British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by R. F. Hooper
The Imoten Tree Story
Oba Akenzua II
In the fifties I was serving in Benin City in the Province of Benin, Western Nigeria, when the following took place.

A member of the French trading CFAO was endeavouring to sell an apparatus for, among other things, pulling vehicles back onto the road after they had gone to bush. In Benin City there was a tree known as the ‘Imoten Tree’ and it was regarded as the ‘Mother of Benin’ and, as such, was worshipped by the local population. The factor passed a chain around the base of the tree and demonstrated how the apparatus worked. About two nights later there was a hurricane and the tree was blown down, with the result that the population immediately rioted, blaming the French factor for this calamity. He was immediately whisked out of Nigeria.

During the riots two Dachshund dogs, the property of the Superintendent of Police were stolen and offered up as sacrifices to the Imoten Tree. All the Europeans were advised not to venture out at night.

Shortly after these events, the Forestry Officer was instructed to find a tree of the same size, species and age. To do this he enlisted my aid and we eventually found one near to a road. We set up a demonstration of the apparatus and invited all the local Chiefs to attend. They turned up with their retinues and the Forestry Officer and I endeavoured to show and to prove to them that the apparatus was not the cause of the disaster. As they were not fully convinced, I suggested that the chain should be put around my legs, whilst I stood astride. This was done and the experiment repeated. The car was pulled along the road without any movement of my feet. There were gasps of astonishment from the onlookers and the Chiefs ordered their subjects to stop rioting immediately.

This piece of tribal history has never been revealed before, even to the Forestry Department or to the Public Works Department of Western Nigeria, or my superior officers.

As an aftermath of these events and of the respect that the Chiefs held for me, when I left Benin finally a football match was held in my honour at which the Oba of Benin, the Supreme Chief, kicked off.

I believe that a statue was later erected on the site of the Imoten Tree.

map of British Empire
1961 Map of Lagos Region
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 69 (April 1995)


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