts historians, students, researchers, and visitors from across the world all year round. It marks the spot where Captain Phillip and his party on a trade mission to Benin in January 1897 were killed and buried. The event is generally referred to as the Benin massacre which led to the invasion of Benin and the eventual deportation of Oba Ovonramwen to Calabar where he died in 1914 after sixteen years of British captivity.