A Brief Overview Of Benin Culture
Art and Craft of the Benin People
Benin the heart of Edo State in Nigeria is renowned for its brass casting , however, Benin art cuts across different media such as such as Bronze, Brass, Terracotta, Ebony wood and Ivory.
The Benin Bronze
The Bronzes mainly depict a variety of scenes, including animals, fish, humans and scenes of court life. They are usually cast in matching pairs (although each was individually made). It is thought that they were originally nailed to walls and pillars in the palace as decoration, some possibly also offering instructive scenes of protocol.
Pottery making is largely done by women who specialize in the production of earthenware such as traditional cooking pots, mugs and bowls. Other works common amongst the Bini people include basket making, Cane furniture, Cloth-weaving, Mat-making and Gold-smiting.
Traditions And Customs
There are various rich traditions and customs amongst the Bini people, these encapsulate attire, food, ceremony, festivals and beliefs.
Beads and hair style
The traditional gems Ivie (meaning precious ornaments) is worn in Benin kingdom, and is considered as sacred jewels. When colored red, it assumes inestimable value prided as objects of sacred beauty and harmony. Popular to the Edo people, the coral beaded damsel with the crest hairstyle identifying her as the Queen’s maid or linked to the royal family. Today, all over the Nigeria women are seen wearing the beads hairstyle called ‘okuku’, the hair is woven and beaded in a crown-like manner. It is worn on different occasions especially by brides during a wedding ceremony. Complementary beads are also worn on the shoulders and around the neck.
The indigenes of Edo State are well-known for their traditional attires epitomized in the traditional male mode of dressing. A flowing agbada made with Ankara, voile, lace, jacquard or guinea cloth material is worn over a trouser and topped with either a long or short-sleeved loose shirt of the same material. Usually, an embroidered cap on the head and a carved walking stick complements this dressing. For some traditional rites, the white wrapper is usually tied around the waist. Coral beads (ordinary or ornamental) are popular among the men and womenfolk.
Festivals and Masquerades
Edo State has a very rich tradition of festivals and Masquerades through which the people either appease the various gods and goddesses, initiate men and women into age-grades or as a traditional get-together.
The Igue festival takes pre-eminence among festivals celebrated in Edo State. It is celebrated in December by the Oba of Benin to usher in the New Year and as a thanksgiving for the outgoing one. The Igue festival attracts tourists from across Nigeria and abroad. Most of the festivals have a yearly cycle and are open to general viewing and sometimes, participation. During the seven days of elaborate traditional and cultural activities, Bini chiefs are seen in their enviable traditional regalia, including the Iloi (Queens) in their Okuku (hairdo). Some others like the Obazu festival held among the Aomas of luleha in Owan West Local Government Area is strictly restricted to the men folk.
Other important festivals celebrated in Edo State are Ekaba, Ukpe, Irua, Agiele, Adu-Ikukwua, Ebomisi, Eho, Ipihionua, Ugbele, Itakpo, Ofarhe, Emomorhe, Iko, Uzo, Ugozo/Ihiasa, Uba, Egbere, Owere, Ukpako, Oriminyam, Ohonmoimen, Itikiri, Ivhamen/Ororuen, Amekpe, Oto-Uromi, Ighele and Okpuge-Oro.
The masquerades in Edo State are generally believed to be earthly representatives of some celestial gods, goddesses or ancestors. Masquerades like the Igbabonelimi of Esanland are very popular social entertainers whose secrets and workings are only known to initiates who are sworn to utmost secrecy.
Many masquerades are linked to traditional festivals, while others are only social and have no ritualistic backgrounds.