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  ! # %&'( )*+ ', -'&)()./& 01#*()(23 %'4(56# /*1 7./8),)./()'* )* ( # 9#*)* :)*+1'6;5( '8<4=3 >'4#? @#A/1'64B2 /*1 CB /+5'4/ ;)4)#*7'58.#3 ;,8)./* ;8(4D E'&F GHD @'F I <J)*(#8D IKKL=D ??F MGNOPQIRR-5S&)4 #1 S23 T%U; >/6#4 7F %'&#6/* ;,8)./* 7(51)#4 %#*(#87(/S&# TVU3 ;..#44#13 RMWROWGRRK IH3XK Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. 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Coleman African Studies Center  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extendaccess to  African Arts.   he lothing blitica dentity ostume nd Scarification n th enin Kingdom JOSEPH NEVADOMSKY EKHAGUOSA ISIEN african rts winter 995 2  You feel you are no longer clothing yourself; ou are dressing a national monument. -Eleanor Roosevelt n November 14, 1986, an amus- ing but significant event oc- curred in the courtyard of the Oba's palace in Benin City, Ni- geria. The palace hosted a fashion show. Before an appreciative audience of chiefs, spectators, reporters, and television crews, a parade of male court attendants hu- morously mimicked Western fashion models. Pirouetting as if on a runway, they showed off a two-piece garment newly sanctioned by the king for daily and ceremonial wear. The bottom half of the apparel retained the billowy fullness of the ankle-length eyoen, the skirt-like wrapper worn by titleholders, but as the palace attendants neatly demonstrated by lifting up their skirts, it had an additional advantage: built-in shorts, complete with pockets and fly. This eliminated the poten- tial for embarrassment the traditional wrapper brought its wearer on his way to the palace by bicycle or motorcycle. Far more striking (and ultimately re- vealing), the top part of the garment (Figs. 1, 2)-a simple blouse in round and V-neck stylesl-displayed appliqu6 de- signs identical to the iwu (tattoos) that once graced the torsos of all male and female Bini (Edo) citizens (Fig. 3). Thread had replaced the knife to produce not just the Bini equivalent of haute couture but also a symbol of ethnic identity. As the Iyase of Benin and the master of cere- monies, Chief the Honorable Justice S. O. Ighodaro, made clear, the attire was a sig- nifier: The palace has decreed, he said in a prepared statement, that [the cos- tume] should be worn at play, and at work, for formal and informal occasions, and especially on those occasions when your ethnic identity as a citizen of the Edo Kingdom needs to be emphasized. Playfully if self-consciously, the palace had taken a defunct mark of citizenship and recontextualized it in an innovative and painless fashion. The disappearance of cultural meanings formerly conveyed by the traditional body tattoos was now offset by the emergence of reconfigured meanings conveyed in cloth. The palace had not so much reinvented tradition (Hobsbawn & Ranger 1983) as re-created it. The Bini would again have marks of identity that, like the iwu, distinguish them as native sons and daughters. Proud citizens of an empire a century ago, they are smaller fry in today's nation-state, con- tinually beset by the territorial infringe- ments and political gains of neighboring groups that the Bini once enslaved. The Opposite page, left: 1. Palace attendants model round and V-neck styles of the ewu-iwu, he shirt with applique versions of traditional at- too designs, created by Ekhaguosa Aisien in 1986. Benin City, Nigeria, November 986. Opposite page, right: 2. The ewu-iwu of the king's bodyguards, distinguished by a spear- point blade on the left. Benin City, November 1986. Right: . A palace chief with clearly defined at- toos (iwu). The Bini practice f tattooing ied out about ifty years ago, and oday wu can be seen only on older men and women. Benin City, 987. african rts * winter 995 x o I o I 63  new attire, emblematically emphasizing group membership and particularism, makes a semiotic statement about status hierarchy (superordination/subordina- tion) and cultural oppositions (civi- lized/barbaric) like those which defined the relations between Bini citizens and aliens in the heyday of the empire. But while the principles embodied by the traditional tattoos were implicit and unconscious, the patterns on the garment are explicitly pedagogical. The inspira- tion for the dress is consciously motivat- ed by a desire to bolster the king's secu- lar power by acting upon the ancient symbols that in the past reflected it. The apparel is meant not only as an expres- sion of the corporate body, fashioned into a heightened ethnicity, but also as a cata- lyst for positive public sentiment for the palace. Like a flag or military uniform, the dress stimulates allegiance and coa- lesces the kind of political consciousness the palace and its supporters believe is necessary to maintain their political clout and ensure a continuing alignment of regional power in their favor. Nigeria's history of political instability