Identification. "Edo" is the name that the people of the Benin Kingdom give to themselves, their language, and their capital city and kingdom. Renowned for their art of brass and ivory and for their complex political organization, the Edo Kingdom of Benin is one of the best known of the precolonial kingdoms on the Guinea Coast of West Africa. From at least the fifteenth century, the Benin Empire held varying degrees of authority over neighboring peoples, including the western Igbo, northeastern Yoruba, and various related Edo-speaking groups. In 1897 British-colonial forces conquered the kingdom and made it part of the Niger Protectorate. Today it is incorporated into the modern state of Nigeria.
Location. The core Edo area, about 10,400 square kilometers, is located on a rolling coastal plain crossed by rivers, in an area of tropical rain forest. About 40 percent of the region is forest reserves. Benin City, the capital, is located at 6°26′ N and 5°41′ E. The annual rainfall can be as much as 175 to 200 centimeters. The average daily temperature is about 27° C. There is seasonal variation, with a wet season from July to September and a dry one from December to February.
Demography. Accurate population figures are difficult to obtain for this area, particularly outside the capital city. In 1963 a Nigerian census indicated that Benin City had a population of 100,694. The urban population was estimated at 201,000 in 1972, and by 1976 at 314,219, indicating a growth rate of 8.5 percent for that period, on the basis of which Ikhuoria (1984, 177) estimated the city's 1980 population—of which the Edo comprised the largest number—at 425,000. Migration to Benin City continues to increase its population, which doubles in size every decade, as young people from the rural areas, as well as from different ethnic groups, come to seek employment.
Linguistic Affiliation. Edo belongs to the Edoid cluster of languages that is part of the Kwa Language Family and the Niger-Kordofanian Superfamily. Edo-speaking peoples include not only the Edo proper but also the Ishan, the Etsako, the Ivbiosakon, the Akoko Edo, the Ineme, the Urhobo, and the Isoko. Many contemporary Edo speakers speak English as well as languages of neighboring Nigerian groups.