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History of Ovonramwen Nobgaisi – The Benin King who mounted resistance against British Invasion

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi is one of the most popular Oba in the history of the Benin Kingdom.

Ovonramwen means “the rising sun.”

As a daughter of the Benin Kingdom, this story is personal to me. My mother, grandmother and great grandmother have their lineage connected to the chiefs and the Oba of Benin kingdom so the story is personal.

I can remember how my grandmother’s eyes light up as she talks about Ovonramwen Nogbaisi and other stories of the Benin Kingdom. History books record that he ruled during 1888-1897. They were the resistance against the British forces. 

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi – The history

He was the king until the British expedition of 1897. 

He was born in circa 1857 and was the son of Oba Adolo. When he was enthroned, he was called Ovonramwen Nogbaisi. The name Ovonramwen means ‘The Rising Sun’ while Nogbaisi means ‘which spreads over all’

Ovonramwen-Nogbaisi
Ovonramwen Nogbaisi on exile to Calabar

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi had two wives called Queen Egbe, and Queen Aighobahi. 

At the end of the 19th century, the Kingdom of Benin fought to retain its independence and the Oba exercised a monopoly over trade. 

The British found this annoying.

The territory occupied by the Benin Kingdom was sought-after by a powerful group of investors. They wanted its rich natural resources such as palm oil, rubber and ivory. 

Ovonramwen-Nogbaisi
Benin Ivory Mask

They were independent of the control of the British forces. Although Vice Consul James Roberts Phillips and Captain Gallwey who was the vice-Consul of the Oil Rivers Protectorate were still mounting heavy pressure on them. They desired to remove the Oba and take over the territory occupied by the Benin Empire. 

A British invasion force spearheaded by Phillips undertook a mission to overthrow Ovonramwen Nogbaisi in 1896. They hid their weapons in their baggage and disguised their troops as bearers. 

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi – Phillips Strategy

Phillips strategy was to gain access to the Oba’s palace by announcing that he was willing to negotiate. 

Oba Ovonramwen’s messengers sent out many warnings that the British officer should not violate the Benin territory. They gave the excuse of ceremonial duties as the reason the Oba could not see them.

Despite all the warnings, Phillips sent his staff to the Oba. This was an insult meant to insult the Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, Oba of Benin so that it would aggravate the Oba and result in a conflict. 

He needed an excuse to invade the Benin territory. Everyone on Phillip’s mission was killed. Only two men survived. 

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi – The retributory mission

Eventually, a retributory mission against the Benin Kingdom was embarked on. Sir Harry Rawson led a mission that razed down Benin City. The Benin Bronzes were looted. The fortifications of the city were destroyed. 

The British had given orders for Oba Ovonramwen to be executed. Fortunately, he escaped. He eventually returned to the city on 5 August 1897 to surrender. 

After six months in the forest evading capture, he returned richly dressed and adorned with coral beads with an entourage of about 800 people. 

He tried to avoid exile. He offered Consul General Ralph Moor 200 barrels of oil worth a lot to disclose the whereabouts of ivory tusks. Moor had already discovered the location of his ivory tusks and so declined his offer.

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Ovonramwen Nogbaisi and his wives in Calabar

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi – The Exile

The Oba of Benin, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, was exiled to Calabar. His two wives Queen Egbe and Queen Aighobahi went with him. They lived in a small town called Essien Town. 

The originator of Essien Town, Etinyin Essien Etim Offiong received him. He died in Calabar in 1914.

He was buried on the grounds of the royal palace in Benin City. His son Prince Aguobasimwin, succeeded him and ruled as Eweka II.

 

Most of the spoil from the city after the invasion was sent to Britain. Some 2500 religious artefacts, visual history, aides-mémoires and artworks were stolen and transferred to Britain. 

 

Men and women from Benin City are very proud of their history and their heritage. The stories that you will hear of the Benin kingdom, the sacrifice of tears and blood that its people made to build their kingdom. It is indeed a dynasty. 

Below are some of the personalities that helped make the Benin Kingdom what it was and why it can never be forgotten. 

History of Ovonramwen Nobgaisi – The Benin King who mounted resistance against British Invasion
A statue of Ovonramwen Nogbaisi in Benin City

Ovonramwen Nogbaisi – Other Remarkable Historical Figures of Ancient Benin Kingdom

 

Queen Idia

She was the wife of Oba Ozolua. He reigned in 1481 AD. Queen Idia was a famous warrior; she received accolades and credit for the victories of her son. 

Queen Idia served as his counsel when it comes to politics. She is revered for having mystical powers and medicinal knowledge. Many viewed this as the reason for Esigie’s success in battle. 

She gained popularity in Nigeria when a Festival held in Nigeria in 1977 adopted an ivory carving of her face as its logo. 

 

Emotan

Emotan became popular as a trader who sold her goods at the point where her statue stands in Benin City. This businesswoman was credited with setting up the first Primary school in the Benin Kingdom. She rescued the monarchy during one of its low moments. She helped Oba Ewuare reclaim his kingdom from Oba Uwaifiokun had usurped the throne. He reigned about 1432AD.

Queen Iden

Queen Iden is a heroine of the Benin Kingdom. She made a great sacrifice for the entire Benin Kingdom. She reigned as queen during the reign of Oba Ewuape in 1700 AD. The queen volunteered to be the sacrifice when the oracle informed her that human sacrifice was necessary to restore peace in the kingdom. 

She had consulted the oracle and at his request for a sacrifice to appease the gods, she agreed to be killed to restore peace and unity in the kingdom. 

Chief Obasogie

This outstanding Benin warrior was known for defending the Benin kingdom against external invasion. He was also a sculptor and a blacksmith.

History of Ovonramwen Nobgaisi – The Benin King who mounted resistance against British Invasion
Statue of General Asoro

General Asoro

He was the sword-bearer of Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, the Oba of Benin in 1897. He was known as a mighty general all over Benin City. This he proved when he singlehandedly defeated the British with a few men during the invasion by the British in 1897-1898. In his words, “no other person dare pass this road except the Oba”.

His words “So kpon Oba” was translated to Sakponba and a road called Sakponba road exists in Benin city to date. 

This man singlehandedly held the invaders at bay. 

According to the rumours, Asoro was preserved by magic, no matter how many times he got shot with any kind of weapon he would never die, the only way to kill him was to shoot at his shadow.

The great warrior of the Benin Kingdom, Asoro could have stayed there forever shooting the British if he was not betrayed. Some of the chiefs of the Oba informed the British of his weak point and when they shot his shadow, he died. 

Also read: How King Badu Bonsu II of Ghana was beheaded and his head taken to the Netherlands by the Dutch

 

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