Home The Politico Benin Tradition Divorces Colonialism, By Ajoke Suliamon

Benin Tradition Divorces Colonialism, By Ajoke Suliamon


Colonial rule in Nigeria had important implications for inter-group relations. It meant, among other things, that people had to take into account ideals, interests and institutions arising not only from their indigenous experiences and sanctioned by their traditions and usages, but also those introduced and imposed by new rulers.

The actual consequences of colonial rule on the dynamics of inter-group relations in Africa did not capture the imagination of scholars until perhaps, very recently. All along, it would seem that attention was duly focused on the political, social and economic consequences of colonial rule and the significance of these for the emerging nation. As a result, issues regarding the implications of these changes on the cosmology of these societies on the one hand and the nature and character of human relations among them on the other, were either taken for granted or, in fact, deliberately ignored. The problems that emerged from this posture were two folds.

Firstly, for a fairly long time, the changes and continuities in inter-ethnic relations which colonial rule eventuated in these societies remained largely misunderstood and unappreciated.

Secondly, problems of nation-building as they relate to the national question in these nations could not be appreciated, articulated and addressed. All of these affected the growth and development of Benin city.

In recent times as in Benin Division, Benin City, Benin Kingdom. However, both Benin and Edo serve as ethnic and linguistic labels for the indigenous inhabitants of Benin territory (Okpoko and Agbontaen, 1993). The people of Benin were historically referred to as Benin or Oviedo. This also means therefore that people who are indigenes of Benin City are referred to as the Benin. For the purpose of this study, the pre-colonial label Benin would be adopted except when there are direct references to the current capital of Edo State, Benin City. The Benin people have been described as typical example of a patriarchal society (Egharevba, 1949, Ebohon, 1996). For instance, it is customary for women to be subjected to series of oaths (Ebohon, 1996). For example, Ebohon (1996) reveals that married women in Benin are made to swear oaths of marital faithfulness in the family shrine. Also, in the event of the death of a man, his wife or wives are also made to swear at the village shrine ogwedion to establish innocence over their husbands death.

The law of inheritance recognizes the primogeniture which privileges the males from each door. Uhro as eldest son of each woman in a polygymous marriage represented a door.

Girls were generally perceived as less important to male children and are described as half current depicting that it is with less virility of manhood that the female child is conceived, while the male child is the apt expression of mans sexual strength and prowess, thereby seen as full current. Women are culturally related to as transitory beings that have no significant portion in the familys estate (igiogbe) and also considered less preferred beneficiaries of Western education when a choice is to be made has a result of scarce economic resources. Evidently, the review highlights the veracity of giving attention to context in understanding the phenomenon of human trafficking even though it is a social problem with global magnitude.

I engage two theoretical analyses, the unified gender kinship model that examines more critically, elements within the social structure which generate gender inequality amongst non indigenes of Benin city.

To further posit that systemic inequality will enable one understand subjective meanings of given facts as well as structural location of the respondents who are not indigenes of Benin simply shows the difficulties they face as non indigenes. Yanagasiko and Collier (2004) maintained that cultural analysis, involved interrogating the nature of social relationships within specific context; the peoples evaluation of prestige models, which are usually encoded in their description and interpretations of events or social relationship. They concluded by stating the need to adopt a historical and comparative analysis in the light of the fact that meanings attached to words or events which they argued cannot be a- historical.

Among the Benin people, prestige structure is indicative of the value system in the society. For instance, the prominence of a Benin man is rooted in his relevance and relationship to the palace. Hence Curnow (1997) observed that virility and regal display of wealth and relatedness to the palace characterized the concept of ukponmwan that is a real man. Also primogeniture gives the eldest son access to the family inheritance known as igiogbe . This has implication on wealth distribution in the Benin Society. Inequality in wealth distribution privileges the males and places greater value for male children especially the eldest son in a family.

As observed by Osarumwense (1999) the concept of igiogbe is very crucial to the traditional Benin Society. Another element within the Benin society which is suggestive of systemic inequality is access to land which is an important economic resource. Traditional Benin City was basically agrarian, which again placed those who could own land in a vantage position. Arguably, this lack of access may not be synonymous with just Benin women, but the inheritance system continually eliminates women from ownership of vital economic resources, which compels dependence and powerlessness. Again, just like Yanagasiko and Collier (2004) posited, the need for a cultural analysis which involves examining the relationship within specific context is crucial.

Hence among many people of this extraction, being polygymous has traditionally been perceived as a measure of wealth and prominence. Women were therefore to be acquired as physical acquisitions rather than seen as partners. Consequently, colonial contact bequeath to women the legacy of owning property (Osarumwese, 1999).

At this point in time, things began to change as women who owned property became less dependent on their husbands who most times had several other wives. Competition, rivalries and suspicion are typical characteristics of many Benin traditional families. Expectedly, the cultural element of uhro known as gate, other factors like ancestral worship which has a very close affinity with the status of the woman in the Benin Society.

Secondly, the model takes systemic inequality as given and therefore emphasizes the need to appraise the value structure of the Benin Kingdom.

A non indigene of Benin who currently lives in Benin stated that although the state of Edo is rich in cultures and tradition,yet they still segregrate their indigenes from non indigenes, especially with issues ranging from Education, tradition and norms, landed properties amongst others.

Omole stated that in the aspect of education, non indigenes find it difficult to get by, because their school fees are usually higher than those who are indigenes of Benin city.

Benin like any other city in the southern part of Nigeria, is known to sometimes perform human rituals to appease the gods, and mostly non indigenes always fall prey of this barbaric act. Therefore this makes the city a dreaded place for non indigenes. There is also a huge issue of kidnapping in Benin and non indigenes are mostly the ones who fall prey so that the kidnappers can seek ransom which will mostly benefits the kidnappers.

Another difficulty faced by non indigenes is the language. The Benin language is quite exclusive to the people of Benin and this is quite a difficult for non indigenes because they find it hard to communicate with the main indigenes of the state.

The government of the country, however have an important role to play in ensuring the security of non indigenes of Benin City or any other part of Nigeria by enacting a law that will forbid indiscriminate killings and stigmatization being faced by non indigenes. Life should be seen as sacred and not be taken by cultural extremists.


Suliamon is a journalist and a writer from Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Lagos.

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