1391 x 950 Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia, Page 16 - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art

Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

Chief holding an eben during thanksgiving ceremony, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.

Chiefs all own eben, leaf-shaped ceremonial swords which symbolize their rank.  Although skillfully throwing and catching the eben before the Oba raises one's status, most chiefs avoid the risk, since failed attempts meet with fines and disgrace.  Only the medicinally strong attempt it.  Young boys within chiefly families often practice tossing and twirling them.  The Oba uses both the eben and the ada, a curved, efficient-looking blade.  He salutes his ancestors with the former in a solemn, dignified dance; on appropriate public occasions, Chief Ukueben holds it upright in readiness.  The ada is carried in the Oba's presence as a reminder of his right to pronounce death.  He grants some high chiefs the privilege to use ada within their households, but not at the palace.  Ada and eben are royal symbols in some non-Benin areas. Their appearance in Lagos, Onitsha, Owo, Warri and elsewhere testifies to past relationships, either political or genealogical.