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Irhuemwin - Lessons / Blog


Posted by Edonaze on April 6, 2011 at 2:44 AM


by Toyin Adepoju

Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 3:13am

I wrote an essay arguing that the Oba of Benin's declaration that the term 'Bini' should no more be used and that only 'Benin' should be employed is not practical. Some responses to my essay suggest to me that my style of pointing out why that is so might not have been clear enough. I want to present the issues in a clearer manner that has gained from appreciating the issue better from reading the responses to my essay.

I begin from examining the linguistic issues involved in relation to the use of the terms 'Benin', ‘Bini’ and the related 'Edo'.

The reason why it is hardly possible to legislate the terrm 'Bini' out of existence is that there is no other word that can play the role it plays in English. In the examples that follow, I will try to show that ‘Bini’ is indispensable for reasons of grammar and semantics.

Grammar deals with the organisation or structure of words in language. Every language operates in terms of both a universal structure it shares with all languages and the peculiar manner in which this structure is realised in the specific language. The rules that apply to all languages are modified in their realization in particular languages. So, all all languages share, to a large extent, the same grammatical components, but these components are not always used in the same manner in each language.

Semantics deals with meaning in language. How does the meaning of an expression emerge in an expression or body of expressions? How does it relate to the world being referred to by the expression? Is this meaning clear or ambiguous, direct or indirect? These are questions of semantics.

On the grounds of both grammar and semantics, I cannot see how it is possible to avoid the use of the term 'Bini'.

To ask someone if a person is of Benin ancestry in the language of the Edo of Benin, you state , as rendered by Alex Osifo:

Ovbi' Edo (u) we khin (ra)

or, I expect

Ovbi' Edo we khin ?

Translating that into English provides the following options:

The options are

1. Are you Edo? [ Relatively direct translation]

2. Are you Benin?

3. Are you Bini?

4. Are you Beninnoise?

The first option is clearly valid at the level of both grammar and semantics. It is a straight transfer from the native language into English that is in harmony with the sense of English grammar and uses a term the people of Benin use for themselves.

I wonder, though, if it might be ambiguous. This ambiguity emerges from the fact that the term 'Edo’ may be seen as referring not only to people from Benin but also to members of the Edoid group of languages. A clear example are the Akoko-Edo of Edo North.

In the light of that consideration, does 'Are you Edo?' necesarrily refer only to people whose ancestors are among the ethnic group that founded Benin? Will the context of the expression, the issues being discussed, the people discussing, be enough to clarify whether the narrow or broader meaning of Edo is being referred to?

The second option ‘ Are you Benin?’ looks clumsy to me. Why is it clumsy? The problem might be, that in English, when using a word that indicates that one belongs to a social group, that word is inflected, modified, from its original form.


1. Are you Turkish? Where 'Turkish' is an inflection or modification of 'Turkey'. Turkey is the country to which the Turks belong.

2. Are you English? Where 'English' is a modification of England. England is the country to which the English belong.

The expression 'Are you Benin?' does not demonstrate such an inflexion so it looks odd.

'Are you Benin?' is similar to 'Are you Turkey?' or 'Are you England?' I dont need to point out the clumsiness of those expressions.

We could also consider example 4. ‘Are you Beninnoise?’ I get the impression, though, that this is already in use by the Republic of Benin. According to Ifuemi Adepoju, it is also more in harmony with French grammar whicg the Beninnoise use, being a Francophone country.

This leaves example 3. ‘Are you Bini?’

This is practical because it is inflected. This inflection seems to be in harmony with English grammar but I won’t pretend to be able to analyse why. It is also already in use.

At this point, brethren, I rest my case.

I hope to write another essay that places these issues in the context of relationships between cultural politics, linguistic development, and linguistic conventions.



