Benin Kingdom

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

Nigeria; Benin Kingdom artist

Queen Mother head


H. 51 cm (20”)

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 70.R.17

Photo by Dirk Bakker


Oba Esigie, the sixteenth king who ruled at the beginning of the sixteenth century, created the title of Queen Mother. His mother, Idia, was said to have had particularly potent occult skills and military savvy that helped Esigie defeat the Igala people. He created the title to honor her and is said to have established the tradition of casting this type of brass head. It shows the Queen Mother with her distinctive hair style called the “chicken’s beak.” Since the time of Esigie each Oba has conferred this title on his mother three years after his accession to the throne. These cast heads were placed both on the altars in the palace and at the Queen Mother’s residence (Girshick Ben-Amos 1995: 36).