Ife Museum and Oba’s Palace in Ile-Ife, Nigeria

The ride from Benin City to Ile-Ife was not as difficult as my prior overland travel in Nigeria. Evangelist Christians are omnipresent in most of the southern part of the country with Muslims predominating in the north and traditional animist and other religions hanging on to survival a bit behind the scenes.

Christian Decorations on Back of Truck, Route from Benin City to Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Ile-Ife, Nigeria

The Ife Museum in Ile-Ife had the following exhibits–
Musical instruments:

Rattles (calabash)

Metal gong

Gan-gan (talking drum with stick)

Saworo (metal musical instrument)

Metal ornaments:

Bracelets, ring, from 10-11th century CE, beautiful designs, woman-figures

Ibeji twin figures

Yoruba consider twins a source of blessing, bring good fortune to parents

Barren women can approach Ogun during Olojo festival to gain fertility, possibly even twins

Ibom masquerade among Efik people in Calabar – snake-like cords and raffia skirt

King and Queen, probably Ooni and wife, his left leg around her right leg, many beads in their crowns, beads on hands, chest, feet, rings on second toes, excavated by Frank Willet at Ita-Yemoo, dated 11-12th century CE, bronze, his face brown, her face green

Emir of Kano’s fara (jester)

Royal stool, terracotta, largest known in Africa from Iwinrin Grove, Ile-Ife, human figure standing on four-legged rectangular stool, behind him a pole of some king with a protrusion over the stool and between its feet

Olokun head, god(dess?) of the sea, giver of children, healer of abdominal disease, treat water with herbs for drinking

Ceremonial Insignia

Heavy next ring with spiral decorations at bottom of think neck loop

Brass mace heads, with aged gagged men with hole for mounting on wood shaft

Brace scepters, one with gagged men, from Ita-Yemoo, Ife

Glass beads made at Olokun Grove, melted in crucibles, various colors, Segi blue beads the most valued by Yoruba, thin and long, light blue

Animal Life

Rams, goats, kids represent offerings to gods and ancestors

Dogs also perhaps, but also as human companion

Snakes and chameleons are sacred

Monkeys in legends

Owl unique in west African art

Yoruba oba may own 40-50 crowns, most made of colored beads, collars over necklaces of fold, fly-whisk of horse hair

Offering pots at shrine or sacred grove, or burial place

Ade Owo Eyo – crown of cowrie cells, worn by wealthy individuals

Hunter mask – skin-covered wooden mask worn as camouflage

Sango stool and staffs

Orere Ifa (Ifa priest staff)

Wooden tray for divination with palm nuts

Divination tray (wooden) – with Opele divination instrument, dried fruit of Schnebera Golugensis – has convex and concave surfaces

Araba – Ifa chief priest – bust adorned with cowries selected from male Ifa worshipers without facial marks, presides over Ifa meetings and annual Ifa festival proceedings

Ase juju – usually prepared inside horn of ram or goat, invoked for cursing or healing, protruding pin inside the Ase – when removed and touches tongue, becomes a potent force of command, cursing, or healing

Ojboni metal crown – conical with facial representation, secret cult originating in Yorubaland and spreading elsewhere

Beaded bag – used by Yoruba ritual specialists, esp. Ife diviners and Sango priests

Archaeology in Ife:

Lander, 1830

Elgee, 1908

Ennett, 1910

Frobenius excavated Olokun Grove

Wunmonjie finds in 1938

Osangangan Obamakin Grove, 1943

Abiri excavation by Bernard Fagg, 1949

Ogun Ladin, Olokuri Walode, Ogbon Oya, 1953

Yemoo, Frank Willet, until 1983

Obamari Grove and Oduduwa College, Oliver Myers, 1964 and 1966

Stone carvings from Ore (One?) Grove

Potsherds Pavement – Luwoo – during reign of only female ooni of Ife-Luwoo, c. 1100 CE

Opa Oranmiyan (Oranmiyan staff)

Legend of sword that turns into obelisk

Oranminyan, youngest son of Odududwa, c. 1200-1300 CE

Husband of Moremi, heroine of Ife

Benin dynasty founded by Oranmiyan, married one of their daughters

Gave birth to Eulaka, first Oba of Benin

Then went to Oyo where his son Ajaka became Alaafin of Oyo

Oranmiyan then drove Ooni Aleyemore (son of Obalufon Ogbogboirin) off the throne of Ife (he had taken throne after Oduduwa’s death)

Ile-Oduduwa – location where Oduduwa believe to have resided

Oke Mogun (Ojobo) shrine, sacrifice offered to Ogun, god of iron, during Olojo festival, Ooni of Ife must visit twice to offer prayers for subjects during Olojo festival, only day when ooni dons the Are (or Ave?) crown

Igbo-Ukwu, 9th century CE, found burial chamber and art in 1938

Conical heads, used offerings at shrines or memorials to ancestors as tradition possibly elder than naturalistic heads

Crucibles found at Itajero used for making beads

Olokun Grove only place with both iron smelting and glass bead technology

Lokoloko stick – used to control crowd during Olojo festival

Osangangan Obamakin Grove – terracotta figure with elephantiasis of scrotum (Ile-Ife)

Ajilekege – granite head from Esure Ekiti, Ife

Stone vessel excavated from Orangangan Obamakin Grove – bubble at top suggesting palm wine fermentation, palm wine essential ritual item for Ogun during Olojo festival

Edan Ogboni – brass insignia worn around neck, male and female figures joined by chain, given to every member of Ogboni/Osugbo society among Yoruba

Ceremonial insignia of Yoruba cults:

Edau figure

Oluwo staff

Yeye

Plier ceremonial tool

Small scythe-like ceremonial tool

Gun powder flask with double face

Ogboni bell for heralding commencement of meeting

Oluwo figure

Bell probably used by Ifa cult, tall conical brass, nine inches long

I almost didn’t get to see the Oba’s palace in Ile-Ife, but luckily some other tourists wanted to see it at the same time, so they gave us a little tour for a little price. It was there I learned about Moremi, “the heroine from premordial times” who, when captured as a slave by the Ugbo people eventually married the Ugbo ruler and became the queen to discover the secret of the Ugbo’s power so that she could bring it back to her people, the Yoruba, and defeat the Ugbo.

Statue of the Yoruba Heroine Moremi, Oba Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria Statue of the Yoruba Heroine Moremi, Oba Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Carved Wooden Palace Door, Oba Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria Carved Wooden Palace Door, Oba Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria Carved Wooden Palace Door and Totem Pole, Oba Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Blurry Photo of Shrine to Ooni of Ife, Ooni Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria Dark Photo Looking Onto Grounds, Oba Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria Carved Wooden Totem Pole, Oba Palace, Ile-Ife, Nigeria

Benin National Museum in Benin City, Nigeria

Benin City, Nigeria

I stayed at the Lixborr Hotel in Benin City, Nigeria. When I arrived, I asked the rate while a taxi driver waited patiently outside. Confirming the rate at the reception desk, I went back to the taxi and got my bags. Then, returning to reception, the same receptionist told me a different rate because they had no rooms at the rate she quoted me. Discussing this for half and hour produced no result except my sitting and waiting, exhausted by travel, in the lobby for the manager. The manager agreed to split the difference between the quoted rate and the actual rate until they could move me into a room at the rate reception had originally quoted me. I agreed so I could get into a room! Who licks boars, or is it bores, anyway? The hotel has a bar frequented by younger Nigerians who like to drink. The restaurant is usually empty and connected to the bar. There are two nice sculptures out in front of the hotel and it is located just across the street from the brass casters quarter.

