In analysing this text and what it tells us about cross cultural encounters, we must ask
and answer several questions. What is the interpretation of the text? What do we
understand from the text? How was the text wrote? Who was it wrote by? And, is it
representative of both sides?
In interpreting the text we see that it is a piece taken from the “Trial of Chief
Ologobosheri” and it is a statement from a native witness. The witness statement seems
to back up the findings that Chief Ologobosheri is guilty. The general feel of the
statement is that the British forces are ambushed without bearing arms and consequently
defenceless against a savage force.
However we must understand how this period of history came about and who wrote it. the
trial was used by the British as a way of showing a civilised way of defending their
actions in Benin. The British culture, as raised in the text, was one of fairness and playing
a straight bat. We see this in the text “…the white man landed with plenty of boys, but
they had no guns or arms to fight with.” The interpretation being that the British had
come in peace, without bearing arms. However another interpretation could be that even
though they did not carry arms, they had come in great numbers as a show of force. The
text also interprets the Benin natives as one of savages and uncivilised, the text saying
“…the massacre took place…as they lay in the bush with guns and machetes”.
The text leans towards the culture of the British, in the trial, as one of innocent until
proven guilty. It’s interpretation is that the British came in peace and by fair means.
However the statement given by the Benin native is one of barbarism in refusing to listen
to the message of the white man and massacring defenceless men.
However we must also look at who wrote this text and was it a fair representation of both
sides? Clearly it is a statement which shows the cross cultural differences between the
British and Benin peoples. What it also shows is a weighted biased towards the British
occupancy of Benin. It shows the British as civil, fair and cultured. Whilst the Benin
people are seen as savage and primitive. It is seen as a trial to show British fair play and
civility, innocent until proven guilty. However even though it is described as a trial “…it
is not conducted according to any formal body of law” (The Art of Benin, Book 3, ch 1,
1.7). The trial was conducted by the British and a verdict given within one day and swift
punishment taken. Clearly we can see the text and trial as not being representative of both
sides and was used to hand down punishment and show to the world British cultural
civility against a barbaric force.
How did the idea about race and the primitive influence art from Benin after 1897?
Within the following essay I will demonstrate how race and the primitive influenced the
way the attitude of the west changed after Benin in 1897. The essay will identify and
answer the questions. How was Benin seen prior to 1897? And how did the primitive
influence Western European thought after 1897?
In 1897 the British invaded Benin, upon entering Benin City they came across
outstanding works of craftsmanship and art. These artefacts were taken back to Britain
and sold to museums, private collectors, art historians and scholars. Since the invasion of
1897 European attitudes have changed significantly towards this Benin art.
When Benin art was first brought back to Britain it was a matter of debate. Prior to 1897
little was known of the Africa’s and their culture. The natives were seen as uncivilised
and primitive. John Ruskin, a Victorian critic, had said that there was no “pure and
precious ancient art” in Africa. (Ruskin 1897...