The Benin Massacre Route Day 8
Early this morning, Dudu Jerri came back from Gwatto to say that the Gwatto Chief has got a house ready for them to sleep in as Mr. Phillips requested. The people are very glad to hear that the white men are coming.
Throughout the morning, the Jakri carriers work very hard clearing the creek of weeds and cutting down branches which are likely to interfere with the launches, as about here the creek becomes very narrow.
Mr. Phillips and the other white men leave Gilli- Gilli till about midday on the launches arriving some twenty minutes later at Gwatto. It is very hot at this time of the day and so Mr. Phillips decides it is better not to land till about 4 p.m., when it would be cooler.
The carriers arrive very soon after the launches. Mr. Campbell immediately starts to supervise the carriers in getting all the stores, etc. landed. About six to seven photographers have also arrived to take photos of everything they could get within range of. Amongst them is a famous photographer, Mr. Baddoo, a man from Accra, on the Gold Coast, who is also the Consul General's chief clerk. They will record everything that happens on this expedition.
At 4 p.m. before they land, Consul General Phillips finalises the order the white men should march in. He would as always march first, followed by the guide and an interpreter. The other interpreter is to remain with Campbell, who, having his long line of carriers to look after, would be generally in the rear.
Mr. Phillips also instructs the men to the effect that officers might carry revolvers, but must not show them, for fear of frightening the natives.¹.
Shortly after 4p.m. all the men have landed apart from Messrs. Campbell and Lyon who have to bring up the carriers later on. They walk to Gwatto proper less than half a mile off.
At Gwatto, they have their first meeting with Benin City men. The men are all Juju priests, and seem extremely pleased to see them. They are then given “freedom of the country by washing of their boots Mr. Phillips finds this all hilarious and interesting² and asks if they would prefer to wash their bare feet, and being told they would, they are all, with the exception of Mr. Powis, who had received the " freedom of the country" some years before, proceed to take off their boots and socks and have their feet washed.
After completion of this ‘interesting’ ceremony, the Juju men ask for the customary "dash" (present), but are told to wait until the white men’s boxes arrive.
Arriving at Gwatto , Crawford and Maling, who had been here two or three times before, find several friends in the place, including a Benin City chief called Mary Boma, a young man about twenty-five. He and another Benin City chief have to live at Gwatto permanently to see the chief of the place doesn't do any trading on his own. They exchange greetings and other niceties and the white men are taken to the Chiefs house. The Chief himself is away at Benin City, as he has been summoned by the King. He is now being represented by his son, a youth about seventeen or eighteen. He receive the men extremely well, welcoming them most warmly. He also informs them that they could have his house to sleep in for the night, and that he and his people would do everything possible for them and their carriers.
Due to the friendliness and helpfulness of these people and there being no sight of one single Benin soldier, Mr. Phillips and the men begin to think and believe that Dudu Jerri and all the others who have warned them all along the way were up to some mischief and did not want them to make friends with the Benin people. They now relax and let down all their guards. They chat happily with the Chief’s son.
As they are talking with the young chief, three Benin high ranking chiefs arrive with a message from the king stating that they had been asked to come and escort them to Benin. They inform Phillips that the King has sent them down to escort them up to Benin City, but hoped that they would wait at Gwatto for two days, so that they could send up and let the King know in time for him to make his preparations for receiving them.³
Phillips in his answer says the same as in all his speeches, to the effect that the King of Benin is the good friend of our great white Queen, in consequence of the treaty he had made with her five years before; ⁴ that he is also his (Phillips) good friend, having just accepted a present from him ; and consequently that in visiting his friend, the King of Benin, he has brought no soldiers, but was bringing him a much bigger present, and that he feels sure that once the King has seen and talked with the white men, he would like to have them in his city and his country. He (Phillips) regrets much that he can't wait at Gwatto for two days as he has been asked to do, but he has so much work to do elsewhere that he can't afford to lose a day, and so must start early the next morning (Boisragon, page 84).
There is some argument between the King's chiefs and Phillips, the former trying to persuade him to stop another day, and the latter trying to make them understand that that is impossible. Seeing that they could not change his mind, the chiefs agree to go with them the next morning, and to send off a messenger at once to Benin City to say the white men are starting the next day.
