Oba of Benin

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An Oba of Benin from the late 17th century

The Oba of Benin, or Omo N'Oba, is the traditional ruler of the Edo people and head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire - a West African empire centered on Benin City, in modern-day Nigeria. The ancient Benin homeland (not to be confused with the modern-day and unrelated Republic of Benin, which was then known as Dahomey) has been and continues to be mostly populated by the Edo (also known as the Bini or Benin ethnic group).

The title of Oba was created by Oba Eweka I, Benin Empire's first 'Oba', who is said to have ascended to power at some time between 1180 and 1300. The Oba of Benin was the Head of State (Emperor) of the Benin Empire until the Empire's annexation by the British, in 1897.

In 1897, the British launched a Punitive or Imperialist Expedition, illegally invaded Benin city territory, deposed and exiled the then Oba Ovonramwen, taking control of the area in order to establish the British colony of Nigeria. The expedition was mounted to avenge the defeat by the Binis of a British invasion force that had violated Benin territory earlier in 1896. It consisted of both indigenous soldiers and British officers, and is still remembered by the Edos with horror today. Under the pretext of covering for the cost of the expedition, the Benin royal art was stolen and auctioned off by the British. Ovonramwen died in 1914, his throne never having been restored to him. His son, grandson and now his great-grandson, however, all preserved their titles and statuses as traditional rulers in modern-day Nigeria.

The present Oba, Ehinede, is the 39th Oba of the dynasty.


Main article: Benin Empire

According to oral tradition, the first dynasty of the Edo or Benin Kingdom was the Ogiso dynasty, rulers who were known to their people as the kings of the Sky.[1] The number of such kings varies depending on which tradition is followed.[1] One tradition gives the number as 31 while others state twelve or even one.[1] Whatever the case may be, Oranmiyan was the grandson of Oduduwa a fearless warrior that ousted the Ogiso dynasty and conquer Benin Kingdom. Shortly afterwards, the Eweka dynasty was founded by Oranmiyan. Oranmiyan spent some years in Benin before returning to Ife to subsequently establish a Yoruba kingdom at Oyo. It is said that he left Benin (called Ubinu those days) in anger, for its palace intrigues and fights over power caused by the brother of the last Ogiso, as synonymous with 'vexations'. On his way home to Ife, Oranmiyan stopped briefly at Ego, where he impregnated Princess Erimwinde, the daughter of the duke of Ego, in short order. She is then believed to have given birth to a son named Eweka (also called Owomika in bini dialect according to oral tradition). Eweka happens to be the first Oba of Benin, title associated with Yoruba Obas.

In 1440, Oba Ewuare, also known as 'Ewuare the Great', came to power and turned the city-state into an empire that stretched further west to the coveted port, Eko. The name "Benin" is a Portuguese corruption of "Bini" which itself is a corruption of the Itsekhiri's "Ubinu". "Bini" came into use in the 15th century during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great by the increasing mix of ethnicities living together or arriving to pay dues at the royal administrative centre. At about 1485, following the Portuguese involvement in the area, the city proper began to be referred to as "Benin" while the expanding group of tributary states became known as the "Benin Empire".

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Oba of Benin's power was at its peak and different monarchs of the dynasty controlled significant stretches of land in what is now West Africa. During this era, exquisite naturalistic bronze art was created to enhance and embody the power of the Oba. The art often depicted the ancestors in order to establish both continuity and legitimacy. Due to this, only the Obas of Benin were allowed to own the famous bronze heads of Benin.

List of Obas of the Benin Empire (1180-present)[edit]

Pre-Imperial Obas of Benin (1180-1440)[edit]

The dates of reigns of these early kings are highly uncertain.[1]

  • Eweka I (1180–1246)
  • Uwuakhuahen (1246–1250)
  • Henmihen (1250–1260)
  • Ewedo (1260–1274)
  • Oguola (1274–1287)
  • Edoni (1287–1292)
  • Udagbedo (1292–1329)
  • Ohen (1329–1366)
  • Egbeka (1366–1397)
  • Orobiru (1397–1434)
  • Uwaifiokun (1434–1440)

Obas of the Benin Empire (1440-1897)[edit]

There is some uncertainty in the dates of the reigns of some of the earlier warrior kings[2]

  • Ewuare (1440–1473)
  • Ezoti (1473–1475)
  • Olua (1475–1480)
  • Ozolua (1480–1504)
  • Esigie (1504–1547)
  • Orhogbua (1547–1580)
  • Ehengbuda (1580–1602)
  • Ohuan (1602–1656)
  • Ohenzae (1656–1661)
  • Akenzae (1661–1669)
  • Akengboi (1669–1675)
  • Akenkpaye (1675–1684)
  • Akengbedo (1684–1689)
  • Ore-Oghene (1689–1701)
  • Ewuakpe (1701–1712)
  • Ozuere (1712–1713)
  • Akenzua I (1713–1740)
  • Eresoyen (1740–1750)
  • Akengbuda (1750–1804)
  • Obanosa (1804–1816)
  • Ogbebo (1816)
  • Osemwende (1816–1848)
  • Adolo (1848–1888)
  • Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1888–1914) (exiled to Calabar by the British in 1897)

Post-Imperial Obas of Benin (1914-Present)[edit]

Some of the cadet members of the Eweka royal family live elsewhere in Nigeria, as well as in other parts of Africa, Europe, Canada and the United States of America.


  1. ^ a b c d Ben-Amos, Paula Girshick (1995). The Art of Benin Revised Edition. British Museum Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-7141-2520-2. 
  2. ^ Ben-Amos, Paula Girshick (1995). The Art of Benin Revised Edition. British Museum Press. p. 32. ISBN 0-7141-2520-2. 

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