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Traditions, Documents, and the Ife-Benin Relationship

  • John K. Thornton (a1)

Historians of Nigeria have been curious for many years about the relationship between the various states of the southern zone since the sixteenth century. The fact that the area has produced a rich art, has a fairly elaborate set of traditional histories, and has been the subject of some systematic archeological work means that the modern scholar has somewhat more to go on in reconstructing the region's history than just the fairly sparse and disappointing contemporary texts that came out of the early Portuguese contacts and subsequent European trade and navigation. But contemporary documentation for southern Nigeria remains much weaker than that for other African areas, such as the central African zone, Gold Coast, or the western Atlantic coast.

Nevertheless, documents have raised problems in understanding the history of the area that cannot be fully solved by recourse to the other sources of information, in spite of the comparative richness of non-documentary sources. One of these documentary problems is the issue of the Ife-Benin relationship as documentated in archeology, contemporary texts, and art history. The problems raised by the relationship between these two southern Nigerian cities ultimately reflects on a much larger set of questions concerning the relationship of all the early states south of the Niger, at a period quite near the origin of the state system that would predominate the rest of the pre-colonial period.

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1. Ryder, A. F. C., “A Reconsideration of the Ife-Benin Relationship,” JAH 6 (1965); 2537. This article contains a convenient review of earlier literature and opinion as well as English translations of the relevant extracts from the two crucial contemporary texts of Duarte Pacheco Pereira and João de Barros.

2. See the useful survey of the debate from an art historian with an interest in the archaeology in Lawal, Babatunde, “The Present State of Art Historical Research in Nigeria: Problems and Possibilities,” JAH 18 (1977); 207-13.

3. Duarte Pacheco Pereira, Esmeraldo de situ Orbis, Book 2, Chapter 7 (variorum edition, ed. Augusto Epifânio da Silva Dias, Lisbon, 1905), 199. There are numerous other modern editions, most in modernized Portuguese spelling and without the complete listing of variant readings.

4. Barros, João de, Decadas de Asia (Lisbon, 1552), Decade 1, Book 3, Chapter 4. Also found in many modern editions.

5. Figueiredo, Manoel de, Hyãrographia, Exame de Pilotos (Lisbon, 1614 and many subsequent editions), 71.

6. de Sandoval, Alonso, Naturaleza, policia sagrada i profana, costumbres, ritos…de todos Etiopes (Seville, 1627), mod. ed. Valtierra, Angel, De Instauranda Etiope Salute: El mundo de esclavitud negra en America (Bogotà, 1956), 82.

7. Ruiters, Dierick, Toortse der See-Vaert (Amsterdam, 1623), 315. See the modern edition (which preserves the older paginagion) of S. P. L'Honoré Naber (Hague, 1913).

8. Universitetsbibliothek Leiden, Biblioteca Publica Latina, MS 927, “Aenwijsingse van diverssche Beschrijvingen van de Noort-Cust van Africa,” fol. 13v. (internal evidence suggests that the information dates from the 1647-55 period).

9. van Leers, Arnout, Pertinent Beschryvinge van Afrika (Rotterdam, 1665).

10. Dapper, Olfert, Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaensche Gewestern… (Amsterdam, 1668.

11. Ibid (1676 edition), 122, 132.

12. Ibid, 132.

13. Fr. da Cesena, Domenico Bernardi, “Viaggio al Brasile, all'isola di S. Tommaso e del Principe, et al Regno del Benin in Africa, fatto dal Capuchino P. Domenico Bernardi (1713-1726)”, mod. ed. Saccone, Salvatore in Il viaggio di Padre Domenico Bernardi in Brasile ed in Africa nel guadro dell' attività dei Cappuccini agli inizi dell'età moderna. (Bologna, 1980), 179.

14. Ryder, , “Ife-Benin Relationship,” 3233.

15. Abu, Shams al-Din 'Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, “Tuhfat al-nuzzar fi ghara 'ib al-amsar wa-'aja'ib al-asfar” in Levtzion, Nehemia and Hopkins, J. F. P., eds. and trans. Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History (Cambridge, 1981), 287.

16. See the fragmentary chronicle of Katsina published in Palmer, H. R., Sudanese Memoirs (3 vols: Lagos, 19281931) 3:80, 88.

17. Nadel, S. F., A Black Byzantium (London, 1942), 7276.

18. Calvocoressi, David and David, Nicholas, “A New Survey of Radiocarbon and Thermoluminescence Dates for West Africa,” JAH 20 (1979); 19.

19. The maps and their legends are reproduced in Youssouf Kamal, , ed., Monumenta Cartographica Africae et Aegypti (Cairo, 1936) f. 1475v, which summarizes all the data on these portolan maps.

20 Lewicki, Tadeusz, “Le royaume d'Organa des cartes européens du XlVe au XVe siècles” in Mélanges d'Islamologie dédies à la mémoire de A. Abel par ses collègues, ses élèves, et ses amis (2 vols.: Brussels, 1976) 2:295317. Lewicki summarizes existing arguments and provides a strong argument for identifying Organa with the oasis state of Ouargla. The legends are all reproduced in Kamal, Monumenta, f. 1475v.

21 Fall, Yoro K., L'Afrique à la naissance de la cartographie moderne (Paris, 1982).

22. Battuta, Ibn, “Tuhfat,” in Levtzion, /Hopkins, , Corpus, 287.

23. Barros, Décadas, Decade I, Book 3, chapter 4.

24. See the map of Martin Waldseemüller, 1507, “Secundum Ptholomaei Traditionem” in Kamal, Monumenta ff. 1514 and 1515.

25. See the reproduction in Cortesão, Armando and da Mota, Avelino Teixeira, eds. Portvgalliae Monvmenta Cartographica (6 vols.: Lisbon, 1960), 1:712 and plates 4-5.

