Art and Centralized Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Chief Isekhure’s shrine to ancestors of the land, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.


These systems emphasize reproduction and regeneration as aspects of African political rulership over Western criteria of domination and conquest (Arens and Karp 1989) and do not correspond neatly to definitions of "empire" and "divine kingship.” Power often has more to do with controlling the rains and ensuring the crops than with territorial expansion or militaristic might. That ability derives from a special bond with the spirit world, which must be renewed on a regular basis. In the Benin Kingdom, an annual renewal rite takes place to honor and offer thanks and blessing to the ancestors and spirits associated with the land itself.


Nigeria; Benin Kingdom peoples. Chief Osague dancing. Video by Kathy Curnow.