By GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE
THE Benin Empire at the zeniths of its glory was one of the oldest and greatest empires in the world and had diplomatic and trade links with several European countries. It has a cultural heritage and mores comparable to those of other great nations and empires such China, India, USA, Britain France just to mention a few.
However following the 1897 British expedition which saw the burning of the old Benin-City and looting of its arts treasures by the invading British imperialists, Benin cultural heritage, customs and mores have been on the decline and gradually facing extinction. Even the rich folklores, dances, language and the way of life of the Benin people which is also going extinct has been a source of worry to the Benin Monarch, Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa who has not ceased any opportunity whenever he is hosting sons and daughters of the ancient kingdom to do something very fast in restoring the cultural heritage of the Benins.
It is against this backdrop that the laying of the foundation stone of the N3.5Billion Benin Cultural Heritage Complex at Utekon near Oluku in the outskirt of Benin by the Benin Monarch, Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa on Thursday was seen by Benin sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora as a welcome development.
Besides, Benin Palace Chiefs and Enigies (Dukes) from the seven local government areas which presently constitutes the Benin speaking areas of the present Edo state, some traditional rulers who have been able to trace their ancestry to Benin Kingdom, also graced the occasion. Among them are the Oba of Ogba land in Rivers state, Oba Chukwumela 11,and two or three traditional rulers from Delta and Bayelsa state. Oba Chukwumela who traced his peoples origin to Ogba village, near Benin said that he was very proud of his ancestry and would continue to uphold its culture and tradition.
It would be re-called that Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa during the visit of the Benin Cultural Heritage Centre to his Palace to solicit for assistance, donated a ten hectare piece of land to the nascent Benin cultural organization for the propagation of the ancient culture of Benin, its customs and mores.
Speaking at the foundation laying ceremony Thursday, the President of the Benin Heritage Centre, Dr. Roland Ehigiamusoe disclosed that when completed, the complex would accommodate a Main Auditorium, Museum, Administrative Building, Amphi Theater, Art Gallery, Sculptural Garden, heritage Guest House, Children Amusement park, Herbal Garden among other facilities.
“It shall be a comprehensive centre where tourists will experience the beauty and wealth of our art and culture; where Benin/Edo people will hold congresses and conferences; where all Edo heritage sites and socio-cultural research will be conducted, coordinated and supported; where Benin Arts, Artifacts and Crafts will be collected, documented and displayed and where Benin language and culture will be taught, documented and preserved”.
“It will be a centre where visitors will come to savour with nostalgia Benin tales, folklores and exquisite Benin cuisines; children will come to have the best of times with modern play facilities and have fun learning about Benin cultural heritage; where remounted BENIN technical skill in the Arts, Sciences’ and Medical practices will be on display and where past Obas, Heroes and heroines will be on display for generations to come”.
According to Ehigiamuose, “The Benins once had a Heritage Centre called ‘Urhopkpta’ which was burnt during the British Expedition in 1897. Today, a new Heritage Centre is to be born, I am sure the British, now one of our greatest friends will join the Edo people and other friendly nations and corporate bodies to develop and nurture this dream to maturity”..
He also disclosed that in the realization of the objectives of the organization, the first batch of 300 students who were awarded scholarships to study Edo language at the College of Education, Ekiadolor have completed their course and would soon graduate.
“With these 300 and others trained previously on Edo language, the state government will have reasonable staff to teach the language in primary and secondary schools across the state.’He said.
While laying the foundation stone of the Cultural Complex, the Benin Monarch, Omo ‘Oba Erediauwa, who was represented by the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe while commending the brains behind the Benin Cultural Heritage Centre for doing their best to protect and preserving the cultural
The Iyase said that some groups within the Kingdom had in the past embarked on projects which they eventually abandoned without completionand prayed to the ancestors to give them strengths as they embark on the laudable project which he said, was very important to the Edo people.
On his part, the Edo state governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who was represented by the Commissioner for Arts and Culture, Comrade Abdul Oroh, called on Edo people not only to protect their cultural heritage, but should also propagate it. While describing the reign of Oba Erediauwa as having witnessed significant development of the state, the Governor pledged to support the Benin Cultural Heritge Center in the promotion, protection and propagation of the culture of the Edo people.