Oba Ozolua Shrine


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria
Oba Ozolua Shrine
©Kathy Curnow

In the late 1940s, the Benin artist Chief Ovia Idah (1908-1968) received numerous commissions from Oba Akenzua II, for the latter was determined to update the palace and incorporate distinctive art. Among other works, Idah created clay plaques that were set into the exterior walls, similar to those photographed in 1897.

While a royal command prompted him to create the statue of the late 15th/early 16th century Oba Ozolua, the directive did not come from Akenzua, but from Ozolua himself. Idah told Dickerson that Ozolua appeared to him in a dream and instructed him regarding all the details of the figure's appearance. When Oba Akenzua heard about it, he agreed, and Idah made the statue from clay mixed with cement and sand--and, according to Idah, ritual medicine.

Ozolua, a frontal figure about four feet tall, stands with arms outstretched. He wears a long gown that probably represents his famous "iron coat," some type of armor, but also wears coral beads that attest to his royal status. In his right hand, he holds an umozo sword. His invincible shield and arrows are miniaturized at his left elbow, while in that hand he grips the arm and torso of an enemy, its scale tiny in comparison to his might. Remembered as "The Conqueror," his martial qualities are stressed even though the figure itself is static in pose.

Erected in the open space in front of the palace where Ozolua's courtyard once stood, it was initially roofed with "pan," corrugated metal. During Oba Erediauwa's reign, the structure was made of openwork cement on three sides. Oba Ewuare II built new structures behind and beside it, so that it now appears part of the assembled facade of the palace. He had artists add flat brass-colored images to the grill that closes its front wall. They represent royals and courtiers, emblazoned with the phrase "My God, My Right" and the Benin coat-of-arms, the crossed ada and eben ceremonial swords topped by a bird and supported by a leopard and an elephant.


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