Puzzling Makeover of Entrance Building to the Oba’s Chambers in the Palace of the Oba of Benin

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Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 23, 2022, 1:56:07 PM11/23/22
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Visiting the palace of the Oba of Benin in October 2022 I was puzzled to find that the first building one encounters as one enters the chambers of the Oba has been redone in the style of Western neo-classical architecture, employing that style’s pillars evoking grandeur,a sense of grandeur that may be understood as fitting for a monarch.

I was puzzled.

What is the direct connection between neo-classicism-the emulation of Ancient Greek and Roman culture- and Benin culture?

None.

Will any Western monarch employ traditional Benin architecture in constructing their own palace,talk less such proud Asians as the Chinese, the Japanese and the Indians whose unique architectural forms are among humanity’s great achievements?

An idea even unthinkable by those people, so proudly and potently shaped they are by their own cultures.

In order to experience the grandeur of Benin architecture, one needs to appreciate the ancient walls of the palace of the Oba of Benin that still stand and the shrines visible there.

To see this architectural style in its unvarnished glory, however, one has to go to the palaces of such chiefs under the Oba as the Esogban of Benin in GRA and a palace on Siloko Road, near Ehaekpen junction, which is carefully maintained and beautified while keeping the lines, colors and visual symbols of traditional Benin architecture.

I’ve been so pained on this subject particularly since I was so well received in my visits to the palace of the Oba of Benin in October and November 2020.

How do I express my dismay on this subject in the context of my admiration for Benin culture?

Augustine Togonu-Bickersteth

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Nov 24, 2022, 2:01:07 AM11/24/22
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I think i understand your pain but i am reliably informed that the gate to
bucking am palace here in London  was made by blacksmiths from awka.i understand your pain to some extent having spotted an oba stepping out of his  luxury car  into a fast food joint, junk food!

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Cornelius Hamelberg

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Nov 24, 2022, 2:01:28 AM11/24/22
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Dear Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju,

“A stitch in time saves nine”

If only you had got wind of the plans that were afoot ,  you could have forwarded your reservations about the recent renovations and the new features at the Oba’s Royal Palace that are not entirely to your liking and perhaps thereby succeed in  influencing the final outcome. Now it seems that your objections or regrets are coming too late in the day - or perhaps you expect the pillars to be pulled down and replaced by more glorious local architectures that reflect Benin Culture or maybe even something more up to date designed by David Adjaye ?

After all the hue and cry and all the bad air created about looted Benin Bronzes, some of which I espied on exhibition at the British Museum during the first week of August this year , all I can say is that it’s a very poignant point that you make here, poignant and distressful although it need not necessarily be the latter, just because you disagree about someone else’s aesthetics, sense of  personal self-esteem/ national pride, self-esteem ,prestige. cultural self-esteem, architectural self- esteem

As you are well aware, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction - and here we are surely not talking about “ mistaken identity” - time and place obviously do not permit you to conflate  an Old Emperor of Rome, even a reincarnated one, with His current , contemporary Highness, the Oba of Benin. 

I’m inclined to believe that every Black and Proud African should be whole-heartedly with you on this one, of course including His Black and Proud Majesty , the Oba of Benin himself , although he might have his own personal reasons  or  be acting on the advice of his advisers and councillors. It’s possible that the Roman-type architectural pillars are more expressive of the pomp and ceremonial glory befitting a modern, twenty-first century Oba of Benin. Why not?  But, if he does not advance any personal reasons, preferences that have determined his choice then I’m afraid that you would have to be in his shoes or to be sitting on his throne as HIM, in order to know exactly what he’s thinking or the thinking behind the decision-making.

 BTW, since this is not about looting intellectual property rights  or architectural designs of of ancient Greece and Rome I wonder how e.g.  Chika Okeke-Agulu would weigh in on this very sensitive issue 

 In this day and age, all over the world, there are monarchs and even little billionaire princes and princesses  who prefer the Bentley to the Rolls Royce - and until Nigeria starts producing that kind of quality car or airbus are you suggesting that Nigerian monarchs should revert to the ceremonial horse and carriage that was the latest thing in 18th century Britain  - and of course on special occasions is still very much and proudly too, the order of the day ?

Have you been to one of these, recently ( I love horses) 

Some traditional Music: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2z7AMRqtLM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9suCPWKWwLY

Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 25, 2022, 6:40:48 AM11/25/22
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Thanks, Cornelius.

This is the problem: 

''It’s possible that the Roman-type architectural pillars are more expressive of the pomp and ceremonial glory befitting a modern, twenty-first century Oba of Benin.''

I wonder why architecture from ancient Rome should be seen as more befitting of a modern twenty first century Oba of Benin while architecture from old Benin, which created one of the world's most powerful works of art in relation to its monarchy, may be seen as not so fitting.

That  conception is deeply problematic in the light of the grandeur of the Benin artistic imagination across time which projects the monarchy in terms of a magnificent variety of sculptural forms, at various levels of scale.

Is what is at stake simply an issue of differences in ''aesthetics, sense of  personal self-esteem/ national pride, self-esteem ,prestige. cultural self-esteem, architectural self- esteem''?

With all due respect to the Oba of Benin, is what is at stake best localised to ''his own personal reasons  [ as he acts]  on the advice of his advisers and councillors'' requiring one to ''be in his shoes or to be sitting on his throne as HIM, in order to know exactly what he’s thinking or the thinking behind the decision-making''?

Is such an approach a demonstration of interpersonal senstivity  or a trivialisation of a serious issue or something in between? What may be understood as the frame of reference of the activities of the Oba of Benin and the Benin Traditional Council and other advisers the Oba works with?

