Wednesday, August 13, 2008


In the late 15th century, the Benin Prince Ezoti grew up with a body slave. Body slaves were of the same sex and just a little older than the person they served, and trailed around after them like mini-nannies, wiping their bottoms and making sure they were dusted off when they fell. By all rights, they should have been close. But Ezoti is remembered as having been selfish. He didn't want to share anything as he and his slave grew older. Even if something was a discard, it was his property.

One day the cooks were preparing Ezoti's meal, and the slave had been given no food. He knew it was too much to expect Ezoti would allow him to feed on the leftovers, so he eyed the garbage. The prince would be dining on pounded yam, and the cooks were careless with their peeling. Some of the yam still clung to the bark. The slave took it, but Ezoti entered, saw him, and beat him. "MY yam peel!" The slave's spirit turned.

It was Ezoti's time to take the throne, and he had begun the ceremonies that would confirm his as Oba. While he walked in procession, an arrow flew through the air and struck him in the forehead. The guards quickly caught the slave, and officials bandaged the wound, covering it with beads so the people wouldn't be alarmed. It seemed a shallow wound, but the arrow had been poisoned, and after a few days Ezoti died.

The makeshift bandage cover became the udahae, the beaded headband chiefs wear with certain outfits. One long strand of beads falls from the headband, representing Ezoti's blood. It is at once a piece of chiefly regalia, but also a reminder to treat those around you fairly, and to be generous when you live in plenty.

1 comment:

sungoddess said...

I love this story Tam....