The Benin Kingdom (13th –19th Centuries) as a Megacommunity
Until recently, cultural evolution has commonly been regarded as a permanent teleological move to a greater level of hierarchy, crowned with state formation. However, recent research based upon the principle of heterarchy – ‘... the relation of elements to one another when they are unranked or when they possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways’ (Crumley 1995: 3) changes the usual picture dramatically. The opposite of heterarchy, then, would be a condition in a society in which relationships in most contexts are ordered mainly according to one principal hierarchical relationship. This organizational principle may be called ‘homoarchy’. Homoarchy and heterarchy represent the most universal ‘ideal’ principles and basic trajectories of socio-cultural (including political) organization and its transformations. There are no universal evolutionary stages – band, tribe, chiefdom, state or otherwise – inasmuch as cultures so characterized could be heterarchical or homoarchical: they could be organized differently, while having an equal level of overall social complexity. However, alternativity exists not only between heterarchic and homoarchic cultures but also within each of the respective types. In particular, the present article attempts at demonstrating that the Benin Kingdom of the 13th – 19th centuries, being an explicitly homoarchic culture not inferior to early states in the level of complexity, nevertheless was not a state as it lacked administrative specialization and pronounced priority of the supra-kin ties. The Benin form of socio-political organization can be called ‘megacommunity’, and its structure can be depicted as four concentric circles forming an upset cone: the extended family, community, chiefdom, and megacommunity (kingdom). Thus, the homoarchic megacommunity turns out an alternative to the homoarchic by definition (Claessen and Skalník 1978: 640) early state.
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