Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

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


Like the wives of the Oba, the Ezomo’s wives wear beads, anklets, and hair ornaments of Mediterranean coral, and their hair is arranged in distinctive upswept styles that are not dictated by fashion but are reserved for their rank.  The hairstyle of this noblewoman speaks of her status as a mother of the Ezomo’s children.  A wife who has not yet borne a child wears a different emblematic style, regardless of her personal taste. The rich imported material of her wrapper, however, can express a woman’s individual choice of fabric.