George the Poet – The Benin bronze

I used to live on a wall of a palace. Until I was torn off in malice. The figure adorned in the attire of a King
headed the great African Empire of Benin. Two of his subjects are either side of him, he’s standing, their kneeling right beside
the King. He’s depicted in the centre as bigger then
everybody because he was an Emperor figure. He ruled much of what is now Southern Nigeria, but his power can be gauged by other criteria, for example, the Oba as he was called, hosted European subjects, who were utterly
enthralled by the organisation of Benin society. No inner rivalry or impropriety. He controlled trade from the upper echelon
right back down to the village. Thus monopolising security and favours. The smaller figures in the background of the
image are European traders. I remember those guys, they were Portuguese. Always caught disease in the scorching heat, yet they were guided through the King’s court
with ease, to negotiate the purchase of pepper, gold
and ivory. Oba was happy to export these commodities, but as for me, I was never told that I could
leave. The Europeans knew I wasn’t for sale, but every time they visited they kept an open
eye for me. Now over the 16th and 17th Century, the King’s continued to trade pepper, gold
and ivory. And other goods exclusive to our soil, most commonly rubber and palm oil. Since our exports were much distinguished
they attracted business from the Dutch and English, who’s ships gave a direct link to Western
markets. We were the only suppliers. The rest departed, leaving our King to monopolise trade in the
area, which gave him a warier outlook of the Western
visitors. Who used some Africans as partners, the rest
as prisoners. Anyway, back to me. Oba and his officials are in the foreground
as you can see, to convey their dominance of the relationship, because they were commonly accommodating trading
ships, that were often laden with brass from European
nations before all the invasions. The people of Benin made art with the brass, and all of the images chartered the past, that’s why every single scene covers Kings
and Queen Mothers. I was on the palace wall of the man that balanced
all of the land. Now by the late 19th Century, the Oba suspected Britain’s only ambition,
was colonialism. And even though he envisioned, a continuation
of this harmonious system. If we sever ties, we won’t be imprisoned. So in 1896 when he ended the trade agreement, the British decided to invade the region. They requested a meeting with the trade official, but arrived in Benin concealing blades and
pistols. Only two of the Brits survived, the rest were slain as soon as the ships arrived. And even though this was a well deserved victory, it wasn’t long before we felt the burn, literally. The British response was a thousand marines. All I remember was the sounds of the screams, as they raided our city, raped and pillaged the indigenous people of
the ancient village. I can’t erase the image.
I can’t erase the image. They circled around as our civilisation was
burnt to the ground. And what was once the royal decor, had now become the spoils of war.

27 Replies to “George the Poet – The Benin bronze

  1. nice…but it's hard to follow a brits accent…I wish you could of included the written part in the.decription….he put a lot of creative thought and talent into this….and it's nice to hear it in thr poets.voice…but I prefer a curator talking about thr piece….sorry.

  2. Amazing poem!
    Please add a transcription and subtitles ; I know some teachers who would love to present this to their students.

  3. What a treat, George the Poet, what treat!

    First heard you on TV from F1 in Monaco and now this, please do more history!

  4. I'm not much into poetry but this was awesome. I love it! I love West African history and knowing all of this just made the poem that much better. I do videos about African history on my channel. My display picture is actually of a Benin warrior.

  5. I had no idea about the Benin empire before this, thank you George. But fuck the British Museum tbh, must be nice having all those STOLEN artefacts your country got from murdering, raping & pillaging your way through the continent huh?

  6. This video opened my eyes to Benin. Led me down a road to learning about the civilization and what remains today. Fascinates me and leads me down other roads. Thank you to you and George who is excellent 👍👌👍👌👍👍👍

  7. Love GtP, this really is great, and has great impact. However, having studied the Benin Bronzes I have to say not totally correct in my understanding. For instance, the brasses were certainly not on the palace walls at the time of looting, it makes the crime no less heinous, but I think that is one fact which is slightly misrepresented. Additionally the expedition which left only two survivors, difficult to summarise in poetry, but there is much more context to it than expressed in this poem.

  8. How ironic that this is posted by The British Museum? You understand that these treasures are stolen and instead of returning it to the locality from which it was deprived… you have a Ugandan poet narrate the tale. The poem was beautiful albeit hollow when contextualized.

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