Oba of Benin Ovonrawen Nogbasi: His last interview six months before he died on 1914
Source: British archive
An audience with his Majesty Oba Ovonramwem Nogbaisi
Q: Thank you for having us today. Your Majesty how are you feeling?
A: Very frail from my illness.
Q: Your Majesty, it is exactly 17 years to the day today that the British put together a naval squadron of 1200 Royal marines to capture Your Majesty and burn down your city. We apologise for their cruelty but we would just like to get your views on what happened and on life for you after that punitive expedition.
Q: The British claimed that they were acting in response to your soldiers eliminating a peaceful party they had sent to bring you presents at Christmas, what would you like to say in response to that?
A: What is Christmas? My people had no idea about Christmas, we had our sacred ancestral ceremony during that period (the Igue Festival) and the British Party led by Lawyer Phillips knew that and was told to wait for just two days for me to complete my fasting but he said he was too big and too busy to wait for us to complete our ceremonies. He decided to invade our private ceremonies during my fasting and prayer period and when no one was allowed to talk to or disturb me; putting together a party of over 270 officials and soldiers , he set out to march on our city against all advice that this was an unwise move. My Chief of Army Staff saw this as a deliberate act of unprovoked war declaration and acted accordingly to defend our city. What would you have done if you had been in his position?
News International 101: We are very sorry, Your Majesty. We will move on to another question.
Q: The British reported that you were the last person to evacuate your city when it was being burnt to the ground; it must have been very painful for you to watch centuries of your ancestors’ hard work burnt to cinders. Why did you wait till the bitter end?
A: You just imagine this, I had recently in the new year, blessed all my peoples’ households and prayed for their prosperity this year; then one month on, the city is burning and I flee with the people, how would that have made us look as Divine King of the people? My duty was to watch over their houses and the city until there was nothing left, my ancestors would have expected this of us.
Q: The papers reported widely about the treasure trove in your storerooms, the British reported finding intricate bronze plaques, ivory and terracotta artwork ‘of the highest quality covered in the dust of age’. What was the idea behind this?
A: We were renovating the palace and put these away for safe keeping. I must add that most of the works the British found there had been in the storerooms for centuries; my ancestors wanted to record and preserve their history in expensive and durable forms, it is one’s duty to uphold this desire.
Q: Your Majesty, you now live in Calabar, how have things been with you?
A: Traumatic. Losing one’s place in the world is never easy. Having to cope with being a nobody after being a king in charge of a proud and industrious people and of a country is very humiliating but one has to do all one can to survive, even a once upon a time king like me. One lesson we made sure we taught our people was; ‘when the going gets tough, the tough must get going’; this mindset sets superior stock apart from ordinary stock and I am made of a superior stock, this trying period attests to this fact.
Q: Has it been difficult adjusting to your new position?
A: You have no idea just how difficult it has been. Some people deliberately scorn you with impunity for the sake of just being able to do so.
Q: What one incident stands out for you?
A: One day, one of my children was playing with other children, one of them deliberately head butted her, injuring her badly. She suffered a fractured jaw and eye inflammation and was in pain for months. When her mother complained to the local chiefs here, all they did was to ask that child to apologise whereas in my custom back home, the child’s parents would have been fined heavily for not having their child under control. It was painful for me as a father knowing that I cannot even protect my own family when others want to deliberately hurt or harm them.
Q: What would you like to say to the British?
A: I have this message for the British; congratulations, now that you have opened up your trade routes on our soil, but make no mistake about this; this is not the end of the Kingdom of Benin.
Q: Your Majesty, thinking back about it all, is there anything that you would have done differently?
A: NO. I was trained from an early age to defend my people’s interests and to safeguard our history. I performed that duty to the best of my ability even in the face of bribery with presents from British officials to abandon my people and to pursue my own riches. My ancestors would have turned in their graves if we had behaved any differently. Anyhow, history will be the judge of whether we should have done anything differently.
Q: Your Majesty, have you any final words?
A: Yes, tell all peoples everywhere in the world, that whenever they come across a Benin artwork, they should look deeply at the composition and use the narrative it tells to pass on the history of a great Rain-forest Kingdom that existed on the West African Coast from 40BC till the British sacked it in 1897. The world should tell our story well.
News International 101: Your Majesty, thank you for giving us so much of your time today. We hope you get better soon so you can leave the hospital and return home.
End of interview.
News International 101, received news the following day that his Majesty passed away in hospital; he never recovered from his illness and never returned home. At the time of his death, he was far away from his people and their traditions and so his traditional burial ceremonies could not be observed in full.
His Majesty Ovonramwen Nogbaisi died on Wednesday 14th January 1914.
Tuesday 14th January 2014, marks his 100 years death anniversary.
His Majesty Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi was never informed that his captor and judge Ralph Moor who put him in chains and exiled him from his kingdom, on return to England after his African duties suffered insanity and committed suicide on September 14th 1909; ‘The coroner’s jury determined that “the poison was deliberately taken whilst temporarily insane after suffering acutely from insomnia”, they had heard evidence that Moor had suffered for the last four years on his return from Africa with malarial and backwater fever that induced insomnia.’ Source Wikipedia
A spotlight on world history after that
Six months after His Majesty, Oba Ovonramwen joined his ancestors.
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