My view  is that the Obaship and the Oba's palace are an embodiment of Benin culture and need to dramatise the creativity of that culture as much as  possible.

The Obaship and the palace are venerable institutions shaped by people existing within the progression of time, implying ideally a balance of continuity and change, ideally innovative change.  Does the importation of neo-classical architecture as the central building leading to or housing the Oba's chambers, the central building of the palace, demonstrate any innovation, particularly innovation suggesting the creativity achieved in Benin's world famous arts and its distinctive architecture? 


                                                           

                                                        The-new-palace-front-view. (1) ed.jpg


                             The New Front Part of the Central Building of the Palace of the Oba of Benin


                                                                     from

                                                              Alltimepost.com

Benin never had an automobile industry, so one cannot argue for innovation in such an industry, but Benin has an ancient artistic  and architectural tradition, one of the greatest in the world. Should the creativity suggested by that achievement not be reflected in the central building of the Oba's palace, the spatial and symbolic centre  of Benin culture?

Should the structure be rebuilt? I think so. 

Why?

A cultural centre of the level of significance of the palace of the Oba of Benin needs to be constructed in terms of the most enduring values, propjecting the union of the past, the present and the timeless, as demonstrated by the unique insights developed in relation to the culture's creative traditions.

 University College, London, for example, has a similar but even more impressive design than the building now constituting the Oba's chambers.

                                                                            

           wide_fullhd_ucl-university-college-london.jpg


                                                                                             
The relevance of that design to UCL, however, is clear, being a Western university with its roots in the headwaters of the Western cognitive tradition in ancient Greece, where that style achieves a particularly iconic representation in the Parthenon.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        JAKUB PALA 2.jpg

Jakub Pala's picture of the Parthenon, ''a former temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, that was dedicated to the goddess Athena during the fifth century BC. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art, an enduring symbol of Ancient Greecedemocracy and Western civilization.(Wikipedia)


What is the direct relationship of such cultural linlks to the palace of the Oba of Benin, the symbolic centre of a civilisation with its own cognitive, artistic and architectural history?

As an example of the innovative use of the idea of pillars in African architecture, pillars demonstrating royal grandeur within high creativity, one may see the famous verandah posts of Olowe of Ise for the palace of the Ogoga of Ikere, in which human figures hold up the roof, the stylization of these figures and the spatial relationships between them greating a sense of silent majesty.

                                                                     

                                                         LATEST 4 ED.jpg 


The sculptural tabeleau is centred in the paradoxical figure of the Olowe and his wife, in which the power associated with the monarch is not depicted in terms of an obvious evocation of power on his person,  but through a combination of factors, visually powerfully but needing a grounding in Yoruba theologies of kingship to understand.

 His 
wife standing behind him, towers over him,

                                                 

                               7.png                                                                                     Screenshot (187).png


her face powerful in its bulbous stare, topped by a crown with a zig zag design akin to a flash of lightning


                                                   cb325dd15f74b128abfae4cce7e3bef4aa74b476  ed2.jpg


 an imposing presence towering above  the feminine features of the quietly seated Olowe, his crown, topped by an elegant bird, images suggesting beauty and grace rather than power, 


                                                          

                                                               Olowe-crown.jpg


paradoxes possibly evoking Yoruba ideas of royal power as grounded in feminine power, the latter's arcane potency symbolised by the bird, representative of the capacity for interdimensional  motion associated with feminine power in its arcane form, evoked by the expression, Awon Iya Wa, which does not simply mean ''Our Mothers'' in the conventional sense of motherhood but creative and destructive potencies embodied by the feminine represented by particular female figures, human and non-human, terrestrial and pre-terrestrial.

Olowe's approach is clearly very different from the European use of human figures as pillars, caryatids and atlantes, the differences between both forms demonstrating the originality of the artists.

It is such originality that should be aspired to by such a cultural centre as the palace of the Oba of Benin.

Related demonstrations of originality could invove comparsions between Olowe's iconic palace  doors, such as this one directly below centring an image which looks like an opon ifa, a divination board from the Yoruba origin Ifa system of knowledge, for exploring and shaping possiblities  at the intersection of matter and spirit, the face of the embodiment of this intersection and guide to interpreting its symbolic languages, the deity Eshu, inscribed at its sides, as birds converge, their beaks touching, above the divinatory platform, possibly evoking ideas of motion between dimensions and possibilities, as pursued by Ifa


                                                                           

                                      DOOR AS OPON IFA ed2 (2).jpg
                                           

              and other examples of Olowe's unique style                                                                                   

                                                                                          

                                 Olowe_door_Sothebys.jpg



                                                                                                         

                                    5abb310b03b53dde9d66314d8e8b03d9.jpg



which may be compared, for example, with French sculpture Auguste Rodin's famous Gates of Hell, dramatising scenes of hell in the Divine Comedy of Italian writer Dante Alighieri, topped by a version of Rodin's signature work, the Thinker, a figure crouched in thought, reflecting on the vagaries of human life represented by the varied agonies of hell, each reflecting the character of the life of the person suffering a particular unique punlishment for their own brand of sinful life, as depicted by Dante 

                                                                        

                    rodin-gates-of-hell-photogrammetry-scan-3d-model-obj-mtl.jpg

in his  poem distilling Western culture from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the poem's time of composition in the medieval period, within a cosmological matrix unifying classical and Christian thought and arts, a continuity of tradition in innovative terms between the Greco-Roman and medieval Western civilisations, represented by Dante's poem and Rodin's 19th and 20th centuries in France that makes my point about the value of innovation in adapting cultural formations, particularly in relation to such a strategic cultural centre as the palace of the Oba of Benin.

thanks

toyin


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Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 25, 2022, 2:56:06 PM11/25/22
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Great thanks, Augustine.

