Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

Memorial sculpture, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.


This particular work commemorates the kingdom's nineteenth-century defense of its sovereignty.  British colonial ambitions led a foreign officer to demand an audience with the Oba; the Oba, celebrating a festival, requested a postponement. Unwilling to oblige, a small British party (accompanied by many Itsekiri and other Africans) advanced toward Benin anyway.  Benin soldiers, indignant at the affront, killed most of the members. This defensive act quickly drew the British Navy into the area, resulting in the 1897 Punitive Expedition.  Within months, Benin's palace treasures were stripped, its Oba exiled, much of the city destroyed, and the Union Jack raised over the kingdom until colonialism's end in 1960.