Length: 51.000 cm
Width: 37.000 cm
Africa, Oceania, Americas
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Brass plaque showing the Oba of Benin with attendants
Edo peoples, 16th century AD
From Benin, Nigeria
Stories of royalty in brass
There are over nine hundred plaques of this type in various museums in England, Europe and America. Many of the plaques now in The British Museum were collected during the British Punitive Expedition in 1897. They are thought to have been made in matching pairs and fixed to pillars in the Oba's palace in Benin City.
The plaques show aspects of Benin court life in the sixteenth century, shortly after Europe's first contact with West Africa. Benin society was highly structured with a King (Oba) who was believed to be a direct descendant of Oranmiyan, the legendary founder of the dynasty. The Oba was also the head of government, collecting taxes, controlling trade and was the owner of all land in the country. He had two classes of chiefs, Palace and Town Chiefs who were responsible for the administration of the kingdom. The Palace Chiefs were from rich families and belonged to three associations: Iwebo, who looked after the Oba's regalia, organized the guilds of craftsmen, and conducted negotiations with Europeans; Ibiwe, who were responsible for the Oba's family, and Iweguae, who provided the domestic staff of officials and servants for the palace.
This plaque shows an Oba surrounded by his attendants, two of whom are depicted holding up their shields in a formal protective stance. Only the Oba was allowed to be shaded in this way within the city.
P. Girshick Ben-Amos, The art of Benin (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)