Plaque Showing the Oba at Ague


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria
Plaque Showing the Oba at Ague
©Trustees of the British Museum, Af1898,0115.23
Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

This plaque is one of relatively few that show the monarch. Most depict courtiers, minor and major, as well as animals and objects of regalia or sacrifice. Members of the Iguneronmwon guild, the brasscasters, made them, and they conform to a fairly naturalistic stylization: all figures have basically the same features, although their hairstyles, headgear, and dress differ. Their heads are enlarged, since the Edo believe the head is the seat of destiny and requires sacrifice to thank it for guiding one in the past and looking out for the present and future. This particular plaque departs from the frontality that marks most Benin art, for the kneeling figures that flank the monarch are turned slightly in a three-quarters pose. While this would normally be avoided as lacking dignity, it seems to be an Edo experiment in adapting European styles. Perhaps because of exposure to foreign book illustrations, some plaques and figures depict turning figures or individuals in motion, an approach that was later discarded.

The Oba, shown seated on his cylindrical throne in full formal attire, is here accompanied by Chiefs Osa and Osuan. Their presence and kneeling posture indicate the Ague fast, a ceremonial period that required abstention from certain foods (particularly new yams) and the presence of women, as well as a sober mindset. Although it existed before Oba Esigie was on the throne, he incorporated Lenten-like features, having been baptized as a Catholic in his youth.


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria