Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

Chief Aiyevbekpen Ero, the Ero of Benin, one of the seven Uzama, wearing coral regalia, Ero’s palace, Urubi, Benin City, Nigeria, October 1981.  Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.

In addition to the Town Chiefs and chiefs of the Palace associations and their numerous guilds, there are hereditary nobles called the Uzama, whose members include the crown prince and six others whose ancestors assisted many centuries ago in establishing or strengthening the Oba’s dynasty.  Each has particular privileges and responsibilities.  The Ero governs an area called Urubi to the northwest of the city center.  Like the Oba, he wears a coral beaded tunic and makes use of several crowns, each specific to a particular occasion. However, he cannot wear either a full-length beaded garment or the ede oro crown with a tall protrusion at the top. The young attendant beside the Ero is an omada or swordbearer who holds the ada sword, an emblem of authority over life and death. Before the establishment of the government of Nigeria, which now has jurisdiction over the Benin Kingdom, this authority was extensive.