Friday, 2 March 2012

'Black' Pot called Kettle

Obokhain (Welcome)

Picture this!
Take a moment to form a picture of the following scenes in your mind’s eye; hold the resultant images in your head for the remainder of this blog.

According to newspaper report; (Guardian Sep. 16, 1897) The Benin Massacre, Trial of The King. ‘Sir Ralph Moor, the Consul General, is trying the King of Benin at Benin. Two of the chiefs have been convicted and shot. ..Their bodies were hung up to 24 hours.’ Obviously unable to proceed to the next stage in the hung- drawn- quartered and parboiled punishment stage; they not reckoning with the temperate heat decomposing dead bodies within 1 day of life extinction.  This four stage punishment could be achieved in cold climates but not in temperate zones and thank God for that.   
Now, picture the scenes in this Guardian publication of Mar 29, 1897: West Coast of Africa. The Niger Expedition. ‘If any hostility was shown towards the British, then the place was taken, and probably destroyed. This occurred several times during the march, but the officer who gave the information did not remember how many towns and villages were thus destroyed, nor could he give the number of natives who fell in the fighting on the side of the enemy. The maxim, however, made terrible havoc in their ranks. It was the custom of the enemy to carry off their dead, or as many of them as they could take up in their flight, and bury them at once. This made it impossible to obtain anything like an accurate idea of the number killed.’

It is a fact of health precaution that dead bodies have to be buried within 24 hours of extinction in temperate West Africa or they decompose in the hot heat and cause diseases like cholera.   The only way to avoid this is timely burial.
From the accounts by British officials at the coast, it seemed the number of African human sacrifices by the British in the name of empire building did not matter so long as the West Coast of Africa was colonised. Human sacrifice for whatever reason is deplorable even if committed by high ranking British consuls in the colonies.  

The Benin Expedition (1897) case:
We know the following happened from the accounts of those British officials present at the scenes from their records in:

1.       Captain Alan Boisragon: The Benin Massacre. 1898 
2.      Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon: A Naval Scrap-Book , First Part, 1877 – 1900 (1925): 197 – 207
3.      Reuters Special Agents newspaper reports published by the Guardian publications 1890s
4.   Commons Sitting - 22 February 1987: On the motion 'That this House do now adjourn' (HC Deb 22 February 1897 Vol 46 c964).
 Captain Boisragon wrote: ‘The protectorate troops arrived at Ciri about the Fourth of February ‘ (pp.169) they spent the next five days cutting a road through the bush to Warrigi by the 9th; So that by the 10th, the blue jackets and the marines were ready to march on Benin.  By 11th of February, Lieutenant- commander Pritchard and one blue jacket officer who led the flanking columns stockade four miles of Sapobah and a cross road to Benin engaged in battle with and were and killed by Benin soldiers, the British continued to suffer casualties at the stockades in the following days.  Advance on Benin was in full force by the 12th of February led by Admiral Rawson and other officers.  
On 10th of February, Captain O’Callaghan in charge of one attack column, burnt Gilli-Gilli , the frontier Benin Village; and  with further reinforcement of about eighty men, searched the area with volleys and some rounds from the maxim, burnt down Gwatto and ‘after burning down the entire village retired to his boats at the waterside’;  returning four days later on the 14th of February to occupy it.  The Benin soldiers continued to engage British troops till the 18th of February. Captain O’Callaghan left Gwatto on 27th February, spending 17 days in total at the fighting post.

Another column advanced from Ilogbo on 12th February, they were immediately engaged by Benin soldiers and found advancement towards Benin very slow on account of this. As Benin soldiers were invisible, the maxim was employed to clear the path. On 18th February, as the British neared Benin, about some 300 hundred yards, they bombarded it with rockets, volleys and shells from their maxim and seven pounders. It was on getting into the city that any Benin soldier was actually seen, causing the British much trouble (Boisragon p. 181); at this point  the British yet again suffered  more casualties.  He went on to add ‘After six days hard marching and fighting, in the most extreme heat, the men were naturally exhausted.’ (Boisragon p.182); this differs from the account reported back in Britain that it took 8hours of fighting to capture Benin.

Whilst the British in their accounts back to the British press, put their casualty figures at four whites, including Dr Fyfe, killed, and 16 whites wounded with 9 blacks wounded, 130,000 Benin soldiers were mowed down by the maxim not including innocent citizens killed by rockets.
Boisragon admitted  that ‘The whole force was engaged for the remainder of 19th, 20th and 21st in clearing the city as much as possible.’; for as Captain Bacon stated ‘ We found the  town quite deserted, every inhabitant had decamped.’  They in effect spent three days on a burning spree around town, burning every structure they suspected was to do with the king and his chiefs. There was perhaps some sense in this for the city needed to be cleansed of dead rotting bodies from their maxims devastations.  The British however twisted the truth to point at ‘sacrificial and crucifixion trees’ and ‘the whole of the Juju houses’, (pp.184) the stuff Indiana Jones movies were made of.  

It is safe at this point to argue with the evidence now before us that the claims by the British that Benin was full of dead bodies from the king’s human sacrifices were indeed those of the thousands of victims who were slaughtered by the maxims, volleys and rockets from the British.
“The one lasting remembrance of Benin in my mind.” Wrote Commander Bacon, the intelligence officer, later, “is its smells, crucifixions, human sacrifices, and every horror the eye could get accustomed to...  “Blood was everywhere.”

This situation could only have resulted from the dead bodies left by the British maxims and seven pounders. One can imagine the horrors that met the Benin people’s eyes when faced with such terror and which forced them to evacuate or be killed. It must however be acknowledged that those British officials did a very good job in covering their tracks by pointing their guilty blood stained fingers at the King of Benin.
Savage brutes were savage brutes, no matter their mission.  It sounds so weird when Pot calls Kettle ‘Black’.

Oba Ghato; Okpere!
Long live the king!

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