African Kings: Portraits of a Disappearing Era


One thing to be said about kings and queens, whether from Africa, Europe or elsewhere, is that they usually look equally ridiculous. Humans just aren´t as dignified as the role would require them to be and all the silly hats and wacky accessories in the world won´t change that.

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Down with the 1%? Right? Guys?

The bedazzeled Vibram FiveFingers are pretty cool:

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“Ridiculous” is certainly not the word that comes to mind when I see these photos. I see individuals embodying the histories of their peoples, with all their myths and legends, all the legacies of their ancestors. I see regalia in which every piece of adornment has its own story, meaning, and power. I see exuberance and pride… and yes, dignity.

But skinny jeans… now there’s the real high-water mark of dignity…


I think we can all agree on that if nothing else.

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I applaud your ability to find this, and so quickly… but damn, I really don’t want to know the backstory.

Do you see European royalty that way? As people who embody the histories of their peoples rather than people with unearned privileges? If not, what makes them different?


That is a very good question, and probably deserves a scholarly paper from someone with a lot more depth of knowledge than I have.

First, I would say that the categories of “people who embody the histories of their peoples” and “people with unearned privileges” aren’t mutually exclusive by any means.

That said, European royalty (the men anyway, and on certain occasions) recall the martial roots of their position by wearing pimped-out military uniforms, often with medals recalling various honors that their ancestors were awarded for acts of grand thuggery… so there’s at least some history in their regalia. And obviously an emotional connection with some folks, as illustrated by the wholesale nuttiness that arises on the occasion of a royal wedding.

The chiefly classes of “Traditional” peoples (sometimes referred to as “tribal”, etc.) often adopt regalia with symbols and power objects that connect them to spirits, ancestors, and other unembodied beings (huge generalization, I know), so there could be said to be some parallel with the supposed “divine right of kings” that the European dynasties claimed.

I should probably offer the disclaimer that I am ethnically/culturally Filipino/Hawaiian, with some European mixed in, and so am inclined to see those pictures of African chiefs and say, “wow, that’s cool,” and see pictures of the British royal family and say, “man, what a bunch of useless twits”. So you’ve made me go beyond my gut reaction in order to answer your question, to think a little more about the parallels between holders of hereditary power in very different cultures.

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