Sculpture in Front of Lixborr Hotel, Benin City, Nigeria Sculpture in Front of Lixborr Hotel, Benin City, Nigeria

The last picture includes a friend I made in Benin City… he’s the son of one of the local chiefs who showed me around town a bit. I’m not sure exactly where I took this next picture of the Asoro statue.

Asoro Statue, Probably Benin City, Nigeria

The Benin National Museum is located at King’s Square in the center of the Ring Road, making it quite a traffic hazard to try to walk to the museum entrance.

Shops and Statue on Ring Road, Kings Square, Benin City, Nigeria Statue on Ring Road, Kings Square, Benin City, Nigeria Entrance to Benin National Museum, Ring Road, Kings Square, Benin City, Nigeria

Mosaic at Entrance to Benin National Museum, Ring Road, Kings Square, Benin City, Nigeria

I had a bit of a snit with a guy sitting in the parking lot about whether I could take pictures outside the museum. Eventually, I got to chat with the museum director who assured me that, even though the museum did not permit pictures of the artifacts inside the museum due to people creating duplicates to replace with the originals they would steal, taking pictures outside the museum was OK. Whew! I waited a half hour to purchase an entry ticket for the museum.

DOWNSTAIRS–

Case 20:

Equestrian figure with shield and axe (bronze)

Horse rider – barrel-shaped stomach and torso, diminutive hands, necklace with motif (see journal drawing), cap with floppy top, three scars or wrinkles on each side of mouth

Medicine container, three legs, face below spout

Portuguese soldier who helped Oba Esige in war against the Idah

Case 19:

Terracotta heads for bronze casters to place on their paternal shrines

Case 18:

Igbesamwan guild:

Carved wooden bowl with knot pattern (see journal drawing)

Carved wooden antelope box

Case 21:

Iguneromwon guild made bronzes for oba:

Decorated bronze gong used by oba, three figurines, oba in center, his hands held on each side by other figures

Bronze ram pendant – chief’s ceremonial paraphernalia

Bronze baboon hip mask – chief’s ceremonial paraphernalia

Bronze fish-styled kolanut container used for royal visitors

Case 17:

Ivory carvers same guild as wood carvers

Ivory equestrian figures

When elephant killed, one tusk for oba plus he had first option to buy the other tusk in the pair

Case 16:

Egogo – double bronze gong used by oba to scare away evil spirits

Bini warlord with assistants, bronze plaque (photo)

Case 15:

Bronze plaque depicting war chief holding ceremonial sword in right hand, cap or helmet, feather (?) above left ear, gong (?) under left hand

Bronze plaque of commander-in-chief of Bini army and his diminutive horn blower

City of Benin, center of kingdom, oba’s palace
Two parts: Ogber oba’s residence, court, palace chiefs
Orenskhua – town chiefs’ and retainers’ homes
Further divided into 40+ wards, each ward specializing in duties for the oba, such as brass-casting, leatherwork, etc.
Queen mother in separate palace outside city walls

Case 23:

Bronze equestrian figure – messenger from the north, muzzle and strange reins and harness (?) or blades (?) in each hand, elaborate headdress including pine cone like shape on top

Case 14:

Bronze Ododua ceremonial head mask worn by seven dancers during Igue festival, oval mouth, two bronze braids of hair of fiber hanging in front of ears on each side, elaborate headdress looking like half wheel with spokes

Bini pendant depicting magical power – lion-like face, oval mouth, circular rings around edge

Case 24:

Partial reconstruction of shrine (one of two) in oba’s palace to commemorate his ancestors – sacrifices made here, bells, staffs, carved ivory tusks mounted on bronze heads, bronze heads and other bronzes, floor has cowrie patterns set in clay/earth

Carved ancestral heads

Iye, big bronze cock, locally called “Okpa?, usually on altar dedicated to queen mother

Case 25:

Oro – Bini bird of disaster symbolizing oba’s superiority over fate, bird with long narrow beak on pedestal

Bronze hip mask of a queen mother

Bronze bust of a Bini oba – young-looking, helmet with three protruding elements left, center, right, braids/fibers hanging from helmet or head hair(?), ringed necklaces on neck and draped on chest

Case 26:

Aomuada – nude royal attendants, three standing side by side with layer hair/helmets, braids/fibers on each side in front of ears, elaborate designs on bodies (diamonds, triangles, circles), bracelets, anklets, uncircumcised phalluses

Bronze mudfish plaque

Case 27:

Ibebogo – bronze altar of the hand, symbol of human power to achieve mateial and practical success, oba’s hand = well-being of whole kingdom, cylinder shape on thin base, cnetral male oba’s figure, accompanied by female figures with drooping breasts, fans(?) covering genitals (holding hands on each side), knotted patterns in circles on cylinder top

Case 28:

Brass plaque for ritual sacrifice of cow – four figures holding stretched legs, another holding head while main figure slits throat with dagger, two other small and even smaller figures holding ceremonial objects(?), one figure holding leg may have bald pate on top suggesting layers, represent hair rather than helmets, another has braids of hair or fiber braided into hair(?)

Note: “Braids? could also be strings of beads hanging from beaded crown

Executioner’s head – strange longish shape with “nose? six inches up from handle

Case 29:

Janus executioner with each side holding sword on right and severed head in left hand

Single executioner, sword in right hand, severed head in left

Body of executed victim, face down, elbows bound together with twine behind back

Case 30:

Bronze ritual jug in shape of leopard used to pour water from mouth or nostrils to cleanse oba’s hands during ceremonies, filled through hole in top of head

Bronze spoon used in ceremonies

Case 31:

Bronze plaque of oba in divine aspect supported by attendants holding one hand on each side, all wearing helmets with protruding pole topped by four horizontal radial spikes and one vertical spike, neck rings, tunic, braids, belt or kilt with human heads, legs of mudfish, four frogs around border of patterned background with three arms (left, bottom center, right) holding three feathers each, mudfish-legged oba equated with olokun, god of sea OR possibly an oba who became paralyzed

Another similar plaque

Ekpen (Edo) bronze leopard wall mask used for decoration of paternal shrines

Obas were divine kings, reincarnations of past kings, whose health was equated with the well-being of the kingdom, person of the king was sacred, had supernatural powers

Case 34:

Bronze plaque representing oba Akengo I, a Bini king who had dreadlock (dada) hair, holding sword in right hand, necklace, kilt

Case 35:

Bronze plaque of Benin king, dressed in regalia: staff of office, shield, neck rings, four attendants

Miles on miles of Benin City walls, inner wall 45 (or 4.5?) feet high, dated to 1450-1550, deep ditch running on outside

Case 1:

Bronze cast of queen mother’s head in early 16th century, Idia-Ghe, mother of Oba Esigie, played important role in war against Idahs, so Esigie gave her title of queen mother (the first one), neck rings, conical hat or hair netting pointed toward direction forward from face, four braids on each side in front of ears

Another queen mother head

15th-16th century, empire reached from Porto Novo to beyond Niger River in east, vassal states paid tribute to oba or faced war

Spears, rather short, of iron

Short guns introduced by Portuguese

Ukokoghe (Bini) gun powder keg used to store gunpowder or traditional medicines, shaped like a big long pill with hole at top, face in middle, and rings on each side

Riches of Benin court hidded from outside world until British expedition of 1897.

1485 – Europeans first got word of Benin, trade in peper, ivory, slaves, palm oil

1668 book has picture of oba being carried

1897 foreign visitor’s map of Benin

Bronze plaques of Portuguese warriors, some holding manilas, which succeeded cowries/shells as currency in 16th century

Portuguese assisted Oba Esigie in war against Idah

Pair of bronze rams used as security agents in oba’s palace

Ceremonial swords used as sanctions of chieftanship deriving from oba and as symbols of his own kingship:

Ada (drawing in journal)

Eben (drawing in journal) – dances of homage to oba danced with Eben before chiefs

Equestrian figure of oba with attendants demonstrates oba’s social control over man and beast

Ofo – messenger of Ogiuwu – chief in charge of all executioners, presentation of bronze plaque signifies death sentence, head with diminutive legs, bent arms sticking out from top of head, four radial circular emblems in relief from background with dotted and floral design

Royal messenger wearing Maltese cross on chest

1897 palace took up 1/16 of city – entered palace through gate flanked by high towers, large bronze python (40 foot long) mounted on each tower, undecorated clay wall surrounding palace, interior richly ornamented, interior building surrounded series of courtyards, behind three courtyards was a large conference hall with huge bronze snake at southern end

Plaque of Amufi acrobats hanging on ropes from cotton tree with three birds in upper branches, ceremony to bring rain

Case 38:

Bronze plaque of crocodile with fish in mouth (not mudfish), best sacrificial victim to Olokun, goddess of the sea, is the crocodile

Benin Court art – according to Chief Eghareuba, brass casting began in Benin City in 1280 when Oba Oguola commissioned Iguegha to found a guild of skilled craftsmen (Iguneromwon) – worked solely for oba’s court, altarpieces, plaques, decorative objects

Iguneromwon in one city ward and other wards included guilds that didn’t have to work only for the oba:

Igbesamulan: wood and ivory carvers

Isseivie: beadworkers

Ise-Ekpokie: leather workers, etc.

UPSTAIRS–

Case 1:

Okakagbe Masquerade – role of spirits to the living

Odagu mother figure masquerade is senior figure in Okakagbe dance from Etsoko division at annual festivals held by Weppa-Wano at New Yam time (Oct-Mar) or to honor village titulary deity, four adults and one child in this dance

Case 2:

Carved ivory amulets, figures of oba, chiefs, musicians, or abstract designs

Chiefs used wooden carved rams heads in ancestral shrines since bronze only for oba

Pair of stools sent by Oba of Benin to King of Portugal

Case 3:

Ewawa divination used ram horns, bronze cover with human face, pendants, and cowrie charms

Ifa divination pendants – all pendants have oval shaped metal pieces on thin twisted metal sticks

Case 4:

Carved wooden ancestral head with feather

Case 5:

Olokun (male) shrines with elaborate clay pots, divinity of sea and rivers, mainly worshiped by women who have individual shrines for him

Ikengobo (wooden), used in cult of the hand, symbol of individual’s efficiency and success

“Akhe? Osun pot used to hold traditional medicines

Case 6:

Ekpo face masks (five) performed with raffia in masquerades on yearly Eho Ekpo ritual celebrating the young and healthy, masked dance on final day of ritual, senior mask is Iyekpo, epitome of motherhood, other masks: native doctor, authorities, and animals, especially leopards, antelopes, and young people

Case 7:

Traditional drums used by native doctors and chiefs during ceremonies, four foot tall, wooden with carved figures and designs, pegged skins on top

Case 8:

Pottery, fashioned by hand (no wheel), prepared by pounding, kneading, treading, mold or coil lumps of clay on supporting device like calabash, dried in sun then fired before or after decoration, firing in open or in low wall enclosure (but no true kiln), stacked on leaves, twigs, cow dung under heap of grass, 15 minutes to whole day in duration, some only sun dried

Case 9:

Palace wooden door panels

Case 10:

Headdresses from Delta state – stilt dancers

Case 11:

Wooden helmet possibly from Afema division (beautiful!)

Case 12:

Musical instruments:

Aktapa (stringed above wooden box), hano? Used during folktales

Snake skin twin drums (double membrane), used by native doctors

Ivory flutes

Finger piano (metal slats over wooden box with small hole)

Case 13:

Carved wooden box used by princess or presented to her during marriage ceremony, knotted pattern (see journal drawing) and other knots on top, radial and knotted patterns on sides

Case 14:

Wooden container for pounding yams (like large wooden goblet with lid)

Wooden combs

Tray used to carry palm wine usually in calabash bowl

Wooden tray

Wooden figures to offer kolanuts

Igara cloth (looks almost like Tellum design)

Case 15:

Long wooden pipe (six feet) with bowl lit by small child who sits by the end

Oguoro game board

Ayo played with beans, counters, or cowries

Case 16:

Wooden royal “telegraphic? stool – sent as if a letter, message in design of stool

Case 17?:

Terracotta head used for decoration and remembrance

Case 18:

Cast of head in Udo style

Case 19:

Ife terracotta head placed in paternal shrine

Case 20:

Bronze Janus head used as part of Obuobo bell in ancestral shrine, etc.

Case 21:

Some similarities between Benin, Delta, Ife, and Owo styles, for example striations on some Owo terracotta and Benin bronze faces

TOP FLOOR–

Nigerian traditional cultures:

Igbo: democratic, egalitarian

Yoruba: patrilineage

Bini: divine ancestral kinship

Emirate system in northern Nigeria

Iron, mid 7th century BCE in central Nigeria

Terracotta, 500 BCE, Nok

Divination

Yoruba

Shango, thunder (parallel to Igbo’s Amadioha)

Eshu, trickster

Ifa priests (Dibio priests of Igbo – Afa divination) (Edo’s Ewawa)

Odu-Iwa divination narratives, 256 verses

Babalawo trained for 5-10 years to be father of secrets

Number system based on 20 (see Goutier Hegel, 1996)

Rainmakers burn large wood fires to create precipitation

Right hand symbol of strength and achievement among Igbo, Igala, Urhobo, and Edo in the Ikenga complex

Hero worship of skull, fertility or ancestral cult symbolized in Ekpa wooden sculptures (Oron – Cross River), So, and Mimuye figures (Adamawa/Taraba)

