Royal Ancestral Altar


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria
Royal Ancestral Altar
©D. Anthony Mahone

Before the 1897 British invasion, each monarch was buried in the courtyard of his sleeping quarters, his ancestral altar placed at the site. These were destroyed, their decorations scattered to different museums and collections around the world. When Oba Eweka II reconstructed the palace in 1914, he created a single large quadrangle. All monarchs before Adolo are honored at a single altar, but Adolo, Ovaramwen, and all 20th century Obas have individual altars along the courtyard's dais.

Each altar consists of a semi-circular platform (chiefs and other citizens have rectangular altars; only royals employ this shape). There have been thefts from palace altars during past interregnums, despite the threat of supernatural wrath and altar goods that are 20th-century objects. When these were replaced, stylistic changes were evident, as were arrangements. Stylized brass heads, which had always stood in multiples of two, are replaced by a single, central, naturalistic bust. Quadrangular bells have been made gigantic, becoming at least four times their former size. Only the peeled wands/whips, the prehistoric stone axe heads, and the wooden ukhurhe rattle staffs that lean against the back wall remain unchanged in form.


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria