The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

Confirmation of Iyase n'Udo, Benin Kingdom, Nigeria, 1995. Photo by Kathy Curnow.


When the Oba of Benin wants to honor someone with a chieftaincy title, he sends night messengers to the man's home. In two days time the newly-titled man travels to the palace and thanks the ruler for the honor; this is a relatively low-key ceremony.  Some time afterward, the more public confirmation shown here takes place. The honoree goes to the palace dressed simply in a white wrapper. The wrapper, once standard male dress throughout Benin, is now worn only by those associated with the court. The coral and/or carnelian circlets at his neck mark his new status, as does the egbele, the woven cloth at his hip.  Although now a chief, in a sense he remains on trial. For the next two to three years his colleagues will covertly use medicine to test his worthiness. In order to serve the Oba fully, he must resist and prove his strength.