By Anote Ajeluorou
As the countdown to its July 20 worldwide premiere approaches, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen’s epic film Invasion 1897 continues to enjoy the blessings of royalty in his native Benin Kingdom and beyond. The latest pat in the back came from no other personage than the Bini Crown Prince, the man who will be the next Oba of Benin, Edaiken N’Uselu, Eheneden Erediauwa.
Imasuen’s historical and culture-grounded film has also nudged awake a certain cultural renaissance in the ancient kingdom, with a flurry of activities in the city designed to redefine and re-evaluate the rich culture for which the Edo people are renowned. The crown prince also visited the Obong of Calabar and the last known abode of his grand ancestor, Oba Ovonramwen, who was over thrown by the invading British and subject of Imasuen’s epic film.
At the premiere of the film in Benin City, Prince Erediauwa, will unveil Benin Royal Dynasty Trust, a no-for-profit and non-political organisation incorporated on February 26, 2013. The aim of the trust is to put Edo cultural heritage in the sun. Born in 1953 to the current Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Uku Akpolokplo, Oba Erediauwa, the Prince was Nigeria’s Ambassador to Norway and Angola. He would bring his wealth of diplomatic experience to bear in running the trust and see to the proper flowering of Edo culture, which celebration has been somewhat dimmed and less known to the outside world except its famous bronze works that adorn museums abroad.
Indeed, the intervention of a high profile personage as Prince Eheneden from the royal house might spark renewed debate about Benin stolen art. Imasuen’s Invasion 1897 is at the heart of this issue. Oba Ovonramwen was sacked to pave way for the looting of Benin ancient royal art, and his death in 1914 paved the way for British direct rule in the country.
In supporting the film together with its planned art exhibition that will focus on the bronze works made specifically for the film, Prince Erediauwa might be saddled with the task of reopening the case for a return of the stolen royal art of his royal lineage.
For the Binis, Imasuen’s film will be a renaissance of lost glory. Oba Ovonramwen was such prodigious monarch; his travail, notwithstanding, he is still revered till date because of what he symbolised for the Bini people, a man who stood his ground against the thieving and murderous British in their quest for stolen lands and property.
And as the last African king to resist the British, Ovonramwen is symbolic of African resistance against foreign domination. Importantly, it was not until Oba Ovonramwen’s death on January 1, 1914 that the British brought together the two protectorates to bring Nigeria into existence.
In a related development, Crown Prince Erediauwa recently paid a historic, bilateral royal visit to the Obong of Calabar, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu, in his palace in Calabar. The visit was to strengthen cultural relations between the two royal houses of Benin and Calabar, particularly so the Benin prince could familiarise himself with the place where his royal forebear last lived.
According to Imasuen, who used the opportunity to present his film to the Calabar royal father, said the purpose of the visit was to continue the cultural ties between the two royal houses and to connect Prince Erediauwa firsthand with the last known abode of his great forebear. He said the Benin royal house, with the support of the Obong and the government of Cross River State, has acquired where Ovonramwen was last held, where the Benin Royal Dynasty Trust would build a befitting museum in his honour. He noted that the Obong was receptive of the film idea and made the delegation warm welcome.
Prince Erediauwa used the occasion to appeal to the Calabar monarch to host Invasion 1897 film premiere in his domain. As a result, the film would now be premiered in four cities in the country – first in Benin City at Kada Cinema on July 20, before Lagos and Abuja. The London premiere is scheduled for August 16. Imasuen expressed his excitement at the opportunity to meet and present his film to the revered ruler of the Efik people, saying, “It’s a huge thing for me and the film industry”.
It will be recalled that Esama of Benin Kingdom, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, had earlier endorsed Invasion 1897 at his palatial home, GRA, Benin City. Also, Centre for Black African Art and Culture (CBAAC) has lent its support for Imaeun’s historic film. In a letter of endorsement signed by the centre’s Director-General, Prof. Tunde Babawale, said, “The Centre is impressed by the interest the epic film has generated since its production and we are proud to be associated with it. The Centre is particularly happy that the production of this film would lend voice to the campaign for return of those cultural patrimonies that were carted away during the infamous British expedition to Benin Kingdom and other places where such objects were stolen or looted.
“We believe the film will show African’s attachment to those materials and correct impressions that countries of origin where such artifacts were illegally taken away are incapable of taking care of them when returned. The film will also help in preserving, propagating and retaining memories of Africa’s rich cultural heritage. The Centre hereby endorses the film project and encourages other organisations to support this laudable initiative”.