Benin Traditional Council - Palace Press Release, Ref. No. BTC.A66/VOL.IV/262 dated 28th August, 2006.
"Our attention has been drawn to the practice in which some persons in correspondence to the Palace and publications in the newspapers and magazines refer to Benin as 'Bini'. It is hereby stated for the information of the general public that our correct ethnic name is Benin and not 'Bini', and that our people are to be referred to as Benin people or simply Benins. The Omo N'Oba requests that the use of 'Bini' should stop forthwith. Individuals, government agencies, corporate organizations, print and electronic media, and the general public should please take note". Signed (actual signature) Chief S. O. U Igbe, MON, Iyase of Benin. On behalf of all Benin Chiefs.

The Institute only took up the campaign because our people say; 'ama kuenma orhe obodafen, agha kuen, ama kpe, orhe obo ibieguae'

"That the Institute for Benin Studies have also not helped in ascribing things their proper significancies" as claimed by Okhaemwen Obasuyi N'Oghaevbo is because he did not take into cognisance series of workshops/seminars the Institute has organised over the past decade. Specifically, Edo Language Workshop for Producers/Presenters in Electronics Media, Art-page Editors, Scripture Translators and Education/Culture Supervisory Councillors in Local Government Councils was organised by the Institute for Benin Studies and co-sponsored by the Solomon Iyobosa Edebiri Foundation at Bishop Kely Pastoral Centre, Benin city in March, 2009. All participants paid no fees.
Prof. Union Edebiri, Dr. Imasuen, present VC of UNIBEN, Dr. V. E. Omozuwa and numerous others from the academia brainstormed vigorously with titans like late Ikponmwosa Osemwegie, Pa Uwabo Osemwota, Dr. O. S. B Omoregie, Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisien, Mr. G. O. Obaze, Chief Nosakhare Isekhure, Okhaemwen D. U. Edebiri and others from outside the academic environment. Issues relating to grey areas in our spoken and written language constituted main theme at the workshop which produced such word as "isuakpara-eghodo' instead of 'esakpaeghodin' long held as representing - great, great grand child in Edo language.

For the year 2011, the proposed Edo Language Skill Enhancement Workshpn scheduled for February / March could not hold for reasons of paucity of funds. Therefore, the Institute may not be correctly labelled; considering these deliberate fora created for streamlining issues as propagating, "a facile construction bereft of the benefit of rigorous analysis"

Though we hold dear, the Benin saying, "Ai waen se, erhi ho emwin mwen yi", the Institute went further to authenticate other articulated reasons that may have informed the Press Release from the Palace, and they include (though not exhaustive);
- In considring "culture, tradition, history et al" we invariable must talk of Benin ... and not Bini history etc. Historical documentation has known us for centuries as Benin History and not Bini History.
- It must be conceded that that some early chroniclers of Benin have propagated the word Bini, but it should also be realised that the age of one wrong doing does not shield it from being corrected if discovered that the existing practice has some defect(s). The word Benin itself is the standardized form of either or both of the words, 'ubini or ibinu' when you transpose the first and last letters.
- The word Bini restricts the scope of the coverage that the word Benin assumes. Once you say Bini, then the comm unities outside the seven local government areas sand excluded. Whereas people in as far-flung communities as in Ekiti could claim Benin origin but not bini origin.
- Similar lack of stamping deserved authority regrettably created the loss of many vasal state at the turn of the penultimate century.
- We stand therisk of losing that identity to the Republic of Benin if we continue to hold tenaciously to the word Binin at the expense of the more internationally known Benin. We shall inevitably become less known as Benins while our 'off-springs' as it were claims all the glory. Already, most of the recent dictionaries, especially since the new millennium only refer to Benin as - a small West African French country. Nothing absolutely is said about us being Benin too. Whereas, older editions recognised Benin as - a powerful African kingdom of the rain forest, South West, Nigeria.

Incidentally the book, "FROM BIRTH TO DEATH" was written by the Iyase Edo hia himself and was reviewed by another respected Eghaevbo N'Orre - now Okhaemwen C. U. E, Obasuyi N'Oghaevbo yet the issue of Benin / Bini eluded resolution.

We hope this little input has laid it to rest but in the event of further inquiries or 'queries' we offer ourselves ready to seek appropriate clarifications and make public our findings. Thank you. Oba ghato, okpere. Ise.
Aiko. Obobaifo.

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