The premier web site of Edo speaking people.
Nation of people who are mostly located in the Midwestern part of Nigeria, Western Africa.
THE OLD EDO HISTORIANS - NEED FOR A BETTER APPRECIATION
UYILAWA USUANLELE, INSTITUTE OF BENIN STUDIES; firstname.lastname@example.org
The article titled "The old Edo historians" by Dr Ademola Iyi-Eweka made very interesting reading. But I feel that there is still the need to deepen the knowledge of our people on this very important aspect of our history, so that we can have a better appreciation of the patriotic work these old historians did, the circumstances in which they worked , the sources and nature of ideas which informed their thoughts and their motives . It is in this light that I am making this contribution to support the effort of Dr.Iyi- Eweka on this subject.
It is a fact that Talbot was the first to trace the "Origin" of Edo people to Sudan in the East . The colonial racist under-pinning of such historiography was to infuse the people with a perpetual feeling of inferiority, by crediting African achievements to their association with a caucasian hamitic race thereby denying Africans of their history. But this hamitic hypothesis has since been demystified and largely discarded, in spite of Chiekh Anta Diops seminal thesis on The African Origin of Civilization, in which he made a strong case for the linkage of African history with Egypt in order to establish the common origin and unity of African peoples. T he rejection of the hamitic hypothesis came long after Chief Jacob Egharevba had published his magnus opus A short history of Benin, which was a major contribution to the development of African Historiography , which was still then in its infancy and unweaned from racist colonial historiography.
It must be noted that Chief Dr. Jacob Egharevba did not really start out as a peddler of Tabolt�s variant of the hamitic hypothesis which traced Benin�s origin to Egypt. Egharevba�s first book Ekhara vb� itan Edo (1933) and its first translation A short history of Benin (Lagos, C.M.S Bookshop1936) opened thus
Many, many years ago, Odua ( oduduwa) of uhe( Ile-Ife) the father and the progenitor
of the Yoruba Kings sent his eldest son Obagodo who took the title of Ogiso with a
large retinue all the way from Uhe to found a Kingdom in this part of the World.
At the moment of his departure his father gave him a charm in the form of a snail
shell containing some earth to invest him with absolute power and right over the
lands that should come under his sway".P.7
Egharevba made no mention of Egypt or any other Eastern civilization. Prof. Toyin Falola and Mr. Uyilawa Usuanlele have shown in " A comparison of Jacob Egharevba�s Ekhere vb� Itan Edo and the four editions of the English translation of A short History of Benin" , History in Africa, vol.25 1998 that in the Edo and first English edition that.
Egharevba provide two accounts of the origin of Benin Empire and its Kingship
institution.He does not seem to be interested in reproducing these oral traditions as
he heard them. Rather, he t ries to produce a story that appears real. Hence he writes that
"one can imagine how grea and tedious the task of reducing to comprehensive facts
the stories which were told by superstitious native historians in peculiar ways blending
with myth , miracles and fables". Thus he seems to have combined materials from one
of the myths( the snail shell story which is reproduced in full by Bradbury R.E. the Benin
Kingdom and the Edo speaking peoples of south western Nigeria, London 1957, P. 19)
with other traditions of migration and contact with Ile-Ife, in order to make his accounts
look realistic" p.370
Egharevba was not also the first Edo historian to trace Edo Origin to Egypt. Before him in 1937, a committee of six which included , Y.O.Eke ( a literate trader) , H.O.Uwaifo (an ex- student of Kings college, Lagos, Government clerical service examination certificate holder , Ex-second- class clerk, pensioner,
author and social critic).E. E. Omere (ex-pupil of Government school, Benin City, Government clerical service examination certificate holder, Ex- second class clerk and Timber exporter),H.O. Amadasun
( a literate trader) Y.O.Okunzuwa (an ex- pupil of Government school Benin City and trader) and Chief J.U. Egharevba (Ex- pupil of St. Matthew�s C.M.S. School,Benin City and Printer) had written an independent intelligence report for the colonial Government which was later published by H.O.Uwaifo as+ Benin Community Intelligence Report on Benin Division, being the political history of Benin from 1936 to 1948 (Oshogbo F.M.S. Press N.D) in which they wrote that
Of the six , though Egharevba was not the least educated, he was also not the most exposed and influential.
These later qualities seem to belong to H.O.Uwaifo , whose education at Kings College , Lagos exposed to Pan � African Nationalist ideas. As early as the 1920s he was already single handedly fighting against European racial bigotry in the colonial Government service. He was from the 1930s the arrow head of Benin people�s struggle against colonial autocracy(disguised as monarchical despotism ) and for the institution of democracy in the Native Administration of Benin Division. This was to earn Benin Division the first democratically elected native administration in Nigeria (outside the colony of Lagos and municipality of Calabar). Uwaifo�s leadership of this committee and later publication of the report undoubtedly indicate his overwhelming influence on the report.
The committees linkage of Benins with Egypt was not borne out of desire to associate with any Caucasian race as posited by the European hamitic hypothesis peddlers . Rather they were conscious of the Africanness of Egyptian civilization -an idea which was current among Pan-Aficanist of that period. Since Egypt the cradle of civilization was African, the committee reasoned and hypothesized that, Benin�s genius must have been derived from Egypt. Hence the committee compared certain aspects of Benin culture with those of Pharoahic Egypt. Members of the committee of six were very conscious of Benin�s rich cultural heritage and never felt inferior to any Caucasian race. Egharevba in lamenting the confusion which colonial administration had wrecked on Benin culture wrote that,
Although not as far advanced as the Europeans , yet our social life before their advent
was not a chaos. Our method of Government, our administration of law , our system
of landholding , our farming and forced labour and festivities were well regulated.
Each man knew his place and his work and could regulate his daily life accordingly
The Christian Gospel and some of the European institutions and ways of life which
we see to be good have to be fitted in with our older framework. It is no easy task.
But a pre-requisite of any success is a proper understanding of the old Benin was of life.
It was with this nationalist frame of mind that the committee of six including Chief Jacob Egharevba approached the development of Benin Historiography. It was nationalist in outlook (not different from aspects our traditional philosophy � Evbo omwan e re a ro ne amen ro yi meaning it is one�s hometown that one desires the rain to fall on) and meant to inspire confidence and hope in their cullture and community, rather than bow to British inspired superiority complex which was dismissed with the saying -vbe Ebo ma e re, a ma ruan ebe oghede � when the European had not come, people did not wrap themselves in leaves.
Egharevba�s adoption of Eastern origin for Benin was first published in 1953 with the release of he second edition of A Short history of Benin and was amplified in The Origin of Benin (1954) and Bini Titles (1956) where he acknowledged Talbot�s People of Southern Nigeria.It was also during this period that he also started to acknowledge African writers like Samuel Johnson (The History of the Yoruba�s and Lucas for his Some tribal gods of southern Nigeria . Jacob Egharevba�s hypothesis on the origin of Benin henceforth was an attempt to marry the ideas of committee of six Egyptian- origin, Talbot;s -Sudanic Origin and Johnson/Lucas � flight from Islamic takeover of Mecca and Egypt origin as well as the oral tradition of relationships between the monarchies of Benin and Ife. This latter influence of especially European [and African] writing on the thought of Egharevba began around 1947 when the took up employment as the founding curator of Benin Museum under the Department of Antiquities. This gave him access to lot of published works and European officials and scholars as well as Africans which further enriched his ideas. Egharevba�s attempt at the marriage of thee idea�s might also not be unconnected with criticism of his work by the emergent literati of better certificated Benin�s like late Chief D. N. Oronsaye (who had acquired B. A. Intermediate certificate in the late 1940�s and one of the leading lights of that period) whose critique of Egharevba was published post-humously as The history of Benin kingdom and Empire (1996).
Failing health and subsequent loss of sight from 1953 ended his research efforts and slowed down his prolific writing career which yeilded about thirty three books and book lets on the history and culture of Benin kingdom, Edo people and their neighbours. Inspite of Egharevbas educated limitations, he was receptive to criticisms and new ideas in the documentation of Edo history and culture. But this neither made him a blind follower of European writers nor make him to reject African ideas and historiography.For instance he disagreed with late Dr. R. E. Bradbury�s attempt to reduce the Ogiso period of Benin history to mythology and contested it with new findings which increased documentation on the Ogiso period .Until the 1999 release of Dr. O. S. B. Omoregie�s Great Benin series vols. 1-v, no other writer has been able to provide some flesh for that period of Benin History which Dr Omoregie described as " The foundation of Benin civilisation ".
It is in the light of their fearless spirit of nationalism and patriotism in the face of colonial racist hostility to African ideas and achievements, which they defended and propagated that one wishes to appeal for appreciation of Egharevba and other old Edo Historians, rather than dismissal and condemnation of their ideas. It is when we understand the basis of their ideas that we can start to improve on them for the education and the benefit of our people.
N.B: Contributions to this issue should be addressed by E.mail to Uyilawa Usuanlele, Institute for Benin S tudies; email@example.com
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