Ibeji twin figures (Ere Ibeji) – Yoruba redefinition of what elsewhere was considered an abomination, tied to concept of reincarnation and repeater babies (Abiku or Ogbanjo in Igbo)

Case 1:

Divination:

Beaded Ifo divination bag (apo ifa)

House whisk (irukere ifa)

Large beaded divination charm (ileke ifa)

Beaded divining chain (opele ifa)

Divination tray (opon ifa)

Divination ivory (iroke ifa) used to invoke Orunmila

Receptacle (ogere ifa)

Case 2:

Sango (Yoruba)

Wooden double-headed axe (ose sango) {Aam dioha (Igbo) – check this}

Ritual garment (ewu sango)

Ritual wand (ose)

Receptacle (arugba sango)

Sango staff (ose)

Ritual mortar (odo sango)

Case 3:

Esu Elegbara – trickster god, Orunmila’s companion, messenger of the gods (Yoruba) or gatekeeper (Benin)

Edo variant of Ifa called Ewawa in Benin, using bundle of charms

Case 4:

Ram head symbolism

Owo piece called Osama sinmi (variant of Benin Uhumwelao memorial heads in ancestral shrines)

Case 5?:

Panel I: Cult of Hand

Panel I(A): Art of Honoring the Dead

Panel II: Heroes and Heroines

Human flutist with semi-erect phallus and protruding bellybutton from Montol, Plateau states

So figures – Mambila / Adamawa

Case 5: Motherhood

Ibesi twins

Bay 2:

Music

Hausa/Fulani: string and wind experts

Yoruba: talking drums

Igbo: xylophones, thumb pianos

British learned Yoruba drum signals (Basden, 1921, p.364)

Gelede masks of SW Yoruba and Dahomey, worn by men masquerading as women in honor of the great Mo?____a?_Nea (?) whose witchcraft powers are cultivated in rituals, dance, and drama to enhance fertility

Drums

Ogere slit drum (Igbo) used as talking drum

Case 6:

Resonators:

Ankle rattles, waist rattles

Calabash

Ivory flute (inc. Yoruba)

Case 7:

Face masks

Panel 5:

Igbo masks, including large one with horns and alternating teeth

Epa mask (Yoruba)

Bay 3:

War

Case 8:

Charms

Chain mail, shields and heralds

Bow and arrow, spear, double-headed spear (Hodgja, Kano)

Suns

Bay 4:

Food production

Cutlass, axe, hoe, spear

Yam complex – New Yam festivals

Tobacco pipe as status symbolized

Groundnuts (peanuts?) and cowpeas (beans)

Palm oil

Fishing

Bay 5:

Women, Art, and Power

Case 6:

Skin-covered mask (Ejagham, Cross River, Akwa-Ibom) for fertility dance, long spiral horns (beautiful!)

Reference: I Remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant, by Erediauwa, Oba of Benin

National Museum in Lagos, Nigeria

December 19, 2007, National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria

YORUBA–

Ose Sango (dance wand), #95.5.1(b), wood, Sango holding bowl (anigba), mortar, in left hand, rattle in right hand, kneeling with right knee on base, left bent with hand resting on it, plus emblem with bird on top of head

Ake Sango (Sango axe), #88R920, wood, iron (blade), Janus figure with blade mounted at right angle to handle

Edun Ara (thunder stone), #R.5.25, 3cm high

Items sacred to Sango: rain, ayan tree, sese beans, banana, thunder stones

Arugabe Sango (Sango bowl), #61.5.98-86.5.19, base with wide oval faces, on base four small female figures, two holding their own breasts, other two holding some object, with large female figure in center of base, prominent breasts, hands reaching up to bowl on head with ornate lide and various figures holding onto what may be ayan trees with two leaves or branches (or feathers?) separating at the top

Yata (“Beaded? dance panel) [said “bearded? on placard], #69.6.39, cloth, beads, leather, beaded face, diamond designs, descending triangle and striped designs in blue, yellow, white, green, burgundy, silver, light blue

Ogboni society – secret society, aka Osugbo among Egbo and Ijebu, comprising town council, civic court, and electoral college for selecting and removing the king

– Edan Ogboni, #47.19.4, bronze, smiling face with conical cap, holding tools, seated on small stool, what looks like bird standing on belly with beak attached above bellybutton

– Ada Ogboni, #74.1.1348, bronze, almost the shape of a bell with a flat shaft on top, figures with disproportionate faces, slit eyes, and mouths, above bent knees

– Edan Ogboni, #59.24.91, bronze, male and female figure, attached by chain through loops on top of figures, hands on sternum over amulet hanging from necklaces, protruding bellybutton, symbolic genitals, small legs bent at knees

Divination

– Agogo Ifa (divination bell), #51.16.266, iron, (painted?) white, four bells on each side of central shaft, including ringers

– Iroke Ifa (Ifa rattle), #64.9.60, wood, handle comes to a point, woman with prominent breasts, left hand on left breast, right hand holding object, lines radiating from protruding bellybutton, tall bowl on head, cowrie shaped by a ???

– Agera Ifa (Ifa cup), #68.2.32, wood, bird standing in center of base with horizontal serpent in beak, its tail touching another serpent on one side and biting another serpent on the other side – the side serpents part of vertical poles supporting the cup which has a broad lip with diamond patterns

– Opon Ifa (Ifa tray), #64.9.433, wood, square base, stool with four legs and radial pattern in circle at each upper corner, kneeling woman wearing dress with sash and necklace with semicircular amulet, many bracelets and cap, arms raised to support circular tray on head with border of elaborate design incorporate circles, birds, diamonds, cross hatching, and braided knots

IGBO– Divination rattle, #EN.76.3.33.(A-F), bone, calabash, seed

BENIN–

Ewawa (divination stool), #74 B 1.201, wood, cowrie, leather, iron, cloth, looks almost like a small drum

Divination cup, #BM.5.21, brass, looks more like lid with handle on top than cup, circular ornamentation on half sphere face down, cowries and other objects represented in brass, braided eyebrows, slit eyes, cheek markings (scarification?), small triangular mouth

Ukpago (bronze cup with 19 divination seeds), #76 B 1.13(A-B), seeds actually small bronze amulets of cowry, face, ring, cone, disk with radial pattern, bird, balls, figures, etc.

Mumuye figure, #74.1.292, from Muri Division, Adamawa State, who recognize supreme being called Ia identified with the sun, have two cults, Vadosu symbolized by horned mask, protect household, detect the guilty and punish them, 86cm high wooden figure with bowed legs, male genitals barely visible under woven cloth around waist with cowries and string of beads around waist, prominent bellybutton, fiber cord wrapped around neck, inquisitive eyes with floppy ears or cap, including circle with radial pattern on each flap, some etched patterns on cheeks and below neck (scarification?)

IGBO–

Ozo titled men, #55.9.13, wood, tall wooden statue mounted on base, wearing bowler hat (?), diminutive bent legs, prominent male genitals, protruding bellybutton, holding animal horn (?) in left hand and rifle in right hand, striped design carved on neck and face, and mouth with inward-pointing teeth

Ozo highest traditional title among Igbo, insignia include: osisi (staff of official), ugo (eagle feather), okwa-chi (lidded container in shape of boat), imanzu (white clay), azuzu (leather fan), ikenga (?), and okike (?).

YORUBA–

Osun, river goddess with shrine including brass figures, 16 cowries for divination

– Orinle pot, #74.1.24, clay, looks like a bell in the shape of a crouching figure with bowl mounted between knees, protruding breasts, “arms? and rear support spine with rippling bumps, near-conical face with horizontal and vertical scarification, slit eyes and mouth, small lump in center of hollow interior

– Laba Sango (beaded bag), #70.1.579, cloth handled (red with white border) bag with extensive bead work in blue, yellow, red, white, and bronze colors with floral, braided knot designs and a face with two black oval eyes, three vertical marks scored on each cheek, a long vertical nose, and a red diamond symbol bordered in white-blue-white on the forehead, also three bells dangling on beaded strands from bottom of bag

– Oyi masquerade, #66.7.272, cloth, cowrie, beads, wood, leather, iron, fiber, animal horn, brass, seed, body covered entirely by bluish cloth, capped mask on top of hidden head, horn, fiber, and wooden figures hanging from head, cowry and seed strands dangling, along with a bell, a whop, a metal spoon, a beaded and netting bag, represent visitation from ancestors, appear with music, singing, dancing, drama in motion, performed at night only by men in Nigeria, with potentially fatal punishment of women

IGBO–

Masquerade, #56.10.122, cloth raffia, hair, leather, long raffia strands, extend from top of head to ground, yellow scarf with red and green stripes wrapped around head above which is human or animal hair, patterned and multicolored vertical cloth concealing dancer within, red cordage with hanging bulbs and tassle bundles attached to vertical cloth in serpentine lines

YORUBA–

Osamasinmi (ram head) #65.1.22, wood, from Owo, placed on altars of chiefs of lineage, sacrifices made at New Yam festival to obtain fertility, fairly crudely carved

IGBO–

Ikenga, #73.1 or J or I.47.1, horned figure representing strength of right hand, if owned by individual, broken when person dies

BENIN–

Ikenga, #58.35.6, wood, conical with braid pattern below more abstract pattern with thinner stake coming to a point at the top

YORUBA–

Atinga staff, #51.16.399, wood, white chalk, blue powder, pole with platform 1/3 way up on which rests woman with protruding breasts holding baby breastfeeding in left hand and sheep in right with pole continuing above head in disked spine with odd-shaped emblem on top (see drawing in journal), indicating dignity and nobility

IGBO–

Ofo staff, #55.2.1, wood, less than one foot long, rubbed with medicine, held by eldest son of family, indicating dignity and nobility

BENIN–

Ukhushe, #71.6.21, wood, longer staff with closed hand, thumb pointing up, at top of staff, carved sections

YORUBA–

Ijoku Ogun (Ogun stool), #67.1.186, white and green wood, god of iron, hunting, and warfare, stool has men holding guns at rest as poles alternating with plain poles in front and back, panels with clocks at each end, stool top carved with braided and circular patterns, as well as a crocodile in an oval in the center

Lots more… see the books I purchased there.

Abomey to Cotonou to Porto Novo

Written on December 16, 2007, at the museums, and on December 25, 2007, Fajol Castle Hotel, Abeokuta, Nigeria

Cotonou, Benin

I couldn’t pick up my Togo visa in Cotonou because it turned out it was the weekend, so I headed to the station for Porto Novo.

All the Girls to School Billboard, Benin

Porto Novo, Benin

In Porto Novo, I stayed at the amazing Centre Songhaï, which was not only a hotel but also an entrepreneurial venture designed to inspire and empower African youth. I sampled their jams and a variety of juices produced there, including baobab, pineapple, and a bit-too-strong ginger. They had signs up around the premises explaining a bit of the philosophy of the place, including an integrated approach to design and industry.

Songhai Integral System Sign, Centre Songhaï, Porto Novo, Benin Grounds of Centre Songhaï, Porto Novo, Benin Mosque, Porto Novo, Benin

Appropriate Technologies Division Sign, Centre Songhaï, Porto Novo, Benin One Does Not Wait for the Future Like One Waits for a Train: The Future, One Makes It, Motto Painted on School Administration Wall, Porto Novo, Benin

My expedition walking to town included a visit to the Musée Ethnographique and the Musée Honmé.

Sign for Musée Ethnographique, Porto Novo, Benin Sign and Ornate Gate of Musée Ethnographique, Porto Novo, Benin Ornate Gate of Musée Ethnographique, Porto Novo, Benin

The Musée Ethnographique has exhibits related to birth, life, and death in cultures throughout Benin, including Gelede masks of the Yoruba as well as artifacts related to Betamaribe aka Samba (NW) and Patombou (NE) peoples. Léonard gave me a tour of the museum. There was also a Yoruba “statue? of a man with false breasts and a mask worn on top of his head carrying twins, one in each arm. Yoruba revere women as having the power of life and twins as a gift of the gods.

I avoided a trip inside the Musée da Silva, despite the well-done bas reliefs about slavery on the museum’s exterior, and despite the admonitions of a fellow hanging out on the street who worked there.

Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin

Description of Negro Spiritual, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin

Slavery Art, Musée da Silva, Porto Novo, Benin

I came across this temple-like edifice labeled Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou with a fascinating altar on the premises.

Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou Temple, Porto Novo, Benin Altar at Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou Temple, Porto Novo, Benin Altar at Zangbeto Kphkli-Yaou Temple, Porto Novo, Benin

The Musée Honmé was the palace of the kings of Porto Novo from the late 17th to 19th centuries.

Sign for Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin Entrance to Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin Carved Wooden Entrance Door to Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin

Carved Wooden Entrance Door to Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin

Currently under renovation with a guide who explained very well the history of the place. There were courts of the king, the queen mother, a gri-gri room for the king, the “chambre noire? for committing royal suicide, a kitchen with a divinity used to check the food for poison by a change in color, a tree of justice and some prison cells, the king’s toilet, the queen’s bathing area (although they lived elsewhere and came to the palace for 21-day stays during which they danced for the king in hope of being chosen to spend the night with him). Cannon were purchased for 15 male slaves or 21 female slaves from the French and perhaps also earlier from the Portuguese. A waiting room for visitors used so the king could check with a divinity about their intentions. Also had a mound representing Legba, a protective divinity, and representations of other divinities, as well as metal houses for ancestors. The king didn’t die – he went on a voyage. He didn’t bathe because he was always proper – he just refreshed his body. He didn’t eat – he adored the food.

Statues at Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin Statue at Musée Honmé, Porto Novo, Benin

Returning to the hotel, I relaxed, ate dinner, and visited the Internet cafe. I also met the Director of the Songhaï Center who helped me clear up a billing problem for telephone calls that wouldn’t work properly to the U.S.

Abomey Didn’t Bore Me

Written on December 25, 2007, Fajol Castle Hotel, Abeokuta, Nigeria

More catchup–

Abomey has an amazingly rich cultural heritage with a lot of history based on the royal kingdom known as Dahomey or Danhomê. I set out on foot from the hotel on a tour described in my guidebook.

