Benin Kingdom Leadership Regalia

by Kathy Curnow
Cleveland State University

Chiefly thanksgiving entourage entering palace, Benin KingdomNigeria, 1994. Photo by Kathy Curnow.

 

The chief's thanksgiving entourage is primarily made up of women. Through their roles of audience, praise-singers and supporters, they suggest the size and wealth of the chief's household.  The white-clad girls carrying the chalk-painted drums are not family members, but virgins whose requisite presence suggests the drums' ritual significance.  The girls halt at several points in the procession, refusing to move further until they are given money by the entourage.  They, like the male drummers and musicians, are hired by the chief, and contribute to the considerable expense of the ceremony.  There are no female chieftaincies in Benin, although women can be awarded honors and coral.  Although their societal role has been minimized historically--only very rarely do women appear in Benin's vast art corpus, for instance--their support is essential, and they do fulfill some ritual roles.