Even if the account of who made the gate were factual, which I doubt, that gate is powerfully emblazoned by a prime marker of UK identity, the UK's Royal Coat of Arms.

Even if the building I am referring to at the palace of the Oba of Benin were also visually defined in that way by the symbols of the Oba, it would not diminish the problems represented by the building.


The-new-palace-front-view. (1) ed.jpg
                 

                                                                     from

                                                              Alltimepost.com

I am not disturbed by the makeover of the gate leading to the Oba's palace, another new structural development at the palace, also marked by symbols of power, particularly since that gate has at its side a glorious ikhimwin, the tree used as a spiritual portal and boundary marker in Benin culture, in this instance enclosed within an ornate fence shaped by royal symbols of authority, even as the style of the gate may not in all instances derive from traditions of Benin metalworking.     
                                                                                            
Eating fast food may suggest deviations from African culinary styles, but are African dishes not also served in such places? Even if the food is not African, how possible is it to do without participating  in offerings from various cultures?

What bothers me in this issue is the wholesale importation of neo-classical architecture into such a strategic location in the Oba's palace, a focal point of Benin culture.

I did not observe any innovation in the appearance of this building, no effort to develop something suggesting perhaps a contribution of Benin architecture and aesthetics to the neo-classical importation.

Susanne Wenger and her artistic group created shrines at the Oshun forest in Oshogbo that blend Yoruba aesthetics of landscape and Yoruba conceptions of the sacred with new ways of representing spirit in such contexts, an achievement represented particularly iconically by the Ogboni shrine house, Iledi Ontoto, if I recall the name correctly.

If one is to integrate the non-African into an African cultural centre, is that not the kind of direction in which one should be going?

Something might not be quite right in the manner in which that building at the Oba's palace was conceived. 

Were the experts in Benin and African arts and architecture consulted?

Iyase-Odozi, whose work is inspired by Benin textiles, Peju Lawiyola, whose artistic pedigree is rooted in her mother's art as a daughter on an Oba, if I recall correctly, Charles Gore, author of a book on Benin shrines, Ndubuisi Ezeluomba, who has published on Benin mud art, Paula Ben Amos, who has published on various aspects of Benin art, Phylis Galembo, who has made superb pictures of priests and priestesses in Benin traditional religion, Norma Rosen, author of a wonderful article on Olokun symbolism, and more.

I doubt if such experts, in different parts of the world, being adequately mobilized in relation to this project, that the consensus would have been the current outcome of stark importation of neoclassical architecture into the structure leading into the Oba's chambers.

The liturgy of the Holy Aruosa Cathedral in Benin is described by one view as an adaptation of  Christianity to  Benin culture but the architecture of the cathedral  is certainly not an importation of such classics of Western architecture as the Gothic cathedrals of Amiens, Notre Dame, Canterbury and others. It is distinctively Benin in its own style of own dramatising spatial grandeur.

thanks 

toyin 



Mr. E. B. Jaiyeoba

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Nov 26, 2022, 11:07:39 PM11/26/22
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Dear Oluwatoyin,

Your finding is not surprising to me. 

Eclectism is prevalent in most of our contemporary architecture as desired by the clientele in the Nigerian society. The most prominent client is the different levels of government- local, state and federal government. Contrary to the expectation of liberal democracy, 'big' government dominates private entrepreneurship; economic experts argue that it is one of the characteristics of developing countries. Government at different levels have not found it necessary to publicise and interrogate architectural design of projects. They prefer to treat them like construction projects that are mostly awarded to cronies who may not even be qualified architects or when awarded to architects maybe without necessary content in the brief/programme. All the distinct stages of architectural services are crashed in little time to fast pace the design award to the anointed local or foreign architect or firm, often foreign for large scale projects. Actually, projects of public and cultural importance like palaces should become subjects of public debates through architectural design competitions. Of course, this rarely happens for government projects at all levels. Then, architectural conservation and heritage management is yet to be taken seriously in this clime. Just like history is not taken seriously as evident by the ban on the study of history as a subject that was recently reversed, architectural history and conservation is not prominent in the architecture curriculum beyond western documented history of architecture and a bit of the vernacular and traditional history. Private clients too mostly desire 'modern' architecture with a few coming up with copied ready-made designs that they want reproduced in our context. This is noticeable in our highbrow residential estates and prominent commercial buildings. The understanding of conservation even among elites and administrators is low with many believing that whatever is old should just be made new or outrightly demolished irrespective of historical importance of the architecture. In fact, the relationship between architecture, history, conservation, heritage management, museums and tourism are rarely understood. 

It will be interesting if you can find out the process of arriving at that building in the Benin Palace.



Babatunde JAIYEOBA






















E. Babatunde JAIYEOBA PhD
Professor of Architecture
Department of Architecture
Faculty of Environmental Design and Management
Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria





  

Cornelius Hamelberg

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Nov 26, 2022, 11:07:42 PM11/26/22
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Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju,

Here are some glorious scared structures 

Out of curiosity I checked out what the famous Benin City National Museum could possibly look like from the outside, and was surprised to see no pillars or colonnades looking like palm trees, elephant tusks, etc and that, just like the entrance to the Oba’s Palace, the museum's modest outer appearance  whets curiosity about the treasures we are to find stored inside. In fact, to me,  from the outside, the Benin City National Museum, faintly resembles the exteriors of the main Stockholm Public Library

Hopefully, you and I and all of us agree that The Oba of Benin’s Palace is not supposed to be a museum exhibiting current cultural artefacts along with some of the glories of the past , nor is the entrance to the palace with the colonnades and pillars that remind some people of ancient Greece and Rome ostensibly designed to conceal the cultural treasures that we are to suppose are to be found within the confines of the palace. 

True , “ the apparel oft proclaims the man”  - which does not mean that we should be deceived by exteriors  and externals ( hence Jungle Negroes mock some Black British Policemen, who they suspect of being allied with an oppressive White Supremacist Power structure by  referring to them contemptuously as  “coconuts”, that is, brown outside and white inside…

Steel Pulse - Prediction

Michael Afolayan

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Nov 27, 2022, 4:40:46 AM11/27/22
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Oluwatoyin -

Thanks for your relentless pursuit of intellectualizing on an aspect of our cultural relics - architectures of the palace. Like Professor JAIYEOBA, I am not one bit surprised that you were ushered into the palace of the ancient kingdom with a "modern" architectural smile. My own interpretation, however, of why this is the case is slightly different from that of the learned Prof. My humble opinion on this is that it is a reflection of a systemic problem. What you observed is a blatant display of our collective attitude to the preservation of our antiquities. This is a generic observation that applies to all aspects of our sociology. It is for the same reasons that we kill the old without having the capacity or the wherewithal to even bring in the so-called modern. Our concrete traditions, including ethos, norms and values are relegated to the background, and the foregrounded "newtons" are neither modern, modified, nor in any way traditional. We are left with nothing concrete but some mirror images of something foreign, even to the foreigners. We have attained membership of many worlds but citizens of none. Sadly, when we take this misnormal to the realm of the sacred, like the palace, we desecrate our histories, stories, and, unfortunately, ourselves. Sankofa is the mythical bird of the Akan people. It means "Go back for it." Until we learn to "go back" our antiquities and us have no future. 

Just thinking loud . . .

MOA






Cornelius Hamelberg

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Nov 27, 2022, 6:29:21 AM11/27/22
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Correction: Not " scared"  but SACRED structures

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Cornelius Hamelberg

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Nov 27, 2022, 3:02:50 PM11/27/22
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Just another aside.

First of all, this good piece of news. His name is Frederick Akpoghene

Second of all, Costa Rica just beat Japan who beat Germany, four days ago…

Many thanks for the profound observations/diagnoses from Professors Babatunde Jaiyeoba and Michael O. Afolayan…

We are still dealing with the psychological and you may call it the post-colonial neuroses, if you will. 

 “What’s in a name?”, asked William Shakespeare or was it Wole Soyinka? As far as intellectualising about our malaise goes, some people sometimes go as far as starting off with our names, that essential or non-essential part of our identity, some names/ nomenclature even tell long histories, in some names we find ancestries, which deity is worshipped by the family, whole genealogies, even noble lineages, - as in the Bible, x who begat y and what happened all the way down the line. But take for example the name Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, no argument, that’s a real African name for you and impressive too. Remember Malcolm X being asked in that interview, about the X , “ What is your real name?

I say some people, such as Ayi Kwei Armah, who asks the pertinent or impertinent question - either in Fragments or Why are we so Blest? ( I can’t remember which one and I can’t remember the exact wording either ) “ What happens to the soul of an African child who grows up being called Mike”?”

The same kind of cultural imperialism that accompanied the US invasion of Iraq  - one of the American soldiers asks his Iraqi colleague  “ What’s your name?” - he’s informed  “ My name is Abd al-Aziz  “ - but this is too much for the American because all he hears is the last part of the name  which sounds like ' asses'' so he says, “ I’ll call you Mike” and that’s it.  The American’s dilemma is understandable too. Imagine if somebody's name translates to “ chicken anus”  in your own language,how would you feel about having to address such a one on a daily basis?  

The main point to be made here is that it would seem that globalisation goes with the territory known as Nigeria and Nigeria is in tune with globalisation, so Nigerian  music has “ progressed” from Apala to Afrobeat  and no one’s complaining about lack of electricity to support the microphone, the electric guitars,horns,  drums, percussion , synthesisers 

My Ghanaian friend was mad at the Swedish lass who travelled all the way to Ghana with her tourist camera and had only taken a few shots of monkeys climbing up trees. He was furious. “ What about our skyscrapers, why didn’t you take any pictures of those!?“, he yelled at her.

Here are a few videos put together by proud Africans who want to show that Africa has not been left behind when it comes to beautiful buildings, skyscrapers y’all : The Africa they don't show us on TV

Cornelius Hamelberg

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Nov 28, 2022, 2:13:27 AM11/28/22
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The Palace of Emperor Haile Selassie


Royal Palaces in Africa


Presidential Palaces in Africa


Must admit that No 10 Downing Street looks more humble than The White House


BTW, I suppose that if the country could afford it, after winning the next election, the average African President would like to have an official residence like the White House, an official or private jet like the US President's official plane and a car like the one known as “the Beast” 


Pillars from Ancient Greece or Rome, or mere colonial villas, we must admit that the Oba of Benin's Palace is not doing too badly , in terms of modesty and humility…



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Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 28, 2022, 5:41:45 AM11/28/22
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Very great thanks Prof Jaiyeoba for your perspectives, robustly fed by your long standing architectural vocation and scholarship.

If eclecticism is creatively done, would that not contribute to both the inspirational source and the new synthesis being created?

Benin culture, over the centuries, has achieved growth through creative eclecticism. This creativity involves reworking the new, the imported, in terms of a design orientation representing endogenous creativity.

The Holy Aruosa Cathedral, for example, is inspired by Christianity, but the architecture, and, I understand, the liturgy,  is Benin.

The palace of the Oliha, at Siloko Road, I think, one of the chiefs under the Oba, is  partially reworked using design elements, such as potted plants,  that are not part of traditional Benin architecture as I understand it, but these are subsumed within  traditional Benin aesthetics.

The palace of the Esogban of Benin at Ogiesoba Avenue in GRA is magnificent in its use of newer and older elements in the dramatization of the sense of spatial grandeur enabled by traditional Benin architecture.

In the light of such creative developments within Benin architecture, I am particularly puzzled about that cultural anomaly carried out in the palace of the Oba. 

The issue is quite sensitive, on account of the discursive framework in terms of which the Oba and the palace exist in Benin culture. 

A critique of his palace on such trenchant grounds may be seen as a critique of the Oba, particularly in the delicate subject of sensitivity to the ancestral achievements and enduring creative genius of Benin of which he is traditionally understood as  the primary custodian and embodiment.

The pictures of the new palace are very visible online. I have seen one critique, by architect Sam Oboh, of the problematic logic of its design. I wonder why I'm not seeing others.

I shall be sending the essays I have written on the subject on Facebook and here, along with links to the debates they have inspired, to the palace librarian, Honourable Benjamin Omuemu, who graciously took me round and if possible, send it to the Benin Traditional Council and the Oba.

One view holds that I should have shared my misgivings with the palace and presented their response along with my critique and that I have not been fair to them by doing otherwise.

Do I have any satisfactory answer to that?

great thanks

toyin






Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 28, 2022, 5:54:30 AM11/28/22
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Thanks Cornelius.

At the risk of being seen as an excessive complainer, allow me to mention that the siting of the Benin museum makes it more of a decorative than a functional institution where most people in Benin are concerned.

It’s cited at the center of a roundabout without access except by car. No overhead bridge. Meaning if one is not mobile one has to navigate the river of speeding cars to access the museum, a deadly situation.

Certain strategic things need to be done to adequately foreground the tourist potential of Benin, one of these being the relocation of that museum or the provision of a bridge to it.

It ought to be by the side of the road,like the British Museum, so one may walk easily into it from the street.

Thanks 

Toyin 

Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 28, 2022, 11:35:30 AM11/28/22
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Great thanks, Michael Afolayan.

The puzzle about the palace of the Oba of Benin is that not only has Benin culture been synonymous with the preservation of positive cultural values, the Obaship institution preserves many of its timeless values, and many aspects of classical Benin civilization are tenaciously sustained within the rapacious development of Benin, as the city expands exponentially at  various former boundaries, as places like Ekenwan and Ugbowo which one represented the outskirts of the city have become heavily built up, with ceaseless vehicular traffic indicating the level of human activity.

The Oba's palace also demonstrates strategic features of classical Benin culture, such as the sacred ikhinmwin tree at the entrance, which I will show in another post, ancient walls and various shrines, as are evident in a video I shall post later,  along with the awesome grandeur and complex symbolism of the Oba's coronation rites,  creative continuities that make that importation of unmodified neo-classical architecture as the central building of the Oba's palace even more puzzling.

The Ezomo of Benin is an openly  ardent Christian, but he is the proud maintainer of his family's ancestral shrine, of the ikhinmwin tree  in front of it as well as of the glorious iroko in front of his compound; Chief Ebengho, the Oyenmwensoba of Benin, runs an awesome shrine, a glorious multi-room complex serving several deities under the matrix of his Ifa priesthood, a shrine of remarkable aesthetic force of globally distinctive power, wonders I recorded in pictures and videos and am posting online.

I would describe classical Benin culture generally as still luminous, making me wonder about the puzzling issues  in the remaking of the Oba's palace.

thanks
toyin


Chika Okeke-Agulu

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Nov 28, 2022, 3:25:48 PM11/28/22
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Toyin et al,
The problem you identify with the sorry mimicking of Graeco-Roman architecture in the Benin palace is systemic, but it also says something about the cultural sensibility, consciousness, and politics of the current Oba. Demas Nwoko has shown for years how one might create monumental and residential structures based on Edo and Igbo traditional architectural material and form in his design of the Oba Akenzua Cultural Center, Benin (though the final design was compromised by government officials who strayed from Nwoko's design in parts of the building). A lot of it is ignorance, the neo-colonial complex, and poverty of architectural training in Africa; our architectural schools never paid serious attention to our indigenous architectures as a source for new ideas, and so the only recognizable modern architectural style in West Africa was the so-call tropical architecture of Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew who built the defining structures of post-independence WA. Many of Nigeria's architects, and other European builders followed them or did worse with their impoverished versions of the International Style. Hassan Fathy, and Demas Nwoko (his buildings never require airconditioning, because he incorporated traditional air flow systems; and his stabilized laterite blocks helped with heat conduction, etc), were lone voices in the architectural wilderness. Only in the past decade have we seen a vigorous effort by a new generation to do what Modernist writers and artists already did (with tradition and language) several decades before, and that is to design assuredly new structures informed by indigenous technologies, materials, and aesthetics. The Burkinabe Francis Kere (who won architecture's top prize, the Pritzker this year), Nigerien Miriam Kamara whose star is ascent (and who's designing the Bet-bi museum with which I am involved in Senegal), and of course David Adjaye, are showing what is possible. Who knows. Now that they are designing acclaimed buildings around the world by drawing on West African art and architectural idioms, maybe the likes of the Oba may be compelled to see value in traditional Edo architecture. 
Chika

Harrow, Kenneth

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Nov 28, 2022, 4:17:03 PM11/28/22
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i like chika's answer a lot, but it leads to a key question. the architects he named, adjaye for instance, never limited themselves to vernacular styles. why would they? are the materials the same as mud and daube or other natural materials? i agree with those bemoaning an unimaginative imitation of old colonial models of authority—nobody wants that. but the notion that an "authentic" expression has to conform to some older traditional vocabulary is incredibly restrictive.
i know of some places where that kind of thinking in enforced: regional styles in france and in england are required. you know why? because there are maybe a hundred million tourists a year who want to see that regionalism. imagine if you owned a home and wanted a creative style.
the same is true, has always been true, for african dancing: imposing only traditional dance idioms on contemporary dancers turns them into performers for tourists, and stifles their creativity.
we said similar things in the 1950s of a few african authors who were imitating european styles: they never really prevailed.

let the caged bird fly. let the african architects fly already. they don't need to be making indigenous references to be worthy.

on the other hand: a building, especially a govt building speaks. what do you want it to say? french classicism says "l'etat c'est moi," i am the state and the state embodies power and authority and truth and justice and blah blah.
in the u.s. we reinvented the same vocabulary, so state capitals all repeat the same tired rhetoric. adventuresome architects like maya lin who designed the vietnam memorial in d,c, freed us; the conservatives insisted on another "patriotic" piece to share the honors since they couldn't understand the notion of art or freedom.

i had one last thought on this. i agree with those dismayed by the notion that an architectural idiom that evokes colonialism or its masters is indeed the wrong choice for a country with a colonial past.
maybe i could reduce this to one phrase: what would fanon say? never a simply return to the past for a free africa.
ken

kenneth harrow

professor emeritus

dept of english

michigan state university

517 803-8839

har...@msu.edu


From: usaafric...@googlegroups.com <usaafric...@googlegroups.com> on behalf of Chika Okeke-Agulu <okeke...@gmail.com>
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Subject: Re: USA Africa Dialogue Series - Re: Puzzling Makeover of Entrance Building to the Oba’s Chambers in the Palace of the Oba of Benin
 

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Cornelius Hamelberg

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Nov 29, 2022, 7:03:11 AM11/29/22
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Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju,

Interesting what  I gather Professor Babatunde Jaiyeoba suggests,  that the vetting of tenders and the awarding of contracts for construction projects could go a long way in obtaining the most desirable results.. 

It's a very similar kind of problem being faced in other parts of Africa. I actually lived directly opposite the Sierra Leone National Museum - a very modest building and a treasure trove  - at the epi-centre of Freetown a few feet away from the Cotton Tree , the Law Courts, opposite which I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson used to hang out with Pa Ashwood and some of the other Creole Elders. By the time I was fifteen years old I was an expert on all the exhibits housed at that Museum, especially the mysterious Nomoli soap stone carvings, said to have been carved in utter darkness. About that period, Malcolm Seisay is my witness, because he and my four brothers and my Yoruba grandmother lived at 37 Westmoreland Street - directly opposite that museum etc whilst my mother and  my Scottish stepfather were busy constructing bridges etc in the provinces. ( Malcolm’s dad George  was one of Sierra Leone's finest gentlemen -a C.I.D. Superintendence who first brought Schaeffer dogs from Scotland Yard to Sierra Leone  - by the time of the 1967 coup - he was the director of prisons - and - compassionately - issued blankets to his father-in-law  Pa A.J. Demby who had been incarcerated by a slightly later coup by the so called “ National Liberation Council” under Andrew Juxon-Smith … which I think paradoxically appointed Malcolm’s uncle Tinga Sesiay as Counsel-General in New York  - Tinga with his Swedish wife Gunilla and their baby son Joe  stayed with my  family in Freetown for a few months when they arrived from Sweden… and my brother Harold stayed with Tinga in New York in the early 1970s   - just a little piece of history, the tip of the iceberg…as they say, still waters run deep, and there’s so much more important, even astounding stuff, as yet, left unsaid…a rule of thumb : don’t fear the one who is not afraid of you - but if he is afraid of you? Fear him! 

 In Sierra Leone, an Israeli firm ( can’t quite remember whether it was Dizengoff or Lorenzetti) built the Sierra Leone House of Parliament  - true, we actually have a parliament in that country, as we struggle along with what’s being so eloquently being discussed in this forum : the fruits of democracy ( by their fruits shall ye know them…The State House , once the official residence of the Governor-General and now the residence of Sierra Leone’s president , is also a building that has an interesting history: many things happened therein…

Just in case you’re wondering why I always accord you your full titular respect and not just the chummy “ Toyin”, it’s because there is more than one Toyin around in this USA -Africa Dialogue Series and although “all men are equal “ in principle, but in practice, and not just in Heaven or in earthly dictatorships such as eulogised in Animal Farm, “some are more equal than others”.

Take Your Royal Highness, the Oba of Benin for example, even if you are on very familiar terms with him, as you could be with Prince Harry, do you address him by his first name? No. Of course not. In Old Persia  ( “the shadow of God  Himself walking on this planet  earth” or  in Ancient Egypt  - he was on exhibition at the British Museum in August,  you would have had  to humbly please request to ask permission to first bow down and kiss the dust in front of his Pharaoh's feet, in the best interests of your  very survival.

I’m not on such equal fraternal  terms with the other one fondly called “ Toyin” by his contemporaries , not on such friendly & equal fraternal  terms as to dare to have the impertinence of addressing the Ojogbon as if we are or were equals, on equal footing, despite the fact that I am older than him. Furthermore, both of us know that “ familiarity breeds contempt” - and of that I am well aware. As the Last Poets put it, You play a little too much with them, they say "Fuck you", flatter that puffed-up pompous semi-literate idiot just a little and you’ll hear him referring to you as “ vermin”  - and not just behind your back mind you. 

With reference to the Ojogbon, just imagine if I could say ( but not in jest) “ Despite the fact that I am older and wiser than him”.  Or equally  God Forbid, “ Older and Better” - than him ! 

You  recall  that in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act IV Scene III that was the cause of a heated quarrel between Brutus and Cassius 

Worst case scenario ,  some years ago my Indian friend told me that he no longer sleeps with his wife. Why?, I asked him. “ Familiarity breeds contempt “ was his answer. 

Having cleared that up, now to the matter at hand: 

Taking into consideration the wisdom in necessity is the mother of invention, now that you mention it ( The Benin National Museum as a tourist attraction) one wonders to what extent it was a tourist attraction boosting the Edo State Treasury, before this awful deterioration in the security situation. This awful deterioration in the security situation also raises questions such as does Edo state have its own homegrown security outfit / self preservation - defence units or militias such as the Yoruba States’  AMOTEKUN ?

As Bob Marley wailed, “half the story has never been told” and we should appreciate hearing from you and others, the answers to the other question with reference to the looting of the Benin Bronze Treasures  which presumably could never have happened  but for a very sorry security situation in the kingdom, back then.

And what does that tell you Watson? 

It’s a question I should ask my man Biko  ( I don’t hesitate to address him by his first name because his other Brother ( same spirit) Steve Biko is not physically present here  - so I ask him the question anyway : What about the looted Benin Bronzes ? I anticipate his answer because I know him so well. He’s going to say , repatriation of the bronzes to where they are from, and where they belong - and that will be followed by his favourite word : REPARATIONS. Concerning the latter, I have been wondering lately, has he been in touch with  Hilary Beckles:?

Here he was,  sounding off on BBC Hardtalk 

Chika Okeke-Agulu

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Nov 29, 2022, 7:03:40 AM11/29/22
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Ken,
In matters of expressive culture, I would not look to Fanon ("On National Culture"), or to Locke ("Legacy of the Ancestral Arts") before him, for guidance. Both had a functionalist view of anti-colonial culture without an articulate view of its aesthetic, its expressive form. Both are necessary for the arts. On the Oba's palace, it is not just architecture that evokes colonialism (which is bad enough), it is one that effaces a people's heritage, histories, and traditions--which is all the sadder because Edo culture has a sophisticated architectural tradition that can fund new and culturally embedded royal architecture, especially for an institution that prides itself in upholding Edo culture in the present. The palace is a public building, a statement about the culture and kingdom of Benin. The American and British and French and German public buildings he noted keep a certain neo-classical aesthetic because it forcefully makes the argument about the continuity and dominance of the so-called western civilization that supposedly came from Greece, via Rome. Of course, Oba and his palace officials may decide to identify with this rhetoric of power. But it does not make it any less problematic, given what they claim to represent--as guardians of Edo culture, traditions, and history.

Harrow, Kenneth

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Nov 29, 2022, 12:54:18 PM11/29/22
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For me the use of architecture to express the “rhetoric of power”—well said—matters a great deal, especially when it is state power. Matters, as in, i generally dislike it.. the worst example of said rhetoric, for me, is the italian style of architecture under mussolini, neofascist, exuding power. Power pass power, as saro wiwa put it.
On the other hand, the modernist expression of the university of ife is one of the most exhilerating possible, and it isn’t oppressive but liberating.
What do we want from a state building? In america, most people probably thrill to the monumental, the neoclassical styles that have from the imagination of the masses. But there are exceptions, as i pointed out, the vietnam war memorial being a famous and successful one. The classical model celebrates war and sacrifice and the rhetoric of nationalism. This is bred into our children in schools, with flags and national anthems and models of men dying for their country—give me liberty or give me death models.
Surely we can imagine a better world. Why would it repress edo culture to turn to a non-edo expressive idiom, or to use it in a non-conventional fashion? This is a discussion that begs for architects to chime in….
Ken

Sent: Tuesday, November 29, 2022 12:23:29 AM

Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 29, 2022, 12:54:37 PM11/29/22
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Great thanks for that rich excursion through highlights of African architectural history, Chika.

 The more I reflect on the subject, the more  I am in shock.
Things fall apart the center cannot hold?”

This situation suggests the urgent need for a photographic inventory and public record of all traditional buildings in Benin in the name of preserving historical memory,the primary evidence  of Benin’s achievement in architecture.

If even the very heart of the cultural network of Benin can be so affected, who knows what the future holds?

There should be a legal framework protecting historic buildings in Nigeria. This should  include all buildings representing traditional Benin architecture.

In the name of preserving historical and cultural memory,some buildings should be preserved unaltered, at least in their essential structures as long as they are strong enough to remain standing even if with the help of later restoration and reinforcement.

Even within such a cultural center as the Oba’s palace,new buildings may be constructed but does the cultural centrality of the location not suggest that the cultural inspiration represented by that centre needs to be significantly reflected in new buildings in such a space, since there is a world of difference between such culturally representative spaces and other locations without such referential value?

There is a world of difference between the palace of the Oba of Benin and the office of the governor of Edo state, where Benin is located, for example.

Susanne Wenger and her team demonstrate great artistic and architectural creativity in in the Oshun forest making it a visual microcosm of Yoruba cosmology.

Is that not the kind of value represented by the Oba’s palace?

Apart from the problem with the remaking of the Oba’s   chambers, going over the video I made as I was taken round the palace grounds and which I will post online soon, I get the impression that the palace needs help with landscape maintenance in order to maximize its relatively large space, a lot of it demonstrating what may be described as ceremonial grandeur.

There is a need for a landscape maintenance team of the caliber of those who reworked and maintain  the landscape of the University of Benin, where superb landscaping integrating fields and trees is evident.

The palace might need a professional maintenance team, advised by experts in various disciplines, from various aspects of  Benin Studies to architecture and landscaping, an operational and advisory network possibly sustained through a worldwide fundraising drive.

Thanks 

Toyin



On Tue, Nov 29, 2022 at 1:03 PM Chika Okeke-Agulu <okeke...@gmail.com> wrote:
Ken,
In matters of expressive culture, I would not look to Fanon ("On National Culture"), or to Locke ("Legacy of the Ancestralof  Arts") before him, for guidance. Both had a functionalist view of anti-colonial culture without an articulate view of its aesthetic, its expressive form. Both are necessary for the arts. On the Oba's palace, it is not just architecture that evokes colonialism (which is bad enough), it is one that effaces a people's heritage, histories, and traditions--which is all the sadder because Edo culture has a sophisticated architectural tradition that can fund new and culturally embedded royal architecture, especially for an institution that prides itself in upholding Edo culture in the present. The palace is a public building, a statement about the culture and kingdom of Benin. The American and British and French and German public buildings he noted keep a certain neo-classical aesthetic because it forcefully makes the argument about the continuity and dominance of the so-called western civilization that supposedly came from Greece, via Rome. Of course, Oba and his palace officials may decide to identify with this rhetoric of power. But it does not make it any less problematic, given what they claim to represent--as guardians of Edo culture, traditions, and history.

Cornelius Hamelberg

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Nov 29, 2022, 7:55:45 PM11/29/22
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Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju,

After considering all that you say in this your last post that I’m responding to, I guess that you are fast approaching the landscape/ garden architecture denouement as you have outlined in Landscape and the Sacred in Benin-City - an enthralling, consummate atmosphere of a magic, beauty, mystery, nature habitat, to replace the drab and the mundane , enough to match anything Amos Tutola could have imagined or written.

I wonder if there’s anything to be learned from the Renovation of Stockholm’s Modern Museum (shmile, an irrelevant or irreverent smile) merging tradition with the new look without having to go all the way back to the First Vikings or the Golden Age of the Swedish Empire, when Sweden was a Mighty Power in Europe, like Uncle Sam, kicking ass everywhere, Gustavus Adolphus and the 30 years war etc.

First of all, a Spanish architect Rafael Moneo designed the new look, Modern Museum in Stockholm.The architects that supervised/ did the overseeing of the restoration were Swedish)

Of course, there’s a world of difference from the nationalism perspective and the aesthetic outlook -  and maybe, so there should be, between The Royal Palace , the National Museum and all the other museums  and . e.g , one of Wole Soyinka’s favourites: The Drottningholm Palace Theatre

Re - my last post, lots of mistakes and just for the record, I’ll correct two of them.I was hoping to smoke him out but he’s still in his corner, breathing hard, so I had better hasten to correct a few errors before Sir William Bangura starts to holler.

  1. Andrew Juxon-Smith’s organisation was called “ National Reformation Council” ( NRC) and not “National Liberation Council”. I must have been thinking of Chairman Arafat and the PLO. I suppose that good churchman Juxon-Smith must have probably had Martin Luther’s ”Reformation'' in mind and not a much stronger idea such as LIBERATION  - the liberation of his motherland ( from insanity). The current president ( Julius Maada Bio ) is a strong Roman Catholic and should therefore consider Luther anathema. If anything, Sierra Leone’s President Bio (stiff upper lip) is probably thinking / toying with the idea of the resurrection, the resurrection of Ancient Greece and Rome in the form of neo-classical architectural styles to add some finishing touches to the State House that he's occupying at the moment. In his spare time, when he is not busy waging war on the oppressed opposition, he probably dreams of kick-starting a Sierra Leone version of  the Renaissance, thumbing through some of the classics of that period, possibly thinking of himself as a reincarnation of the Emperor Julius Caesar, although that would not be according to sound Catholic Doctrine. In the history of Sierra Leone so far, it took a daredevil like the late Foday Sankoh to introduce the concept of REVOLUTION into that nation’s public political vocabulary, by nicknaming his militia ” Revolutionary United Front. In the beginning he must have fancied himself as Sierra Leone’s Che Guevara  sent by the either the Almighty or the devil to set the captives free, until he started alienating the peasants and rice farmers in the countryside  with his “cut-han “, his hand & foot amputation policies. There’s our own Ibrahim Abdullah’s Bush Path to Destruction (1998) after eight years of that war, followed by Lansana Gberie’s A dirty war in West Africa ( 2005) three years after the war ended

  2. It was probably Pa Shaki and not Andrew Juxon-Smith that appointed Tinga Seisay, Consul-General to the United States

This evening The Great Satan managed to beat Iran with a lone goal that was clearly offside.

Cameroon, Ghana , Morocco, Senegal, have done a great job. 

Sweet Talks

Oluwatoyin Adepoju

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Nov 29, 2022, 7:55:45 PM11/29/22