Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

The late Chief H.A. Ezomo, the Ezomo of Benin, Ezomo’s Palace, Uzebu, Benin City, Nigeria, October, 1981. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.


Except for the Oba, the most elaborate coral beaded costume is worn by the Ezomo, a member of the Uzama whose ancestors commanded Benin’s armies.  At the end of the seventeenth century, an Ezomo named Ehennua won a great victory that stabilized the rule of Oba Akenzua I, resulting in an era of extreme prosperity.  As a reward for Ehennua’s services, Akenzua made his title hereditary and gave the Ezomo extraordinary prerogatives that he was able to pass on to his descendents.

At his court in Uzebu, the Ezomo’s throne is cushioned with a royal leopard skin, and he wears a netted coral tunic and a crown enhanced with coral clusters.  Nevertheless, he cannot wear the ede oro crown or the fully beaded gown, which are reserved for the Oba alone.