By Dmitri .M. Bondarenko and Peter .M. Roese
First of all, let us set up in chronological order several different statements from the mythology of the Edo. One of the earliest reports comes from the English trader Cyril Punch who stayed on the coast and visited Benin City from the end of the 1880s up to the 1890s several times. He had good contacts with the royal court. He reported, “tradition says the Bini came from a place north of the Niger originally and lived under a king Lamorodu” (Roth 1968:6).
The Benin chronicler J.U Egharevba collected material in the 1920s and 1930s. He writes: “Many years ago, the Binis came from Egypt to found a more secure shelter in this part of the world after a short stay in the Sudan and IIe- Ife, which the Benin people call Uhe. Before coming here, a band of hunters was sent from Ife to inspect this land and the report furnished was very favourable to met some people who were in the land before their arrival “These people are said to have come originally from Nupe and Sudan in waves (Egharevba 1960) 1: see also Egharevba 1956: 1). In another work, Egharevba specifies that the first wave of migration took place from Sudan via the present-day Nupe land in the 7th century
A.D and the second, from Egypt via Sahara and Ife at the beginning of the 8th century (Egharevba 1965: 8 f). But very soon he declares: “It is known that the Bini came to this Land in 3 waves. And not 2 as was previously supposed” The first (without a definite date) was from Nupe, the second- from Sudan via Nupe in about the 7th century A.D and the last one, without a date again was from Egypt via Sahara and IIe- Ife (Egharevba 1966: 7-9).
At another place, Egharevba also writes about three migration waves. The first came from Nupe land the second from Sudan via Nupe land and the third from Egypt through the Sahara and IIe Ife (Ife). This was “…one of those migrations common to many tribes seeking more fertile land and more secure retreat from an enemy during the Islamic crusade from 600 A.D. “(Egharevba 1969: preface; see also Egharevba 1964:6). The newcomers united after some time. But another, a later Bini chronicler prince Eweka, practically recognizing the Egyptian version, the popular among his compatriots, considers the question open because there are no real proofs of the exodus from Egypt. He admits that the Edo could be autochthonous in their area being genetically connected with the population of Nok (Eweka 1989: 9 f.).
Glottochronology suggests that the separation between the kwa peoples’ protolanguages, including the Edo and the Yoruba, happened about 2,000-3,000 years ago (Darling 1984/I: 63), or even earlier, between 3,200 and 4, 600 or about 5,000 years ago according to Armstrong (1962) and Smith (1988; 11). Bradbury’s date it later than 4,000 years ago (1964: 150). Never mind, some of the Yoruba Ododuwa myths (those not deriving the Yoruba and the whole mankind from Ife) have much in common with the Edo ones cited above. This fact makes them helpful for our analysis. Generally, such myths connect the Yoruba origin and migration to western Africa with basically the same geographical regions and historical events just as those of the Edo do. Studying Yoruba myths, Talbot has come to the conclusion that the Yoruba had arrived in Nigeria from Egypt possibly in the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C being pushed out of their motherland by the Nubian wars of the 19th century B.C or the Hyksos’ conquest of the country (1926/I: 276, II: 2) Samuel Johnson, whose dealing with the myth is best-known, has also argued that the Yoruba had resettled from Upper Egypt or Nubia. Following sultan Bello of Sokoto (see Hodgkin 1975: 78 f), he writes that Lamurudu, Whose subjects they were, was Phoenician numrod, the conqueror of Egypt. Those people accompanied him in military campaigns and reached Arabia with him from where they were expatriated for their devotedness to their religion, paganism, or more probably, a kind of Eastern Christianity (Johnson 1921; 7f) Biobaku has developed the version more than anyone else. He sees the Yoruba home country in Upper Egypt and introduces the idea of two waves of migration from there to Western Africa in about A.D 600 and about A.D 1000. The latter, just reflected in the myth of the migration under the leadership of Oduduwa, was provoked by the spread of Islam according to Biobaku. Having crossed the Niger in the Nupe area, the Yoruba went southwestward-founded IIe- Ife and settled there (Biobaku 1955: 1958: 24f.). It is worth mentioning that the data of the first wave of the Yoruba migrations, according to Biobaku, corresponds to the last wave of the Edo’s advent in the final, 1969, concept of Egharevba. i.e. about A.D. 600. But while the latter connects it just with the Muslim pressure, the Yoruba historian ascribes it to the second, the Oduduwa migration of his people about A.D. 1000.
There is even no necessity to stop for a long time on the apparent fact that, if someone of these two prominent Africans were right, it could not have been Egharevba in any case. Islam only appeared just at the beginning of the 7th century A.D. (622) in Arabia; though in Africa, Egypt and especially Ethiopia played a significant role in disseminating the ideas that laid the groundwork for the emergence of Islam. But Egypt assured a leading role in the development of the Islamic civilization not earlier than in the 9th — l0th centuries. Towards the brink of the millennia, Islam in the form of Kharijism Lind Sunnism made its way with the caravans of merchants into the countries of West and Central Sudan. In the 10th and mid- 11th centuries, the new religion was formally accepted by the rulers of several states of this or that way subordinate to large Christian xum, Nubia) and pagan (Ghana, Zaghawa) kingdoms. The movement of the Aimoravids in the name of jihad, a significant event of this period, resulted in the integration of Sahara, West Sudan, Maghreb, and Spain into a political, religious, and ideological union. Concurrently, the entire regional system of states was reshaped, effecting the disintegration of the Christian (Axum, the united Nubia) and pagan (Zaghawa, Ghana) kingdoms that had been hindering the progress of Islam into the heart of Africa (Kobishchanov 1987: 14—40). It seems reasonable to come to the conclusion that Islam could indirectly influence the territories rather far south of the area of its immediate just at that time, not earlier.