The ancient Benin Palace is noted for its uniqueness, uprightness and exclusivity. One noticeable thing to curious people about visitors to the Prestigious Palace is the angle of ‘do nots’ by the many and frequent visitors to the Oba of Benin’s Palace. City Rovers can reel out at least eight of these things, which are to say the least abominable. Savour them:
Pointing: Pointing fingers, even innocently at either the revered Oba or his chiefs is never allowed inside the Oba’s palace. Never. The Oba himself does not point fingers at anyone as well, except in a bid to bless or curse another individual. Pointing is seen as an act with deep spiritual meaning and so, anyone who does this is promptly arrested by the security guards of the palace known as the Ifienwenro, for questioning and possible punishment. The Ifienwenro is a guard, whose major duty is to ward off spiritual attacks against the Oba. These guards are usually clad in brown wrapper skirts with armlets around them. After arrest, the offender is usually compelled to take an oath before confessing or giving explanations for pointing fingers at the Oba. In dire cases, the offender might be asked to present certain animals for sacrifice.
Whistling: Whistling might seem like a simple and harmless act, but when in Benin City, especially inside the Palace, this is considered rude. Based on superstition, the people of Benin believe whistling to be a medium through which mortals can call to spirits and the dead. The Oba’s palace houses over 3,000 deities and mysticisms, with spirits attached to them. It is believed that when a person whistles in the palace, there is no control over which spirit or deity would be roused by the call; and in a situation where the roused spirit does not see any food, offering or appeasement, it might take the life of the whistler or anyone around the vicinity.
Open umbrella during festivals: Umbrellas are fashioned to offer protection from harsh weather conditions such as rain or sun, however, if you are visiting Benin and you plan to attend a festival, be prepared to stand through any condition the weather throws at you without protection. During major festivals such as the Igue festival, the Oba of Benin is the only one whose head can be under the cover of an umbrella. The palace chiefs are expected to leave their umbrellas at the palace gate during festivals. For tourists and visitors, who have no prior knowledge of this rule, the security guards known as the Ifiento issue a warning at the entrance.
Black apparel: Black as a colour typifies mourning in many cultures. It’s seen as a taboo for the Oba to mourn, no matter the circumstance. He is not allowed to set eyes on the colour, black. As a result, anyone wearing the colour black attire is not allowed entrance into the palace, especially if the person has the intention of gaining an audience with the Oba or there is a high chance of the person crossing path with the Oba.
Women at the Alaka area: The Alaka is a section of the palace known to habour the Oba Ehemgbuba shrine. According to Benin history, Oba Ehemugba, famously known as a powerful mystic, was born a haemophrodyte, and since his father did not have any other heir to ascend the throne after him, he invited powerful witch doctors and mystics to work on young Ehemugba. At the end of the healing session, the female parts of Oba Ehemugba were removed from him and he was left with only the male parts. To assuage the worries of the people and assure them that the next Oba would indeed be completely male, Oba Ehemugba was paraded naked around the entire community. The shrine in Alaka is believed to contain his spirit and so, any female who enters the area immediately becomes infertile. To avoid barrenness among the Benin girls and women, a ban was placed around the shrine. Women, till date are refused entrance to the area.
Male visitors to the royal harem: No male visitor of any kind is allowed near the royal harem. The royal harem includes the queen, as well as other wives and concubines belonging to the Oba. This regulation is so severe that the members of the harem, especially the queen, are not even allowed a touch from their father or brother. The only males allowed to approach the harem are designated male off springs from the royal family, males with blue blood.
Banga (palm oil fruits) on the head: While banga soup is notably consumed by people in Benin City, carrying its source, the palm oil fruit on your head in or around the palace is strictly prohibited. Also, a vehicle loaded with palm oil fruit is also not allowed through the streets surrounding the Oba’s palace. The palm kernel is usually red in colour, same colour as blood, and it is believed that the palm fruit at the Oba’s palace or around it means that the land will take blood, and usually someone around would have to die. It is considered a bad sign and an omen. In a situation where someone, possibly a visitor, fails to adhere to this rule, an animal is essentially sacrificed to the Ogun Oba as soon as possible, to avert impending death or catastrophe.
Dogs: In the pre-colonial times, after human sacrifice was abolished, dogs were used in many communities as substitutes to human offerings or just for special sacrifices. If you have visited the Oba’s palace, you would discover that dogs, on their own as though they have a premonition, do not venture into the palace or run around it while playing. Any canine that strays within dies instantly!