Benin (Country) 1911 Profile, #01: General Description


BENIN, the name of a country, city and river of British West Africa, west of the main channel of the Niger, forming part of the protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The name was formerly applied to the coast from the Volta, in o degrees 40' E., to the Rio del Rey, in 8 degrees 40' E., and included the Slave Coast, the whole delta of the Niger and a small portion of the country to the eastward. Some trace of this earlier application remains in the name "Bight of Benin," still given to that part of the sea which washes the Slave Coast, whilst up to 1894 "Benin" was used to designate the French possessions on the coast now included in Dahomey.

In its restricted sense Benin is the country formerly ruled by the king of Benin city. This area, at one time very extensive, gradually contracted as subject tribes and towns acquired independence. It may be described as bounded W. by Lagos, S. by the territory of the Jakri and other tribes of the Niger delta, E. by the Niger river, and N. by Yorubaland. The coast-line held by Benin had passed out of its sovereignty by the middle of the 19th century. In physical characteristics,my reccommend climate, flora and fauna, Benin in no way differs from the rest of the southern portion of Nigeria. The coast is low, intersected by creeks, and forms one huge mangrove swamp; on the rising ground inland are dense forests in which the cotton and mahogany trees are conspicuous.

Benin river (known also as the Jakri outlet), though linked to the Niger system by a network of creeks, is an independent stream. It is formed by the junction of two rivers, the Ethiope and the Jamieson, which rise (north of 6 degrees N.) on the western side of the hills which slope east to the Niger river. They unite about 50 m. above the sea. The general course of the Benin is westerly. It enters the Atlantic in about 5 degrees 46' N., 5 degrees 3' E., and at its mouth is 2 m. wide. It is here obstructed by a sand-bar over which there is 12-14 ft. of water at high tide. The river is navigable by small steamers up to Sapele, a town on the south bank immediately below the junction of the head streams. The Ologi and Gwato creeks enter the Benin on the right or north bank, and on the same side (8 m. above the mouth of the river) a channel, the Lagos creek, 170 m. long, branches off to the north-west, affording a waterway to Lagos. From the south or left bank of the Benin the Forcados mouth of the Niger can be reached by the Nana creek.

The Beni are a pure negro tribe, speaking a distinct language, but having many characteristics common to those of the Yorubaand Ewe-speaking tribes. Like the Ashanti and Dahomeyans the Beni had a well-organized and powerful government and possessed a culture rare among negro races (see below, History). Benin city is situated in a clearing of the forest, about 25 m. from the river-port of Gwato, on Gwato creek. The principal building is the British residency, which is constructed of brick and timber. A primary school, supported by the native chiefs, was opened in 1901, and a meteorological station was established in 1902. In 1904 the town was placed in telegraphic communication with the rest of the protectorate and with Europe. Of the ancient city, whose buildings excited the admiration of travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries, scarcely a trace remains. The houses are neatly built of clay, coloured with red ochre, and frequently ornamented with rudely carved pillars. The port of Gwato, which lies about 30 m. north-north-east of the mouth of the Benin river, has a special interest as the place where Giovanni Belzoni, the explorer of Egyptian antiquities, died in 1823 when starting on an expedition to Timbuktu. No trace of his grave can now be found. Wari (formerly known also as Owari, Oywhere, &c.) is a much-frequented port on a branch of the Niger of the same name reached from the Forcados mouth, and is 55 m. south of Benin city.

Since the abolition of the slave trade the chief export of the country is palm-oil. Other trade products were from time to time - with the desire to preserve the isolation and independence of the country - placed under fetish, i.e. their export was forbidden, so that in 1897 the only article in which trade was allowed by the king was palm-oil. After the British occupation, an extensive trade developed in oil, kernels, timber, ivory, rubber, &c. In the rubber and timber industries great strides have been made. The chiefs and people have shown considerable aptitude in adapting themselves to the new order of things. Among the articles prized by the Beni is coral, of which the chiefs wear great quantities as ornaments.

NOTE: This article is an historical reference based on the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, now in the Public Domain. The text is provided through scanning and OCR conversion. There may be transcription errors in the article. Encyclopedia style: 1) For reasons of cost and academic writing style, the paragraphs are long in length. 2) Contributors to articles are sometimes identified by their initials in parentheses at the end of the article. 3) Some articles include a section called "Authorities," a record of all the sources used when writing the article. 4) Information is based on knowledge available in 1911 and may be inaccurate, especially in the areas of science, law, and ethnography. 5) Images and diagrams from the original are not included with article. 6) Do not use this information for medical or legal guidance or any research requiring current information.

**Next article: Benin (Country) 1911 Historical Profile #2: History

      "Benin," The Encyclopedia Britannica. Volume 3, Austria, Lower to Bisectrix (11th ed.), (New York: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911); digital edition, ( : posted 15 Jan 2013)

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