The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

by Barbara W. Blackmun
Professor Emeritus, San Diego Mesa College

Oba Erediauwa II, the Oba of Benin, at Igue Ceremonies in the Royal Palace, Benin City, Nigeria, December 1981. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.

Once a year the Oba, hereditary king of the 800-year-old Edo Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria, is the focus of a national ceremony called Igue, designed to bless and guide the kingdom.  The elaborate regalia of coral beads that he wears consists of the ede oro, a heavy crown with a tall oro protrusion in the center, a high beaded odigba collar, and a short tunic fashioned from a finely crafted network of Mediterranean coral. The tunic is worn over a long wrapper of handwoven cloth. Every part of the Oba’s regalia is spiritually functional.  The oro, for example, links his lineage to Prince Oranmiyan, the founder of his dynasty, and beyond that to the creation of the earth.