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Early Encounter with the Portuguese

In what ways did cultural encounters between the people of Benin and European visitors change between the sixteenth and late nineteenth centuries?

Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to reach Benin, which was a pre-colonial empire located in southern Nigeria, in 1485. The kingdom of Benin was one of the oldest and a very well developed state in West Africa and dated back to the 11th century. A mercantile relationship was soon developed between Benin and Portugal which included the trade of palm oil, ivory and pepper in exchange of manila and guns which were Portuguese goods (Bredewold, Tonkens and Trappenburg, 2015). In the early sixteenth century, an ambassador was sent to Lisbon and Christian missionaries were sent by the Portuguese king to Benin. In the late nineteenth century, some Benin residents were capable of speaking pidgin Portuguese.

The first English expedition to Benin took place in 1553 and crucial trading was formed between Benin and England. People who visited Benin during the 16th and 17th centuries chanted of Benin as a fabulous city which was ruled by a very powerful king (Brock, 2007). Nonetheless, Britain was suspected to have much greater colonial designs and the Oba suspended all types of communications with the British and the British troops conducted an expedition in 1896 to 1897 when they looted, burned and captured the city and brought the empire to an end.

The plaque mentioned in the question has been found at one of the storehouses in the king’s compounds. A lot of bronze plaques were found buried in one of the storehouses. They mainly suggested Egyptian designs but the castings were exemplary (Cultures in conflict: encounters between European and non-European cultures, 1492-1800, 1989). The expeditionary also collected some magnificently carved ivory tasks but several of them have been destroyed due to age. No gold or silver were found and the value of the coral was insignificant. Only the bronze and tusks were of significant value.

European merchant ships were visited West Africa from 15th century onwards and trade control process started and British were tried to expand their trading in 19th century but the envoys were destroyed by the Benin people. In 1897, there are some historical developments took place and those developments results in overall trading facilities enhancement that results in increasing the life living standards of the people of Benin. However, this particular time was regarded as a new political era in the history of Benin (European encounters with the Yamana people and Cape Horn, before and after Darwin, 2011). The continuous change in Benin society was the primary drives of development that helps in streamlining the societal and economic mobility. With the development process the differentiation between the social statuses of individual people. Economic mobility helps in overall development and the demands and need of the people were also increased as the liquid cash was available to full their daily needs successfully. Some of the local historians have proven the facts of development and entertainment of people by providing the facts and information of that time (Hirsch and Rowe, 2001). It is an academic debate sometime took very place time while the people discuss regarding the development and trading process of Benin and past history of Benin provide critical emphasis overt the recent year regarding their 19th century development the previous system of trading given them a better platform to perform trade with various countries. The military system of Benin has also provided critic al impact to the societal and economic culture of the country because the regulatory guidance and other legislations are quite different from the normal democracy in compare to a military ruling country. There are some disciplinary aspects and other functions has to be followed by the individuals and that helps in maintain the sustainability of the society with the help of better rules and conducts that provided a limitation within the people to daily living. Besides this, the military history of Europe cannot be separated from the general history. The military system of Benin duration was 1440 to 1897 and therefore the overall character of country rules and conduct has been successfully overwhelmed and maintained with the help of military rules and regulations (Korovkin, 2010). In a particular region different corporate ground were developed that helps in better trading because each of them were involved in several aspects of trading functions. It is also evident from the local histories survey that family unit also plays an important role in concept development of authority and the village process administration also provide significant impact to maintain the social system and trading in a smooth way.           

The British Trade with Benin

The empire of Benin started declining after 1700 and during this time, the European activity was through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade which led to vital disruptive repercussions. Nevertheless, the power of Benin was revived in the nineteenth century because there was a development seen in the trade of textiles and palm oil. In order to preserve the city’s independence, the Oba restricted the trade to only palm oil (Lucksted, 2000).

By the end of the nineteenth century, Britain desired to maintain a much closer relationship with Benin and hence, they tried to control the trade to have access to rubber to maintain their fast growing tire industry. After discovering the true intentions of Britain, the people of Benin killed 8 innocent representatives of Britain. This resulted to the conduction of a punitive expedition in 1897. Admiral Sir Harry Rawson was in command of the expedition which             destroyed the country totally along with its treasured art.

