Craft Guilds and the Sustenance of Pre-Colonial Benin Monarchy
Benin was one of the major kingdoms that thrived in the forest region of West Africa from about c.900 to1897 when she was conquered by the British expeditionary forces and integrated into the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. The resilience and sustenance of the kingdom and her monarchy for this long period has been attributed to several factors such as the successive line of capable and effective Oba (kings) and her trade with the Europeans – Portuguese, Dutch and British – which enabled her to acquire arms and ammunitions for the defense and expansion of her territories. However, the vital role played by the craft guilds in the sustenance of the monarchy had not been given proper attention. The guilds which were associations of professional or craftsmen were involved in the production of variety of products and other items of utilities. It was in order to maximize the benefit derivable from their products the various Oba ensured that the craftsmen were organized into associations to supply every need of the monarch and the palace. It was in this respect that the various guilds in Benin were affiliated into the three main palace societies – Iwebo, Iweguae and Ibiwe. These societies were responsible for every facet of the needs of the palace. As the basic need of the monarchy was adequately met by the various guilds, the Oba had enough time and resources to devote to the effective administration of the kingdom. It is in this regards that this papers posits that the guilds played vital roles in the sustenance of Benin monarchy throughout the pre-colonial period.
Key words: Guild System, Benin Kingdom, Palace Societies, Oba of Benin
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