Art and Rule in the Benin Kingdom

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

Osuan, High Priest of Ora, Oba’s Palace, Benin City, Nigeria, December 1981. Photo by Barbara W. Blackmun.


In Benin art, Osa is often pictured standing beside the Oba on one side, while Osuan stands on the other. They are identically dressed, and each supports one of the Oba’s arms.  Their support is literal as well as symbolic, as the beaded crown and costume of the Oba is extremely heavy.  Osa and Osuan appear in this supporting triad at the coronation of a new ruler, and at some of Benin’s major festivals.  Because every aspect of Edo ceremonial life recalls particular details of the kingdom’s long history and deeply held beliefs, at times it is the responsibility of other ritual specialists to form this triad with the Oba during specific palace ceremonies.