By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Oba of Benin at chief’s thanksgiving ceremony, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.

There are two major systems of rule in Africa in which art has a role: centralized and non-centralized.  Centralized systems have a chief, king or emperor established at the apex of a complex and well-ordered political bureaucracy.  Such systems exert power over communities, cities, kingdoms and empires.  In contrast, non-centralized systems of government rarely extended beyond the clan or community.  In these communities, councils of elders representing each of the families in the community meet to make decisions about the conduct of life.  In addition there are communities in which there are no apparent systems of rule at all, but the laws for the ethical and moral conduct of life are established by the nature spirits that watch over the group. 

Oba Erediauwa II, the Oba of Benin, at Igue Ceremonies in the Royal Palace, Benin City, Nigeria, December 1981. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.


Nigeria; Benin Chief's Confirmation. Video by Kathy Curnow.