March 25, 2011

National monument,Benin moat…On the edge of extinction

By Simon Ebegbulem
For its sheer size, complexity and historical significance, the Benin Moat should be attracting the kind of global attention, if not more, attracted today by the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt.

Esoagbaon of Benin and the Benin Moat:...0n the verge of extinction?

Covering some 6,500 square kilometers, it is much longer than the Great Wall, a vast defensive fortification than spans 2,400 kilometers in China’s northern border.

And according to Prince Patrick Orosanye, a former Secretary to the Oba of Benin and a Culture Resource Consultant, “at least 37 million metric tonnes of earth was moved in the construction of the moat,” which he says is five times what was used in constructing the Pyramids of Egypt.

But the bad news is that the moat, which was declared declined a national monument by the Federal Government in 1961 is fast disappearing and may fade into oblivion “within our own life time.”

Prince Orosanye said: “The Benin City earth work popularly known as the Benin moat is a small part of a structure and when quantifying the time that was used in this construction it is about one hundred and fifty million man hours.

If one man was to dig it, it would have taken one hundred and fifty million hours. Then at least 37 million metric tonnes of earth was moved in this construction, that is five times bigger than what was used in constructing the great Pyramids in Egypt . It is five times longer than the Great Wall of China .

“But unfortunately, this massive monument which has been hidden for over a thousand years, is being defaced at a rate in which it will disappear completely within our own life time.

“The earth works is probably the greatest construction of a pre-mechanical civilization. The people who built this earth work were Binis in the South, then in the Central Esan people, because we have the same network, in Ekpoma. Several sources have been quoted, the first report on this moat was about 600 years ago by the white people.

“But we have an adage in Benin which says when ever you come you meet the moat at its walls. It was actually dug by the proto Edo people, the people who actually created the Benin Kingdom .

“The moat was dug before Benin became a city, because if you look at the moat, you have the one around Benin City itself, the one that starts from 3rd Circular, Sakpoba road junction, it passes through 3rd by Akpakpava, all the way down to Iyaro.

Then passes through Iyanga market through Observer, back again to 3rd junction and Sapele road. There is another that passed through five junction, Airport Road , that is the Uzama moat comprising of the Uzama villages.

Then you have Uselu, Ugbeku, Ihinhinmi. Every major Benin polity has its earth work. The three major communities that comprise Benin Kingdom , you have the Uronigbe, which means the ten gated towns in the East. You have Benin with nine gates in the central part, we have Udo with eight gates in the West.

“As I said, it is the largest construction made by a pre-mechanical civilization. It is supposed to be a big blessing to us but as the city expanded with the oil boom, it became a doom for the moat. People started building structures on them and started removing earth from the wall of the moat to fill their structures.

In 1961, the earthwork was declared a national monument. From July 21, 1961 till date, the walls that were protected by a purely traditional means were now thrown open for degradation by land hungry people. So in the last 30 years, the earth work has suffered tremendously. More than 60 per cent of the ones in Benin City have been damaged.

Prominent citizens, land speculators started selling those pieces to those who could afford it especially those from top of the pyramid. Where the problem lies right now is that there is an existing law protecting the moat but it has not been enforced because those are supposed to enforce the law are the ones breaking the law now.

When it was under traditional protection there was guarantee, but now we are faced with a situation where the moat is being destroyed at a rate that it may disappear in our life time. The palace set up several communities to check the excesses of these people destroying the moat but they won’t listen.

Because some of the perpetrators are close to those in power. If you go to 3rd Circular, end of the earth work it was government that destroyed that one in the name of creating a road. The government also went in and defaced the moat by placing drain pipes in the center of the moat, destroying a cultural heritage.

Then people deliberately break down the wall to fill their houses. We are making it a point of duty to inform the world that the greatest example of a pre-mechanical civilization is being destroyed, that the greatest visible evidence of Edo civilization is being destroyed completely”.

Opinions differ on what led to the construction of the moat in the first instance.

Chief Jacob Egharevba in a short history of Benin said the first moat was done by Oba Oguola in about 1208 AD to secure the territory from external aggression.

His view is shared by the Esogban of Benin, Chief David Edebin who said: “The first moat or what they now call the inner moat and possibly the deepest is traceable to Oba Oguola who was the fifth Oba in the present dynasty. Oguola was the King that really stabilized the monarchy when the four Kings before him ruled as Usama, that is outside the city wall.

They could not enter the proper city because of the resistance of the political war lords in those days. But Oguola fought his way into the city and after defeating the resistant group he established the present palace that is within the city.

He was also said to be the Oba who dug the first moat, called the inner moat. It served as a preventive measure against people who were coming to trouble the new city , to ward off this attackers, that was the main purpose. There was a particular man, Akpanigiakon of Udo.

Prince Orosanye however, disagreed saying: “The truth here is that Oba Oguola’s father, Oba Ewedo, crossed the moat to enter Benin City . So how could the son have dug the moat which the father crossed? You know that he would not have become an Oba if the father was still alive.

Secondly most of our myths and legend all talked about the moat that was there before the Obaship. For instance at Ugbor and Ekhai, those are two areas to Sapele road end of Benin . They are two very ancient communities. One is so ancient that it is believed that the King of Ekhai came with God from the sky.

They said at a time because of the frequency in clashes between the two communities, the King of Ugbor and the King of Ekhai decided to dig boundaries. That is why the Benins call the earth work Iyanuwo, that is the boundary earth work. Each ancient community in Benin has its own network. It is about two hundred communities that encompass these 15,000 kilometers at least around Benin Kingdom its self.

So it is old. If you look at the sizes of the trees in these moats, we know how long it takes nature to build a tree to this level. Some of them are in the excess of a thousand years.”