Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

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

The chief both prays and is prayed for when he visits pilgrimage shrines.  These stops honor a variety of Benin ancestors, and the chief seeks their blessings through offerings.  He is anointed with chalk at almost every stop.  During this visit to Chief Isekhurhe's shrine, he pledges his allegiance to the Oba and the ancestors in a complex fashion.  Part of this ritual involves sitting on Chief Isekhurhe's lap, a gesture that brides perform in marriage ceremonies.  Chief Isekhurhe acts as officiating priest for most royal ceremonies; he handles a special ukhurhe, wrapped in red cloth, which serves as the kingdom's ancestral staff.  Blessings and curses pronounced while holding this implement are imbued with supreme power.