- Edo peoples, Benin Kingdom Court Style
- 18th century
The central figure on the ivory pendant is the oba (king) of the Benin Kingdom, distinguished by his central placement, his slightly larger size, and the ornament—called the Bead of Kingship—on his chest. The oba is supported by two similarly dressed high-ranking court officials, reminding all that the king cannot stand alone but must maintain a balance between his authority over the Edo people and their willingness to be ruled by him. The oba stands on the head of the sea god Olokun, from whose nostrils mudfish flow. The sea, symbolic of overseas trade, was the source of Benin’s wealth and well-being. Such pendants were worn at the waist by the oba and selected officials.
Despite its heavier weight, the similar cast metal pendant was also worn at the waist. The various emblems worn by Benin officials were designed to test the wearer’s physical and psychic strength, so the heavy metal would have been an asset. Originally, there were round crotal bells on chains attached to the small loops around the edges of the pendant.
Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.
- BBC: A History of the World in 100 Objects
Learn more about the oba and Benin plaques.