By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles
For centuries, trade has been one of the important ways that Africans have engaged in a dynamic multicultural exchange of ideas, goods, and values. The results of such dialogue are expressed and celebrated through a variety of art forms. In Nigeria, for example, works of ivory and bronze were the prerogative of the Oba or King and often incorporated specific references to the Portuguese sailors with whom they traded. Bini peoples regarded the Portuguese traders as denizens of the realm of Olokun, god of the sea, for they brought wealth to the Kingdom of Benin in the form of weapons, ships, and fine sumptuary articles. An extraordinary seventeenth-century Bini plaque from the palace of the Oba is adorned with the heads of Portuguese soldiers in the upper corners, identified by long hair, drooping mustaches, and dome-shaped hats. The field photo shows a similar scene in the court of the current Oba of Benin.