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Dr Patrick Darling
It still surprises me that, despite the plethora or works on Benin art, history and anthropology, that we still have no definitive comments on the visible skulls and invisible bones in Benin. This was clearly a major element of the visible archaeology in pre-colonial Benin, which was labelled 'The City of Skulls' before it was labelled 'The City of Blood'. Bradbury, the anthropologist, fails to mention human skulls; Connah, the archaeologist, opts out by terming what are clearly human sacrifices as a 'mass burial'; and Ryder, the Historian, keeps to European commercial records, so skirting round this topic. Kaplan, assuming a Benin name, eulogises sacrifices in blood in Benin so much that one can almost hear the birds singing in the background. Okpewo has provided a breath of fresh air and an antidote to such sycophancy by noting the viewpoints of minorities oppressed by Benin. The facts are that the Benin palace was built on a graveyard and that skeletons and skulls lined the routes to the palace. Some of these were from the decapitated corpses of sacrificial victims, others were left unburied along Akpapava street (Melzian); some went across the Ovia river; others were buried in deep wide ihan (sacrficial pits); and chiefs were buried honourably (often accompanied by sacrificial victims). What is still needed is an understanding of: a) just why there were bones incorporated in the palace ancestral altars and whether or not these were ancestral bones or sacrificial victims' bones; b) the function of trophy heads vis-a-vis the scattered skulls of sacrificial victims; c) the perceived spiritual potency of the skulls of the unbured commoners; d) whether the spiritual potency of sacrificial skulls was perceived to persist after their fresh blood had been obtained; e) why annual ceremonies were considered sufficient to settle the ghosts of the unburied and of sacrificial victims - did no evil forces roam Benin between these ceremonies?; f) many other related questions. Until these basic issues are addressed, all the other interpretations of Benin art, history and ethnography remain peripheral. My chapter on Nigerian world-views in my forthcoming book on Exploring Nigeria's Past encounters considerable perplexity about the past fear of fully addressing these awkward questions.

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