Royal Visit

Photographer George Osodi is on a mission to record and preserve the legacy of Nigeria’s traditional rulers for generations to come…

Photography George Osodi

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture,” said Marcus Garvey, one of the founders of the Pan-Africanism movement in the early 1900s, “is like a tree without roots.”

Documenting and archiving culture is the key to understanding origins and thus developing a sense of identity. Few would argue that in Nigeria, there are simply not enough cultural archives in existence.

Garvey then would no doubt approve of the roots being planted by photographer George Osodi’s latest project,” ‘Nigeria Monarchs: The Custodians of Peace and Culture.’

‘Nigeria Monarchs’ sets out to take viewers into the inner circle of 200 Nigerian ethnic groups and their kings and queens via formal portraits of royalty in their full regalia. Portraits are accompanied by  biographies and notes on the rituals and history associated with each ruler, introducing a way of life rarely glimpsed, with anthropological roots as deep as any on earth, as they make the transition into a new millennium.

“Although there is very little known about the many different royalties in Nigeria,” says George, “they are considered to be a major part of Nigerian history, they are the custodians of our cultural heritage.”

While there are no official figures of the number of Nigeria’s royal figures in our current period the guess is that there as many kings and queens as there are ethnic groups. “Unfortunately,” says George, “a lot of the newer generations cannot relate with or identify their traditional rulers. Traditional rulers are vestiges of a former age however their ancient ways are preserved; their wisdom and power still honoured. They still command great respect.”
Completing the project is a daunting logistical prospect but George is no stranger to photographic feats. Based in Lagos he began his career as a photojournalist for the  now defunct Comet Newspaper Lagos from 1999-2001. He then joined the Associated Press News Agency until 2008 and has since covered many assignments for a range of media including Time Magazine, the New York Times, CNN, and The Telegraph. He’s photographed for organisations like Amnesty International and Oxfam, had numerous international exhibitions and published a photography book all around documenting life in his country.

“The idea of this project,” he says, “is to travel around the country and go beyond the portrait to explore the subjects environments, architecture and fashion. The view is to showcase and celebrate Nigerian royalty and to mirror the country’s great culture. People will learn about all major aspects of Nigerian culture and customs.”

The book would be the first of its kind in Nigeria to document the important and rich history of Nigeria’s monarchs. “It’s important for me,” says George, “that the young generation view the diverse nature among its various people as a strength and not a weakness.”

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