My first trip this year was to Benin city, Edo state in Nigeria. Edo state is in the South-Western part of Nigeria with Benin as the capital. I needed to see my aunty and also tour the city. I am also from Edo state and my hometown is about an hour drive away from Benin. This city has a rich cultural heritage and was one of the most developed states in West Africa before the British invasion in 1897. You can watch Lancelot Imasuen’s movie, Invasion 1897 for more details. I checked Tripadvisor for the list of tourist places in Benin and I was able to visit some of them.
Oba of Benin’s palace
My uncle arranged for a tour guide who works in the palace to give me a tour around the palace. The Oba of Benin is the traditional ruler of the Benin empire and he is highly revered. I was first given a history of Benin by a man I was introduced to and then my tour guide took me round the palace (I wasn’t allowed to move beyond a certain point). I was shown the forbidden parts for males and females. I spoke to a titled chief and I was told how to identify a titled chief from every other person. A titled chief has a shorter bead on and a special haircut. By the way, all the beads worn by the titled chiefs and kings have mystical powers. It is forbidden to point your fingers in the palace. There are some palace boys who are ‘donated’ to the palace by their parents. I saw one of them. He had a ring like item around his leg. If for example a female comes in contact with them, she dies. They are not allowed to have any interaction with women until they are ‘released’ and by then they can now have sexual relationships with women and then get married. They also have a school in the palace for all the boys. The palace was burnt down during the British invasion and lot of artefacts were stolen. The tour guide said the palace was three times bigger than what it used to be before but I read online that is was ten times bigger before the invasion.
Right behind the Palace is Chief Akenzua’s Cultural centre. I was told the centre is used for practice by artistes when there is an event in the palace.
From here, I decided to move to the National museum but I was told it was under renovations. I took a selfie in front of the museum and took some pictures of sculptures I saw on the road. The palace, cultural center and museum are all a walking distance from each other.
It is listed as a Cultural heritage site by UNESCO. My uncle and his wife took me on a tour here and I saw lots of artefacts that had to do with bronze casting among others. We spoke to one of the craftsmen and he told us of how the bronze casting process is a family secret and he explained to us briefly the process on his site. As a UNESCO site, I expected to see a better structured quarters.
Chief Ogiamen house
This is a national monument and the only building that survived the expedition and siege by the British during the 1897 invasion. My cousin and I were so disappointed. We got into the building and realized people were living in there. The old woman we met told us to come back the next day so we could meet her child and ask questions. I would have liked someone to give us a small talk about how the building survived the expedition. Was it mystical powers or something else? For goodness sake, this is a national monument. No one should be living there and there should be at least a tour guide around.
My last stop was the University of Benin- Ekehuan campus. There were beautiful sculptures I took pictures of.
Overall, the only reason why I will go to Benin again will be to see my aunty or pass through it to my hometown. Benin is REALLY AN ANCIENT CITY. I was not impressed with the road networks at all. Their tourism sense is below par. For a city with so much cultural heritage, I didn’t see any efforts by the government to make Benin a tourist attraction indeed. I enjoyed my four day visit and I thank my aunty for being the perfect host, my uncle and his wife, the palace tour guide, my cousin, Ben that showed me round town and other cousins who were ready to ensure I had the best time ever in Benin.
In case you do visit, make sure you visit these tourist areas. It is more than reading about them in books or online, visiting brings life to all you will ever read. As at now, I have toured all the South Western states in Nigeria except for Ekiti state. I am still finding a tangible reason to take me to Ekiti state aside touring.