He dances under the scorching sun, arms outstretched as if welcoming the world, his feet beating the brown earth in rhythm to the music of the leopard skin drums. The ivory beads strung around his neck, fifteen thick, dancing along gracefully. Ivory anklets and bracelets sit majestically, complementing the ceremonial skirt and native chalk that adorn his torso. On either hand are the ceremonial swords, known in these parts as the ada and eben, which he twirls in such a way that leaves none of the numerous spectators in doubt that he is indeed Oba, king of the Benin race.
Welcome to the ancient city of Benin in Edo state of Nigeria. If you are one of the approximately two thousand tourists who flock in annually to witness this spectacle, then you were present at the annual IGUE festival, a holiday celebrated by all in this city. This celebration goes back many centuries, and has come to be taken as a staple, as people from far and wide troop down to the palace grounds to witness the spectacle.
The occasion which is usually celebrated in December is a one week affair, with each family in the kingdom looking forward to the culmination of activities at the palace of the great King. On the morning of the last day, every one jostles his way to the expansive palace grounds to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. The king sits on his throne, receiving tributes and obeisance from his chiefs all morning. The chiefs are distinctive in their traditional garb of white shirts and skirts. Then, at about noon, it is time for the royal parade, where the king engages in a sacred dance, praying for the peace of the land, and offering sacrifices to the ancestors. It is not uncommon to see leaves being passed around, as this signifies peace, prosperity and long life.
Do not however forget to acquire the bronze works from the smiths, they having perfected their skills from countless generations. And if you are an aficionado of foreign cuisine, the exotic array would sure blow your mind away. All in all, the occasion serves to signify the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one for the average Edolite, as they prefer to be called.
This age old tradition is not without its challenges though. With the advent of modernity and newer religions, the popularity has waned as most youth prefer the new hip hop culture than that of the fathers. Many people now label the practice as demonic and satanic, much to the chagrin of the core traditionalists.
It is expected however, that as Nigeria’s tourism market expands, more people will be drawn by the lore of this mythical land.