Figure of a town chief (iyase)
- Edo peoples, Benin Kingdom Provincial Style
- 16th century
This figure represents an iyase (town chief) of Udo, a provincial town in the Benin Kingdom. Elements of royal regalia are detailed on the sculpture: a beaded tulip-shaped crown, a high beaded collar, a leopard's-teeth necklace, paired brass bracelets, a beaded band across the scarified torso, a kilt fastened with a minature head of a leopard, and beaded anklets. He carries the remnant of a ceremonial sword. The coral beads were luxury items obtained through trade with Portugal.
The figure relates to a story about the deadly rivalry between two late 15th-century princes, half-brothers Esigie and Arhuanran. Arhuanran, who lived in Udo, was the heir to the throne. During a battle for the kingship, Esigie outmaneouvered Arhuanran and became the oba (king) of Benin. Esigie subsequently created a separate court for his brother at Udo with the stipulation that the iyase would always be appointed by the oba.
Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.