Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

Chief Isekhure’s shrine to ancestors of the land, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.


After thanking the Oba, the chief and his entourage make a pilgrimage to the town's most sacred sites before returning home. This takes several hours.  The chief first visits the shrine of Emotan, the woman who enabled Oba Ewuare to gain the throne in the fifteenth century.  He then journeys to other shrines honoring the kingdom's ancestors, offering kola nuts, gin and money at each. The shrine shown here belongs to Chief Isekhurhe, ancestral priest to the Oba, and is dedicated to the royal forefathers and other spirits connected with the land itself.  The shrine's floral wall and ceramic plate decorations are unusual; its altar is protected by a raffia fringe, whose smell repels evil.  Ukhurhe (segmented wooden rattle staffs) represent the ancestors.  Their form mimics the branches of a specific tree, and relates to concepts that many segments make up a family.  Supplicants attract the ancestors' attention by ringing brass bells placed on the altar.