A visual history of Benin City returns home


LAST month an extraordinary collection of photographs returned to Nigeria. Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge took pictures of the people of Benin City for over half a century, amassing an archive of more than 3,000 images. Spanning British rule and the early decades of independence, it is a visual record of style and self-expression, of everyday humanity in a country in flux.

As the first official photographer of the court of Benin, Alonge documented palace life and pageantry from 1933 to 1979. In a photograph from 1938, Oba Akenzua II, the monarch, stands between the Earl of Plymouth and Nigeria’s governor-general, looking into the distance. His richly-layered robes and coral beads contrast with the stiff white uniforms of the British, his perturbed but determined stare with their disdainful gazes. A hand-coloured image from 1956 shows the Oba bowing slightly as he shakes the white-gloved hand of Queen Elizabeth II, four years before the declaration of Nigeria’s independence. Again it is a photo of contrasts, his rust-tinted regalia…Continue reading

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