Colonial Conquest and Resistance: The Case of Esan People of Benin Province of Nigeria

Joseph Inegbenebho Osagie


The Esan (Anglicised Ishan) kingdoms, like other states, kingdoms and empires in the territory known today as Nigeria were conquered and brought under colonial rule by the British between the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century. With aforementioned conquests, colonial rule was imposed on the people. The people however, did not submit to foreign rule without resistance. This chapter examines the resistance by the people of Esan, in spite of their crude weapons, when confronted by superior and better trained forces.
From the onset of their wars of conquest, the British officials underestimated the strength and strategy of African military forces. It was therefore, not surprising that, Captain A.T. Jones, who was commissioned in 1861, by the administration of the newly acquired British Colony of Lagos to report on the army of the Egba, remarked that the pre-colonial African military forces, were nothing but “irregular marching and skirmishing of the barbarous horde” (Ade Ajayi & Smith, 1971, p.139). However, the European forces were to be confronted by these “barbarous horde” for more than twenty-five years before they could bring most of the hitherto independent states and kingdoms under colonial rule.
Over the years, the military confrontations between the Europeans and the centralized states such as Benin, Sokoto, Madinka among others, have been given much attention by scholars. On the other hand, the confrontations between the foreign invading forces and the non-centralized or segmentary societies have unfortunately, been relegated to the background. It is noteworthy that the non-centralised societies, offered equal, if not stiffer resistances than the centralised states to European occupation. Any wonder then that Crowder writes that, “the segmentary societies or peoples divided into numerous petty chiefdoms … provided some of the stiffest resistance to colonial forces of occupation experiences” (Crowder, 1971, pp.4-5). As will be shown in this paper, the non-centralized or segmentary societies like Esan, provided stiffer and longer resistance than some of the centralized states to the European forces in their quest to conquer the territories in the hinterland of South-Central Nigeria.


Military; Confrontation; Resistance; Conquest; Subjugation

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