Benin Kingdom

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

Nigeria; Benin Kingdom artist



H. 63.5 cm (25”)

National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria, 54.15.8

Photo by Dirk Bakker


This type of figure was apparently also kept on the royal ancestral altars. An anonymous author in the Royal Gold Coast Gazette wrote in the 1820s, “The tombs are decorated by as many large elephant’s teeth as can be set in the space; and the socket of the tooth is introduced into the crown of the head of a colossal brazen bust, ... The other figures on these monuments are very happy, a blacksmith on an ass, and a carpenter in the act of striking with an axe, are well portrayed” (cited in Girshik Ben-Amos 1995: 53). The “axe” is actually a blacksmith’s hammer. Eyo and Willett describe the figure as the messenger who carried the emblems of authority—a bronze cap, a stall, and a cross—from Ife to Benin (1980: 133). Others suggest it represents one of the Benin court officials who wear the cross as their emblem.