An Oba on horseback with attendants from 16th century
An Oba of Benin from the late 17th century
The Oba of Benin is the traditional ruler of the Edo people and all Edoid people and head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire – a West African empire centred on Benin City, in modern-day Nigeria. The ancient Benin homeland (not to be confused with the modern-day and unrelated Republic of Benin, which was then known as Dahomey) has been and continues to be mostly populated by the Edo (also known as the Bini or Benin ethnic group).
The title of Oba was used after the Ogiso title and was created by Oranmiyan, Benin Empire’s first “Oba”. Oba Eweka I, Oranmiyan’s son, is said to have ascended to power at some time between 1280 and 1300. The Oba of Benin was the Head of State (Emperor) of the Benin Empire until the Empire’s annexation by the British, in 1897.
In 1897, the British launched a Punitive or Imperialist Expedition, deposed and exiled the then 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. Under the pretext of covering for the cost of the expedition, the Benin royal art was stolen and auctioned off by the British. Ovonramwen died in 1914, his throne never having been restored to him. His son, grandson and now his great-grandson, however, all preserved their title and status as traditional rulers in modern-day Nigeria.