As my service year in Benin City is rapidly coming to an end, I thought I’d write about a city that I have grown so used to. I have spent close to a year here and yet, the marvel of the city’s rich history evident in the seamless blending of pre-colonial and post-colonial structures is not lost on me.
While most people groan and gripe that they were born before their time, I often think that maybe I was born past mine. I think I would have thrived in 19th century pre-colonial Benin with its mathematical layout and extraordinary bronze and ivory statues that still astound archaeologists and historians to this day and the simple yet baroque lifestyle of its people.
Perhaps I’d have caught the noble king’s eye. I’d have married him and bore his children –dozens of them I imagine. We’d have participated in all the festivals from the Igue to the Ohonomuimen. I’d have ruled at his side as a worthy and benevolent queen. I’d have been loved, feared and adored.
Or maybe I’d have been married to a simple farmer. We wouldn’t have had much but we would have been happy.
Or maybe I’d have been a brave warrior; the first female warrior in all the lands. Songs would have been sung and stories would have been told of my extraordinary feats on the battlefield. And when the invaders came –the whites- I’d have leapt into battle to cut them down right where they stood willingly sacrificing my life for my land.
Or maybe I’d have been nothing. Forgotten in an instant like the air we breathe.
Walking along the streets of postcolonial Benin I sometimes imagine that I am walking in step to the beats of primitive drums. I pass by ancient statues and I just know that they are bursting with stories to tell. But their lips remain immovable and their vast eyes give nothing away.
Benin: a city of secrets and statues
There is little left of it now. The walls larger and grander than that of the great walls of China, the picturesque streets, houses resplendent with ivory and bronze statues the city was once known for.
All we have left to do is to keep its memories alive in our hearts. And by telling our children and our children’s children its stories, we remind ourselves of the mighty, medieval capital that was Benin.
Benin, may your memories live on forever…
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