Women and Political Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

NigeriaBenin Kingdom peoples

Belt mask of Iyoba (Mother of the Oba) Idia

ca. 1517 - 1550


H. 12 cm (4 3/4")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.493

In a number of divine and sacred kingships, the king's mother played a significant role in politics and was honored in art. In the Benin Kingdom, the queen mother was thought to bring supernatural aid to her son, in addition to serving as an adviser, counselor, and confidante. In the mid-sixteenth century, King Esigie introduced the title of Queen Mother to honor his mother for her assistance in averting two serious threats to his rule and the integrity of the kingdom.