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


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.


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.


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


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



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:


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:


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


Ogere slit drum (Igbo) used as talking drum

Case 6:


Ankle rattles, waist rattles


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:


Case 8:


Chain mail, shields and heralds

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


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


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


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


– 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


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?)


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 (?).


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.

Porto Novo to Lagos

December 18, 2007, Ritz Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria

The next morning I returned to Cotonou for the visa, which I finally got, then I headed for the station to take a shared taxi to Lagos. After waiting for some hours and watching one taxi driver purposefully leave without me, I realized it was getting late enough in the day that if I still tried going to Lagos, I would arrive there at night, something I really didn’t want to do.

Instead, I got a ride from one of the taxi drivers to a hotel to try again the next morning for Lagos – the drive explained that taxi drivers wouldn’t want to try carrying me over the border due to border control delays. He suggested instead taking a shared taxi to Seme at the border, then crossing alone and picking up a vehicle for Lagos on the Nigerian side of the border.

The border crossing, starting from Cotonou in Benin, itself was daunting. I tried the day before yesterday, but taxi drivers wouldn’t take me, even from the station where such taxis usually depart. After three hours wait, I found out why – tourists take longer to pass through the border, thus slowing the workday of the driver who then may earn less money. The solution the drivers proposed was for me to wake up at 4am to take a shared taxi to Seme at the border, then walk through the border crossing and pick up another taxi on the Nigerian side of the border.

The border crossing was difficult, with the Benin border control trying for a 5,000 CFA bribe which I simply refused to give, so they kept me waiting for awhile. Then, I had to drag my bags across, which is never fun since the terrain is uneven and bumpy or sandy. On the Nigerian side, a border control guy mentioned he had the power to turn me away. I just told him it would be a shame not to include Nigeria in my book. Eventually, he too relented and let me through.

The border crossing did in fact take awhile, first because I asked for a name, stared down, and refused to bribe the Benin passport control official on the way out (he had asked for 5000 CFA and I had already paid 10,000 CFA for a 48-hour transit visa and 12,000 for a visa extension). Then, endless Nigerian petty officials checked me for one thing or another, with one pointing out to me that he could turn me back at the border. I just told him what a shame I thought it would be if my historical novel got written without including Nigeria. He told me he had read many histories of Nigeria, implying mine was not really needed, but eventually let me pass. Then, by around 5:30am or so, I had to walk dragging and rolling my heavy bags on uneven and sometimes sandy terrain through a phalanx of shifty-looking characters shining flashlights at everyone in the early morning darkness and arbitrarily stopping random individuals walking or riding by. I had no idea if they were actual officials or not, so I just kept walking past them until a couple of them cornered me to prevent me from proceeding. I asked to see ID and it turned out one of the guys was a drug law enforcement guy. He seemed most curious about the prescription medicines I was carrying and checked their labels carefully, whereas illegal drugs seemed only an afterthought. No one actually searched my bags – I don’t think they wanted the hassle, nor perhaps even cared what I or anyone else was bringing into the country as long as they could continue to collect their bribes.

I hope I live to the day when borders between nations no longer exist and people cherish and respect each others’ culture and history, rather than greedily seeking money and excessive material gain.

I finally made it past the border and hopped on a minibus going to Mile 2 Station in Lagos. I think there were more than 20 police checkpoints before reaching the station. The driver didn’t stop fast enough at one of the so a cop swung his wooden stick in a threatening blow to the left sideview mirror of the vehicle, resulting in lots of little glass pieces spraying through the open window onto my face – luckily none into my eyes. The driver handed over endless 20 naira bills at the checkpoints along the route.

Lagos, Nigeria

When we arrived at Mile 2 Station, the kind guy who sat next to me helped me find a taxi, though a few tried to charge me so much that I turned them away. The driver who finally took me got twice as much as I’d figured for carrying me to the Ritz Hotel.

Driving in a shared taxi into Lagos from the Benin-Nigerian border took around four hours due to the “go-slow? or in this case the “no go? during the especially busy Christmas season when townies and country folk come to shop in the big city.

In the early morning darkness, more people shone flashlights in my eyes and I didn’t know if they were government officials or bandits. I kept walking until two of them cornered me. I asked for ID and it turns out the one guy was a drug enforcement agent. He delayed me at least 15 minutes and was more concerned about the legal prescription drugs I carried than any illegal ones I might have (which, by the way, I didn’t have).

Between the Benin-Nigeria border and Lagos, there were no fewer than 25 checkpoints, many of which required the driver of the vehicle to pay bribes. When he one time tried to run a roadblock, a cop brandished a wooden club and smashed his sideview mirror, the glass spraying onto my face and chest, fortunately not into my eyes.

Arriving finally at the Mile 2 Station in Lagos, I wandered around awhile before getting on an overly expensive taxi to the Ritz Hotel, in a somewhat grubby section of Lagos Island.

The Ritz Hotel in Lagos is a run-down pit of a hotel, decaying from top to bottom of its several stories. However, 1400 naira per night is an amazing price when many of the Lagos hotels charge more than ten times that price.

Bedroom of Hotel Room, Ritz Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria Bathroom of Hotel Room, Ritz Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria

The floor of my room is tiles worn into the concrete lying below them with a rotting bathroom door due to the water that splashes from the shower. There is a rusty showerhead, cold water only, used to fill up the bucket of water that acts as a flush for the seatless dysfunctional toilet. To take a shit, I wipe the edge of the seatless rim with toilet paper, then toss it into the bowl to help prevent splashing of the filthy water below. I use the wall and the handle of the decayed door to perch, squatting on the toilet. Once I’ve released the waste into the bowl, I wipe, then pour the bucket of water into the bowl to flush it down. Then, I refill the bucket right away with water in case there is a water outage that would prevent flushing or showering completely. A small threshold keeps the shower water from flowing onto the floor of the hotel room proper.

When I arrived, a power outage rendered the air conditioner meaningless until this evening when power returned apparently after a break of several days.I’ve discovered that, in rooms without refrigerators, one can use the air conditioner to resolidify melted chocolate and cool down bottles of water that have warmed up in the sultry heat outside. The bedsheet was so worn it had little bunched up knots of fabric all over it, so I asked for another sheet to put over the worn one, then pulled out my sleep sack to use as a top sheet. I asked for a towel, but they don’t provide them here. Soap and toilet paper are possible if you wait long enough. Nevertheless, the staff are friendly and cordial, after the initial grumpiness of the manager, perhaps due to having to explain repeatedly the longstanding lack of power and lack of a backup generator for that eventuality.

Lagos itself is vast, busy, and loud. Everyone from motorcycle taxis, to kekes (like the motorized rickshaws in India), to cars and regular taxis, to trucks all beep their horns all the time and pedestrians are lucky to remain safe from motorcycles even while on the sidewalk. The sidewalks are passable about a third of the time if they even exist. Sometimes, they are just the concrete slabs wedged in place over the formerly open sewer visible below through the cracks between the slabs.

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.