Regalia

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Fon peoples, Bénin, ruler in procession. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.

Royal emblems literally extend, enlarge, and enhance a ruler’s image. Staffs and spears extend a ruler’s reach, clothing enhances girth, and palanquins elevate a ruler high above a crowd. Here, a Fon ruler in the city of Abomey is carried in a procession a year after his investiture ceremony to offer thanks to those who supported him. He is carried in a litter adorned with finely appliquéd cloths that convey messages about his power and authority. The color and spectacle of this parade are typical of African ceremonies of state, in which precious materials and articles such as gold-leafed insignia, resplendent beaded regalia or dazzling textiles bring attention to a ruler and to make him or her literally larger than life. As Fraser and Cole state, "interacting man and symbol achieve a higher existence than either can reach alone. Together they can transform ordinary time and ordinary space into an extraordinary event” (1972: 326).