Why did the Kingdom of Benin decline?

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  • Why did the Kingdom of Benin decline?
    • Instability of the kingship
      • in accounts about Ohuan and Akengboi, kingly norms are violated as females are ineligible to become rulers and rulers should not be possessed by any deity as they are in themselves divine
      • c1641 – the death of Ohuan meant that there was no sons or brothers to inherit the throne
        • Egharevba: the result was that “the throne was opened to rotation among different branches of the royal family”
      • many, between the reigns of Ohuan and Ewaukpe, were not directly related to the royal line and this meant they were not divinely ordained
      • 1640s – Dapper: instead of father-son or father-brother, dying obas revealed their wishes about a successor to the Onegwa who then announced it
        • this suggests that the proclamation of succession shifted to the adminstration
    • Internal political competition
      • bureaucratic associations increased in strength and independence up until the point of unsurping the oba’s power
      • Ulsheimer and Ruiters: claim that the oba was restricted to the palace
        • the withdrawal of the king from public activities occurred with the changes in the power of the palace adminstration
      • Ehengbuda passed a law that the Uwangue could be killed, this removed one of the great sources of the oba’s power
        • a second law forbade the oba from leading military expeditions, this was entrusted to the iyase
      • Ahenkpaye attempted to assert royal control over the adminstration by refusing to pay coronation fees and re-centralisation of other fees
        • this was met with united resistance from the administration which had him dethroned
      • Nyendael: divided the government into three orders and said that there was a single chain of command
        • if this was correct, the senior authority had control of a substantial junior administration under it
    • Changing trade patterns
      • trade relations shifted from ivory and pepper, controlled by the kings, to cloth, which was not controlled centrally
      • c17 – the locus of trade shifted to riverside villages, daily business was handled by local officials operating in the king’s name
        • Dapper: in Gwaton, “the king chooses certain royal officials” who alone are allowed to come to the Europeans
      • groups could capitalise on the opportunities of the growing external trade
        • there was a concentrationof wealth in the hands of nobles, like the ezomo, who accumulated slaves as wealth
        •  this may have placed wealth in the hands of the lower members of the adminstration and increased their power, resulting in tensions between different levels
      • Benin’s refusal to participate in the Atlantic slave trade placed it at a disadvantage with its neighbouring states, like Allada
        • 1650s – neighbouring towns that were traditionally subject to Benin had set up independent settlements for European traders from which to sell captives
          • among the Kalabari Igbo of the Niger Delta, a trade in captives was growing
      • competition undermined the profitability of cloth production
        • the Dutch trade in the period was importing clothes from Flanders and Gujurat
          • it was impossible to make contact with the Dutch who transported 300,000 ells of cloth annually to Elmina alone
        • Bini weavers had to use imported cottom and dyes bought by European traders to make cloth
        • 1685 – the Dutch West India Company was considering withdrawing its factor due to a massive overstocking of cloth with no buyers
    • External pressures
      • Green: the rise of Oyo acted as a pressure on Benin, contributing to its political and economic decline
      • Bosman: mentions war that laid waste to Gwaton by the 1690s
        • there may have been a battle for military supremacy between Oyo and Benin


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