Ivory mask

Edo peoples, probably 16th century AD
From Benin, Nigeria

The palace of Benin is the centre of ritual activity focused on the well-being and prosperity of the Edo peoples. Each year the Oba (king) of Benin performs in rituals in which he honours his royal ancestors to enhance the good fortunes of his people. One important ceremony, Igue, centres on the Oba's mystical powers, which are then demonstrated in a subsequent ritual, Emobo, whose main purpose is for the Oba to drive away any evil forces. The Oba sits in a red pavilion, red being a 'threatening' colour to help force away evil. Later he dances with an ivory gong, striking it to repel malevolent forces.

This type of mask was worn by the Oba, probably around his neck, during the the Emobo ceremony. The pendant is said to represent Queen Mother Idia, mother of Oba Esigie who ruled in the sixteenth century. The top of the pendant is decorated with heads representing the Portuguese, symbolizing Benin's alliance with and control over Europeans. The Portuguese continued to appear in Benin art long after they had disappeared from Benin itself.

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More information


P. Girshick Ben-Amos, The art of Benin (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)


Length: 24.500 cm
Width: 12.500 cm
Depth: 6.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1910.5-13.1



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