Palace Wall Ruins, Abomey, Benin Sign for Zomadonou Akaba Temple, Abomey, Benin Zomadonou Akaba Temple, Abomey, Benin

The first stop was to be the ancient city moat, but I ran into other sites along the way. After a ruined palace wall, I came across the Zomadonou Akaba Temple and its sign which read as follows in English translation of the French original:

The Zomadonou Akaba Temple

This temple is part of the royal cult of Zomadonou with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Akaba (1685-1708) and his ancestors through his child Zomadonou. Zomadonou is assisted by a Dan divinity named Gla.

Heads of the royalty each have a symbol associated with their reign, such as these for Agonglo, Guezo, and Kpengla aka Kpingla (picture below).

Left Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of  Dako-Donou, Gangnihessou, and Agoli-Agbo, Abomey, Benin Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of Agonglo, Guezo, and Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Right Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of  Kpengla, Tegbessou,  and Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Left Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbols of  Glah-Zomadonouton and Tegbessou, Abomey, Benin Right Side of Zomadonou Akaba Temple With Symbol of  Nan-Awassogba, Abomey, Benin

I came across a sign depicting one modern hair salon’s idea of the standard of feminine beauty in this region.

Sign for Hair Salon, Abomey, Benin

There are around 41 palaces in various states of preservation, use, or decay around the town. I tried to keep track of them all as I went. Amazingly, some people living right next to the sites have no knowledge of them or simply don’t understand or want to understand or think they can possibly understand me because I’m a strange foreigner. On the way to the moat, I asked people for directions along the way. Finally, when I was about 20 yards from the place, someone figured out what I was talking about. I saw the moat, locally known as Agbodo, and and took pictures of it.

Sign Describing Agbodo Moat Around Abomey, Benin Agbodo Moat Around Abomey, Benin Agbodo Moat Around Abomey, Benin

The English translation of the French sign follows:

Agbodo: The Moat of the City

The Agbodo construction is attributed to King Agadja (1711-1722) and gave the city its name of “Agbomè,” inside the moat. King Glele (1858-1889) will undertake [sic] an extension to include the Dido water source of the city. Agbodo is 10km long. It surrounds the space which sheltered the central capacity of the kingdom with 10 entrance doors. Closed in places, it still remains very expressive of certain of its sides: poisonous plants and savage animals lived there.

Then I walked onward. It was a long walk, but I’ve found that walking is the best way to really see the sites and get to know the people and the surroundings as they are today. For example, I stopped to look at a flowering tree and a fellow piped in to let me know that he makes an infusion from its leaves to treat malaria. I also saw a traditional oven used to bake bread. I also saw a house that identified Houegbadja, the third king of Dahomey.

Flowering Tree Whose Infusion Treats Malaria, Abomey, Benin Oven Used to Bake Bread, Abomey, Benin House Mentioning Third Dahomey King Houegbadja and Honon, Cononfjhoue,  and Tohossou Aho, Abomey, Benin

Next came King Houegbadja’s palace for which the English translation of the French sign is:

The Palace of King Houegbadja

Houegbadja (1645-1685) is the founder of the kingdom of Danhomey and the city of Abomey. He comes from the dynasty of the rulers of Tado (present-day Togo). He will seize [sic] the power of the Guédévis (Yorubas) living on the plateau. He set up an official administration and consultation structures. He named some ministers, a medicine chief, a chief chef of the king, and a cult chief. He pursued expansionist politics, extending the kingdom to the Zou and Couffo rivers without making war, based on negotiations with the natives. With his symbols — the fish, the bow net, and the hoe handle — he wanted to signify that he will never enter into a net, that he was clever, and ready to defend himself.

Sign for Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Reconstruction of Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Reconstruction of Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Damaged Wall Symbol, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Damaged Wall Symbol, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Reconstruction of Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Rear Doors of Compound, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Rear Doors of Compound, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Rear Wall of Compound, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Countryside Behind Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Wall Reconstruction, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Reconstructed Hut, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin Interior of Reconstructed Hut With Triangular Windows and Clay Pot, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Small Altar, Interior of Reconstructed Hut, Palace of King Houegbadja, Abomey, Benin

Next I visited the palace of King Agadja. My English translation of the French sign follows:

The Palace of King Agadja

King Agadja (1711-1741), called “the great conqueror,” reigned during the biggest period of expansion of the Danxomè kingdom. He conquered neighboring states: the kingdom of Savi (with the city and port of Ouidah) and Allada and started to dominate slave commerce on this coast. He established direct contact from the royal court to the Europeans. He formed an elite corps of warriors. Its rare warlike failures were against the Mahi and the Oyo kingdom (Yoruba in present-day Nigeria) of which the Danxomè gave tribute since its departure on the plateau, which was populated by the Yoruba.

Sign for the Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Gnarly Hollow Tree at Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Gnarly Hollow Tree at Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Agadja, Abomey, Benin

Next came the monument to the three Germans. Here’s my translation of the French sign:

The Monument to the Germans

This monument honors the engagement of three German soldiers and of a Belgian who fought against the colonial French army side by side with the Danxomè army between 1891 and 1894. Friends of King Gbehanzin, they came to show the Danxomè soldiers how to use a French cannon, lost by the French in the forests of Sedan (in France) during the war of 1870/1871 between the Germans and the French. The Kingdom of Danxomè bought this cannon but no Danxomè soldier knew how to use it. The French, astonished by the sound of the cannon’s detonation, climbed into tall trees to observe who was shooting the cannon. The 4 white soldiers, painted black, were recognized by the color of their hair. They were arrested and executed.

Sign for Monument to the Germans, Abomey, Benin Monument to the Germans, Abomey, Benin

The Agouwadji ruins once sheltered the Houtondji blacksmiths as described in my translation of the French sign there:

Agouwadji, this space once sheltered the Houtondji blacksmiths, brothers and companions of the Alladaxonu since Tado (in Togo). Then the noise of metal and anvils disturbed the peace of the King in the palace and they were moved to another district a bit further away, that bears their name: le Houtondji district. The space also sheltered a little lake named Azazo. King Tegbessou (1741-1774) made the lake disappear to extend the wall.

Sign for Agouwadji Blacksmith Shelter, Abomey, Benin Agouwadji Blacksmith Shelter, Abomey, Benin

The palace of King Tegbessou also has a French sign for which I present here the English translation:

The Palace of King Tegbessou

Since the prince Tegbessou was part of an annual tribute demanded by the Yoruba of Oyo (Nigeria), he stayed for a long time in that city, but finally he freed himself.

King Tegbessou (1741-1774) undertook some victorious wars against the Mahi and Nago, but he failed against the Yoruba.

During his reign Ouidah became a prosperous port and the second city of the kingdom. He finalized Agbodo, the moat of the city.

