The Benin Kingdom (13th–19th Centuries): Megacommunity as Socio-Political System
The chapter provides an anthropological analysis of the sociopolitical system of the Benin Kingdom (in contemporary Southwestern Nigeria) from coming to power of the Second (Oba) Dynasty presumably in the mid-13th century till the British conquest in 1897. The course of formation of this system of institutions and its basic characteristic features are outlined. It is argued that the Benin Kingdom of the 13th–19th centuries was a supercomplex system of institutions (society) but not a state, as it was not based on suprakin (territorial) social ties and there was no professional (bureaucratic) administration in it. The kin-based extended family community always remained this society’s focus, and supracommunal institutions were built up by its template, what is impossible in a state. So, being no less complex and developed than many so-called early states (Claessen and Skalník 1978) or archaic states (Feinman and Marcus 1998), Benin was not a state but rather a specific alternative to the state. This form of sociopolitical organization can be called “megacommunity” and depicted as four concentric circles of institutions forming an upset cone: the extended family, the community, the chiefdom and finally the kingdom.