Two 16th-century Waist Pendants


This file appears in: Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria
Two 16th-century Waist Pendants
Left:: ©Trustees of the British Museum, Af1910,0513.1
Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Right: Public Domain Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1978.412.323

These ivory pendants, made by the same Igbesanmwan carving guild artist, were found by the British in the Oba's bedroom in 1897. They depict Iyoba Idia, Oba Esigie's mother, who was instrumental in securing his throne. The iron insets in her pupils, around her eyes, and in her stylized frown lines emphasize her strength of character and fierceness; she is remembered as a witch. They differ only at the hairline and "collar"; the example at left shows stylized bearded Portuguese at the top and an interlace pattern at the neck, while the right-hand example alternates Portuguese heads with mudfish at the top, with more Portuguese at the neck. A handful of Portuguese was instrumental in fighting with Esigie against his enemies.

These ivories, often misidentified as "masks," were worn at tje Oba's waist. The carved-out reverse may have been closed off with leather, making them containers for medicine. In the 20th century, Obas have worn similar ivories in pairs at the waist, along with additional carvings, at the Emobo ceremony that honors Oba Esigie.

FESTAC '77, the world festival of black arts that Nigeria hosted in 1977, chose the British Museum example at left as its logo, and Nigerians protested when the museum (citing insurance costs) would not loan it. This act served as a tipping point for demands to repatriate Benin art.


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