Benin City's glory

May 2019
9
Noahland
Am I the only one who feel like to glory of Benin City has been exaggerated? I mean, the pictures I see of it are in stark contrast to the glorifying accounts I see being shared online.

For example, this is said to be a translation of an account by Lourenco Pinto of Benin City :
Great Benin, where the king resides, is larger than Lisbon; all the streets run straight and as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown and the people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.
.... but this is supposed to be a view along a street in the royal quarter of Benin City in 1897 :
500.jpg
It's kinda frustrating. Where are the "very large" houses? All I see are a bunch of settlements constructed with an earthen material that I guess is cob, with thatched roofs.

And this is supposed to be the Oba(King)'s palace :
81e66e7acda14125db1f2f857797f0b8.jpg

1b38dc93207427902bd0d8abf890f5f6.png
Not as large as I expected. And where are the "fine columns"?

Could all those accounts be exaggerations, and Benin City just a glorified village? When you think about it, people in those days told exaggerated stories about far away lands all the time, as we have seen with places like El Dorado. Thoughts?
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,257
Sydney
Often there is some hyperbole when describing exotic cultures , sometimes this amount to a straight lie
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,640
Benin City, Nigeria
Am I the only one who feel like to glory of Benin City has been exaggerated?
Basically, yes, you are. Although people who are equally confused or uninformed could feel the same as well, if that's how they want to feel.

I guess you've read nothing beyond the limited amount of information online, apparently. It seems you're just stringing together bits and pieces of information from a limited number of online searches without having done any real investigation - an approach which is reminiscent of the general style another poster on this forum.

Two of the pictures you have posted are from after the city was destroyed by the British, and this was a period (late 19th century) which was after the capital had already undergone some internal decline due to decades of civil war anyway (the first picture may not be from after the invasion but it is just a shot of one street or alley in one part of the city and doesn't show much about the city anyway).

Basically you are posting a few pictures of ruins of buildings that were destroyed from a city that was already in partial decline. The second photograph (third photograph overall) that you claimed is of the "Oba(King)'s palace" is not a picture of the king's palace and has never been identified as such in any credible or academic source. That photograph was taken by Reginald K. Granville and it can be seen in Henry Ling Roth's book Great Benin (1903) where it is said to be a "juju house" (a religious building of some sort) that was part of a chief's compound. That picture is not of the palace and is just some official's personal religious building in his compound. The first picture (second picture overall) that you said is of the king's palace is a photograph taken by a certain German businessman named Erdmann (who had been living in Lagos prior to 1897), who took a few pictures of the ruins of Benin City after the British burned it down, and it may be a photograph of a single room in the palace. The image appears in Felix von Luschan's book Die Altertumer von Benin (1919). Another image of some interest taken by Erdmann that appears in that book is this ruin of some wall from somewhere in Benin City:



The European accounts are unanimous and unambiguous in their praise of the city (and all accounts note the very large extent of the city) and its buildings/architecture by the way, especially prior to the mid to late 19th century, when the kingdom was troubled by civil war, although even after that there is still some praise for specific buildings. These are separate Portuguese, Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish accounts, by different people, spread out over centuries that are praising the architecture. Ironically (ironic considering everything that certain late 19th century British people did to try to convince others that there wasn't great architecture there) there are also two British accounts from the 18th and from the early 19th century praising the extent of the city and its architecture also. So unless there was a vast European conspiracy spanning across centuries involving Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, French and British writers, with the goal of randomly praising numerous aspects of the architecture of a specific African kingdom for no reason, your speculation really has no basis whatsoever.

Regarding the material used, even two different French accounts from the 18th century note that building out of other material wouldn't have been plausible since stone was not plentiful in the area - they noted that they didn't see any stone at all or no stones up to the size of a man's fist in the area. So even foreigners could see easily that earth was naturally the primary building material for the region quite easily. Dutch (17th century) and British (19th century) accounts of the architecture note that the earthen architecture was polished so well that it shone like marble or like mirrors (and mud can in fact be polished to such a degree that it shines in exactly that way).

Even Felix Roth, a British participant in the 1897 British invasion, in a part of his writing where he was describing the corpses (described as human sacrifices, though going by the majority of European sources on Benin these would almost all have been executed criminals) lying about in a part of the capital, and generally condemning the place, makes note of the fact that the doors of the king's residence (as it was in 1897) were elaborately decorated with various figures embossed in brass and that the rafters of the roof were artistically carved as well. I suppose that since this doesn't appear in the photographs available that this didn't really exist either, going by your approach, even though this is from an account that is actually condemning/criticizing the kingdom, rather than praising it (as many previous accounts had).

By the way, very good job to open a thread speculating about a place you've read little to nothing about (beyond the meager bits of information online) and then to invite other people to speculate about whether your speculations are correct. Maybe search for some books or articles first next time, since this is a fairly well-studied kingdom relative to many other African states. Most of what I've stated - that the European perspective on Benin's capital (they viewed it as a huge city with impressive buildings, especially the royal palace) was a universal consensus among European visitors except under a few special circumstances (such as destruction caused by civil war, although even then specific buildings were still praised) - could still have been found out with a few (better) online searches even if one is allergic to books or to credible academic sources in general.

It may be hard to believe - for whatever reason - that, as with Asante, the British destroyed lots of valuable information (visual and otherwise) about the material culture of a state in Africa, but that's simply the reality. Not that this is anything unique in history or even unique with respect to 19th century invasions by European powers of this area (the French destroyed some important buildings in west Africa also).

I suspect the thread starter is multi-accounting, by the way. I'm saying this openly because the previous times I have reported the poster that I believe this "new" poster really is, it seems nothing was done. So this is really just a note to some other forum readers, who should be able to figure out who it is, so that they don't waste their effort engaging with him.
 
Mar 2019
16
Paris
Am I the only one who feel like to glory of Benin City has been exaggerated? I mean, the pictures I see of it are in stark contrast to the glorifying accounts I see being shared online.

For example, this is said to be a translation of an account by Lourenco Pinto of Benin City :


.... but this is supposed to be a view along a street in the royal quarter of Benin City in 1897 :
View attachment 19703
It's kinda frustrating. Where are the "very large" houses? All I see are a bunch of settlements constructed with an earthen material that I guess is cob, with thatched roofs.

And this is supposed to be the Oba(King)'s palace :
View attachment 19704

View attachment 19705
Not as large as I expected. And where are the "fine columns"?

Could all those accounts be exaggerations, and Benin City just a glorified village? When you think about it, people in those days told exaggerated stories about far away lands all the time, as we have seen with places like El Dorado. Thoughts?
You are comparing two different ages, 200 years appart. A Lot changed. Just referring to your quote, if they really didn't have use for doors when Pinto was around, by the time the British burned down Benin, they were using keys (Benin Empire (everyday objects - Keys, Lamps, etc)). The "fine columns" were in wood. The British burned down the Kingdom. Wood. Fire... Since the columns were structural, the places that used theme probably collapsed. And the columns were considered "fine" because they were covered by what we now refer to as the Benin Bronzes. New book: “The Benin Plaques, A 16th Century Imperial Monument”, by Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch (2018) | Bruno Claessens


Regarding the street view, I don't think those are houses. I think those are just long walls of enclosures Drawing_of_Benin_City_made_by_an_English_officer_1897.jpg
Benin Bronzes - Wikipedia

And regarding the palace, it's taken from the inside (or what's left of it). Form the wood structure on top of the walls, the whole area was covered. The picture is of a room inside a bigger room, inside the palace. And in case it needs to be said, those pictures were taken AFTER the British looted and torched down the place. Whatever was visible, transportable, and of value, was stolen.

To be able to appreciate the size of things, you had to be there. The urbanism wasn't structured in a way that made it easy to see the size of things from the outside.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,385
T'Republic of Yorkshire
I suspect the thread starter is multi-accounting, by the way. I'm saying this openly because the previous times I have reported the poster that I believe this "new" poster really is, it seems nothing was done. So this is really just a note to some other forum readers, who should be able to figure out who it is, so that they don't waste their effort engaging with him.
Mat=ybe nothing was done because the poster was NOT a multi-accounter.

Do NOT make accusations like the above in public again. Use the report function.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,640
Benin City, Nigeria
Mat=ybe nothing was done because the poster was NOT a multi-accounter.

Do NOT make accusations like the above in public again. Use the report function.
I didn't report any poster for multi-accounting. I reported that particular poster for deliberately making false, pseudohistorical claims in posts repeatedly. I've seen people suspended temporarily for much less, but it seems nothing was done so there's probably little point in even bothering with that again.
 
Aug 2012
1,554
Be fair now, those pictures aren't exactly of the best quality. And they are black and white.
Maybe it's not the best basis to judge the Benin Kingdom on? I admit, my knowledge on them is limited, but imagine such photographs taken in the modern day - with bright sunshine, colour, more detail. Maybe you would see it differently?
In fact, I would argue traditional drawings are more flatting to old architecture than the early days of photography. As they are at least colourful and vibrant, whereas a grainy image made so long ago could even render The Great Wall of China or St. Basil's Cathedral as uglier than they actually are.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,385
T'Republic of Yorkshire
I didn't report any poster for multi-accounting. I reported that particular poster for deliberately making false, pseudohistorical claims in posts repeatedly. I've seen people suspended temporarily for much less, but it seems nothing was done so there's probably little point in even bothering with that again.
You misunderstand what we are here for. Moderators are not here to judge whether posts are true or not. That's your job to refute something that isn't true, if you believe it to be so. We police violations of forum rules, and posting something you disagree with, is not a violation.

If you don't want to report posts, that's up to you, but don't let me see you accusing people in public again.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,640
Benin City, Nigeria
You misunderstand what we are here for. Moderators are not here to judge whether posts are true or not. That's your job to refute something that isn't true, if you believe it to be so. We police violations of forum rules, and posting something you disagree with, is not a violation.

If you don't want to report posts, that's up to you, but don't let me see you accusing people in public again.
Perhaps some moderators misunderstand what moderators are here for then? I guess the point that people have been suspended temporarily or threatened with suspension in the past for basically repeatedly posting nonfactual nonsense (usually in pursuit of a certain agenda) isn't so clear. But perhaps there are new standards (or old standards are now suddenly being upheld).
 
Mar 2012
406
This thread is a joke, I can honestly see why Ighayere reported it, I mean the OP is basing his whole argument about a City and a Palace on a few pictures. This would be like someone finding the most dilapitated grainy image of a run down building in New York and claiming New York City is over rated. The Mod is right, we would'nt want them(The Mods) to police what is true and what isnt.