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About Yoruba Kings..

Yoruba kings who can claim direct descent from the god Oduduwa (perhaps over 700 today!) are addressed as Oba. They alone are permitted to wear the Yoruba sacred regalia, the conical bead crown and beaded slippers, and to carry a beaded fly whisk. Beadwork is a royal prerogative, associated as closely with kingship as special woven textile patterns (Kente) are for the Asante kings of central Ghana. The wealthiest Yoruba kings retain families of bead specialists to embroider their royal garments. By extension, elements of this royal form of dress are used by priests and devotees of the thunder god, Sango, and the agricultural god, Oko, both of whom are linked to kingship by Yoruba origin myths.

Typical beadwork motifs include the interlace and the zig-zag patterns, a frontal face with ethnic marks under the eyes, and a tiny bird. The interlace pattern is a symbol of leadership, of eternal or unending royal authority. It is sometimes represented as two snakes biting or eating each other, signifying that one persons demise is anothers beginning. The zig-zag pattern of triangles provides visual tension and movement reinforced by alternating colors and, on some objects, a delightful asymmetrical placement. The shapes are similar to those on the back of the Gabon viper, a beautiful but very poisonous African snake that the god of iron, Ogun, may "carry without fear." The abstracted face which is freely embroidered into many royal garments may refer to Oduduwa, ancestor of all Yoruba kings, to Eshu, messenger of the gods, or to the inventor of beads himself. This particular bird motif represents okin, a tiny whitish bird with a long white tail that distinguishes it as the king of birds. Birds, such as the one found atop the Opa orere staff, are also associated with divination, medicine, and witchcraft. The herbalist and diviner, like the king, must be able to incorporate the apparently contradictory powers of destruction, healing, and harmony in order to control and manipulate them.

Source: Indiana University



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