Sunday, November 16, 2008
Glamour in Benin
To be a public figure in Benin requires expenditure. One’s palace face must consist of calculated generosity, showiness, and taste. New and gorgeous fashions, objects and accessories, entertainment on a grand scale, a family whose appearance excites comment—all are costly. Lavish spending creates admiration, but it also excites jealousy and strains the purse. The traditional story below speaks to the one-upmanship that occurs on a (non-mythical) level regularly.
Osanobua and His Son Olokun
Olokun, the deity of wealth and the sea, boasted that he was greater than his father, the High God Osanobua. Olokun was the owner of coral beads, bedecked in all manner of ornaments. His palace itself was made of money. Osanobua, in contrast, was modest in appearance.
One day Olokun decided to challenge his father to a contest. Whose attire was more splendid? The nobles of the spirit world assembled to watch.
Olokun emerged into the crowd, beautifully attired, to the gasps of onlookers. A messenger from his father awaited. Concerned with other matters, Osanobua had sent the chameleon as a stand-in. The chameleon stepped forward, and, using his natural abilities, mirrored Olokun’s dress. Frowning, Olokun retired to change.
He reemerged, more splendid than before. The chameleon matched him. Olokun pulled one item after another from his wardrobe, only to see his father’s representative equal his efforts. Exhausted, he surrendered. Osanobua himself then appeared and pointed out, “If you are so grand, and I own YOU, who is the most splendid?”