Sign for Palace of King Tegbessou, Abomey, Benin Ruins of Palace of King Tegbessou, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the French sign that describes the Feliadji entrance:

The Feliadji Entrance

The Feliadji entrance was opened by the King Tegbessou (1741-1774). The sons of the King who reached 10 years of age could not continue to live in the palace with the women. They left by this entrance to taught and educated [sic] at Vinhondji. Just as the son and heir, the Vidaxo, left by the same door to go to Ife in Nigeria, which is the country of origin of the Fa. That is where they instruct the sons and heirs in the domain of the Fa, in reading, in the Yoruba language, musical instruments and also patience.

Sign for Feliadji Entrance, Abomey, Benin

I translated into English the French sign describing the palace of King Kpengla:

The Palace of King Kpengla

King Kpengla (1774-1789) reinforced the army and conquered coastal cities, now situated in Nigeria and Togo. He still reinforced the Danxomè’s influence on the slave trade. He focused on expanding and consolidating the frontiers of the kingdom. He sent his army against the Hweda, the Ouemenou, and the Yoruba of Badagri. Victories and defeats charted the course of the army with the Amazons.

Sign for Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin

Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin

Palace of King Kpengla, Abomey, Benin

After wandering around all of these ruins, I arrived at the Musée Historique d’Abomey, where I spent a good chunk of cash on the admission and camera fee. The Musée Historique d’Abomey is located in the main complex of palaces with a large old tree in front.

UNESCO Sign for Abomey History Museum in Main Complex of Palaces, Abomey, Benin Large Old Tree in Front of Abomey History Museum in Main Complex of Palaces, Abomey, Benin

Here is my English translation of the French sign describing the palace of King Agoli-Agbo:

The Palace of King Agoli-Agbo

King Agoli-Agbo (1894-1900), enthroned by the French, established himself in the palace of his ancestor Kpengla by building a specific entry gate, materialized by a baobab tree, upside down, on the advice of his soothsayer. He started to restore the Glele and Guezo palace [sic]. He named his brothers as canton chiefs. Agoli-Agbo couldn’t reign like his predecessors anymore. On January 29, 1894, General Dodds read to the public 16 articles governing political life in what was left of the Danxomè kingdom. Agoli-Agbo went into disgrace because he took his role seriously. Deposed on February 12, 1900, exiled a bit later to Gabon, he returned to Danxomè in 1910, lived 15 more years at Savè, 2 years at Mougnon before returning to his private palace at Djegbe in 1927.

Sign for Palace of King Agoli-Agbo, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Agoli-Agbo, Abomey, Benin Carved Wooden Palace Doors, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

I read and photographed the signs for the palaces in the complex before entering the complex, since photography was not generally permitted inside. For each sign, my translation of the French sign precedes the photograph of the sign.

Ghezo Singbo

Two-Story House of Ghezo

This installation houses a Honnuwa identical to the others. This Honnuwa was transformed in Singbo (two stories) with the assistance of his friend Chacha de Souza.

Sign for Two-Story House of Ghezo, Abomey, Benin

The Palace of King Guezo

King Guezo (1818-1858) is considered a great reformer. He reorganized the structures of the State and the army, worked to unify the Kingdom and developed the production of palm oil in the context of the abolition of slavery. He undertook almost annual wars and freed finally the Kingdom from tribute to Oyo. He gave Catholics permission to build a cathedral downtown.

On the way back from a war with heavy losses, he found death.

Sign for the Palace of King Guezo, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the sign for King Agonglo’s palace:

The Palace of King Agonglo

King Agonglo (1789-1797) saddled himself with the well-being of the population for a series of reforms. He changed the system of taxation, reinforced the voodoo (vodun) cult, and supported the arts, reorganizing the art trades. During his reign, the designed decorations on the walls and pillars of the palace changed into bas reliefs, which completed the drummed language, codified chants and applied them to cloth. He loved music. He opened the Kingdom to Christian and Muslim missionaries. He undertook some war expeditions in the direction of his neighbors, the Mahi and the Ouemenous.

Sign for Palace of King Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Some people hid away to prepare for rituals in alcoves of the palace.

Preparing for Rituals in Palace Alcoves, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the sign for King Glele’s palace:

The Palace of King Glele

King Glele (1858-1889) was confronted by the interventionism of the Europeans, which he repulsed. He consolidated the supremacy of Danxomè in the region by carrying out more than 30 military campaigns. Against Porto Novo he lost. But as a result King Toffa of Porto Novo asked for the protection of the French.

King Glele enlarged “Agbodo” by including Dido, the spring of the city. He developed cultural practices like music, dance, and ceremonial rituals.

Sign for Palace of King Glele, Abomey, Benin

After I entered the museum complex, the guide was happy to see me, as he was starting to guide a group of Finnish women visiting from where they were staying in Porto Novo. They spoke English, but not French. As his primary guide language was French, he was happy to have my assistance with interpretation. I enjoyed helping the group out.

Entrance to Museum Complex, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

The palace is amazing… apparently the kings used to order warriors out to battle – on departure, they would commit to a number of human heads they intended to bring back. If they succeeded according to their commitment, the king rewarded them with advancement. If they returned with fewer than the promised number, their own head was required to fulfill the balance. So, unsuccessful warriors were unlikely to return at all.

The fiercest warriors were the Abomey Amazons, women specially trained for military service. They were not only the best warriors, but also apparently the best at tracking and recapturing escaped slaves brought in from other districts for use in Abomey or sale elsewhere.

The king bought cannons, each one in exchange for 15 male slaves or 21 females slaves.

There is a temple for offerings to the king after he died that has a tunnel communicating to a more private part of the palace compound. The queen mother was also buried there, although she was usually not the mother of the king or his wife.

As we wandered through the palace grounds, large numbers of celebrants took part in the Danxome Festival festivities that started that day. This included costumed men riding decorated horses, all manner of traditional dancing, some children dancing with Mickey Mouse masks, and a large presentation area where various officials and VIPs sat.

Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Drummers at Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Blurry Fancy Dress Horse at Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

Bleachers for Officials and Audience, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Organized Troup in Crowd, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Bleachers for Officials, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

Female Troupe Preparing for Ritual Dancing, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Stiltwalker, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin Moments of Relaxation, Danxome Festival Celebrations at Palace Grounds, Abomey History Museum, Abomey, Benin

I left the palace after goodbyes to the Finns and the guide, then ran into a bunch of drummers playing the kind of drum used as talking drums. They urged me to dance while they drummed, so I did. I tried to get them to “talk? with the drum, but they didn’t or couldn’t, so I went on my way after giving them a little baksheesh.

I came across the palace of King Gbehanzin next and translated into English the French sign there as follows:

The Palace of King Gbehanzin

The reign of King Gbehanzin (1890-1894) was characterized by the defense of the Nation against French penetration, finally by a war of resistance. After the fall of Abomey in 1892, he fought 14 months more in the bush out of the region. January 27, 1894, he went to General Dodds in the hope of ending the war. But he was deported to Martinique, later exiled in Algeria where he died in December 1906. The construction of the Dowome palace was started by King Gbehanzin and finished by his descendants on the occasion of the return of his ashes to Benin in 1928.

Sign for Palace of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin Long Wall of Palace of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin Palace of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin

I passed a busy market en route between the multitude of palaces and temples.

