Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

Chief Osague, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.

 

On the occasion of his thanksgiving, a chief's dress is far more elaborate than that worn at his confirmation.  Here at least ten yards of imported cloth are wound around his body; a special palace division of "dressers" help chiefs drape the wrapper and arrange their regalia properly.  The use of the beaded headband, or udahae, dates from the fifteenth century.  When Oba Ezoti was fatally injured by a dart during his coronation ceremonies, his chiefs attempted to hide the bandaged wound with beads; the single long hanging strand is said to represent his dripping blood.  A vulturine fish eagle feather is inserted in the headband; the feather alone will adorn his head at burial.  Around his neck is the high odigba beaded collar, visible on many 16th century bronzes, while crossed beaded baldrics ornament his chest. Attendants support his arms; the concept of triad—so common in Benin art—demonstrates hierarchy requires mutual reliance.