26. Ryder, , “Ife-Benin Relationship,” 3334, Nevadonsky, Joseph, “The Benin Bronze Horseman as the Ata of Idah,” African Arts 19 (1986); 4047.

27. Darling, P. J., “A Change of Territory: Attempts to Trace More Than a Thousand Years of Population Movements by the Benin and Ishan Peoples of Southern Nigeria” in Fyfe, Christopher and McMaster, David, eds. African Historical Demography, II (Edinburgh, 1981), 105120.

28. See, for example, Akinjogbin, I. A., “Ife, the Home of a New University,” Nigeria Magazine, no. 92 (1967); 41.

29. Roupnell's, data was published in Roth, H. Ling, Great Benin; Its Customs, Art and Horrors (London, 1902); Talbot's in Talbot, P. A., The Peoples of Southern Nigeria (4 vols.: Oxford, 1926); Egharevba, , A Short History of Benin (1st ed., Ibadan, 1934, 3rd edition, 1960), cf. 1960 ed., 6-8.

30. Egharevba, , Short History, 10-11, 13, 18.

31. António Fialhado to António Carneiro, 24 August 1517 in Bràsio, António, ed. Monumenta Missionaria Africana (1st ser., 14 vols.: Lisbon, 19521985) 1:413.

32. Arquivo Nacional de Torre do Tombo, Lisbon, Corpo chronológico, Part II, maço 151, document 69, fol. 9, ship's book of S. João, 1526 (“Osody” = Osodin and “Ohu agua” -Uwangwe); also ibid, Part II, maço 149, document 29, fol. 3, ship's book of the S. Miguel, 1522, published in English translation in Ryder, A. F. C., Benin and the Europeans, 1485-1897 (London, 1969), Appendix II. Ryder notes that a third figure might be a representative of the town association, and reads his title as “Ruguuru”, but it might also be read as “Cuquucu” or “Cuqurru.”

33. Sandoval, , Instauranda, 80. Other seventeenth-century sources from a slightly earlier period also refer to captains in less unambiguous terms, see Ulsheimer, Andreas Joshua, “Warhaffte Beschreibung ettlicher Raysen…in Europa, Africa, Asien und America,” (1616), fol. 54a, published with an English translation and annotations in Jones, Adam, ed. and trans. German Sources for West African History (Wiesbaden, 1983) 1843; Marees, Pieter de, Beschrivinge ende historische verhael van het Gout Koningkrijck van Guinea (Amsterdam, 1602), 117b (modern ed. S. P. L'Honoré Naber, the Hague, 1912).

34. Sandoval, , Instauranda, 80.

35. Ibid, 80.

36. Ibid, 94.

37. Duarte Pires to King of Portugal, 20 October 1516, Bràsio, , Monumenta, 1:370.

38. Alessandro Zorzi, “Informatiõ hauuto io alexandro da portogalesi .1517. ĩ Venecia,” fol. 140v., published with notes in da Faria, F. Leite and da Mota, Avelino Teixeira, Novidades Nauticas e Ultramarinas (Lisbon, 1977), a separata from Memorias da Academia das Ciêncas de Lisboa, classe de Ciênças, , 20 (1977).

39. Arquivo Nacional de Torre do Tombo, Corpo Chronológico, part II, maço 46, document 165, Certificate of Paulo da Mota, 29 April 1514.

40. Maliphant, G. K., Rees, A. R., and Rose, P. M., “Defense Systems of the Benin Empire--Uwan,” West African Journal of Archaeology 6 (1976); 128; Darling, P. J., “Notes on the Earthworks of the Benin Empire,” West African Journal of Archaeology, 6 (1976), 144.

41. Ulsheimer, , “ Warhaffte Beschreibung,” ff. 32a32b.

42. R. E. Bradbury, “Chronological Problems in the Study of Benin History” in idem, Benin Studies (London, 1973), 35-36.

43. Colombino de Nantes, to Prefect of Propaganda Fide, 26 December 1640 in Bràsio, , Monumenta, 8:465. This priest based his information on travels in the region before 1634: see same to Peiresc, 20 June 1634 in ibid 8:278-85.

44. de Naxera, Jose, Espejo mystico en que el Hombre Interio se mira (Madrid, 1672), 202205. Jose de Naxera was a Spanish Capuchin priest who visited Allada in 1660-62 and specifically questioned the ruler about the origins of his state, challenging him concerning a story he had read in Sandoval concerning the relationships between Aliada and Popo.

45. Archives Nationales de France, Dépôt des archives d'outremer, Côtes d'Afrique, MS 104, “Relation du Royaume de Judas en Guinéé…” (written between 1708 and 1712), 21.

46 See the survery of traditions in Akinjogbin, I. A., Dahomey and Its Neighbours, 1708-1818 (London, 1966). For a discussion of the transformation of the tale of the cruel king of Popo, see Law, Robin, “Problems of Plagiarism, Harmonization, and Misunderstanding in Contemporary European Sources: Early (Pre-1680s) Sources for the ‘Slave Coast’ of West Africa,” Paideuma 33 (1987).

47 For a summary of the civil war based on contemporary documentation and traditions, see Ryder, , Benin, 17-21, 134–92 passim.

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History in Africa
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