One of the Markets on Route Between Palaces, Abomey, Benin

At one temple, I looked around to see if anyone was taking care of it, then not seeing anyone, I took some pictures, after which a fellow came up to me aggressively demanding what I was doing and telling me I can’t just go around taking pictures of whatever I like. The resolution of the matter ended up being my negotiation with the chief’s son to erase a few pictures on the camera after which I had to show him they were really erased.

Here is my translation of the French sign for the Zewa Guezo temple:

Zewa Guezo Temple

The Zewa Guezo temple is part of the Zomadonou royal cult with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Guezo (1818-1858) and his ancestors through his five children Zewa, Noudai, Gojeto, Agboagli, and Sava.

Sign for Zewa Guezo Temple, Abomey, Benin Probably Zewa Guezo Temple, Abomey, Benin Large Tree in Courtyard, Probably Zewa Guezo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the French sign for the palace of the Crown Prince Guezo:

Palace of the Crown Prince Guezo

At ten years of age, the princes leave the family house and the women to be taught and instructed. At 20 years of age, they are presented to the King. He gives them land to let them construct a house. The crown prince must construct his private palace on a plot of his choice, but after a Fa consultation, to prevent illnesses, to have prosperity and peace in the future neighborhood. Around him his close defenders, his counselors, his friends, and the populace established themselves and constituted a new neighborhood. The prince and future King created the Gbecon/Hounli neighborhood.

Sign for Palce of Crown Prince Guezo, Abomey, Benin

Here is my translation of the French sign for the palace of the Crown Prince Agonglo:

Palace of the Crown Prince Agonglo

At ten years of age, the princes leave the family house and the women to be taught and instructed. At 20 years of age, they are presented to the King. He gives them land to let them construct a house. The crown prince must construct his private palace on a plot of his choice, but after a Fa consultation, to prevent illnesses, to have prosperity and peace in the future neighborhood. Around him his close defenders, his counselors, his friends, and the populace established themselves and constituted a new neighborhood. The prince and future King Agonglo created the Adame neighborhood at Goho and later the Houegbo/Hounli neighborhood.

Sign for Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Old Burnt Tree, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Left Side of Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Right Side of Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Wall Designs in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Wall Designs in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Building in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin Sculpture and Building in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

Sculpture in Courtyard, Palace of Crown Prince Agonglo, Abomey, Benin

I came across the Houemou Agonglo Temple and its sign which read as follows in English translation of the French original:

Houemou Agonglo Temple

The Houemou Agonglo temple is part of the royal cult of Zomadonou with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Agonglo (1789-1797) and his ancestors through his child Hoeumou.

Sign for Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Tree and Tents, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Gangnihessou Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Wood-Burning Ceramic Stoves, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Dakodonou Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Gate to Private Compound, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Mound Altar, Probably Esu Deity, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Mound Altar, Probably Esu Deity, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Akaba Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Symbols on Compound Wall, One Reminiscent of Dan Rainbow Serpent, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Glele Symbol and Behanzin Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Agoli-Agbo Symbol on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Two Cute Children in Front of Hondossou Painting on Compound Pillar, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Godjeto Painting on Compound Pillar, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin Agonglo Symbol and Alternate Spelling of Hwemu on Compound Wall, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

Probably Ritual Mound in Compound, Houemou Agonglo Temple, Abomey, Benin

After all those palaces and temples, I worked up a real thirst, so I had a drink at a little pub just past a market with goats and chickens and a special fetish in the middle of the market. I translated the French sign there as follows:

The Gbedagba Market

The Gbedagba market was a spoil of war of King Glele around 1877 following his victory over Sokl???bo [covered by cloth] in the hills. The market was transferred in full working order with products and booths. The Haïzan fetish in the market was installed by the Abomeans to bless the use of the space. The Haïzan is always installed in the open air to better radiate through the space.

Sign for Gbedagba Market, Abomey, Benin Mound Fetish, Gbedagba Market, Abomey, Benin

I tried to find the twin fetish and the fertility fetish, which had apparently been vandalized by a female tourist who sought to take the protruding part of the fetish with her. After first getting permission from a woman at the compound next to the Sémassou Temple, I then had to negotiate again with a man who said the woman didn’t have the right to do what she had done, then let a disabled boy on a bike show me the twin fetish and what may have been the damaged fertility fetish, of which I took pictures. I now realize how appropriate it was for a disabled boy to be showing me around the site.

I start with my translation of the French sign at the Semassou Glele temple:

Semassou Glele Temple

The Semassou Glele Temple is part of the royal cult of Zomadonou with 14 temples. Zomadonou incarnates the spirit of malformed children in the royal family. This inexplicable miracle justifies the consecration of the cult during the reign of King Tegbessou (1742-1774). These children serve as intermediaries between the visible and invisible world. Periodically the adepts celebrate rites in and in front of all the temples. The ceremonies here honor King Glele (1858-1889) and his ancestors through his two children Semassou and Hiensien.

Sign for Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin

Painting in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting of Huegbaja Kasudo Symbol in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin Painting of Decapitation in Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin

Semassou Glele Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is a picture of the fertility fetish as it was when I saw it:

Fertility Fetish Near Semassou Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is a picture taken by a photographer named Mark Wilkinson apparently before the removal of the phallus from the fertility fetish:

Fertility Fetish With Phallus Near Semassou Temple, Abomey, Benin

Here is the twin fetish as I saw it:

Twin Fetish Near Semassou Temple, Abomey, Benin

They wouldn’t budge on the python temple though, neither to look inside it or to take pictures of it. In the end, a bit more baksheesh brought the man around.

Afterwards, he even stopped a guy who was driving by to give me a ride back to the Place Goho roundabout near the hotel where I was staying. I translated the French sign there as follows:

Goho Place

The final combat between the French colonial army and the Dahomean army took place at Goho place in 1892. The place symbolizes Dahomey’s capitulation. Here King Gbehanzin surrendered to General Dodds in 1894. In 1974, the revolutionary military government proclaimed the Marxist-Leninist ideology in the place. Since 1978, the place has hosted the statue of the “national hero” King Gbehanzin.

Sign for Place Goho, Abomey, Benin Place Goho and Statue of King Gbehanzin, Abomey, Benin

I didn’t arrive back at the hotel until well after checkout time, so I decided to spend another night there before heading on to Cotonou to pick up my visa. On the television was the strange spectacle of a program called “Window on Islam” with pilgrims on the the hajj circling the Ka’aba in Mecca while French-language advertisements ran across the bottom of the screen.

Hajj Pilgrims Circle Kaaba in Mecca on French-Advertised Television, Abomey, Benin Hajj Pilgrims Circle Kaaba in Mecca on French-Advertised Television, Abomey, Benin Hajj Pilgrims Circle Kaaba in Mecca on French-Advertised Television, Abomey, Benin

At breakfast before I left, I snapped a pic of the cool painted optical illusion decoration on a pillar of the porch in front of the hotel that looks alternately like a bottle or two wine glasses.

Painted Bottle Decoration on Hotel Patio, Abomey, Benin