Captain Gallwey was the British vice-Consul of the Oil rivers Protectorate who visited Benin in March 1892 with an aim to make Benin an annexure to the British Kingdom. Omo n’Oba Ovonramwen, who was the king of Benin, suspected foul play but nevertheless, he endorsed what he thought of as a hand of friendship from the British along with the agreement of trade (Mitchell and Wellings, 2002). However, Oba refused to endorse the trade agreement when he finally realized that the document as a deception and its intention was to make Benin a Protectorate of Britain. In reply to that, an edict was issued by the king, which barred all British officials and traders from entering the kingdom of Benin. Since the so called Treaty was considered valid by Major Claude Maxwell Macdonald, he considered this act by the Benin king to be a violation of the accord. 

After Benin fell in 1897, Warri Province was set apart by the British in order to punish the Oba and thus, restrain his imperial power. Even though the monarchy of Benin was restored in 1914, the true power lied with the colonial administration of Nigeria (Oakley, 2000). After destructing Benin, the war booty of art was confiscated as well as auctioned off by the British Admiralty so that the cost of the expedition could be defrayed. Considerable amounts of ivory were sold to meet the expenses of the expedition and several officers retained some as their own collections. The leading collection was retained by the British museum and the remaining part either went to Germany or the USA. During the 2nd World War in Liverpool and berlin, several pieces were claimed to be lost.   

The Fall of Benin

The artworks of Benin arrived in 1897 in Europe and the attitude towards Benin has shifted since then. The country was considered to be uncivilized and so the British felt the need of civilizing Benin and along with them followed the encounter between the black, dangerous people of Africa and the white, cultured British (Peachey and Bitterli, 1991). After confiscating the artwork from Benin, little or no attention was paid to their value and the manner of display of the objects in their native land.

A debate has been long standing about cultural patrimony since the bronze artifacts lawfully belonged to Benin City. The questions which arise in the debate are; “Should the arts of a non-western world be returned to their native country?Is it fair how Britain acquired these pieces?” (Wiesel, Bigby and Carling-Jenkins, 2013). It is basically argued that how hard it is for an African resident to arrive in Europe and be acknowledged of the fact that their cultural masterpieces were confiscated from them and were hung up in British museums. They would have been aware that they were not primitive and uncultured since the early of times as they have been made up to be. They were in fact very well abled craftsmen and were a lot more than brutal savages as they have been denoted to be. 

Even though the works have been termed as primitive or general artifacts of African culture, these works by Benin were not only produced to provide aesthetic pleasure or to be hung up in museums and galleries. When the Europeans kept their records in the form of hieroglyph, the records of Benin were carved in wood or ivory or cast in bronze. When a significant event occurred, the people wanted to record them and the Oba commissioned them for that. Although some of them were meant as adornments, most of them were used as reference points (Korovkin, 2010). Taking away the items carved or cast in Benin during the period is similar to steal the souls of the people from them. 

References

Bredewold, F., Tonkens, E. and Trappenburg, M. (2015). Urban encounters limited: The importance of built-in boundaries in contacts between people with intellectual or psychiatric disabilities and their neighbours. Urban Studies.

Brock, P. (2007). Nakedness and Clothing in Early Encounters Between Aboriginal People of Central Australia, Missionaries and Anthropologists. Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 8(1).

Cultures in conflict: encounters between European and non-European cultures, 1492-1800. (1989).Choice Reviews Online, 27(04), pp.27-2219-27-2219.

European encounters with the Yamana people and Cape Horn, before and after Darwin. (2011). Choice Reviews Online, 48(06), pp.48-3433-48-3433.

Hirsch, E. and Rowe, M. (2001). Crossing the Border: Encounters between Homeless People and Outreach Workers. Contemporary Sociology, 30(3), p.271.

Korovkin, T. (2010). Between Class and Ethnicity: Encounters of Ecuador's Indigenous People with the Political Left. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 5(3), pp.331-334.

Lucksted, A. (2000). Crossing the Border: Encounters Between Homeless People and Outreach Workers. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 188(10), pp.719-720.

Mitchell, K. and Wellings, K. (2002). The role of ambiguity in sexual encounters between young people in England. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 4(4), pp.393-408.

Oakley, D. (2000). Crossing the Border: Encounters Between Homeless People and Outreach Workers.PS, 51(9), pp.1188-1189.

Peachey, P. and Bitterli, U. (1991). Cultures in Conflict: Encounters between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492-1800. Sixteenth Century Journal, 22(2), p.377.

Wiesel, I., Bigby, C. and Carling-Jenkins, R. (2013). 'Do You Think I'm Stupid?': Urban Encounters between People with and without Intellectual Disability. Urban Studies, 50(12), pp.2391-2406. 

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