The Kingdom of Benin Excerpts from the Great African Civilizations of the “Middle Ages”
In ancient Egypt it was said, “in the beginning was the Nun (the primordial waters), i.e. the cosmic ocean and out of the Nun came Ptah (the creator), whose name means the opener and to expand. Ptah came as the Ta-tatenen (the primordial hill) and Ta-tatenen a naming meaning elevated land. Therefore, in the beginning of the creation myth, there is hill or a mountain coming out of the waters.
Creation stories of different cultures around the world speak about creation springing out of the cosmic ocean in the form of a mountain or hill. In Ife Yorubaland, Southwest Nigeria, it was Ora Hill. In the Hebraic culture it was Mt. Moriah. In the Hellenic culture of ancient Greece it was Mt. Olympus, and in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, it was Mt. Meru. This was where the gods dwelled.
Ancient civilizations emulated creation by building temples and cities in this manner. An example of this was the Khmer Culture in ancient Angkor (modern day Cambodia). Their temples were mountain temples that represented Mt Meru, the place where the gods dwelled. Each temple had a moat surrounding it.
One of the best-preserved temples in Cambodia is Angkor Wat. When you come to the entrance of the causeway at Angkor Wat, you’ll see lion statues and behind the lion statues are the naga statues.
In Hindu mythology the lion is the doorkeeper to the underworld and the naga is a god of the underworld. The naga statues serve as a balustrade on both sides of the causeway.
A moat surrounds the entire temple and represents the cosmic ocean or water where creation sprang. The causeway leads you over the moat and to the temple (Angkor Wat). The causeway leading to the temple represents the rainbow bridge taking you to Mt. Meru where the gods dwell.
Another example of this concept was in West Africa in ancient Nigeria. Around the 9th century A.D., the ancient Edo people, known to us as the Kingdom of Benin, began building a tremendous wall around the city. Today the city is called Benin City, but in ancient times, it was known as Igodomigodo, and their rulers were called Ogiso. They built on the wall for six centuries, up to around the mid 15th century. The wall was built with a combination of moats and ramparts, called Iya in the local language. When the first Europeans (the Portuguese) arrived in the 15th century, they found a kingdom (Benin) they considered beautiful and sophisticated. There were hundreds of cities interconnected to one another. The city and its surrounding villages were laid in fractal form. A fractal is a recurring design or pattern (self similarity) displaying the same character on every scale. What makes this a phenomenal accomplishment to the Europeans is because mathematicians in the Western World didn’t begin understanding fractals until the end of the 19th century with the works of Karl Weierstrass and George Cantor. Westerners would eventually discover fractal designs of towns and villages were throughout Africa and not just in Benin.
According to Lourenco Pinto, a Portuguese ship captain, Great Benin (Benin City) was wealthy and at the time larger than the city of Lisbon. The city was lit-up by street lamps throughout the city. The Great Wall surrounded the city and was an architecture marvel. It has been established the Great Wall of Benin was the largest man-made structure in the world, according to recent work by Dr. Patrick Darling, a British Archaeologist. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Great Wall of Benin is the most extensive earthwork in the world.
In the New Scientist magazine Fred Peace describes the Great Wall of Benin,“They extend for some 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6,500 square kilometers (2500 square miles) and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt. It took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and is perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.”
Unfortunately in 1897, the British severely damaged the wall in the invasion that brought an end to the Kingdom of Benin. Art from the Kingdom of Benin, such as the magnificent bronze masks, were looted and taken to the British Museum in London. Today there are pieces of the Great Wall of Benin scattered throughout Benin City being used in current real estate projects.