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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 Kingdom. The Benin homeland (not to be confused with the modern-day Republic of Benin, which was formerly known as Dahomey), has been and continues to be mostly populated by the Edo (also known as the Bini or Benin ethnic group).
In 1897, the British launched a Punitive Expedition, sacked Benin city and exiled 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. To cover the cost of the expedition, the Benin royal art was auctioned off by the British. Ovonramwen died in 1914, his throne never having been restored to him.
The present Oba, Erediauwa I, is the 39th Oba of the dynasty.
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. The number of such kings varies depending on which tradition is followed. One tradition gives the number as 31 while others state twelve or even one. Whatever the case may be, all of the accounts agree that a popular revolt ousted the Ogiso and that shortly afterwards, the Eweka dynasty was founded with its founder being sent by the King of Ife in response to a request that he send the citizens of Benin a ruler. The king, known as the Oni of Ife, is reputed to have sent Oranyan (also known as Oranmiyan), one of his sons by the Yoruba princess Okanbi. This son is believed to've spent some years in Benin City before returning to Ife to subsequently establish a Yoruba kingdom at Oyo. It is said that he left Ubinu in anger and saw the place, 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, Oranyan 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, the first Oba of Benin.
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.
The dates of reigns of these early kings are highly uncertain.
There is some uncertainty in the dates of the reigns of some of the earlier warrior kings
Some of the cadet members of the Eweka royal family live elsewhere in Nigeria, as well as in other parts of Africa, Europe and the United States of America.