African History 3: Ife, the Benin Empire, and the Igbo People
Today we're going to learn about West African priest-kings, priest-warrior-kings, and priest-warrior-supermodel-kings. Okay maybe we made that last one up.
|World History||African History|
And some even had a little democracy happening.
Unlike the US, the democratic ones thought up representative government without Greek
and Roman crib notes.
We could spend days going through the different peoples of the West Coast.
But we’ve got some cookies in the oven, so uh…we’ll have to hit the highlights. [Men standing together and cookies shaking in a microwave]
Let’s take a look at three very different West African societies: the Ife Kingdom, the
Benin Empire, and the Igbo people.
We’ll start with the city of Ife.
This place was close to the coast of modern-day Nigeria, and it was a major religious pilgrimage [People using musical instruments]
site back in medieval times.
It was a regular god-superstore, with temples to hundreds of local deities. [Man enters deities r us store]
It's actually still inhabited today.
People have been living in Ife since at least 600 BCE.
Which…is a pretty good run.
Priests eventually took over the whole city—army, merchants, government, the whole kit and caboodle. [Priest King walking through city]
By the 11th century, Ife was ruled by a bonafide priest-king.
This guy used his control over the different religious priesthoods to boss around other
Although the priest-king never had direct control over an empire, pilgrims and religious [Priest King and people praying]
leaders from hundreds of miles away followed his lead.
Next door to Ife was the Benin Empire, which was also close to the coast of modern-day
The Benin Empire was ruled by a priest-king the locals called the “Oba.” [Oba appears by Benin tribe]
Unlike Ife's priest-kings, the Oba was sometimes elected instead of being born into the title.
The Oba ruled a very large, very powerful city-state called Benin City.
Even though he was technically a priest-king, the Oba of Benin was more of a military guy. [Oba transforms into warrior]
We’d call him a priest-warrior-king, but that takes too long to say.
To be a citizen in the capital of Benin City, you had to serve in the Oba's military. [Men in military enter benin city]
If you couldn't serve because you…
banged your foot on the bed or something, you might be forced to produce weapons or [Man creating a weapon]
By 1500, the legions of Benin included at least 30,000 soldiers, armed with steel armor,
pikes, warhorses, composite bows, and muskets. [Benin soldiers appear]
Benin's empire was a basically a network of cities that paid money to Benin every year
to avoid getting a beat down. [Man waving money at others]
It was the classic protection money extortion scam.
Ife and Benin City were powers that knew how to throw their weight around. [Ife and Benin in a boxing ring]
But not all African kingdoms were total control freaks.
Take the Igbo people, for example.
They had a polytheistic religion like Benin City, but each town had its own temples.
So nobody bothered centralizing things under one priest-king.
Igbo towns actually worked like little republics.
All the landowners in a town, including women, voted for representatives to lead everybody [Land owners appear]
Elected representatives did all the boring government stuff, like keeping law and order, [People placing items into a canon]
resolving disputes over property, and collecting debts.
OK, that stuff is probably fun for some people…
Compared to most other medieval societies, Igbo culture was also pretty advanced on women's [Igbo people in a field]
The ladies could own property, vote, and hold protests against rapists and wife-beaters.
In some cases, marriage between two women was even legal, as long as one woman took [Women marrying each other]
the role of head of the family.
Igbo culture was a neat departure from the usual kingly extortion racket. [Men holding a man out of a window]
It makes you wonder what other unique cultures were out there in historical Africa.
There could’ve been whole societies ruled by… intelligent giraffes who governed with [Giraffe ruling over igbo tribe people]
wisdom and fortitude.
OK, that one’s unlikely.