Rawhide, leather, cloth, glass beads, thread, iron nails
L: 27.5 cm, H: 9.0 cm, W: 11.0 cm (L: 10.8 in, H: 3.5 in, W: 4.3 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Helen and Dr. Robert Kuhn. X78.2148a,b
When people greet and celebrate an oba they shout, Ade yio pe lori, bata yio pe lese! (may the crown rest long on your head, may shoes remain long on your feet) as a way of saying “Long live the king!”. Beaded shoes probably became part of royal regalia in the eighteenth or nineteenth century when European fashions increasingly became the model for prestige wear and when oba began to move more freely outside the precients of the palace. In nineteenth-century southern Yorubaland, rulers instituted laws prohibiting commoners from using certain items of dresses associated with royalty and chiefs, as umbrellas and shoes. The British also systematically confiscated such regalia from those whose claims to rulership were denied by the councils of traditional rulers set up by the colonial regime. One such example involved the Elepe of Epe whose beaded boots were seized about 1900. Margaret Trowell noted: “Later other chiefs pretended to equal rank, but their claims were disallowed. These boots with eight stuffed beaded birds running up the front, belonged to a chief styled the Elepe of Epe, and were forfeited together with other articles when his claim was rejected. They were acquired by the British Museum in 1904.” Those beaded boots are similar to those in the collection of the oba of Ijebu-Ife, the Ajalorun. Shown in the photograph are shoes with eyes ever watching for impending trouble, guiding the steps of the oba on his journey through a life of momentous rites. White triangles below the faces point the way. Straps with leather balls, possibly filled with power materials, secure the footgear. Quatrefoils suggest the cardinal directions as well as the sanctifying leaves used by rulers when conferring titles to chiefs and during other rites of purification and renewal. Beaded shoes, like the enveloping leggings of ancestral Egungun masquerade costumes, complete an ensemble that surrounds and protects the intensified powers present in the person and spirit of the ruler.
Source: Drewal, H., Mason, J. (1998). “Beads, Body, and Soul – Art and Light in the Yoruba Universe”, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 218