This agreement is reached at about 5.30p.m. or later, Idiaie a border guard is sent with the message. He has to be provided with a lamp, a bottle of gin, a piece of cloth (these two latter being the usual " dash "), and the white man’s stick as a sign that they were really coming. Mr. Phillips has no stick to send so he offers his ring. ⁵ But as a stick is the usual sign, Idiaie would not accept it. Mr. Boisragon the only one with a walking stick has to give it.⁶ Idiaie departs for Benin. ⁷
After this, Phillips introduces all the white men going to Benin to the Chiefs. There is a lot of smiles and chats and everyone looks happy. At this point the meeting ends in the most peaceful terms.
When the carriers arrive, the young chief shows them where to put their things, get wood, water, etc., and do anything they could for them. They get talking and the chief and his people take the opportunity to find out more about this expedition and to check out what the white men have brought with them. All information found out will be dispatched to the king and chiefs immediately. ⁸ This unbeknown to Mr. Phillips and his men. They believe they are amongst friends and begin to enjoy themselves , ‘We had another very cheery dinner that night, the last for all the poor fellows who were killed. Oh, if we could only have guessed or been told what was to happen the next day, and gone back then, and so saved all those good lives ! But everything seemed so peaceful, and everything seemed to point out that the King had resigned himself to the necessity of allowing white men to come up to his city. None of us had the slightest suspicion of anything being wrong.’
‘It was a picturesque scene that last dinner of ours,—ten of us seated at a table brought from one of the launches and placed on boxes, lit by some tiny lamps Campbell had brought up for the purpose, and placed just outside the entrance to the King's house. Behind us was a goodly pile of our stores lit up by native oil lamps supplied by the Chief. These consisted of flat brass and clay dishes, containing palm oil, in which a strip of cloth well saturated with oil lying anywhere in the dish performed the duties of wick. In front of us were ranged all our carriers, each gang rejoicing over a big wood fire. The multitude of these fires made the dark night as clear as day.’
It happened then to be what is called in West Africa the Harmattan season, when a cold dry wind blows strongly at night. In consequence of the Harmattan we all turned into bed fairly early in the Chiefs house.’ (Boisragon, 1897, page 89).
¹ As it is, to put it mildly, rather warm work walking in the middle of the day in that part of the world, one generally marches with one's coat off, and consequently one has no chance of hiding a revolver. This is why none of us had our revolvers out the next day.
² ‘We have had a palaver with the representatives of the Benin standing army which ended in great hilarity and general good will’ ( Phillips last letter, 3 December 1897)
³ Witness evidence from the trial of the king show that this was the time, he was trying to plead with his chiefs not to harm or fight with Mr. Phillips and the other white men (Obahawaie’ and Usu’s evidence). This evidence is corroborated by Phillips own statement in his letter, “so far we have had no opposition to talk and I don’t think we shall have any at all.”
⁴ This is disputed by the king and there is no record of any witnesses to signing of the alleged treaty.
⁵ This offer shows Mr. Phillips genuine commitment to the success of this expedition and his willingness to contribute personnel effects to it.
⁶ ‘This is the stick mentioned by Boisragon as having been borrowed from him by Phillips, in order that the messenger might have a token of the peaceful disposition of the Expedition to show the king. It has always been the custom to send a stick as a proof that the messenger is bond fide. Nana, Dudu, Ocorowala, Chinomi, Dore and all the Jekri chiefs have been in the habit of having costly sticks with embossed silver heads presented to them, and these were the sticks sent with the messengers.’ (Roth, 1903).
⁷ At 5.30 p.m. the sun has already gone down and it is dark. No one in their right mind would walk through the forest in the middle of the night. Idiaie would have been no different. He would have found somewhere safe to sleep for the night and take the message at day break.
⁸ ‘Ohebo had not come from Benin city yet when the white men came, and I allowed them a room where they put all their things, so I asked Ohebo to look at the things that the white men brought. ‘ (Omaregboma, The Trial of the king evidence, 1897).
1) Boisragon A, The Benin Massacre, 1897, pages 76 – 89
2) THE BENIN MASSACRE ITS PROBABLE CAUSE. Hobart Newspaper (3rd March 1897), page 3. Retrieved from http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/9392982
3) THE BENIN MASSACRE - WHY THE EXPEDITION WENT TO BENIN;
Publication: Guardian 1821 - 2000; Date: Jan 18, 1897, Section: None; Page 5.
4) Roth, H. L, Great Benin, 1903, app xiv – xv
5) Roth H.L.,Transcript of the Trial of the king, (appendix 11); 1903
6) Roth H. L Transcript of the Trial of Ologbosheri; 27 June 1899, (appendix xviii); 1903