The collection consists of approximately 1,950 glass plate and large format film negatives,100 hand-tinted and black-and-white prints and four photographic albums containing prints of various sizes, taken by Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge, the royal photographer to the Oba of Benin, Akenzua II (1933-1978). These images span six decades (1926 - 1989) and represent a dynamic, continuous record of the Benin Royal Court in Nigeria. Alonge documented the pageantry, ritual and regalia of the Obas, their wives and retainers for over a half-century, including the coronation of the King and the Iyoba, or queen mother. The collection also documents historic visits to Benin by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (1956), Princess Alexandra (1960), foreign dignitaries, traditional rulers, political leaders and celebrities. The collection preserves an important historical record of Benin art and culture during the periods of British colonial rule and Nigerian independence in the 20th century. The rarity and historical value of the collection are enhanced by Alonge's privileged access to the Palace as a chief in the Iwebo Palace Society, a position which presents a unique insider's view of Benin royalty. The quality of the collection is testament to Alonge's technological skills in photography and his professionalism in keeping the collection ordered and well-preserved despite the heat, humidity and tropical climate of Nigeria.
Arrangement of negatives reflects the original order established by the photographer.
Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911-1994) was the first indigenous photographer of the Royal Court of Benin and one of the premier photographers of Nigeria. His significance as one of the earliest indigenous photographers in West Africa has been documented in detail by anthropologist Flora Kaplan. Alonge learned the craft of photography as a youth in Lagos during the 1920s and saw his profession as an honorable and distinguished calling. He clearly demonstrated an inclusive documentary perspective in his efforts to photograph many aspects of the world around him. In 1942, Alonge established the Ideal Photography Studio in Benin City and documented colonial society, the establishment of churches and businesses, and the formation of new civic organizations and social groups like the Benin Social Club (1940s). As a commercial photographer, Alonge photographed individual and group portraits, preserving a visual record of the everyday lives and peoples of Benin City. Alonge's studio portraits illustrate how local Africans presented themselves to the camera and engaged with the practice of photography during the early to mid-twentieth century.
Title provided by EEPA staff.
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1 Film reel (23 minutes, color sound; 400 feet, 16mm)
Scope and Contents:
Footage of a Famadihana (also known as "digging up the dead" ceremony) is an exhumation ceremony to honor ancestors. This famadihana was performed by the Malgache people of Madagascar. The body of an ancestor is exhumed, re-wrapped in burial cloths and re-buried. The extended family celebrates with a feast. The film has a sound track narration recorded by filmmaker, Sarajane Archdeacon.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or Anthropology Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.
Received from Sarajane Archdeacon in 2001.
The collection is open for research. Please contact the archives for information on availability of access copies of audiovisual recordings. Original audiovisual material in the Human Studies Film Archives may not be played.
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1 Item (videocassette (VHS))
Date/Time and Place of an Event Note:
Recorded in: Washington (D.C.).
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