Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Brass key hook with four-arm cross finial.

  • Ethnic name

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Curator's comments

    Compare with Af1944,04.20Plankensteiner 2007:
    A variety of brass keys are still used to lock palace rooms where valuable objects such as the king's regalia are stored. They are also employed to secure palace shrines, and especially those large quadrangles - only one of many still exists - more publicly accessible and that contain carved ivories, staffs, and cast brass objects. The key holder knocks three times on the large timbered door to ensure that the spirits of the deceased are awake, inserts the key and with a twist, lifts the hook off its latch. This releases the bolt that locked the door. The hooks operate in much the same way as the cast keys. Inserted at an angle, the hook key catches the slide and lifts it, the hooked part of the key holds the slide securely and ensures that the slide does not fall to the ground.
    Locks of a more conventional padlock type also existed. Insertion of a key into the side of the lock released a mechanism that held the padlock together. Made of brass, these padlocks often had designs of the king, chiefs, or other court dignitaries, and various animals making them decorative and symbolic at the same time.
    Some keys are fairly simple as in the iron hooked rod type, although these often have intriguing cast brass handles with agate inlay. Agate is the traditional bead of authority; only later was Mediterranean coral incorporated as beads of a king's or chief's rank. The equal arm cross is highly symbolic and represents, among other things, the crossroads or junction that serves as the point of connection between the natural and the spiritual worlds and the keys serve to open doors that link the living and the dead (It does not represent the four cardinal directions as some have thought, since the Edo language has no lexical directional terms.). River leaves are important in some cultic initiations, especially Olokun. Like the quatrefoil the brass trefoil of some keys [see Af1944,04.20] is symbolic: the numbers 3, 4, 7 and 14 are ritually significant in divination and in the calculation of ceremonies, and they are significant in different ways in many societies.


  • Bibliography

    • Plankensteiner 2007 23 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    1970-1973, London, Museum of Mankind, Divine Kingship in Africa
    2007 May-Sept, Vienna, Museum für Völkerkunde, Benin. Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
    2007-2008 Oct-Jan, Paris, Musée du quai Branly, Benin. Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria
    2008 Feb-May, Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ethnologisches Museum, Benin. Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Benin City Expedition 1897

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Af1897C3.531 (old CDMS no.)
Key (?) made of brass, iron.

Key (?) made of brass, iron.

Image description



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Object reference number: EAF14488

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