Hey! Have you in any way been affiliated with or interacted with the internet in the last two decades? If so, you have probably received a heartfelt plea for assistance from a deposed/dispossessed/dispirited Nigerian prince. This famous email scam requested a small amount of money upfront in exchange for a big chunk of the royal treasury once the hapless royal heir ascended to his (grammatically shaky) throne. Since Nigeria is a federated republic (and since this was, to reiterate, a scam), nobody ever received the royal payola. However there is a kernel of historical truth within the confidence trick: Nigeria was once an assortment of kingdoms, emirates, and tribal lands which was annealed together by the British. Each of these principalities (or state-like entities) had a ruler, and, although they were stripped of legal power during the colonial era, the various eclectic potentates have held onto ceremonial, spiritual, and cultural authority.
All of which is to say, there are no Nigerian princes, but there are prince-like beings, each of whom has a different set of royal regalia. These “crown jewels” take the form of thrones, statues, “magical” items, and royal outfits…including sacred headdresses. The Yoruba people (who constitute the majority of Nigeria’s ever-increasing population) vested particular authority in ceremonial “crowns” known as ades. An ade is a conical beaded cap usually decorated with beads and faces. The kings of the Yoruba people styled themselves as “obas” (an oba being a sort of combination of king, high priest, and chief). The symbol of the oba’s authority was his ade—his crown (or for a high obas–the “adenla” which means “great crown”).
Obas were the powerful rulers of the Yoruba and their ades were the ceremonial font of their authority. This power was connected to the numinous world of spirits, gods, and orishas (which this blog has glanced upon in talking about voodoo—the syncretic new world religion based on Yoruba spiritual concepts). To quote the British Museum’s culturally suspect (but nicely written) website:
Beaded and veiled crowns…are traditionally worn by those kings who could trace their ancestry to Ododua, the mythic founder and first king of the Yoruba people. The crown is called an orisha, a deity, and is placed upon the king’s head by his female attendant. Powerful medicines are placed at the top of the crown to protect the king’s head and thus his future. The veil that covers the king’s face hides his individuality and increases attention on the crown itself, the real centre of power. The birds decorating the crown represent the royal bird, okin.
Originally ades had long beaded veils to conceal the faces of their wearers, but European ideas about royal headwear influenced the makers, and many more recent examples of the craft resemble European crowns. The beautiful beadwork and impressive otherworldly artistry of ades has made them popular—so some of these examples may be constructed for the tourist trade. Nevertheless, the Yoruba ade is a very impressive sort of crown. Here is a little gallery of online images of ades.