641 x 1000 Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia, Page 8 - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art

Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

 Oba of Benin’s palace, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1995. Photo by Kathy Curnow.


The palace was rebuilt in 1914, although not to its 1897 dimensions, and has since been added to.  An amalgamation of office buildings, shrines, and living quarters for the Oba and family, this walled labyrinth of cement and traditional clay remains a ritual and political theater for Benin chiefs and their ruler. Many ceremonies, public and restricted, take place here, and the parking area is rarely empty.  Benin architects and fundraising committees have drawn up plans for a flashier, more contemporary palace, but the Oba—who trained as a lawyer at Britain's Cambridge University—has not agreed.  Any given chief's access to inner palace chambers is limited by his affiliation with one of the three palace societies; their "territories" are firmly demarcated according to ritual function.  Most of the inner structures are built around open courtyards in an ancient pattern; many rooms are now air-conditioned.