since independence-in thirty-two years there have been eight military coups and only nine years of civilian rule-has in some ways helped sustain allegiance to traditional rulers. As in Uganda, where the government's restoration of four tra- ditionally powerful kingdoms (Ganda, Toro, Bunyoro, and Ankole) served as a show of reconciliation in a nation suffer- ing from years of ethnic strife and brutal dictatorship, or in South Africa, where the leaders of the revanchist Inkatha Free- dom Party sought to reinvent an inde- pendent Zulu kingdom, sacral authori- ty in Nigeria is far more than a spectac- ular anachronism. It is an anchor in turbulent waters. Soon after he be- came the Sultan of Sokoto in 1991, Ibrahim Dasuki said: Nigeria today is trying to blend military and civilian government. But the ordinary man still looks to traditional institutions as his last resort (The Los Angeles Times, May 14,1992:H6). Indeed, until General Sani Abacha dissolved all democratic institutions in November 1993, there had been talk of adding a House of Chiefs to the proposed bicameral legislature. It had become increasingly clear that Nigerian traditional rulers represented the main social reality for many people, providing meaning amidst clashing and ineffectual ideologies, and promising security in a fragile polity. The Cultural Construction of Clothing Discussions of clothing often occur in the context of taste or aesthetics. Clothing is thought of as propelled by an internal logic ( style cycles ), artistic concerns ( color and form ), or production ( mar- ket mechanisms ) (Langdon 1979). Hilda Kuper's articles on Swazi cos- tume, cosmology, and identity (1973a, b) signaled a shift from clothing as mere fashion to clothing as political communi- 4. Figure of a court official whose face dis- plays the cat's whiskers scarification. Benin kingdom, Nigeria, 18th/19th century. Brass, 57.1cm (22.5 ). The Metropolitan Mu- seum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. nd Mrs. Klaus G. Perls, 1991. cation ( Both power and relationships are revealed in dress, uniforms and costume, as well as other social goods ; 1973b:349), while the work of Roland Barthes (1983 [1967]) interpreted clothing as a system of signs. Bernard Cohn's (1989) depiction of British efforts in India to exploit the sym- bolic import of how one dressed dovetails the political and semiotic implications of clothing. As the colonizers moved toward orientalizing their subjects (e.g., tur- banizing the Sikhs), Indians began to dress as Englishmen. Susan Bean (1989) tells us that Gandhi himself experimented with various forms of dress, gradually giving up the image of the English gentle- man as he comprehended the semiotics of homespun cotton and spinning wheels, transforming them into symbols of Indian nationalism. Dress as a cultural phenome- non has been analyzed as texts (Ricoeur 1970), systems of interconnected symbols (Geertz 1973), reflexive practice (Bourdieu 1977), intentional messages (Fabian 1979), analogs for social reproduction (Borgatti 1983), and changing discriminations Barnes & Eicher 1992). Hegel long ago presaged such interpretations by pointing out that clothing signals the passage from sen- tience to meaning (1944:147). The meanings of the new palace dress are the subject of this article. Like Durk- heim's collective representations (1965 [1912]), n which perceptions of society are reflected in the material things that sym- bolize them, traditional iwu expressed the social fabric. As part of the sacred skin (Turner 1980), they communicated social identity. The appliqu6 garment, on the other hand, is more patently a politi- cal fabric. To paraphrase Barthes (1983 [1967]:9-10), sociologically the iwu dress is a manifestation of history, but semioti- cally it is an imaginary garment. Our con- cern is more with the second half of this equation, that is, with the process by which the blouse becomes encoded with new intellective significance. What the works by Kuper, Bourdieu, Borgatti, and others have in common is that they move away from the passive side of Duikheim's sociology, in which material things such as clothing have ideas about society inscribed upon them, to the analysis of how inscriptions occur. Such projects represent efforts to under- stand the processes of appropriation and transformation: embodying more than embodiment. This paper, too, considers the material culture of the garment less as a constructed reality than as a reali- ty being constructed. But it goes further by emphasizing the transubstantiation achieved by the deliberate redefinition of a bodily habit rather than the evolu- tionary mutation from social skin to political garment. Since the shirt (ewu iwu) inscribes (and condenses) historical assertions of so- ciety-hierarchy, authority, ethnicity, and gender, but also art, ritual, and medi- african rts * winter 995 4
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