The Great Kingdom of Benin which had existed for thousands of years, had been shrouded in mystery over centuries as its kings had closely guided the people and the kingdom’s secrets from foreigners. Due to skills of its highly trained army, it rose to become the dominant power in the surrounding West African coast and was at its height in the 15th and 16th century.

In the new empire acquiring era by the Europeans in the 18th century, the Edo kings had sucessfully shielded their people from this threat and had managed to retain the kingdom’s freedom from the empire seeking Europeans right up the late 1890s. This was at a period when others were signing away their territories.

However in 1897, in an effort to overturn this position, the British Acting Consul James Philips, provoked high ranking royal officials when he tried to invade the kingdom during a ceremonial festival not open to foreigners despite pleas from King Ovonramwen to wait a while. He along with other members of his troops were killed in what came to be known as the Benin Massacre; although the circumstances of the events are highly disputed by both sides to this day. 

The Edo accounts were that their customs and their kingdom's security were being compromised by the British, however the British claimed that an unarmed peace mission was attacked and killed by the Edo soldiers. What was not in dispute was that the British were forcefully trying to enter the kingdom during the king's religious festival; why they expected to enter  the kingdom unchallenged remains a mystery.  Invasion remains the only word to describe this.

In an effort to gain support for the subsequent punitive expedition which followed, British officials involved in the exercise wrote various falsehoods about the Kingdom, the King and his chiefs; including unfounded claims of human sacrifice.

With advancement in knowledge and development of forensic science, we can now challenge those claims which they made in their scrapbooks and oral accounts from what we know to be impossible. For instance, we know that the Edos kept alters on which they sacrificed animals but that the British claimed the blood on the alters were human blood this without knowledge of DNA analysis. Also we know more about blood trajectory when a head is severed from the body from Forensic science; and the evidence do not stack up.

Furthermore, we know that throughout British and other European history, artists have drawn imagined images to represent events which did not take place and that some of the images that came out of Benin with them during this time were alien to the Edos and their culture.  An example is the crucifixion trees drawn by the artists, we know that the Edos have never made use of these and have no knowledge of the practice and as such that this was pure fabrication on the part of the British.

I hope that historians will read these modern challenges alongside other historical accounts and sources that were written at the time over one hundred years ago in order to form safe and reliable body of historical evidence on the Kingdom of Benin. 

It is pertinent to bear in mind that the victor’s ‘Holier than thou’ version of events does not represent the full or indeed the true story.  

The kingdom has successfully preserved and passed down its history through oral accounts safeguarded by the elders and chiefs. These are very valid.

Thank you very much.

 Fidelia Nimmons

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