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Views from Africa
Brass figure of a Portuguese soldier
This figure is striking for its careful observation of the equipment and dress of a European soldier. It shows a Portuguese musketeer wearing early sixteenth-century military clothing. The style of his musket, however, dates to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century.
Images of Europeans decorated the altars, walls and roof of the palace in Benin City. The display of these figures symbolized the Oba's (king's) monopoly of trade with the West and expressed his own wealth and power, but may also have had additional significance. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the Oba of Benin hired European mercenary soldiers as part of his army. The people of Benin believed that the Portuguese were messengers of Olokun, the white-faced god of the sea. According to legend the Oba had defeated Olokun in battle and stripped him of his great wealth. Brass figures such as this may have commemorated the Oba's earlier victory over Olokun.