Echoes of the Benin Kingdom / British Conflict of 1897

A Brief History of Benin Kingdom (Nigeria)

Picture of benin looters
Picture of the Benin Looters

Benin Kingdom is one of the most well known and respected in Africa, with an established tradition of Art that is unique and recognised worldwide. The Kingdom of Benin is one of the most sophisticated in Africa, with a tradition of art that is famous for it’s refinement and beauty.

This research project focuses on exploring the events of the Benin Kingdom/British Conflict in 1897 and also the culture and art forms that come from this part of West Africa.

The art of the Benin Kingdom first came to the attention of Europeans in 1897 when members of a British Naval Expedition brought out thousands of objects as war booty. Through Government and Private sales, Benin Sculpture, Plaques and other Objects soon found it’s way into the British Museum and personal collections in England, Europe, and America.

The British conquest of Benin Kingdom in 1897 resulted not only in the dispersal of art, but also considerable changes in the fabric of Benin life. Once an independent warrior Kingdom, Benin was then incorporated into the wider political framework of the British Protectorate of Nigeria and later the modern Nigerian State. Today Benin City, a thriving metropolis of over 400,000 people, is the capital of the Edo State of Nigeria.

The research project will cover a range of educational aspects of Benin cultural history; the traditions and beliefs, including the artefacts, their origin and interpretation, and their continuing relevance in the 21st Century.

Outline of the ‘Echoes of Benin Kingdom/British Conflict 1897’ Research Project

The project will aim to research the historical perspectives of the Benin Kingdom/British Conflict of 1897 noting it’s impact on it’s present day Socio-Cultural dimensions. The research will culminate into the production of resource materials in the form of a new Website, DVD’s and Booklets.

The project will provide new learning opportunities to local people (of various age-ranges) and provide them with volunteering opportunities to enable them to take an active role in the project. Local people in Newham will have an opportunity to attend Exhibitions, Workshops, Seminars and Coach Trips to the British Museum. Participants from different ethnic backgrounds living in Newham and other parts of London will be provided with new opportunities to learn about Benin History, Arts and Culture.

The participants will also learn that the ‘Oba’ (King of Benin) until the late 19th Century was the traditional leader of one of the major powers in West Africa. Following the 1897 war, the ‘Oba’ of Benin was captured and sent to exile in Calabar (Southern Nigeria) where he was later presumed to have died. The participants will also learn how the Oba’s Palace was destroyed and large quantities of Sculpture and Regalia, including the works in Wood, Ivory and especially Brass Plaques were taken.

Project delevery

This project is being delivered by the Newham African Caribbean Resource Centre (NACRC) who received a grant award of £49,926 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Newham African Caribbean Resource Centre is being supported by a number of different partner organisations to deliver this project.

The British Museum will be involved in the facilitation of the workshops and trips to their Benin Art Collections and African Galleries. Aston Mansfield (Community Involvement Unit) a large charity organisation based in East London will be involved in organising the Exhibitions and training programme for 24 Volunteers.

The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund until December 2012.

Other partner organisations include Rights and Equalities in Newham (REIN), African Youth Organisation (AYO) and Benin Union Trust. The project is also being supported by various prominent Benin Historians, the ‘Oba’s’ Representative in the United Kingdom and Newham Council.

The Project Co-ordinators were Dr. Samuel Egharevba and Mr. Dennis Mensah who were initially assisted by 24 volunteers. This number had swollen to in excess of 50 by the end of the project.

Cultural Diversity in the Context of Social Cohesion.

The project involved people from different communities within the London Borough of Newham. Initially there were 24 Volunteers which had increased to in excess of 50 by the end of the project who attended Workshops, Seminars and Exhibitions. These were supported by a diverse range of organisations.

Our volunteers came from diverse cultural backgrounds, including West African, East African, Central African, Caribbean, British, Jewish, Eastern European, Irish and Asian.