Benin Kingdom

By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Nigeria; Benin Kingdom artist

Leopard hip mask

Ivory and brass studs

H. 17.8 cm (7")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.494

Ivory masks are only worn by the king and are worn at the waist, ornamenting the king’s cloth wrapper. Such masks often represent the Iyoba (Queen Mother), or like this one, a leopard representing the power of the Oba. The Oba wears these during the commemoration ceremonies for his deceased mother and for the Emoba ritual. Emoba occurs after the Oba has strengthened his own ritual powers in the Igue festival. Emoba’s purpose is to drive away any evil spirits that have remained after the other ceremonies are completed, and to accomplish this the king strikes an ivory gong. The ceremony ends with “Chief Esogban calling out, ‘Any spirits that have not received offerings should go to Udo and eat,’ thus driving the last remnants of evil to the ancient rival town of Udo” (Girshick Ben-Amos 1995: 108). The color white and other symbols of purity predominate, reflecting the ideal state to which Emoba aspires.