annonBenin was an influential city-state in northwest Africa generally from the15th to 17th century. It was founded by the Edo or Bini people in the 13thcentury, and by the early 14th century a royal court was in place.
It wasalways ruled by a powerful king who was usually a former war leader. Thekings, however, later became a more religious figure. The kingdom has beenthough to extend throughout what is presently southern Nigeria.One of its most successful kings was Ozoula. During his reign, from about1480 to 1504, Benin established many commercial and diplomatic relations withPortugal. The kingdom participated in a lot of trade with Europe. Some ofthe goods they traded included palm oil, ivory, pepper, and textiles. Anotherindustry Benin took place in was the slave trade.
Mostly POW’s and women weretraded, but in the early years, men of the tribe were also given away.Gradually, the power of the kingdom decreased as the 18th and 19th centuriespassed. Eventually, in 1897, the area was annexed to British Nigeria. Whiletribesmen still led the area, the real control was in the hands of theEuropeans.One of the richest arts that originated in Africa are some of the hand castbronzes that came out of the kingdom of Benin. These became known as theBenin Bronzes. The casting of brass was strictly a royal art and anyone foundcasting brass without royal permission was faced with execution.
Whenever aking or a major figure died, a beautiful commemorative head was cast out ofbronze in his honor. These heads were displayed at shrines found allthroughout the royal palace. Also found in the royal palace were eight wall-sized bronze plaques. Each plaque depicted kings, chiefs, and great warriorsin battle.
They each depict a different event in Benin’s history. Manythings including utensils and weapons have also been found, each hand castwith brass. As you can see, the Beninian people were very gifted in this fineart and it is one of the richest parts of their culture.